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5 Shocking Plot Twists in the Story of Science and Faith

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In his excellent book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), physics professor Stephen M. Barr recounts the typical story of the the universe as told by scientific materialists. It's one of the best summaries of the naturalist worldview I've read, from any perspective:

"The world revealed by science bears little resemblance to the world as it was portrayed by religion. Judaism and Christianity taught that the world was created by God, and that things therefore have a purpose and meaning, aside from the purposes and meanings we choose to give them. Moreover, human beings were supposed to be central to that cosmic purpose. These comforting beliefs can no longer be maintained in the face of scientific discoveries.
 
The universe more and more appears to be a vast, cold, blind, and purposeless machine. For a while it appeared that some things might escape the iron grip of science and its laws—perhaps Life or Mind. But the processes of life are now known to be just chemical reactions, involving the same elements and the same basic physical laws that govern the behavior of all matter. The mind itself is, according to the overwhelming consensus of cognitive scientists, completely explicable in the performance of the biochemical computer called the brain. There is nothing in principle that a mind does which an artificial machine could not do just as well or even better. Already, one of the greatest creative chess geniuses of all time has been thrashed by a mass of silicon circuitry.
 
There is no evidence of a spiritual realm, or that God or souls are real. In fact, even if there did exist anything of a spiritual nature, it could have no influence on the visible world, because the material world is a closed-system of physical cause and effect. Nothing external to it could affect its operations without violating the precise mathematical relationships imposed by the laws of physics. The physical world is 'causally closed,' that is, closed off to any non-physical influence.
 
All, therefore, is matter: atoms in ceaseless, aimless motion. In the words of Democritus, everything consists in 'atoms and the void.' Because the ultimate reality is matter, there cannot be any cosmic purpose or meaning, for atoms have no purposes or goals.
 
Once upon a time, scientists believed that even inanimate objects did have purposes or goals: 'ends' which they sought or toward which they tended. For example, heavy objects were said to fall because they sought their proper place at the center of the earth. That was the idea of Aristotelian physics. It was precisely when these ideas were overthrown four hundred years ago that the Scientific Revolution took off. With Galileo and Newton, science definitively rejected 'teleology' in favor of 'mechanism.' That is, science no longer explains phenomena in terms of natural purposes, but in terms of impersonal and undirected mechanisms. And, of course, is there are no purposes anywhere in nature, then there can be no purpose for the existence of the human race. The human race can no longer be thought of as 'central' to a purpose that does not exist.
 
Science has dethroned man. Far from being the center of things, he is now seen to be a very peripheral figure indeed. Every great scientific revolution has further trivialized him and pushed him to the margins. Copernicus removed the Earth from the center of the solar system. Modern astronomy has shown that the solar system itself is on the edge to a quite ordinary galaxy, which contains a hundred billion other stars. That galaxy is, in turn, one of billions and perhaps even an infinite number of galaxies. Earth is an insignificant speck in the vastness of space: its mass compared to all the matter in the observable universe is less than that of a raindrop compared to all the water in all the oceans of the world. All of recorded human history is a fleeting moment in the eons of cosmic time. Even on this cozy planet, which we think of as ours, we are latecomers. Home sapiens has been around at most a few hundred thousand years, compared to the 4 billion years of life's history. The human species is just one branch on an an ancient evolutionary tree, and not so very different from some of the other branches--genetically we overlap more than 98 percent with chimpanzees. We are the product not of purpose, but of chance mutations. Bertrand Russell perfectly summed up man's place in the cosmos when he called him 'a curious accident in a backwater.'" (19-21)

I think atheists and theists can nod their heads in agreement: that's a clear, coherent, accurate depiction of the naturalist worldview. Its main plotline may be called the "marginalization of man." In the religious view man is the center of all things, but the scientific story has since corrected that delusion.

However, there's a problem with this story. Actually, two big problems, according to Barr: its beginning and its end. It's not really true that religious man saw himself at the center of the world. The idea that the Earth sat at the center of the universe stemmed from Greek astronomy and philosophy, not religion;mdash;and certainly not Judaeo-Christian religion. The ancient Jewish picture of the world was vertical, not concentric, with the human race located between the heavens above and the "abyss" below. Humans were lower than angels and higher than plants and animals, but in no sense we were at the center. In fact, the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures depict God casting out man, sending him into exile. (Also, even in the Greek picture the central place was not the most exalted. The further things were from the "center", the more beautiful and sublime they were.)

Yet even if the beginning is a bit off, the bigger problem with the story above is its ending. As Barr notes, "If science had ended in the nineteenth century, the story would have some claim to accuracy...Instead, in the twentieth century [scientists] made discoveries even more profound and revolutionary than those of Copernicus and Newton. And, as a result, the story has become much more interesting" (22).

As with many of the best stories, this one has a plot twist at the end. And not just one plot twist, but at least five. Barr spends most of his book examining each of these plot twists in detail, so for the details I suggest picking up a copy. But here's a short summary of them:

Twist #1 - The Big Bang and the Beginning of the Universe

Jews and Christians have always believed that the world, and time itself, had a beginning, whereas materialists and atheists have tended to imagine the world has always existed. Modern skeptics have generally followed suit. In their minds, the idea of a beginning of time is associated with religious conceptions, not with scientific theory, and those scientists who believe in a beginning do so for religious reasons, not scientific reasons. Indeed, by the nineteenth century almost all the scientific evidence seemed to point to an eternal universe.

But that all changed with the discovery of the Big Bang, which came as a profound shock to the scientific community. According to Barr, "the Big Bang was as clear and as dramatic a beginning as one could have hoped to find" (22). When you combine that discovery with research built on top of the model, you have an overwhelming amount of support for a universe that began in the finite past.

In fact, the esteemed, non-religious cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin concluded at a conference in Cambridge celebrating the 70th birthday of Stephen Hawking:

"All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning...It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning."

Now to be clear, the discover of the Big Bang itself prove the Jewish and Christian doctrine of Creation. Nevertheless, as Barr explains, "it was unquestionably a vindication of the religious view of the universe and a blow to the materialist view" (22).

Twist #2 - The Questions Behind the Questions

In the materialist story above, the world is governed not by a personal God but by impersonal laws. Science looks to physical "mechanisms", processes, and laws to explain events in the world. But as we've deepened our understanding of these empirical laws, we've found that they flow from deeper laws and principles, such as the fundamental laws of atomic physics. And those laws flow from the laws of quantum electrodynamics. And so on, and so forth. Physicists began to look not only at physical effects themselves, but for the mathematical laws that underlie them and for a single, harmonious system that could unite them all.

Barr notes the consequence of these trends:

"It is no longer just particular substances, or objects, or phenomena that physicists asks questions about, it is the universe itself considered as a whole, and the laws of physics considered as a whole. The questions are no longer only, 'Why does this metal act this way?' or 'Why does this gas act this way?' but 'Why is the universe like this?', 'Why are the laws of physics like this?'....
 
"When it is the laws of nature themselves that become the object of curiosity, laws that are seen to form an edifice of great harmony and beauty, the question of a cosmic designer seems no longer irrelevant but inescapable." (24)

In past centuries, atheists and materialists took certain facts for granted such as the existence of a single universe or the three dimensions of space. Indeed, few people, if any, in the nineteenth century would have wondered why there are three spatial dimensions.

But today, those beliefs are not taken for granted. Physicists speak of many universes and many dimensions of space. Yet if we can't even take for granted the very number of universes, it becomes harder to avoid asking, "Why is there any universe at all?" A new openness to these deeper-level questions about reality has also opened many people to the possibility of God.

Twist #3 - The Startling Coincidences That Permit Us to Live

In the materialist story of the world, science has definitively shown that we were not meant to be here. We were a fluke, our existence the result of "a fortuitous concourse of atoms." Science dethroned man in the cosmos.

Except now, science is telling a different story. Beginning in the 1970s, people started talking about "anthropic coincidences", certain features of the laws of physics which seem—just coincidentally—to be exactly what is needed for the existence of life to be possible in our universe. As Barr writes, "The universe and its laws seem in some respects to be balanced on a knife-edge. A little deviation in one direction or the other in the way the world and its laws are put together, and we would not be here. As people have looked harder, the number of such 'coincidences' has grown" (25).

This is exactly what we might expect if human beings were meant to be here, and if the universe was created with us in mind. It doesn't mean the materialist view of the world is certainly false. In fact, skeptics have proposed other ways to explain this apparent fine-tuning for life (though Barr refutes the most popular attempts in his book.)

In any event, what is clear is that the materialists may have prematurely ended their story with the dethroning of man. It looks very much now like the story may turn out the other way.

Twist #4 - The Mind as More Than Machine

If only matter exists, as the materialist thinks, then the human mind must be a machine. The invention and popularization of the computer made this idea even more plausible. Many people, scientists and laymen alike, believe it is only a matter of time before computers become intelligent in ways that rival, or even supplant our own intelligence.

However, the past couple centuries have seen a bevy of arguments against the regnant view that the mind is no more than a physical machine—a "wet computer" or "machine made of meat" as some have called it. Barr covers some philosophical examples in his book, but the most impressive counterargument comes not from philosophy but from the science of computation itself. It's based on a brilliant and revolutionary theorem proved in 1931 by the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel, and then built on by the philosopher John Lucas and the mathematician Roger Penrose. Barr explains:

"The gist of the argument is that if one knew the program a computer uses, then one could in a certain precise sense outwit that program. If, therefore, human beings were computers, then we could in principle learn our own programs and thus be able to outwit ourselves; and this is not possible, at least not as we mean it here."

Perhaps the only way to refute the Lucas-Penrose argument against the "machine mind", which leans on Gödel's Theorem, is to say that the human intellect reasons in a way that is inherently inconsistent. This would imply not just that human beings sometimes make logical mistakes (which is obvious), but that the human mind is radically and inherently unsound in its reasoning faculties. Yet that's a huge problem. Why? Because then to maintain the belief that your mind is only a machine, you would have to argue against your own mental soundness. You would literally identify as insane. Not many physicists are willing to go that far.

In any case, the discovery of Gödel's Theorem offers another blow to the materialist story of the world. It seems that the mind cannot be reduced to mere biochemical reactions.

Twist #5 - Quantum Mechanics and the Defeat of Determinism

Most materialists deny that free will exists, and for centuries this seemed well-grounded in the findings of physics. The laws of physics appeared to be "deterministic," in the sense that what happens at a later time is solely determined through the laws of physics by what happened at earlier times. This was of course a troubling point for Judaism and Christianity, both of which held free will as a central tenant.

However, a truly astonishing reversal came in the 1920s with the discover of quantum theory. Barr describes it as "the greatest and most profound revolution in the history of physics" (27). It transformed the whole structure of theoretical physics, and in the process swept away physical determinism.

In prior centuries, the core of physical science was prediction. That's how theories were tested and proved. But with quantum theory, the present state of a physical system would not, even in principle, be enough to predict everything about its future behavior. No longer could you simply argue from the deterministic character of physics that free will was impossible.

Of course, this doesn't prove that we have free will. Instead, as Barr notes, "quantum theory simply showed that the most powerful argument against free will was obsolete. In the words of the great mathematician and physicist Hermann Weyl, 'the old classical determinism...need not oppress us any longer'" (27).

Opening the door to free will was just one of the effects of quantum theory. In its traditional or "standard" interpretation, it also posits the existence of observers who lie, at least in part, outside of the description provided by physics. That's a controversial claim, and has been challenged by radical reinterpretations of quantum theory (such as the "many-worlds interpretation") or by changing quantum theory in some way.

But as Barr writes, "The argument against materialism based on quantum theory is a strong one, and has certainly not been refuted. The line of argument is rather subtle. It is also not well-known, even among practicing physicists. But, if it is correct, it would be the most important philosophical implication to come from any scientific discovery" (28).

The above represents just a sampling of the major discoveries in the great history of science and faith. Barr spends nearly 300 pages examining them in more depth. If you'd like to learn more, I highly recommend you pick up Modern Physics and Ancient Faith for the rest of the story.
 
 
(Image credit: Rutgers)

Brandon Vogt

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Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Because then to maintain the belief that your mind is only a machine, you would have to argue against your own mental soundness. You would literally identify as insane.

    Why the leap from "unsound" to "insane"? Yes, our reasoning is obviously imperfect- we've identified dozens of cognitive biases, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work at all, and can't be improved by identifying and trying to ameliorate these flaws..

    • "Why the leap from "unsound" to "insane"?"

      Because if your mind is a machine, you have lost the capacity for sanity, which is defined simply as sound power of the mind. An insane person is one whose mind has no sound powers.

      "Yes, our reasoning is obviously imperfect..."

      That's not what's under discussion in this point. It's whether we can freely reason at all.

      "we've identified dozens of cognitive biases, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work at all"

      Of course. But who's making that argument? Certainly not my original post. Please show me where I said that since we have biases and are sometimes wrong, we are incapable of reason.

      • Because if your mind is a machine, you have lost the capacity for sanity

        That's a reiteration of your claim, but that strikes me as a total non-sequitur, or at least it's missing several additional assumptions, definitions and arguments.

        • "That's a reiteration of your claim, but that strikes me as a total non-sequitur, or at least it's missing several additional assumptions, definitions and arguments."

          You're adding confusion on confusion here, Jimmy.

          It's not a reiteration of my claim. My original claim was that:

          "Perhaps the only way to refute the Lucas-Penrose argument against the "machine mind", which leans on Gödel's Theorem, is to say that the human intellect reasons in a way that is inherently inconsistent. This would imply not just that human beings sometimes make logical mistakes (which is obvious), but that the human mind is radically and inherently unsound in its reasoning faculties."

          That conclusion follows from its premises. If our intellect is inherently inconsistent, then it doesn't follow any consistent laws of logic or reason. That would make it, by definition unsound. And a person with an unsound mind would be, by definition, insane.

          In your response to that claim, you asked "Why the leap from unsound to insane?" and I very clearly showed how that leap is made, logically. But then you (partly) quoted my response and classified it as "a reiteration of your [original] claim," even though it was clearly not.

          Hopefully that clears up the layers of confusion.

          • If our intellect is inherently inconsistent, then it doesn't follow any consistent laws of logic or reason

            That seems trivially true but where are you getting the idea that a "machine mind" is totally inconsistent and incapable of improvement?

            the only thing the article says is:

            If, therefore, human beings were computers, then we could in principle learn our own programs and thus be able to outwit ourselves; and this is not possible

            But it doesn't say why it's not possible.. I think what I described about recognizing and reducing cognitive biases is outwitting our programming..

      • Thank you everyone for a good 'discussion'. But may I now take the opportunity to replace the 'rant' I previously posted on the preference of 'insanity' to 'determinism' - (allowing for a little free will at least!). - Instead I give you this video on the life and art of William Blake. The references in the second part to science, from Isaac Newton to the present times, are but an attempt to find another voice within this debate that concurs with the relevance of a divine madness....
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qvx0on0Hj2I

      • Will

        See my reply to YOS. We have no idea what machine's are capable of, and recent versions, especially basic neural nets do behave inconsistently at times, depending on how they are trained. This argument is based on an outdated conception of "machine" thus it is not sound, though perhaps valid.

      • MNb

        "It's whether we can freely reason at all."
        Define "free". Was Pythagoras free to reason about the Lorentz factor?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorentz_factor

      • MNb

        "It's whether we can freely reason at all."
        Define "free". Was Pythagoras free to reason about the Lorentz factor?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorentz_factor

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Lucas' original argument was that Gödel's theorem demonstrated that in
      any consistent system incorporating first-order arithmetic, there are true theorems that cannot be proven. If the human mind were a computer (or even a 19th century "machine"), then there would be true statements that cannot be proven. That is, places in the landscape of discourse where the roads of proof do not go. One criticism of the Gödelian proof that is made at this point is that Gödel's Theorems only apply to consistent systems. (This does not mean that sometimes one may make a mistake.) But if this were the case, the mind=machine metaphor fails, since while a machine may malfunction, it does not produce inconsistent results.

      The fact that we are all sometimes inconsistent cannot be gainsaid, but from this it does not follow that we are tantamount to inconsistent systems. Our inconsistencies are mistakes rather than set policies. They correspond to the occasional malfunctioning of a machine, not its normal scheme of operations. Witness to this that we eschew inconsistencies when we recognize them for what they are. If we really were inconsistent machines, we should remain content with our inconsistencies, and would happily affirm both halves of a contradiction. Moreover, we would be prepared to say absolutely anything---which we are not. It is easily shown that in an inconsistent formal system everything is provable, and the requirement of consistency turns out to be just that not everything can be proved in it---it is not the case that "anything goes." This surely is a characteristic of the mental operations of human beings: they are selective: they do discriminate between favoured---true---and unfavoured---false---statements: when a person is prepared to say anything, and is prepared to contradict himself without any qualm or repugnance, then he is adjudged to have "lost his mind". Human beings, although not perfectly consistent, are not so much inconsistent as fallible.

      Lucas, "Mind, Machines, and Gödel"
      http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/Godel/mmg.html

      Further objections and rejoinders can be found here:
      http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/
      and scroll down to I Gödelian Papers

      There is a considerably more extended discussion, plus quantum mechanics, here,
      http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/reasreal/chap0.pdf

      where you must scroll to the Table of Contents, then click on the chapter number of interest:

      But more to the point, the existence of statements within a discourse that cannot be proven within the discourse also means the mind is not a machine. A machine literally cannot "see" something it cannot prove; yet the human mind is capable of discovering "gödelian statements" and recognizing them as unprovable. (This does not mean that everyone is well-versed enough in number theory to replicate the proof of Gödel's Theorem.)

      One answer to this is that what is unprovable in arithmetic may be provable in algebra, etc. But that would mean there were unprovable statements in the higher order discourse, so it only kicks the can down the road, unless one is prepared to consider the human mind as infinite, which is unlike actual computers.

      • Will

        But if this were the case, the mind=machine metaphor fails, since while a machine may malfunction, it does not produce inconsistent results.

        Alphago produced inconsistent and surprising moves when it beat Lee Sedol in the game. I think your idea is based on a older idea of what machines can supposedly do.

        https://www.wired.com/2016/03/googles-ai-viewed-move-no-human-understand/

        This article discusses a mistake it realized it made a few moves later, and lost the game. As the system learns, it plays differently each game..isn't that the definition of inconsistent?

        And then, a few minutes later, the big move came. It was move 78, when Lee Sedol played a “wedge” in the middle of the board. “It was the move that made [the game] the most complicated,” Andrew Jackson, who was doing a separate online commentary for the US Go Association, later told me. And this added degree of complication shifted the play away from the machine. Demis Hassabis later tweeted that AlphaGo made a significant mistake with move 79, directly after the big move move from Lee Sedol. And about 10 moves later, he said, AlphaGo’s calculations indicated that its chances of winning had dropped.

        https://www.wired.com/2016/03/go-grandmaster-lee-sedol-grabs-consolation-win-googles-ai/

        Here is the company's latest feat:

        When trained with supervised learning, we demonstrate that a DNC can successfully answer synthetic questions designed to emulate reasoning and inference problems in natural language. We show that it can learn tasks such as finding the shortest path between specified points and inferring the missing links in randomly generated graphs, and then generalize these tasks to specific graphs such as transport networks and family trees. When trained with reinforcement learning, a DNC can complete a moving blocks puzzle in which changing goals are specified by sequences of symbols. Taken together, our results demonstrate that DNCs have the capacity to solve complex, structured tasks that are inaccessible to neural networks without external read–write memory.

        http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v538/n7626/full/nature20101.html

        No one has any idea what the limits of a man made machine are, so such unknown limits cannot be used in any sound argument.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Alphago produced inconsistent and surprising moves

          You mean sometimes it moved its Leaper ahead one square or moved its Castle along a diagonal? Did it declare 'check' when Opponent KIng was not threatened? (Yeah, I know: go, not chess. Same principle. Did it place two stones at the same time, but only one stone at other times? etc.)

          it plays differently each game..isn't that the definition of inconsistent?

          No. An inconsistent system is one that holds A and not-A at the same time in the same way.

          • Will

            You mean sometimes it moved its Leaper ahead one square or moved its Castle along a diagonal? Did it declare 'check' when Opponent KIng was not threatened? (Yeah, I know: go, not chess. Same principle. Did it place two stones at the same time, but only one stone at other times? etc.)

            When it comes to what's involved, it is very much not the same principle in many ways. I'll just quote a Forbes article on the subject:

            DeepMind wanted AlphaGo to play a high-ranking player so that its creators could identify the program’s weakness and find how they could be improved. This is why AlphaGo’s loss on the fourth match was actually a boon for program’s team.

            But AlphaGo’s victories also validated the remarkable way it was able to teach itself to become a better Go player over the last few months.

            In previous computer-vs-human games such as IBM Deep Blue’s historic chess match against Garry Kasparov in 1997, software won the day because of its “brute force” approach, calculating every possible position within seconds and searching for the one that was most likely to be successful.

            That approach wasn’t going to work with Go because the game is so complex, and with an almost infinite amount of variation it required human-like intuition to win.

            “Go required the development of true intuition,” says Lucas Baker, a software engineer at DeepMind and amateur Go player in a bittersweet Medium post about AI conquering Go.

            “AlphaGo learned Go much as a human would: through observation, experimentation, self-improvement, the organic development of heuristics, and, ultimately, a keen feeling for master play,” Baker added.

            DeepMind built AlphaGo with around a dozen layers of neural networks, each with millions of connections that were similar to the billions of neurons that transmit signals in the human brain.

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2016/03/15/google-alphago-deepmind-final-victory-ai/#6ebe3d822192

            No. An inconsistent system is one that holds A and not-A at the same time in the same way.

            Is there any reason at all to think the human mind holds A and not A at the same time in the same way? Surely separate neural pathways are used. A computer can easily hold A and not A in two separate memory registers so you need to be much more precise as to what you mean. Godel's theorem was meant to apply to formal systems in math, not machines or brains anyway.

            Gödel's incompleteness theorems are two theorems of mathematical logic that demonstrate the inherent limitations of every formal axiomatic system containing basic arithmetic.[1] These results, published by Kurt Gödel in 1931, are important both in mathematical logic and in the philosophy of mathematics. The theorems are widely, but not universally, interpreted as showing that Hilbert's program to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics is impossible.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_incompleteness_theorems

            Deep Neural nets do not have preprogrammed axioms and do not resemble formal systems in any way I'm aware of. They do have a complex structure, of course, and recent work has shed some light on why they work so well. This work may shed light on how the human brain does what it does, as neural nets are obviously based on the functioning of biological neurons.
            Regardless, basing the supposed limits of machines on current machines seems short-sited, though AI has historically been overhyped. Not that "Good old fashioned AI' GOFAI for short, was based on symbol manipulation which is much like a formal system...neural nets are not like this at all.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "To hold" does not mean 'to store in a register" of some sort. It means to defend as true. For example, I might hold that the tablecloth on my kitchen table at this particular time is red. If the human mind were inconsistent, I would hold that at the very same time and place that the tablecloth is green or that there is no tablecloth or at any rate, that it is not red. It does not mean that at some other time there might not be another tablecloth on the table. A is A, mon dude. The proposition A cannot be true at the same time and context that the proposition not-A is true.

            Did you read the paper by Lucas?

          • Will

            I'm familiar with it from a class on philosophy of mind, but it's been a year or so. I'll give it a read as a refresher. Here are a couple refutation.

            http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~mmk/papers/05-KI.html

            It argues that the same limitations do apply to human reasoning when these are examined closely. The paper is very detailed.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm pretty sure that your computer guy was using an argument by Benacerraf, but Lucas contended that his critics were rebutting arguments he had not made or were framing their demands so that only computational proofs were allowed, thus begging the question.

            A couple of Lucas' rejoinders are here:
            http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/Godel/satan.html
            and here:
            http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/Godel/brighton.html

          • Will

            Well, instead of posting more links, I'll just point at that this premise about machines does not apply to neural nets. In a large part they change their own rules as they learn (though some rules are static as with neurons). From your original link:

            We understand by a cybernetical machine an apparatus which performs a set of operations according to a definite set of rules. Normally we "programme" a machine: that is, we give it a set of instructions about what it is to do in each eventuality; and we feed in the initial "information" on which the machine is to perform its calculations. When we {45} consider the possibility that the mind might be a cybernetical mechanism we have such a model in view; we suppose that the brain is composed of complicated neural circuits, and that the information fed in by the senses is "processed" and acted upon or stored for future use. If it is such a mechanism, then given the way in which it is programmed---the way in which it is "wired up"---and the information which has been fed into it, the response---the "output"---is determined, and could, granted sufficient time, be calculated. Our idea of a machine is just this, that its behaviour is completely determined by the way it is made and the incoming "stimuli": there is no possibility of its acting on its own: given a certain form of construction and a certain input of information, then it must act in a certain specific way. We, however, shall be concerned not with what a machine must do, but with what it can do. That is, instead [257] of considering the whole set of rules which together determine exactly what a machine will do in given circumstances, we shall consider only an outline of those rules, which will delimit the possible responses of the machine, but not completely. The complete rules will determine the operations completely at every stage; at every stage there will be a definite instruction, e.g., "If the number is prime and greater than two add one and divide by two: if it is not prime, divide by its smallest factor": we, however, will consider the possibility of there being alternative instructions, e.g., "In a fraction you may divide top and bottom by any number which is a factor of both numerator and denominator". In thus (114) relaxing the specification of our model, so that it is no longer completely determinist, though still entirely mechanistic, we shall be able to take into account a feature often proposed for mechanical models of the mind, namely that they should contain a randomizing device. One could build a machine where the choice between a number of alternatives was settled by, say, the number of radium atoms to have disintegrated in a given container in the past half- minute. It is prima facie plausible that our brains should be liable to random effects: a cosmic ray might well be enough to trigger off a neural impulse. But clearly in a machine a randomizing device could not be introduced to choose any alternative whatsoever: it can only be permitted to choose between a number of allowable alternatives. It is all right to add any number chosen at random to both sides of an equation, but not to add one number to one side and another to the other. It is all right to choose to prove one theorem of Euclid rather than another, or to use one method rather than another, but not to "prove" something which is not true, or to use a "method of proof" which is not valid. Any {46} randomizing devices must allow choices only between those operations which will not lead to inconsistency: which is exactly what the relaxed specification of our model specifies Indeed, one might put it this way: instead of considering what a completely determined machine must do, we shall consider what a machine might be able to do if it had a randomizing device that acted whenever there were two or more operations possible, none of which could lead to inconsistency.

            General intelligence may not be accomplished via a Turing machine of any sort (though it still might be possible...we don't know enough about what general intelligence is or if it's even a "thing" yet) but artificial neural networks are not Turing machines. Here is one of the first artificial designs that displays stochastic (randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.) properties which obviously does not fit Lucas's critique. Neurons themselves display stochastic properties.

            Note that even Godel himself thought this line of argument would only apply to a Turing machine, which is a formal system of sorts.

            So the following disjunctive conclusion is inevitable: Either mathematics is incompletable in this sense, that its evident axioms can never be comprised in a finite rule, that is to say, the human mind (even within the realm of pure mathematics) infinitely surpasses the powers of any finite machine, or else there exist absolutely unsolvable diophantine problems of the type specified . . . (Gödel 1995: 310).

            That is, his result shows that either (i) the human mind is not a Turing machine or (ii) there are certain unsolvable mathematical problems. However, Lucas (1998: paragraph 1) goes even further and argues “it is clear that Gödel thought the second disjunct false,” that is Gödel “was implicitly denying that any Turing machine could emulate the powers of the human mind.” So, perhaps the first thinker to endorse a version of the Lucas-Penrose argument was Gödel himself.

            http://www.iep.utm.edu/lp-argue/#H4

            Need all machines be Turing machines? Of course not :)

            A Turing machine is an abstract machine[1] that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules; to be more exact, it is a mathematical model of computation that defines such a device.[2] Despite the model's simplicity, given any computer algorithm, a Turing machine can be constructed that is capable of simulating that algorithm's logic.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine

            Personally, I'm confident that the human brain is certainly not a Turing machine, but that doesn't mean it isn't a machine of some sort, depending on how one defines machine. That definition would have to include the ability to learn and alter itself, which machine learning also does, just not as well.
            Also note that there is another alternative, that certain mathematical problems are unsolvable. It is beginning to look like that may be the case instead:

            In 1931, Austrian-born mathematician Kurt Gödel shook the academic world when he announced that some statements are ‘undecidable’, meaning that it is impossible to prove them either true or false. Three researchers have now found that the same principle makes it impossible to calculate an important property of a material — the gaps between the lowest energy levels of its electrons — from an idealized model of its atoms.
            Gödel's enigmatic foundations of maths put to music
            The result also raises the possibility that a related problem in particle physics — which has a US$1-million prize attached to it — could be similarly unsolvable, says Toby Cubitt, a quantum-information theorist at University College London and one of the authors of the study.

            The finding, published on 9 December in Nature1, and in a longer, 140-page version on the arXiv preprint server2, is “genuinely shocking, and probably a big surprise for almost everybody working on condensed-matter theory”, says Christian Gogolin, a quantum information theorist at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain.

            http://www.nature.com/news/paradox-at-the-heart-of-mathematics-makes-physics-problem-unanswerable-1.18983

            The jury is very much still out on all of this and these arguments are far from conclusive. As I said, we have no idea what machines are really capable of and how many types of machines could exist. There could be designs far superior to a Turing machine or the human brain...my intuition is that there probably are but that isn't an argument. For further reference here is a list of unsolved problems in math. If any of these (or problems we aren't even aware of) are actually unsolvable then we would have to go with Godel's option II, not I as the Lucas Penrose argument presents.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Lucas' argument was not about "intelligence." Machines may be plenty smart, at least when they are simply abstract machines and not specific. His argument was that as long as the human mind was capable of doing something that a machine was not, then they could not possibly be the same thing. In this case, it was recognizing the Gödel statement within the system as being true but unprovable. That's not a matter of "intelligence," but of capability.

          • Will

            I think it's pretty uncontroversial that the human brain isn't a Turing machine. Time will tell what Turing machines are capable of, but again, Turing machines are just one type of possible machine.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Lucas' argument was not about "intelligence." Machines may be plenty smart, at least when they are simply abstract machines and not specific. His argument was that as long as the human mind was capable of doing something that a machine was not, then they could not possibly be the same thing. In this case, it was recognizing the Gödel statement within the system as being true but unprovable. That's not a matter of "intelligence," but of capability.

          • Will

            Well, instead of posting more links, I'll just point at that this premise about machines does not apply to neural nets. In a large part they change their own rules as they learn (though some rules are static as with neurons). From your original link:

            We understand by a cybernetical machine an apparatus which performs a set of operations according to a definite set of rules. Normally we "programme" a machine: that is, we give it a set of instructions about what it is to do in each eventuality; and we feed in the initial "information" on which the machine is to perform its calculations. When we {45} consider the possibility that the mind might be a cybernetical mechanism we have such a model in view; we suppose that the brain is composed of complicated neural circuits, and that the information fed in by the senses is "processed" and acted upon or stored for future use. If it is such a mechanism, then given the way in which it is programmed---the way in which it is "wired up"---and the information which has been fed into it, the response---the "output"---is determined, and could, granted sufficient time, be calculated. Our idea of a machine is just this, that its behaviour is completely determined by the way it is made and the incoming "stimuli": there is no possibility of its acting on its own: given a certain form of construction and a certain input of information, then it must act in a certain specific way. We, however, shall be concerned not with what a machine must do, but with what it can do. That is, instead [257] of considering the whole set of rules which together determine exactly what a machine will do in given circumstances, we shall consider only an outline of those rules, which will delimit the possible responses of the machine, but not completely. The complete rules will determine the operations completely at every stage; at every stage there will be a definite instruction, e.g., "If the number is prime and greater than two add one and divide by two: if it is not prime, divide by its smallest factor": we, however, will consider the possibility of there being alternative instructions, e.g., "In a fraction you may divide top and bottom by any number which is a factor of both numerator and denominator". In thus (114) relaxing the specification of our model, so that it is no longer completely determinist, though still entirely mechanistic, we shall be able to take into account a feature often proposed for mechanical models of the mind, namely that they should contain a randomizing device. One could build a machine where the choice between a number of alternatives was settled by, say, the number of radium atoms to have disintegrated in a given container in the past half- minute. It is prima facie plausible that our brains should be liable to random effects: a cosmic ray might well be enough to trigger off a neural impulse. But clearly in a machine a randomizing device could not be introduced to choose any alternative whatsoever: it can only be permitted to choose between a number of allowable alternatives. It is all right to add any number chosen at random to both sides of an equation, but not to add one number to one side and another to the other. It is all right to choose to prove one theorem of Euclid rather than another, or to use one method rather than another, but not to "prove" something which is not true, or to use a "method of proof" which is not valid. Any {46} randomizing devices must allow choices only between those operations which will not lead to inconsistency: which is exactly what the relaxed specification of our model specifies Indeed, one might put it this way: instead of considering what a completely determined machine must do, we shall consider what a machine might be able to do if it had a randomizing device that acted whenever there were two or more operations possible, none of which could lead to inconsistency.

            General intelligence may not be accomplished via a Turing machine of any sort (though it still might be possible...we don't know enough about what general intelligence is or if it's even a "thing" yet) but artificial neural networks are not Turing machines. Here is one of the first artificial designs that displays stochastic (randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.) properties which obviously does not fit Lucas's critique. Neurons themselves display stochastic properties.

            Note that even Godel himself thought this line of argument would only apply to a Turing machine, which is a formal system of sorts.

            So the following disjunctive conclusion is inevitable: Either mathematics is incompletable in this sense, that its evident axioms can never be comprised in a finite rule, that is to say, the human mind (even within the realm of pure mathematics) infinitely surpasses the powers of any finite machine, or else there exist absolutely unsolvable diophantine problems of the type specified . . . (Gödel 1995: 310).

            That is, his result shows that either (i) the human mind is not a Turing machine or (ii) there are certain unsolvable mathematical problems. However, Lucas (1998: paragraph 1) goes even further and argues “it is clear that Gödel thought the second disjunct false,” that is Gödel “was implicitly denying that any Turing machine could emulate the powers of the human mind.” So, perhaps the first thinker to endorse a version of the Lucas-Penrose argument was Gödel himself.

            http://www.iep.utm.edu/lp-argue/#H4

            Need all machines be Turing machines? Of course not :)

            A Turing machine is an abstract machine[1] that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules; to be more exact, it is a mathematical model of computation that defines such a device.[2] Despite the model's simplicity, given any computer algorithm, a Turing machine can be constructed that is capable of simulating that algorithm's logic.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine

            Personally, I'm confident that the human brain is certainly not a Turing machine, but that doesn't mean it isn't a machine of some sort, depending on how one defines machine. That definition would have to include the ability to learn and alter itself, which machine learning also does, just not as well.
            Also note that there is another alternative, that certain mathematical problems are unsolvable. It is beginning to look like that may be the case instead:

            In 1931, Austrian-born mathematician Kurt Gödel shook the academic world when he announced that some statements are ‘undecidable’, meaning that it is impossible to prove them either true or false. Three researchers have now found that the same principle makes it impossible to calculate an important property of a material — the gaps between the lowest energy levels of its electrons — from an idealized model of its atoms.
            Gödel's enigmatic foundations of maths put to music
            The result also raises the possibility that a related problem in particle physics — which has a US$1-million prize attached to it — could be similarly unsolvable, says Toby Cubitt, a quantum-information theorist at University College London and one of the authors of the study.

            The finding, published on 9 December in Nature1, and in a longer, 140-page version on the arXiv preprint server2, is “genuinely shocking, and probably a big surprise for almost everybody working on condensed-matter theory”, says Christian Gogolin, a quantum information theorist at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain.

            http://www.nature.com/news/paradox-at-the-heart-of-mathematics-makes-physics-problem-unanswerable-1.18983

            The jury is very much still out on all of this and these arguments are far from conclusive. As I said, we have no idea what machines are really capable of and how many types of machines could exist. There could be designs far superior to a Turing machine or the human brain...my intuition is that there probably are but that isn't an argument. For further reference here is a list of unsolved problems in math. If any of these (or problems we aren't even aware of) are actually unsolvable then we would have to go with Godel's option II, not I as the Lucas Penrose argument presents.

          • Will

            I'm familiar with it from a class on philosophy of mind, but it's been a year or so. I'll give it a read as a refresher. Here are a couple refutation.

            http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/~mmk/papers/05-KI.html

            It argues that the same limitations do apply to human reasoning when these are examined closely. The paper is very detailed.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "To hold" does not mean 'to store in a register" of some sort. It means to defend as true. For example, I might hold that the tablecloth on my kitchen table at this particular time is red. If the human mind were inconsistent, I would hold that at the very same time and place that the tablecloth is green or that there is no tablecloth or at any rate, that it is not red. It does not mean that at some other time there might not be another tablecloth on the table. A is A, mon dude. The proposition A cannot be true at the same time and context that the proposition not-A is true.

            Did you read the paper by Lucas?

  • GCBill

    Contrast Barr

    "The argument against materialism based on quantum theory is a strong one, and has certainly not been refuted. The line of argument is rather subtle. It is also not well-known, even among practicing physicists. But, if it is correct, it would be the most important philosophical implication to come from any scientific discovery."

    with Heisenberg:

    "Of course the introduction of the observer must not be misunderstood to imply that some kind of subjective features are to be brought into the description of nature. The observer has, rather, only the function of registering decisions, i.e., processes in space and time, and it does not matter whether the observer is an apparatus or a human being; but the registration, i.e., the transition from the "possible" to the "actual," is absolutely necessary here and cannot be omitted from the interpretation of quantum theory."

    • I don't see how that quote from Heisenberg refutes or is incompatible with that quote from Barr. Perhaps you can explain?

      • GCBill

        The Heisenberg quote disputes the claim that observes must "lie, at least in part, outside of the description provided by physics."

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      the transition from the "possible" to the "actual," is absolutely necessary

      Yes, Heisenberg was very explicit about adopting Aristotelian metaphysics, and dismissing things like "electrons" from the realm of objective reality.

  • Will

    Whether the physical world is deterministic or not is not relevant to whether physicalism is true or false verse dualism. The indeterminacy of QM may not be relevant to brain processes as the wave functions will constantly collapse and cancel out in larger and more complex systems.
    Godel's incompleteness theorem is only about formal systems. A typical computer is a formal system, but there is no reason to think that every machine operates like a formal system, it depends on the architecture. It's quite possible that the human brain is composed of many different modules that result in a composite that is not subject to these rules. Recent developments in AI are attempting to link neural nets in a similar fashion though this is still a good ways from human intelligence...probably.

  • David Nickol

    It still seems to me that despite Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, Catholicism (and most other branches of Christianity) puts the human race squarely in the center of the things. God created the human race, it "fell," and so the Second Person of the Trinity became a man to effect our salvation.

    Even the head of the Vatican Observatory has said that there may be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Anthropic in the term "anthropic principle" comes from the Greek anthropoid meaning "human." It does not automatically follow even if we accept as probable that the universe was "designed" for intelligent life that the raison d'être for the universe is the human race on the planet Earth. It does not follow that the human race is so important that God became man. As I understand Catholic doctrine, the Incarnation could happen only once. Consequently, even if the universe is densely populated with intelligent races, it still remains that God himself is "part human." How will the Vulcans, the Klingons, the Denobulans, and the Romulans (to name a few) going to feel about God as "part human"?

    Certainly the implication is that the human race is extra special in some way. It has been suggested that perhaps, if there are other races, humanity was the only one to need the incarnation, in which case it may be a badge of shame rather than a badge of honor to have had/needed a savior. Yet it seems to be a very Christian idea that the human race is the "pinnacle of creation."

    • neil_pogi

      the Bible never mentions that the earth is the only planet thriving with life. there are also life forms existed before the universe is created. the Godhead,

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      How will the Vulcans, the Klingons, the Denobulans, and the Romulans (to name a few) going to feel about God as "part human"?

      Don't forget that as Augustine wrote in City of God:
      '[W]hoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature..."

      IOW, to be a human is not a biological question, but a metaphysical one. A human is a rational, mortal animal and the imaginary species mentioned are just as human as any other. This is obscured by the fact that so far the only humans we know of are the species H.sap.

      OTOH, we may reserve judgement on the preferences of Vulcans and the rest until there is some evidence that there are Vulcans et al. The universe is necessarily as large as need be to produce one intelligent species. Were it much smaller, there would have been insufficient mass to form stars. Were it much larger, it would have collapsed from its own gravitation.

      Certainly, in the Christian persuasion, humanity is perceived as fallen, and is not the "pinnacle of creation." (Angels rank higher.) And his residence, Earth, is the lowest, most wretched, scum-sucking hive of villainy. It was the humanists of Copernicus' time that sought to elevate Earth into the heavens and to glorify the status of humanity.

      • David Nickol

        IOW, to be a human is not a biological question, but a metaphysical one.

        You quote from Chapter 8 of The City of God, which has the title Whether Certain Monstrous Races of Men Are Derived from the Stock of Adam or Noah's Sons. The conclusion at the end of the chapter is as follows:

        Wherefore, to conclude this question cautiously and guardedly, either these things which have been told of some races have no existence at all; or if they do exist, they are not human races; or if they are human, they are descended from Adam.

        I can find no other way to read this as than as a statement that to be a human is to be descended from Adam, and any race not descended from Adam is not human.

      • David Nickol

        IOW, to be a human is not a biological question, but a metaphysical one.

        You quote from Chapter 8 of The City of God, which has the title Whether Certain Monstrous Races of Men Are Derived from the Stock of Adam or Noah's Sons. The conclusion at the end of the chapter is as follows:

        Wherefore, to conclude this question cautiously and guardedly, either these things which have been told of some races have no existence at all; or if they do exist, they are not human races; or if they are human, they are descended from Adam.

        I can find no other way to read this as than as a statement that to be a human is to be descended from Adam, and any race not descended from Adam is not human.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      How will the Vulcans, the Klingons, the Denobulans, and the Romulans (to name a few) going to feel about God as "part human"?

      Don't forget that as Augustine wrote in City of God:
      '[W]hoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature..."

      IOW, to be a human is not a biological question, but a metaphysical one. A human is a rational, mortal animal and the imaginary species mentioned are just as human as any other. This is obscured by the fact that so far the only humans we know of are the species H.sap.

      OTOH, we may reserve judgement on the preferences of Vulcans and the rest until there is some evidence that there are Vulcans et al. The universe is necessarily as large as need be to produce one intelligent species. Were it much smaller, there would have been insufficient mass to form stars. Were it much larger, it would have collapsed from its own gravitation.

      Certainly, in the Christian persuasion, humanity is perceived as fallen, and is not the "pinnacle of creation." (Angels rank higher.) And his residence, Earth, is the lowest, most wretched, scum-sucking hive of villainy. It was the humanists of Copernicus' time that sought to elevate Earth into the heavens and to glorify the status of humanity.

    • "It still seems to me that despite Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, Catholicism (and most other branches of Christianity) puts the human race squarely in the center of the things."

      Metaphysically, yes. Physically, not necessarily. Missing this distinction is the cause for much confusion.

      • David Nickol

        Metaphysically, yes. Physically, not necessarily.

        I would say it goes far beyond metaphysics. (The location of humankind physically, or "geographically," is irrelevant, since there is no physical center of the universe.) According to Christianity, all of creation is for human beings. The interaction between God and the "first parents" of the human race affects all of human history. Indeed, I have heard some Christians argue that the "fall" affected the entire material universe.

        It is difficult to maintain, it seems to me, that having God become man does not put the human race in the center of the cosmos, or at least make the human race unique among all races (if there are other races, which I think is quite possible). And I am certain that Catholic teaching is that the Incarnation could happen only once. This means that if there have been or are other races that "fell," they do not get to have their own savior.

        Of course, we have no proof that there have been or will be any other intelligent life in the universe than humankind. Or if there currently exist, or will exist, other fallen races, it could be that one purpose of humankind is to go preach the Gospel to aliens. In any case, even if not physically at the center of the universe, the human race is very, very special according to Christian belief.

        • Suppose that there is a more complex understanding of Jesus' incarnation and sacrifice that takes care of the multiple-fallen-worlds problem. Would it be important for God to ensure we have that more complex understanding, or would an approximation that works for one world be quite sufficient—for now, when we're not in contact with any aliens?

          • David Nickol

            Well, according to the Catholic view, public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. So I am not quite sure how human beings could ever know if somehow Jesus had a more cosmic role.

            Of course, the idea of other intelligent races is speculative, but not anywhere near as speculative as it would have been in the early days of Christianity. So I think it is fair to wonder about it.

            It seems to me there is no hint in "revelation" as interpreted by Catholicism for the past two thousand years that there exist any other intelligent, physical being other than humans, which are still taken to be the descendants of two "first parents." As far as I know, Catholicism makes nothing of mentions of beings in the Old Testament such as the Nephilim. (Even my spell check doesn't recognize them!)

          • So I am not quite sure how human beings could ever know if somehow Jesus had a more cosmic role.

            That seems rather easy: suppose we encounter an alien civilization with a religion with surprising similarities with the Bible. Maybe even their Bible and our Bible would complement each other. That would be pretty powerful evidence, don't you think? From the Bible we have, I think a pretty strong case can be made that God values unity and diversity, with neither unity turning into uniformity nor diversity turning into division. What better way to one-up our current diversity with aliens who can teach us more about God, and whom we can teach more about God?

            It seems to me there is no hint in "revelation" as interpreted by Catholicism for the past two thousand years that there exist any other intelligent, physical being other than humans, which are still taken to be the descendants of two "first parents."

            Ok, but it doesn't seem like such a thing is relevant to us given our current challenges. We have enough problems here on earth, for right now. God isn't obligated to provide us more than we need. Indeed, I think it'd be pretty shameful for us, for aliens to discover us in our current state.

          • David Nickol

            That seems rather easy: suppose we encounter an alien civilization with a religion with surprising similarities with the Bible.

            Well, I am attempting to look at this from a Catholic point of view. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of Christian denominations with which the Catholic Church does not agree. If an advanced alien race makes itself known to the Catholics of Earth, there will be significant problems if their religion does not mesh perfectly with Catholicism. The aliens will, for example, have to assent to the infallibility of the pope.

            Now, if I wanted to write a very bad science fiction novel, I could imagine an intelligent race contacted Earth, and it turned out they had a remarkably accurate version of the story of Jesus and his founding of the One True Church. In the novel, they would be seeking the human pope who could guide them to perfection by being an infallible authority on faith and morals. I don't think it would win the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

            I suppose the real point of this speculation—since the chances of alien races contacting Earth is vanishingly small even if such races exist—is that the story of Christianity was formulated when virtually everyone thought "the world" and "the universe" meant the same thing. While the quite recent discovery that our solar system is one among billions doesn't disprove Christianity, it certainly raises questions as to whether the human race is as important as Christianity makes it out to be.

          • Being a Protestant, the Pope issue doesn't bother me. :-) As to the solar system being one among billions, I just don't see a problem with reality being more awesome than we previously thought. Indeed, I suspect that it is infinitely complex, for I suspect that is the only way we can understand God fully (as t → ∞). Let us also recall that God is strong where we are weak, and his wisdom confounds the learning of the wise. Size isn't the most important thing. Jesus went not to Rome, but to a backwater, ministering and preaching to nobodies.

          • David Nickol

            Being a Protestant, the Pope issue doesn't bother me. :-)

            But in the scenario for my bad novel, in which the aliens come looking for the man who is an infallible authority on faith and morals, Protestants would have little choice but to become Catholics.

            As to the solar system being one among billions, I just don't see a problem with reality being more awesome than we previously thought.

            I suspect for the average devout and well informed Christian, there is almost nothing that can't be accommodated into the Christian worldview in some way or another. Religion is just like politics. There is nothing that can't be "spun."

          • But in the scenario for my bad novel, in which the aliens come looking for the man who is an infallible authority on faith and morals, Protestants would have little choice but to become Catholics.

            I don't know if I'd go that far, but it certainly wouldn't be evidence I could blithely ignore in good conscience.

            I suspect for the average devout and well informed Christian, there is almost nothing that can't be accommodated into the Christian worldview in some way or another. Religion is just like politics. There is nothing that can't be "spun."

            Sure. Randal Rauser makes a similar critique of naturalism: Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism. But surely there are ways to avoid this failure mode—in messy places like politics? (Science does alright when one doesn't have to deal with the full complexity of humans in society.)

          • David Nickol

            Well, according to the Catholic view, public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. So I am not quite sure how human beings could ever know if somehow Jesus had a more cosmic role.

            Of course, the idea of other intelligent races is speculative, but not anywhere near as speculative as it would have been in the early days of Christianity. So I think it is fair to wonder about it.

            It seems to me there is no hint in "revelation" as interpreted by Catholicism for the past two thousand years that there exist any other intelligent, physical being other than humans, which are still taken to be the descendants of two "first parents." As far as I know, Catholicism makes nothing of mentions of beings in the Old Testament such as the Nephilim. (Even my spell check doesn't recognize them!)

        • Suppose that there is a more complex understanding of Jesus' incarnation and sacrifice that takes care of the multiple-fallen-worlds problem. Would it be important for God to ensure we have that more complex understanding, or would an approximation that works for one world be quite sufficient—for now, when we're not in contact with any aliens?

      • David Nickol

        Metaphysically, yes. Physically, not necessarily.

        I would say it goes far beyond metaphysics. (The location of humankind physically, or "geographically," is irrelevant, since there is no physical center of the universe.) According to Christianity, all of creation is for human beings. The interaction between God and the "first parents" of the human race affects all of human history. Indeed, I have heard some Christians argue that the "fall" affected the entire material universe.

        It is difficult to maintain, it seems to me, that having God become man does not put the human race in the center of the cosmos, or at least make the human race unique among all races (if there are other races, which I think is quite possible). And I am certain that Catholic teaching is that the Incarnation could happen only once. This means that if there have been or are other races that "fell," they do not get to have their own savior.

        Of course, we have no proof that there have been or will be any other intelligent life in the universe than humankind. Or if there currently exist, or will exist, other fallen races, it could be that one purpose of humankind is to go preach the Gospel to aliens. In any case, even if not physically at the center of the universe, the human race is very, very special according to Christian belief.

  • David Nickol

    Regarding the determinism vs. free-will debate, I will just point out (without pretending to have a deep understanding), that according to the PhilPapers Surveys, the majority of philosophers accept or lean toward compatibilism. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

    Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility, compatibilism is sometimes expressed as a thesis about the compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism.

    I have not read Dr. Barr's book yet, but I don't see how the alleged "defeat of determinism" opens up the way for free will. If the mind is a "machine" following the laws of nature, the workings of the machine may be to some extent indeterminate, but how that would account for free will is not at all evident. It would just mean that anything operating according to the laws of nature that is affected by undetermined occurrences on the quantum level will also be to some extent undetermined. Undetermined does not mean free.

    • Ahh, but undetermined by the laws of nature opens up the possibility of determined by the individual. In the nineteenth century, the trajectory of classical physics pointed toward general causation and away from singular causation (comparison [pdf]). Laplace's demon depended on what I term monocausation: there is exactly one causal power at play (the laws of physics). I suspect there is an association between monocausation and what typically goes under the description 'determinism', as evidenced by the following from @geena_safire:disqus:

      GS: In a deterministic world, in Carroll's sense, everything can be said to have a "reason why" in the sense of what it is fundamentally made of and the forces that led to their current configuration. But some theists also posit an even immensely more deterministic world, one in which everything that exists was intended to be just so from the beginning, such that the world will eventually reach a certain state in the future.

      In this way, Vogt is actually positing a hyperdeterministic world.

      I claim there is a deep incoherence here, exposed by the need to coin the word 'hyperdeterministic' instead of admit that the reigning causal explanation is only partially determined. I suspect this incoherence is fairly pervasive among naturalists, that there is an implicit definition of 'determinism' ≡ 'monocausation'. That is, under 'determinism', agent causes can always be reduced to "the laws of nature".

      There is an alternative, which can be approached by asking what theistic explanations could possibly add to naturalistic explanations. Gregory Dawes does precisely this in Theism and Explanation (excerpt). In order to have rationality really exist and power "intentional explanations", you need to have true causes which aren't: (i) nomological; (ii) law-like; (iii) general. (These terms are related, but not necessarily identical.) That is, you need agent causes which cannot be reduced to "the laws of nature", to monocausation.

      • David Nickol

        Ahh, but undetermined by the laws of nature opens up the possibility of determined by the individual.

        First, I noticed that you didn't say anything at all about compatibilism.

        Second, it seems to me that only materialists who are not compatibilists and would otherwise be determinists have to look to quantum indeterminism (in desperation) for a way to salvage the concept of free will. I don't understand why you, being a Christian and not a materialist, need to speculate how a mind could arise from a purely physical brain and be capable of free will.

      • David Nickol

        Ahh, but undetermined by the laws of nature opens up the possibility of determined by the individual.

        First, I noticed that you didn't say anything at all about compatibilism.

        Second, it seems to me that only materialists who are not compatibilists and would otherwise be determinists have to look to quantum indeterminism (in desperation) for a way to salvage the concept of free will. I don't understand why you, being a Christian and not a materialist, need to speculate how a mind could arise from a purely physical brain and be capable of free will.

        • Will

          If physics isn't determined it isn't determined by anything, much less the individual. It's interesting how people like to inject pet theories, without evidence into lack of knowledge.

        • Will

          If physics isn't determined it isn't determined by anything, much less the individual. It's interesting how people like to inject pet theories, without evidence into lack of knowledge.

        • First, I noticed that you didn't say anything at all about compatibilism.

          That's because 'compatibilism' is defined with respect to 'determinism', and I've problematized the latter term. Is 'compatibilism' compatible with @geena_safire:disqus's 'hyperdeterminism'? That's not clear to me.

          I don't understand why you, being a Christian and not a materialist, need to speculate how a mind could arise from a purely physical brain and be capable of free will.

          Oh, I think that the ideas about these things which exist among the world's intellectuals exert powerful influences on society and the [perhaps inchoate] thought of your average person. For example, what I've called 'monocausation' has as a necessary correlate social atomism/​methodological individualism. That is a very dangerous belief in my opinion.

          I also want to understand as much as possible about how minds arise. Where I'll differ from others is holding out the possibility that reductionism fails (which I think is entailed by a rejection of monocausation) and that God can causally influence states of affairs. But I also believe that God wants us to understand more and more about him and creation, which militates against anything that looks like "god of the gaps".

        • First, I noticed that you didn't say anything at all about compatibilism.

          That's because 'compatibilism' is defined with respect to 'determinism', and I've problematized the latter term. Is 'compatibilism' compatible with @geena_safire:disqus's 'hyperdeterminism'? That's not clear to me.

          I don't understand why you, being a Christian and not a materialist, need to speculate how a mind could arise from a purely physical brain and be capable of free will.

          Oh, I think that the ideas about these things which exist among the world's intellectuals exert powerful influences on society and the [perhaps inchoate] thought of your average person. For example, what I've called 'monocausation' has as a necessary correlate social atomism/​methodological individualism. That is a very dangerous belief in my opinion.

          I also want to understand as much as possible about how minds arise. Where I'll differ from others is holding out the possibility that reductionism fails (which I think is entailed by a rejection of monocausation) and that God can causally influence states of affairs. But I also believe that God wants us to understand more and more about him and creation, which militates against anything that looks like "god of the gaps".

      • MNb

        "I claim there is a deep incoherence here"
        Unfortunately that claim is totally irrelevant in the 21st Century because the fundamental laws of nature are likely undeterministic themselves.

      • MNb

        "I claim there is a deep incoherence here"
        Unfortunately that claim is totally irrelevant in the 21st Century because the fundamental laws of nature are likely undeterministic themselves.

    • Ahh, but undetermined by the laws of nature opens up the possibility of determined by the individual. In the nineteenth century, the trajectory of classical physics pointed toward general causation and away from singular causation (comparison [pdf]). Laplace's demon depended on what I term monocausation: there is exactly one causal power at play (the laws of physics). I suspect there is an association between monocausation and what typically goes under the description 'determinism', as evidenced by the following from @geena_safire:disqus:

      GS: In a deterministic world, in Carroll's sense, everything can be said to have a "reason why" in the sense of what it is fundamentally made of and the forces that led to their current configuration. But some theists also posit an even immensely more deterministic world, one in which everything that exists was intended to be just so from the beginning, such that the world will eventually reach a certain state in the future.

      In this way, Vogt is actually positing a hyperdeterministic world.

      I claim there is a deep incoherence here, exposed by the need to coin the word 'hyperdeterministic' instead of admit that the reigning causal explanation is only partially determined. I suspect this incoherence is fairly pervasive among naturalists, that there is an implicit definition of 'determinism' ≡ 'monocausation'. That is, under 'determinism', agent causes can always be reduced to "the laws of nature".

      There is an alternative, which can be approached by asking what theistic explanations could possibly add to naturalistic explanations. Gregory Dawes does precisely this in Theism and Explanation (excerpt). In order to have rationality really exist and power "intentional explanations", you need to have true causes which aren't: (i) nomological; (ii) law-like; (iii) general. (These terms are related, but not necessarily identical.) That is, you need agent causes which cannot be reduced to "the laws of nature", to monocausation.

  • Rather than attribute any uncertainty to human knowledge of material reality at the limits of measurement, philosophers like Barr deny that material reality is determinate. Then they let that determinacy in through the backdoor, claiming that the mathematics demands an immaterial observer at the level of materiality to effect determinacy. I could no longer find Barr’s lecture on the topic at the 2011 Faith and Reason Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. However, Alexander Sich’s rebuttal is available on YouTube. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+franciscan+university+faith+and+reason+conference+2011&&view=detail&mid=E61C379B4512F78380CFE61C379B4512F78380CF&FORM=VRDGAR

    • Will

      In my mind rejecting determinism entails rejecting the Principle of Sufficient reason. Of course this might be the case in our universe. I have never seen how Quantum indeterminacy would help free will in any case. Indeterminate != free...it's more like random. I prefer determinism myself, and there is good reason to think processes at the level of brain function are deterministic, there is no evidence that QM plays a noticeable role at that level but the jury is still out.

      • MNb

        There is evidence that QM can't play such a noticeable role.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/free-will-is-an-illusion_b_1562533.html

        If free will is saved then not by QM.

        "Indeterminate != free...it's more like random."
        or probabilistic. And that's the trick. According to Jerry Coyne the best score neurobiologists achieve when predicting decisions of test persons is 75% (were it random then the score would be 50%). If we define free will as something like "not determined by external factors" then there is room left for free will. Two points are important:
        1. such a definition does nothing to save dualist free will like BV tries to defend;
        2. that score might rise.
        As long as neuroscientists haven't reached consensus I think every philosophical discussion irrelevant. It always boils down to "I argue for dualism hence for free will" vs. "I'm a materialist hence I reject dualist free will". This blog post isn't an exception, so I don't see any need to read Barr's book either.

        • Will

          I'd debate a number of assumptions in the HuffPost article, like the idea your subconscious/unconscious isn't "you", but in general I agree. In general I think "free will" is so poorly defined it's almost impossible to talk about coherently, but if I have to pick a camp I'd choose a form of compatibilism. Even if we reject free will, it's easy to argue that holding people responsible for who they become and their actions is part of what determines how they act. Of course, there looks to be major room for improvement in how we deter criminal acts:

          http://nij.gov/five-things/pages/deterrence.aspx

          In serious crimes, however, I'm not against the justice system sated the need for vengeance on behalf of the victims. The victims can't help this need any more than criminals can help themselves (especially if free will is false) and I have never seen a coherent argument against this idea. Sating vengeance is part of preventing vigilante justice, possibly.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/opinion/28rosenbaum.html

          I'm against taking vengeance too far, of course, but it isn't clear exactly what "too far" entails.

          • MNb

            "In general I think "free will" is so poorly defined"
            Agreed. That's why I propose to wait until neurobiology has reached consensus on a model of the human brain. It may well be the case that free will becomes as meaningless and in the end obsolete as say phlogiston.

      • MNb

        There is evidence that QM can't play such a noticeable role.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/free-will-is-an-illusion_b_1562533.html

        If free will is saved then not by QM.

        "Indeterminate != free...it's more like random."
        or probabilistic. And that's the trick. According to Jerry Coyne the best score neurobiologists achieve when predicting decisions of test persons is 75% (were it random then the score would be 50%). If we define free will as something like "not determined by external factors" then there is room left for free will. Two points are important:
        1. such a definition does nothing to save dualist free will like BV tries to defend;
        2. that score might rise.
        As long as neuroscientists haven't reached consensus I think every philosophical discussion irrelevant. It always boils down to "I argue for dualism hence for free will" vs. "I'm a materialist hence I reject dualist free will". This blog post isn't an exception, so I don't see any need to read Barr's book either.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Barr is a particle physicist, not a philosopher.

      • That appellation was on purpose. In this discussion, Barr’s views are philosophical. At the 2011 Steubenville Conference, Sich’s rebuttal of Barr’s philosophy was appropriately philosophical, even though Sich too, is a physicist. I found both the full lecture of Barr and Sich’s rebuttal at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWmbL9nFssk

      • That appellation was on purpose. In this discussion, Barr’s views are philosophical. At the 2011 Steubenville Conference, Sich’s rebuttal of Barr’s philosophy was appropriately philosophical, even though Sich too, is a physicist. I found both the full lecture of Barr and Sich’s rebuttal at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWmbL9nFssk

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Barr is a particle physicist, not a philosopher.

  • MNb

    "the universe had a beginning"
    is not the same as "our natural reality had a beginning. That one remains beyond the scope of science for the moment and probably quite a while. Note that a favourite apologetic argument is "something cannot come out of nothing and quantum fields are not nothing", which allows the conclusions that quantum fields are eternal. Nice demonstration that apologetics is inconsistent; relevant for non-twist nr. 4.
    The first one to derive a beginning for the universe from General Relativity was atheist commie Alexander Friedmann btw.

    "the world is governed not by a personal God but by impersonal laws."
    Bad formulation. Scientific laws don't govern anything. They describe what we observe, hopefully correctly.

    "the question of a cosmic designer seems no longer irrelevant but inescapable."
    The answer already has been provided by Dutch theologian, apostate and socialist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis: deriving a divine world (in which that cosmic designer resides) from our concrete world (as described by those fundamental laws of nature) requires a salto mortale.

    "it becomes harder to avoid asking, "Why is there any universe at all?"
    It's very easy actually. The correct question is "how come there is any universe at all?" And we're back at the cosmology that postulates a Big Bang.
    Why is not a scientific question because it presupposes a purpose. "If we can't take for granted the very number of universes" has exactly zilch to do with any purpose. So BV is making a salto mortale.

    "The universe and its laws seem in some respects to be balanced on a knife-edge."
    Yawn. Fine Tuning. Well, there are about 30 natural constants to be fine-tuned. That suggests about 30 fine-tuners, cosmic designers or whatever you prefer to call them. I'll take the argument seriously the moment an impressive amount of monotheists reconvert to polytheism because of it.

    "A little deviation in one direction or the other in the way the world and its laws are put together, and we would not be here."
    And that's an unsubstantiated claim. The correct version is: ".... and we would not be here in our current form, but there would be a good chance that 'we' would be here in another form of life." Victor Stenger has done computer simulations regarding this. I'm not familiar with his research.

    "this is not possible, at least not as we mean it here."
    This is not only wrong, it's silly. Of course any evidence brought up against this will be dismissed with "but I don't mean it like that here".
    I checked it; the representation of the answer "the human mind reasons inconsistently" - which is an empirical fact - is grossly twisted. It does not imply at all that "that the human mind is radically and inherently unsound in its reasoning faculties". It just notes that humans are capable of inconsistencies (as apologetics nicely confirms regarding the beginning of our natural reality; see above) and hence that Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems might not apply to human minds. No twist here either.

    "the present state of a physical system would not, even in principle, be enough to predict everything about its future behavior."
    Worse - it would not, even in principle, be enough to identify causes. Typical that BV leaves that out, because it conflicts with lots of religious views, including all christian god images. Again I will take this seriously as soon as an impressive amount of abrahamists will deconvert to polytheism or some gambling god because of this argument.
    The correct philosophical consequences of Quantum Mechanics for the human mind and free will I will discuss in a separate comment.

    • Doug Shaver

      Scientific laws don't govern anything. They describe what we observe, hopefully correctly.

      Right. Calling them laws in the first place was a mistake.

      • neil_pogi

        how about 'natural laws'? don't they govern any thing?

        • Doug Shaver

          No, "natural law" is just another name for "scientific law," in this context. In other contexts, some Catholics and other Aristotelians use the term "natural law" to refer to something a little different.

          • neil_pogi

            it's like saying that 'eternal' is not 'always there'?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't see how what I said would be like that.

          • neil_pogi

            it's just my statement. how atheists differentiate the meaning of 'eternal' from 'always there' or 'always existing'?

          • But are scientific laws an approximation to laws of nature? For example, F = ma was a pretty good approximation, General Relativity is a better one, quantum gravity will be an even better one, etc.

          • Doug Shaver

            But are scientific laws an approximation to laws of nature?

            They model our best current understanding of how nature actually works. When I said it was a mistake to call them "laws," I meant it was a mistake whether the reference was to nature itself or to our understanding of it.

          • Why do you believe it is wrong to describe reality as acting according to 'laws', which our scientific equations hopefully are approximating, better and better as we do more science?

          • Doug Shaver

            Why do you believe it is wrong to describe reality as acting according to 'laws',

            I didn't say it was wrong. I said it was a historical mistake, by which I meant that it would have been better if a different word had been chosen when the word was first needed. It was similar to the mistake that mathematicians made when they decided to call the square roots of negative numbers "imaginary." But in both cases, the usages are established and we're just stuck with them for the time being. The members of any linguistic community are not wrong when they conform to the established linguistic conventions of their community.

            I think "law" was a mistake because of its connotation of being a rule issued by some sovereign authority and having the potential for being violated. I do not believe that what we call the laws of nature emanate from any authority, and I believe nothing can violate them. As one of my professors liked to say, "The penalty for violating any natural law is nonexistence."

          • I see; the concept isn't necessarily wrong, but there are bad interpretations. I'm afraid though, that any analogy is going to have that property. On the other hand, any formal system†—which by construction doesn't have that property—will have a different problem: there will be true things it cannot prove. Unless you think there is some formal system which can prove all relevant truths about reality we already understand, we'll have to think non-formally in order to discover some truths. Which means we'll have to deal with analogies which are ambiguous and have better and worse interpretations.

            As to imaginary numbers, I just encountered Jacob Klein's Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra, in which I discovered that our natural numbers may be quite imaginary from the perspective of the ancient Greeks. The argument is complex and I only skimmed a few bits, but our attachment to numbers seems abstract where the Greeks, at least in certain contexts, had a very concrete attachment. Hopefully Burt Hopkins' The Origin of the Logic of Symbolic Mathematics will help here. And guess what, I found this stuff via this Catholic priest.

            † Well, formal system with recursively enumerable axioms which is at least as powerful as arithmetic.

          • Doug Shaver

            As to imaginary numbers, I just encountered Jacob Klein's Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra, in which I discovered that our natural numbers may be quite imaginary from the perspective of the ancient Greeks.

            Good for you. My understanding of mathematics comes from having read more than one book on the subject. A lot more.

          • Will

            Lol, don't encourage him, even with sarcasm :p

    • Doug Shaver

      Scientific laws don't govern anything. They describe what we observe, hopefully correctly.

      Right. Calling them laws in the first place was a mistake.

  • MNb

    "Opening the door to free will was just one of the effects of quantum theory."
    That's correct. Unfortunately for apologist BV another effect of Quantum Mechanics for free will is that QM is 100% materialistic and hence that any defense of free will based on QM leads to an interpretation of free will that's materialistic as well. That's exactly the opposite of what BV needs. This is a twist indeed, but one turned against dualism.
    Again it gets worse. It seems that the human mind operates on a scale (again Victor Stenger has done calculations in this respect with which I'm not familiar, but I do get the gist in the form of an argument) large enough to apply the Correspondence Principle

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correspondence_principle

    and simplify the probabilism that's inherent to QM to a deterministic model. Determinists will rejoice. Note: I actually think free will is a meaningful concept, but unlike BV I'm interested in both sides of the problem and do not only look for information that suits my views.
    Last twist: the outcome by no means will support dualism. Even if the scientific model of the human brain that will become consensus is a probabilistic one (Brownian motion is an example of a probabilistic model based on causality, so it's totally possible) that model will be a materialistic one and hence do nothing to back up "The Human Mind is More than a Machine". That's very easy to understand: scientific models only care about materialistic explanations by definition. BV ironically makes the very same mistake here as the ID authors of the Wedge Document. Then again Fine Tuning is a core element of ID, so it's not surprising.

    "The argument against materialism based on quantum theory is a strong one, and has certainly not been refuted."
    It's self-refuting. QM is a scientific theory hence materialistic itself.

  • Peter

    The idea that life on earth, and sentient life in particular, is unique in the universe is a notion held by diametrically opposed groups, at one extreme by materialists and at the other by creationists. The former believe that humanity's arrival is a freak event of nature in an otherwise hostile universe, while the latter believe that in an equally hostile universe God materially intervened to create an oasis of life on one single planet.

    Both fundamentalist views are being gradually eroded by science which is revealing a universe that from its outset is set up to create life. PAH's (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), for instance, the building blocks of the building blocks of life, are thought to make up 20 percent of all the carbon in the universe and are believed to have first formed only two billion years after the big bang. This is precisely the kind of evolutionary path that a universe configured for the widespread creation of life would follow.

    The universe has a purpose which is to create life which, once established, will increase in complexity and acquire consciousness. We, as humans, are one example of that. The signs are that we are not the only example. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/aliens-proof-evidence-facts-stars-scientists-extraterrestrial-life-et-intelligence-a7377716.html

    • Michael Murray

      Have you any evidence to support your claim that materialists as a group believe that life is unique to earth ?

      Because if that is the consensus then I don't understand why so much thought, time, effort and money is being spent looking for it elsewhere.

      How much of a freak event intelligent life is is an open question at this point I would have thought.

      • Peter

        The rare earth hypothesis seems to be far more popular among materialists. The thought, time, effort and money they spend looking for life elsewhere is done so with the hope not of discovering it but of discounting it.

        The fact that intelligent life is now scientifically an open question is a great step forward from the days when it was considered pure fantasy.

        • David Nickol

          The thought, time, effort and money they spend looking for life elsewhere is done so with the hope not of discovering it but of discounting it.

          Can you offer an iota of evidence to back up this statement? It seems to me that those who dedicate their scientific careers to the search for life (intelligent or otherwise) elsewhere in the solar system, galaxy, or universe are, if anything, extraordinarily hopeful and optimistic about finding it.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just offer scientific explanations about how the single cell evolved into a human organism before searching life elsewhere in the universe?

          • Peter

            Perhaps they are but I would not consider them to be materialists.

        • David Nickol

          The thought, time, effort and money they spend looking for life elsewhere is done so with the hope not of discovering it but of discounting it.

          Can you offer an iota of evidence to back up this statement? It seems to me that those who dedicate their scientific careers to the search for life (intelligent or otherwise) elsewhere in the solar system, galaxy, or universe are, if anything, extraordinarily hopeful and optimistic about finding it.

        • Michael Murray

          Evidence ? I asked for evidence.

          • neil_pogi

            SETI. billions of dollars are spent just combing the universe of life and life forms. even china has built the largest facility.

          • Michael Murray

            Right. But how is that evidence to support Peter's claim that materialists are searching the universe in the hope of NOT finding life ?

          • Peter

            Take a scenario in the next decade where one of the upcoming orbital or giant terrestrial telescopes spectroscopically detect molecular compounds in the atmosphere of a transiting super earth which strongly suggest the presence of life. If life is highly likely on that one planet, why not on many many planets? The floodgates will have opened and we would be pondering a universe positively teeming with life.

            While there was just one planet, the fundamentalist - either materialist or creationist - could argue that earth is a one-off for whatever dogmatic reason. However, the detection of another planet, particularly with such crude equipment making further detections with better equipment even more likely, will forever dispel the notion of a rare earth.

            Faced with a universe full of life, what are the materialists to do? How can they justify themselves? What new theories can they concoct in order to maintain their relevance? The only rational solution for them would be to convert, to climb down from their dogmatic belief in a purposeless universe and admit to the possibility, at least, that the universe has a purpose.

          • Will

            Something can be common in a system but not be its purpose. Automobiles produce a lot of CO2, bit obviously that isn't the purpose of one.

          • Peter

            I agree that something can be common in a system and not be its purpose, just as stars are common in the universe. The universe is on a journey towards life and stars are steps along the way.

            The difference between stars and life is that stars are intermediate products along the journey whereas life is the end product, i.e the product at the end of that journey and therefore the reason for it.

          • Will

            How do we know life isn't an intermediate product too?

          • Peter

            If you define the end product of cosmic evolution as a consciousness which desires to seek out its maker and can recognise his handiwork, then the human race quite clearly represents that point. This renders plausible the conclusion that the universe is created for the purpose of generating beings who yearn to know their creator.

          • Will

            You can make anything true by definition. That doesn't mean it's correct. I define an automobile as that which produces a large amount of CO2, thus coal plants are excellent automobiles.

          • Peter

            Unlike CO2, life is uniquely created, that is through the evolution of the universe. When I define the universe as that which produces intelligent life, there is no ambiguity.

          • Will

            So a universe that didn't produce life wouldn't be a universe? Weird.

          • Peter

            What is weird about that? The evidence points to only one universe; the rest is hypothesis. There is only one universe which at its inception is delicately configured with latent processes to evolve in the direction of creating life.

          • Will

            I'd suspect the universe is capable of creating far more than we can imagine.

          • Will

            P. S. Most conscious life forms have no interest in their maker, only a subset of homo sapiens does.

          • Michael Murray

            As I said in the other reply lots of life wouldn't mean to me that the universe has a purpose to create life. Anymore than I currently think the universe has a purpose to create dark matter.

          • Peter

            Dark matter must have existed very early in the evolution of the universe because the original galaxies within the first billion years could not have formed without it. And without the gravitational milieu of a galaxy, subsequent generations of stars necessary for life could not have been born. It is becoming clear that dark matter is a necessary early ingredient in the universal journey towards life.

          • neil_pogi

            and why atheists don't believe theists'claim that there is God, out there? theists only need observational tools in order to conclude that there is a universal intelligent designer! the intricate details of a single cell, among others!

          • Michael Murray

            Best thing to do if you don't have an answer is to reply with a load of nonsense about something else. But I guess you know that.

          • neil_pogi

            and one of those is 'we don't know'

          • Peter

            The evidence lies in the definition of a materialist, one who sees no purpose to the universe. A universe teeming with life is not a universe without purpose, but a universe whose purpose it is to create life.

            The reason for this is that life, and ultimately intelligent life, lie at the apex of a systematic process of material complexification which began at the inception of the universe.

            Observations reveal that this process is widespread across the cosmos which indicates that it represents the natural evolution of the universe. The universe evolves naturally towards the widespread creation of life because that is its purpose.

          • Michael Murray

            Why is a universe with stars not a universe whose purpose is to create stars? Just because something is the outcome of a process doesn't mean the process has purpose. Just because you are alive doesn't mean life has some special purpose. Comforting though it might be to think that.

          • Peter

            It's not a question of seeking comfort but a question of simple reasoning. The answer to why life is not just another product or byproduct of the universe lies in my second paragraph above. Life represents the apex of material complexity, with intelligent life in the form of our brain at the very pinnacle.

            Thanks to science there is no doubt in our minds that the universe is on an evolutionary journey towards greater complexity. The journey is universal and irreversible, and is driven by entropy. What lies at the end of that journey? What lies at the pinnacle of that evolution? The answer is life, intelligent life.

            Stars are not ends in themselves; they are intermediate stages in the cosmic drive towards greater complexity. They transform lighter simpler elements into heavier more complex ones; they irradiate molecular compounds into complex organic molecules, and they nurture life.

            This universal journey, this cosmic drive towards life, has been revealed by science. And the more it is illuminated by science, the more clearly it comes into focus, and the more obvious it becomes that the universe has a purpose.

            The naysayers are the materialists who, in the face of mounting evidence against them, stubbornly insist that the universe has no purpose. It is ironic that these very individuals who loudly ridicule creationists for being in denial of the evidence, are themselves guilty of the very same thing.

        • Michael Murray

          Evidence ? I asked for evidence.

  • Peter

    The idea that life on earth, and sentient life in particular, is unique in the universe is a notion held by diametrically opposed groups, at one extreme by materialists and at the other by creationists. The former believe that humanity's arrival is a freak event of nature in an otherwise hostile universe, while the latter believe that in an equally hostile universe God materially intervened to create an oasis of life on one single planet.

    Both fundamentalist views are being gradually eroded by science which is revealing a universe that from its outset is set up to create life. PAH's (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), for instance, the building blocks of the building blocks of life, are thought to make up 20 percent of all the carbon in the universe and are believed to have first formed only two billion years after the big bang. This is precisely the kind of evolutionary path that a universe configured for the widespread creation of life would follow.

    The universe has a purpose which is to create life which, once established, will increase in complexity and acquire consciousness. We, as humans, are one example of that. The signs are that we are not the only example. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/aliens-proof-evidence-facts-stars-scientists-extraterrestrial-life-et-intelligence-a7377716.html

  • neil_pogi

    quote: Twist #1 - The Big Bang and the Beginning of the Universe - most astronomers and scientists believed that the 'big bang'generated the whole universe, and that it started with an ínfinitely small dot'... if that is so, then the universe is not eternal, it has some humble beginnings.

    Twist #2 - The Questions Behind the Questions - i haven't experience any unconscious objects or forces able to make or create laws. only in the minds of atheists. if that is so, then, they have a lot of explaining how it is so!

    Twist #3 - The Startling Coincidences That Permit Us to Live - oh this is the most favorite word or phrase coming out of atheists' mouth. now they replaced the 'çhance' into 'coincidences'.... this is just a claim, offering no solid scientific proof or explanations. now they are offering 'scientific' suggestions that there must be parallel universes aside from our true and authentic, single universe to demolish the fine-tuning properties of the universe! how far these skeptics keep telling or fooling the public lies beyond comprehension?

    Twist #4 - The Mind as More Than Machine
    Twist #5 - Quantum Mechanics and the Defeat of Determinism -
    - atheists must first explain how a 'nothing' creates the universe. in our every day experiences, you can't do anything without involving your mind. therefore the mind is eternal.. the one responsible for creation of the universe!

    how come an organism would came to be if there is no 'mind' planning it?

    • Doug Shaver

      atheists must first explain how a 'nothing' creates the universe.

      Not until they assert it. What we don't claim, we don't have to explain.

      • neil_pogi

        because a claim needs to be explained!
        so you denied again that atheists believed that a 'nothing' creates a 'something'!

        • Doug Shaver

          because a claim needs to be explained!

          Yes, if it is made, then whoever made it needs to explain it.

          so you denied again that atheists believed that a 'nothing' creates a 'something'!

          Yes, I deny that.

          • neil_pogi

            then what's your worldview now?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'd have to write a pretty large book to answer that question.

          • neil_pogi

            you are an ardent atheist. and again you're making the fool of me again!

          • MNb

            Perhaps that's because you're acting like a fool.
            I've noticed that you enjoy asking atheists to defend claims they didn't make.
            That's foolish.

          • neil_pogi

            atheists make their claims not backed by pure scientific evidences! that's all! make your case!

          • MNb

            "There is no god" is not a scientific statement at all; it can't be backed by scientific evidence (pure or impure) because you believing guys have defined god that way.
            Once again you ask me to defend a claim I've never made, I never make and I'll never make.
            That's foolish again hence double foolish.

          • neil_pogi

            did i specifically mentioned 'there is no god'?

            my statement was: ''atheists make their claims not backed by pure scientific evidences! that's all! make your case!'' -- now pls make sure you have solid evidences for these:

            1. that non-living things became living things
            2. that the first living organism was really the single celled organism
            3. that chemical evolution resulted for the beginning of life
            4. that the 'infinitely small dot' really started the huge universe

            well, somebody will react again that i always repeat these statements, again and again..

          • MNb

            I already told you that atheists when defending atheism make exactly one statement: there is no god. You demand me to make a case for this again with your "pls make sure you have solid evidences for these" just after I told you that in my view any evidence, solid or not, for or against any god is impossible. Again. That's triple foolish.

            As for those four claims: take it up with some experts if you are genuinely curious about them. You're too foolish to waste my time on trying to explain them to you. You're also too foolish to understand that even if not one single one of them can be answered that still doesn't do anything for your god. Hint: it's called God of the Gaps, something developed by christians, specifically Henry Drummond and Dietrich Bonhöffer, names you probably never have heard of. That shows that you're more than 70 years behind the times. Of course that's to be expected from someone who clings to his foolishness like you do.
            As soon as you have demonstrated that you understand what God of the Gaps means - and hence refute my bias that you're incurably foolish - I'll address your four points.
            Promised. You're invited.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just answer them.. a ýes' or 'no' response

          • MNb

            "why not just answer them"
            Ah - another variation of your foolishness: asking a question I already have answered. But I'm happy to repeat:
            you're too foolish to waste my time on trying to explain them to you. You can prove me wrong by demonstrating that you understand what God of the Gaps means. The fact that you didn't even try confirms my suspicion that you don't understand it and hence are too foolish indeed.
            That's also confirmed by

            "a ýes' or 'no' response"
            You didn't ask "yes or no" questions. You asked me to provide "solid evidence" (your words, not mine) for a couple of things, of course without specifying what you mean with "solid". Your suggestion is just more foolishness.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just provide your answers or explanations to those questions? all you did is ad hom attacks?

          • MNb

            Ah. Incurably foolish. Silly, I didn't make any argument, so by definition I did not do any Ad Hominem.

            https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/1/Ad_Hominem_Abusive

            "why not just provide your answers or explanations ..."
            More foolishness. I already told you twice. For the third time: any answer or explanation is wasted on someone as foolish as you. You can prove me wrong in this respect (and that's another reason I did not do any Ad Hominem) by demonstrating that you understand what God of the Gaps means. You don't even try.
            And the God of the Gaps is totally relevant here. That's the third reason I did not do any Ad Hominem.
            The fourth reason is that "your comments are foolish" is a conclusion drawn from your comments. Conclusions can't be logical fallacies by definition. But I don't expect you anymore to understand that difference.

          • neil_pogi

            again, just give me your explanations! you talked too much and non-sense

          • MNb

            Again, just show me that you understand what God of the Gaps means. You don't talk at all and hence don't even try to make any sense.

          • neil_pogi

            just make your case: explain in simple terms o how a non-living thing is able to evolve into living thing, complete with observations and experimentations (pls no 'make believe' stories, atheists are so expert on that).. if you and your cohorts are able to do that, i'll convert to atheism!

          • MNb

            Just show me that you understand what God of the Gaps means. If you - I don't even need your cohorts - are able to do that I'll make my case.
            You won't even need to convert to atheism. That's the point. It's totally possible to accept that a living thing is able to evolve into a living thing and still believe.
            That's why I won't bite your bait.
            So alas your promise that you'll convert is once again foolish.

            On a more general level: you want me to do something for you. First you'll have to do something for me.
            Demonstrate that you understand what God of the Gaps means. Your promise to eventually convert confirms my suspicion that you don't.
            And hence that you're a fool, not worth wasting my time on regarding science.

            Third angle: I think you're a fool. I might be wrong and I keep on inviting you to prove me wrong, but that's what I think right now. So why would I want you to convert to atheism? As long as you remain foolish atheism is better off without you. Prove me wrong and show me that you understand what God of the Gaps means. Then we're talking, not before.

          • neil_pogi

            just stick to my question: how would non-living things evolve into living things? that's all.. and why would living things die if non-living things become alive!! :-)

            do you also know that there is such a phrase like: 'chance did it'? that's the favorite expression of atheists when they don't truly know how to explain things that is really hard to explain, like the complexity of a cell, and the irreducible complexity.

          • MNb

            Just answer my question: do you understand what God of the Gaps means?

            "'chance did it'? that's the favorite expression of atheists"
            Atheists don't say that. Christian fools like you say that atheists say that.
            But as long as you don't understand what God of the Gaps means it's a waste of time and effort to explain to you what not atheists, but scientists (including christian ones) say.
            So just answer my question: do you understand what God of the Gaps means? Show me.
            By now I'm convinced you can't. Because you're a fool. But you'll always have the chance to show me wrong.
            Show me that you understand what God of the Gaps means. Just show me. Just.
            Then we're talking. Not before.

          • neil_pogi

            hahahaha!! i just only want you answer it and, then here you are, you talked like a fool!

            tell me how a non-living matter became a living matter... that's all!

          • MNb

            Just show me that you understand what God of the Gaps means. That's all!
            Then we're talking. Not before

          • neil_pogi

            what an atheist experience...again!

          • MNb

            I hope you enjoy it.
            I do.
            Especially your apparent ignorance regarding the God of Gaps.
            But also that you don't understand the difference between science and atheism.
            Your four questions are scientific issues, not atheist ones.
            Your mistake is foolish.
            As almost always.

            Do you already understand what Ad Hominem means? Somehow I doubt it.

          • neil_pogi

            i only want you to explain on how the non-living things became living things,,, and all you did is...no explanations! how well is the

            atheist experience i ever experienced!

          • MNb

            I only want you to demonstrate that you understand what God of the Gaps means ... and all you do is ... no demonstration!
            How well is the

            theist experience I ever experienced!

    • Doug Shaver

      atheists must first explain how a 'nothing' creates the universe.

      Not until they assert it. What we don't claim, we don't have to explain.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Now to be clear, the discover[y] of the Big Bang itself [does not] prove the Jewish and Christian doctrine of Creation.

    I assume that the article contained typos in the excerpt above, [with my corrections inserted in brackets]. Feel free to delete this comment when fixed.

    • neil_pogi

      do you have any observable proof that the universe started from 'big bang'? if so, then you have to explain how an 'infinite small dot' did it? was it natural or not?

  • This is exactly what we might expect if human beings were meant to be here, and if the universe was created with us in mind. It doesn't mean the materialist view of the world is certainly false. In fact, skeptics have proposed other ways to explain this apparent fine-tuning for life

    Ants outnumber humans a million-to-one;what is the evidence that humans are the goal of the fine tuner?

    • Rob Abney

      We can conclude that sheer quantity is not supporting evidence.

      • I don't know if it is or isn't, but you conclude it certainly isn't?- how?

        • Rob Abney

          I said it doesn't support the conclusion that humans are the goal.
          The best evidence will have to be based on qualitative measurements rather than quantitative.

          • I don't see why

          • Rob Abney

            Can you quantify our never-satisfied desire for Truth, Besuty, or Goodness? What measurements would you recommend?

          • I don't understand this question, especially in the context of a conversation about fine-tuning.

          • Rob Abney

            Can you quantify our never-satisfied desire for Truth, Besuty, or Goodness? What measurements would you recommend?

          • I don't see why

          • Will

            Measurements, by definition are quantitative.

        • Rob Abney

          I said it doesn't support the conclusion that humans are the goal.
          The best evidence will have to be based on qualitative measurements rather than quantitative.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The ability to reason. I.e., "quality" not "quantity."

          • Why does the "fine tuner" value "the ability to reason"? How do you know?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I suppose it has something to do with being closer to God, who is pure Intellect and Will. Pretty much the same reason that Aquinas once praised the multiplicity of species over time and space as a way of participating in the infinity of God.

          • It's not hard to imagine creatures far more impressive than us(closer to god, as you say), with greater capacity for reason(fewer cognitive biases, better memory, longer lifespans, the ability to transmit, receive and process information more rapidly, etc)

            If that's what god values, why do such a poor job of it?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Hence the limitation of the imagination versus the intellect. The rest of us must settle for actual creatures and not imaginary ones.

          • Will

            Until they become actual or we encounter them.

          • Will

            Until they become actual or we encounter them.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It's difficult to address faith-based conclusions.

          • Will

            If the intellect is important to God, than perhaps much more intelligent creatures are part of the plan...such isn't a stretch, theologically, is it?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Intellect;" not "intelligence."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Intellect;" not "intelligence."

          • Will

            If the intellect is important to God, than perhaps much more intelligent creatures are part of the plan...such isn't a stretch, theologically, is it?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Hence the limitation of the imagination versus the intellect. The rest of us must settle for actual creatures and not imaginary ones.

          • It's not hard to imagine creatures far more impressive than us(closer to god, as you say), with greater capacity for reason(fewer cognitive biases, better memory, longer lifespans, the ability to transmit, receive and process information more rapidly, etc)

            If that's what god values, why do such a poor job of it?

          • Why does the "fine tuner" value "the ability to reason"? How do you know?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The ability to reason. I.e., "quality" not "quantity."

      • I don't know if it is or isn't, but you conclude it certainly isn't?- how?

    • neil_pogi

      they already have.
      multiverse.

  • Doug Shaver

    I think atheists and theists can nod their heads in agreement: that's a clear, coherent, accurate depiction of the naturalist worldview.

    It’s a good one, all right. Better than most that I see on Christian websites.

    It's not really true that religious man saw himself at the center of the world.

    As if there has ever been only one kind of “religious man.” Even if you say that Christianity is the only true religion, I have known plenty of Christians who claim precisely that mankind was the sole purpose of God’s creative act. If that doesn’t put us at the center of the world, I don’t know what could.

    Twist #1 - The Big Bang and the Beginning of the Universe

    The Big Bang was the beginning of the universe as we know it. The issue of a pre-Big-Bang existence remains open.

    Nevertheless, as Barr explains, "it was unquestionably a vindication of the religious view of the universe and a blow to the materialist view."

    It was no such thing. Even if, in due course, it is demonstrated that the Big Bang was the absolute beginning of all existence, it would falsify only one assumption that most materialists made before the development of modern cosmology, and materialism never depended for its justification on that particular assumption.

    Twist #2 - The Questions Behind the Questions

    . . . . Yet if we can't even take for granted the very number of universes, it becomes harder to avoid asking, "Why is there any universe at all?" A new openness to these deeper-level questions about reality has also opened many people to the possibility of God.

    A question that is hard to avoid is not, just for that reason, a sensible question. I have no quarrel with people being open to the possibility of God. My quarrel is with those who accuse me of unreasonable intransigence if, having considered that possibility, I have concluded that there probably is none.

    Twist #3 - The Startling Coincidences That Permit Us to Live

    In the materialist story of the world, science has definitively shown that we were not meant to be here. We were a fluke, our existence the result of "a fortuitous concourse of atoms." Science dethroned man in the cosmos.

    Except now, science is telling a different story.

    Some scientists are telling a different story. Plenty of others don’t think it’s a true story.

    In fact, skeptics have proposed other ways to explain this apparent fine-tuning for life (though Barr refutes the most popular attempts in his book.)

    He may have rebutted them. To say he has refuted them is to assume his conclusion.

    This [fine tuning] is exactly what we might expect if human beings were meant to be here, and if the universe was created with us in mind.

    It is also exactly what most skeptics mean when they accuse religionists of putting man at the center of the universe. We get the difference between physical centrality and other, e.g. metaphorical, kinds of centrality.

    Twist #4 - The Mind as More Than Machine

    . . . . the past couple centuries have seen a bevy of arguments against the regnant view that the mind is no more than a physical machine

    The “regnant view” among materialists is that the brain, not the mind, is a machine. The mind is what we call those activities of the brain of which we are aware. We usually abbreviate this notion to “The mind is what the brain does,” but the brain actually does a great many things that we don’t normally associate with our minds.

    In any case, the discovery of Gödel's Theorem offers another blow to the materialist story of the world. It seems that the mind cannot be reduced to mere biochemical reactions.

    That conclusion does not actually follow from Gödel's Theorem, notwithstanding some rather strenuous efforts to show that it does.

    Twist #5 - Quantum Mechanics and the Defeat of Determinism

    . . . . Most materialists deny that free will exists

    Yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to deny it in order to be materialists.

    But as Barr writes, "The argument against materialism based on quantum theory is a strong one, and has certainly not been refuted.

    It needs no refutation. Quantum theory might or might not be a problem for determinism, but determinism is not equivalent to materialism.

    • BV: Nevertheless, as Barr explains, "it was unquestionably a vindication of the religious view of the universe and a blow to the materialist view."

      DS: It was no such thing. Even if, in due course, it is demonstrated that the Big Bang was the absolute beginning of all existence, it would falsify only one assumption that most materialists made before the development of modern cosmology, and materialism never depended for its justification on that particular assumption.

      From my understanding, what happened is that at the time, there were two major contending theories: steady-state and a definite starting point. Materialists pushed steady-state as their best guess, and Christians pushed the definite starting point as their best guess. In this framing, there definitely was a vindication and a blow.

      I get that materialists are able to adjust their understanding, but shouldn't we be allowed to place some importance on the best guess of a point of view before corroborating/​falsifying evidence is available? After all, just about any view can be saved via the accumulation of ad hoc hypotheses. This turns into a criticism of Christianity when it comes to the age of the earth, by the way.

      • Doug Shaver

        From my understanding, what happened is that at the time, there were two major contending theories: steady-state and a definite starting point.

        There was such a debate before the cosmic microwave background was discovered in 1964. Most of my reading on the subject was a long time ago, and I recall hardly any specifics about the debate.

        Materialists pushed steady-state as their best guess, and Christians pushed the definite starting point as their best guess. In this framing, there definitely was a vindication and a blow.

        Fine, but it's not my framing.

        I get that materialists are able to adjust their understanding

        And theists aren't? The history of Christianity suggests otherwise to me.

        but shouldn't we be allowed to place some importance on the best guess of a point of view before corroborating/​falsifying evidence is available?

        That depends on what you're claiming it's important for or important as, but it is a logical fact that materialism does not entail an infinite age for the universe.

        This turns into a criticism of Christianity when it comes to the age of the earth, by the way.

        Not really. I was still a Protestant fundamentalist committed to scriptural inerrancy when I stopped believing in a young Earth and accepted theistic evolution, and I got the idea of theistic evolution from other fundamentalists.

        • You completely missed my point:

          LB: I get that materialists are able to adjust their understanding, but shouldn't we be allowed to place some importance on the best guess of a point of view before corroborating/​falsifying evidence is available?

          It's this "before" which allows a critique of:

               (A) pre-CMB-materialists & steady-state
               (B) pre-uniformitarianism Christians & young earth

          Yes, each group was able to finagle its understanding to fit the new evidence. That's not the point, for one can almost always finagle one's understanding to fit new, contradictory data. Instead, we're dealing with the essence of science, which is that by observing some finite aspect of reality, we can predict things about unobserved aspects. We are manifestly not merely finding the least complex fits to extant data.

          • Doug Shaver

            That's not the point, for one can almost always finagle one's understanding to fit new, contradictory data.

            Yes, one can always do that. My point is that, since materialism implies nothing about the age of the universe, no data about the age of the universe can contradict it.

          • Materialism simpliciter seems to imply almost nothing. Some would say the same of Christianity simpliciter. One way to avoid the Gumby nature of this kind of reasoning is to work with not the simpliciter versions, but the actual versions held by living, breathing, human beings. When one does that, your objections are weakened.

            In the real world, people need ways to deny ad hoc hypotheses the quasi-omnipotence your current strategy grants them. One powerful way to do this is to issue demerits for falsified predictions and merits for corroborated predictions. For some reason, you don't want to admit this kind of reasoning into the picture (recall your "It was no such thing."). I don't know why.

          • Doug Shaver

            Materialism simpliciter seems to imply almost nothing

            All by itself, it implies very little except the negation of many propositions that are widely believed.

            Some would say the same of Christianity simpliciter.

            Probably, depending how you define Christianity simpliciter.

            One way to avoid the Gumby nature of this kind of reasoning is to work with not the simpliciter versions, but the actual versions held by living, breathing, human beings.

            For most of us materialists, materialism is an assumption. No human being assumes only thing. If most materialists used to believe in a universe of infinite age, it was because of other assumptions that they conjoined with their materialism. If (A & B) -> C, it is a logical error to infer either A -> C or B -> C.

            In the real world, people need ways to deny ad hoc hypotheses the quasi-omnipotence your current strategy grants them.

            In the real world, if B is a belief system or a key component thereof, and someone wants to know what B actually affirms, they're making a mistake if they ask someone who is hostile to B rather than someone who accepts B.

          • Let me ask you a question. If two people differ only on whether they are materialists or not, does that say much of anything about which hypotheses (i) they'll think up in the first place; (ii) they'll tend to prefer, given Underdetermination of Scientific Theory?

            My suspicion is that Brandon is treating 'materialism' as potent when it comes to hypothesis generation and selection. But if it actually isn't particularly relevant in your view, then I suspect Brandon wants the term you would use to talk about whatever it is that is potent. Each of us is predisposed to approach reality in a certain way, and probably some of those predispositions will be better than others. I'm pretty sure Brandon was getting at this 'better'.

          • Doug Shaver

            Let me ask you a question. If two people differ only on whether they are materialists or not, does that say much of anything about which hypotheses (i) they'll think up in the first place; (ii) they'll tend to prefer, given Underdetermination of Scientific Theory?

            For just one example, a materialist will not propose or accept any hypothesis positing spirits or other immaterial entities, while a non-materialist will be receptive to at least some such hypotheses.

            My suspicion is that Brandon is treating 'materialism' as potent when it comes to hypothesis generation and selection.

            I don't know what you mean by "potent" in this context, but if Brandon thinks I have misunderstood him, he can say so, and I suspect that by now, he would have said so.

          • For just one example, a materialist will not propose or accept any hypothesis positing spirits or other immaterial entities, while a non-materialist will be receptive to at least some such hypotheses.

            Ok, so was Newton a non-materialist solely because he posited action-at-a-distance? And are you a non-materialist if you allow that 'rationality' causes anything? Are you a non-materialist if you believe that there is causation, period? On the last question, we can recall Bertrand Russell's On the Notion of a Cause, which opens this way: "In the following paper I wish, first, to maintain that the word “cause” is so inextricably bound up with misleading associations as to make its complete extrusion from the philosophical vocabulary desirable". Last time I checked, causation wasn't made of atoms in the void.

            I don't know what you mean by "potent" in this context [...]

            I was getting at how much the materialist belief really matters when it comes to hypothesis generation and preference.

            [...] if Brandon thinks I have misunderstood him, he can say so, and I suspect that by now, he would have said so.

            Brandon seems pretty selective with his responses, so I highly doubt this. We can also note that he upvoted my first response to you.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ok, so was Newton a non-materialist solely because he posited action-at-a-distance?

            Obviously not, considering his religious views.

            are you a non-materialist if you allow that 'rationality' causes anything?

            I believe rationality is an abstraction, and I believe abstractions don't cause anything.

            Are you a non-materialist if you believe that there is causation, period?

            My view of causation is, in my judgment, consistent with materialism.

            if Brandon thinks I have misunderstood him, he can say so, and I suspect that by now, he would have said so.

            Brandon seems pretty selective with his responses, so I highly doubt this.

            You can flatly deny it for all it matters to me. If he thinks it isn't worth his time to set me straight as to his intended meaning, that's his decision.

          • LB: Ok, so was Newton a non-materialist solely because he posited action-at-a-distance?

            DS: Obviously not, considering his religious views.

            Unless you believe that Newton's religious views were responsible for him positing action-at-a-distance, you haven't answered my question.

            I believe rationality is an abstraction, and I believe abstractions don't cause anything.

            Then how on earth can we know anything about them? If abstractions cannot act on our brains in any way (that's what "don't cause anything" means), how can our brains know anything about them?

            My view of causation is, in my judgment, consistent with materialism.

            Well, I like rabbit holes, but you may not want to go down this one, at least right now. :-|

            You can flatly deny it for all it matters to me. If he thinks it isn't worth his time to set me straight as to his intended meaning, that's his decision.

            Be that as it may, this is still likely false:

            DS: [...] if Brandon thinks I have misunderstood him, he can say so, and I suspect that by now, he would have said so.

          • Doug Shaver

            you haven't answered my question.

            Then I must have misunderstood it.

          • I asked you a question, being very careful to exclude Newton's religious views (they seem rather irrelevant to action-at-a-distance), and then you brought in his religious views.

          • Doug Shaver

            I understood you to be asking whether I inferred, from his seeming to believe in action at a distance and from nothing else, that he was a non-materialist. The answer to that question was No.

          • Pretend that Newton was a materialist. There are two possibilities: (i) he would never, as a result, have posited action-at-a-distance; (ii) he would have posited action-at-a-distance. If (ii), we can consider two further possibilities: (a) action-at-a-distance is compatible with materialism; (b) action-at-a-distance is incompatible with materialism.

            Do you pick (i) or (ii)? If (ii), do you pick (a) or (b)?

            My point in this line of questioning is to push the boundaries of what you are calling 'materialism', to see if there actually are any boundaries. In a different discussion, it wasn't clear whether you understand materialism to preclude telekinesis. Perhaps all it really precludes is huge explanatory gaps, e.g. between a mind desiring X and X happening. Perhaps as long as enough intermediate steps can be explained, materialism has no objection. To test whether this is the case or not, one can attempt to "build up" from materialism toward God acting, and see if there is any glass ceiling.

          • Doug Shaver

            My point in this line of questioning is to push the boundaries of what you are calling 'materialism', to see if there actually are any boundaries.

            I gave you one example of boundaries.

            In a different discussion, it wasn't clear whether you understand materialism to preclude telekinesis.

            I explained, as clearly as I could, why I could not answer with a definite Yes or No.

            To test whether this is the case or not, one can attempt to "build up" from materialism toward God acting, and see if there is any glass ceiling.

            If God exists, then materialism is false. Is that clear enough?

          • I gave you one example of boundaries.

            Here's what I recall:

            DS: For just one example, a materialist will not propose or accept any hypothesis positing spirits or other immaterial entities, while a non-materialist will be receptive to at least some such hypotheses.

            And yet in your very next comment in that discussion, you posited immaterial entities:

            DS: I believe rationality is an abstraction, and I believe abstractions don't cause anything.

            Are you not actually a materialist? Abstractions don't seem to be material, and yet you seem to think it is sensible to talk about them. I would think the most consistent way for you to talk would be to identify abstractions as certain brain states which most definitely do have causal powers.

            If God exists, then materialism is false. Is that clear enough?

            No, because I cannot conceive of any phenomenon which materialism could fail to somehow explain. Unless you simply want to deny that materialism is an empirical claim—that is, a claim which can be falsified by evidence? But if you held this view, then surely in your root comment you would have identified Brandon's claim as a category mistake.

          • Doug Shaver

            If God exists, then materialism is false. Is that clear enough?

            No, because I cannot conceive of any phenomenon which materialism could fail to somehow explain.

            There is nothing I can do about the limitations on your conceptual abilities, but on the day that I become convinced of God's existence, on that day I will stop calling myself a materialist.

          • Fascinating. When I run across someone who says [s]he cannot imagine how X could be, not infrequently I can, and moreover, not infrequently I can communicate my own imagination to the other person. Are you just not able to do this, at least with me? Or is it actually the case that neither can you imagine a phenomenon which materialism could fail to somehow explain?

          • Doug Shaver

            Are you just not able to do this, at least with me?

            I have done it with you. You asked me what would falsify materialism, and I told you. Your refusal to accept my answer doesn't mean I haven't given you one.

          • On reflection I realized an ambiguity in my question:

            LB: Ok, so was Newton a non-materialist solely because he posited action-at-a-distance?

            I should have written just asked what I did later on:

            LB: Pretend that Newton was a materialist. There are two possibilities: (i) he would never, as a result, have posited action-at-a-distance; (ii) he would have posited action-at-a-distance. If (ii), we can consider two further possibilities: (a) action-at-a-distance is compatible with materialism; (b) action-at-a-distance is incompatible with materialism.

            Do you pick (i) or (ii)? If (ii), do you pick (a) or (b)?

            Your answer to my unclear question was this:

            DS: Obviously not, considering his religious views.

            It allowed for two interpretations:

            (A) No, for Newton would also be a non-materialist given his religious views.
            (B) No, but Newton was a non-materialist given his religious views.

            See the difference? Your "No" here actually remains ambiguous between (A) and (B). I'm quite curious about whether action-at-a-distance is allowable within materialism, per your judgment. I imagine there's tremendous pressure for it to qualify as 'materialist', less materialism preclude one of the most profound scientific advances of all time. But it seems to me that there is tension between action-at-a-distance and materialism. Materialists at the time certainly seemed to think there was a tension!

          • Doug Shaver

            But it seems to me that there is tension between action-at-a-distance and materialism.

            It apparently seemed that way to many of Newton's contemporaries. It's my understanding that physicists have made considerable progress since his time in resolving the inconsistencies. To explain how they have done this, and to what degree they have succeeded, would require a more detailed knowledge of modern theories than I happen to possess.

          • It apparently seemed that way to many of Newton's contemporaries.

            So, given what he knew at the time, should he have been more confident in his science, or materialism? Again, let's erase his religious beliefs for this thought experiment. Unless belief in materialism would have prevented him from hypothesizing gravity?

            It's my understanding that physicists have made considerable progress since his time in resolving the inconsistencies.

            Sure. Some would claim that it took Christianity a while to harmonize with evolution. But in that situation, many suspect that Christianity can be fit to any facts. Why is the case different with materialism?

            P.S. There are of course absurd cases which would reduce the belief in Christianity to levels worth ignoring, kind of like flat earthers are irrelevant. But Christians don't need to worry about these, and neither do materialists need to worry about analogous situations. Nobody's going to start buying phoenix feather wands, wave them while chanting wingardium leviosa, and cause their cup of coffee to start levitating.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, given what he knew at the time, should he have been more confident in his science, or materialism?

            I have no opinion about that and no interest in forming one.

          • Doug Shaver

            But in that situation, many suspect that Christianity can be fit to any facts. Why is the case different with materialism?

            Because materialism is not, in any relevant respect, similar to Christianity.

          • I'm pretty sure materialism can be made to fit any conceivable phenomena. You've yet to produce a rebuttal. Just to be clear, neither of these qualifies:

            DS: If God exists, then materialism is false. Is that clear enough?

            DS: For just one example, a materialist will not propose or accept any hypothesis positing spirits or other immaterial entities, while a non-materialist will be receptive to at least some such hypotheses.

            Both of these are hypotheses about phenomena, phenomena which materialism can explain differently. Therefore, it would appear that no phenomena can falsify materialism, at least as you understand it. And of course, this is precisely the similarity with Christianity I was drawing on—at least a good chunk of what passes for 'Christianity', as @davidnickol:disqus described yesterday:

            DN: I suspect for the average devout and well informed Christian, there is almost nothing that can't be accommodated into the Christian worldview in some way or another. Religion is just like politics. There is nothing that can't be "spun."

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm pretty sure materialism can be made to fit any conceivable phenomena.

            For nearly half the time I was a Christian, I was pretty sure that all Catholics were going to burn in Hell.

          • The difference being, I arrived at my "pretty sure" by an examination of the evidence & reasoning and extensive cross-examinations of many people who hold views very different from me by taking them as seriously as I could.

            Assuming you are a materialist (I cannot recall if you have actually affirmed being one), you should surely deplore explanatory gaps. And yet, you've left an enormous one between "God exists" and the phenomena which would be best explained as "God exists". For a good-faith effort to do so, one can examine Raphael Lataster's response to Trent Horn's probing.

          • Doug Shaver

            I arrived at my "pretty sure" by an examination of the evidence & reasoning and extensive cross-examinations of many people who hold views very different from me by taking them as seriously as I could.

            That is exactly how I arrived at my understanding of materialism, including its potential for falsification.

            you should surely deplore explanatory gaps.

            First: Materialism is an ontological position, while explanatory gaps are an epistemological problem. Second: You are the one who has been insisting that materialism cannot be falsified because there is nothing that it cannot explain.

            you've left an enormous one between "God exists" and the phenomena which would be best explained as "God exists".

            Now you're talking about evidence of God's existence, which is not the same thing as God's actual existence. But that's OK, because you're still being incoherent. If, as you insist, God's actual existence cannot falsify materialism, then neither can any evidence of his existence.

          • LB: I'm pretty sure materialism can be made to fit any conceivable phenomena.

            DS: For nearly half the time I was a Christian, I was pretty sure that all Catholics were going to burn in Hell.

            LB: The difference being, I arrived at my "pretty sure" by an examination of the evidence & reasoning and extensive cross-examinations of many people who hold views very different from me by taking them as seriously as I could.

            DS: That is exactly how I arrived at my understanding of materialism, including its potential for falsification.

            Yes, yes, I know you believe that materialism has "potential for falsification", but you've done nothing to demonstrate that this belief is rational. Maybe you have no intention of doing so, but in that case, the dismissal you meant to aim at me with your repetition of "pretty sure" is better aimed at your bare assertion that materialism can be falsified.

            First: Materialism is an ontological position, while explanatory gaps are an epistemological problem.

            Yep, and one's ontology cannot possibly be 100% disconnected from one's epistemology, unless one wishes to grapple with the interaction problem of Cartesian dualism. I'm virtually certain that one of the major reasons people push for the ontology of materialism (or naturalism, or monism, or physicalism) is that it holds promise for squashing the epistemological explanatory gaps.

            Second: You are the one who has been insisting that materialism cannot be falsified because there is nothing that it cannot explain.

            This doesn't quite capture my objection. When I say I cannot conceive of phenomena which would falsify materialism, the obvious response is to enhance my imaginative abilities by presenting one or more example phenomena. Again, the root of this whole discussion is of the form:

            @bvogt1:disqus: "Materialism made a bad phenomenological prediction."
            @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus: "No, 'materialism' did no such thing."

            If materialism really is purely metaphysics (ontology), then the appropriate response would have been to say that Brandon made a category mistake. But you haven't done this. Simultaneously, you've given no indication of how materialism could fail to describe some given phenomenon. And thus, you are straddling the no man's land of materialism not being empirical, and materialism not being metaphysical. And yet, I'm pretty sure that's a true dichotomy. At least, I've never seen a motivating third class.

            Now you're talking about evidence of God's existence, which is not the same thing as God's actual existence. But that's OK, because you're still being incoherent.

            True. But falsification happens at the epistemological level, not the ontological level. The incoherence, I'm afraid, is in your court.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, yes, I know you believe that materialism has "potential for falsification", but you've done nothing to demonstrate that this belief is rational.

            I thought it was too obvious to need a demonstration, but here it is.

            According to everyone who asserts his existence, God is an immaterial being. Materialism asserts that all existing things are material. If God exists, then at least one immaterial being exists. If at least one immaterial being exists, then it is not true that all existing things are material. If it is not true that all existing things are material, then materialism is false. Therefore, God's existence would falsify materialism, and if that is so, then materialism is potentially falsifiable.

          • You haven't made a single step closer to illustrating some phenomenon which could plausibly cast materialism in doubt. Stated differently, your epistemology seems to have rendered your ontology immune from challenge. What you've provided in this comment is ontology-talk, which is quite irrelevant if it is true that your epistemology cannot be plausibly challenged.

          • Doug Shaver

            You haven't made a single step closer to illustrating some phenomenon which could plausibly cast materialism in doubt.

            Is that a concession that no phenomenon could prove God's existence?

          • A concession? No, for I am fairly certain I do not share your epistemology. Given that you think God does not exist, it would function not as a 'concession' for you, but as a 'dogma'.

          • Doug Shaver

            Given that you think God does not exist, it would function not as a 'concession' for you, but as a 'dogma'.

            Are you under the impression that I regard everything somebody else believes as a dogma if I don't believe it myself?

          • No.

          • Doug Shaver

            Whether I regard some belief as a dogma usually depends on the attitude exhibited by the believer toward that belief. I have seen few apologists treat the unprovability of God in way that suggests to me that it is a dogma for them.

          • I should think it is distinctly unhelpful to call something 'dogma' based on anything other than pure, objective facts. You would run the risk of favoring your own a priori beliefs over the other person's via... non-straightforward means.

          • Doug Shaver

            I should think it is distinctly unhelpful to call something 'dogma' based on anything other than pure, objective facts.

            Suit yourself. I didn't bring up the subject.

          • Can we get back to:

            LB: You haven't made a single step closer to illustrating some phenomenon which could plausibly cast materialism in doubt.

            ?

          • Doug Shaver

            Can we get back to:

            LB: You haven't made a single step closer to illustrating some phenomenon which could plausibly cast materialism in doubt.

            I've given you two answers. The first was rather general, and you didn't accept it. The second was more specific, but you didn't accept it, either. Can you suggest a reason why I should keep trying to come up with an answer you like?

          • Do you disagree with either of these:

                 (1) I was asking for answers on the epistemological plane.
                 (2) You were giving answers on the ontological plane.

            ?

          • Doug Shaver

            I answered the question you asked on the assumption that you were asking it in plain English. If you think I misunderstood you, you're welcome to rephrase the question. If you think I intentionally evaded your question, you are mistaken.

          • Hey, you're the one who wanted to distinguish between epistemology and ontology:

            DS: Materialism is an ontological position, while explanatory gaps are an epistemological problem.

            If you're allowed to make this distinction, why am I denied the right?

          • Doug Shaver

            If you're allowed to make this distinction, why am I denied the right?

            Because the distinction appeared to fit one context and not the other, as I understood the contexts. You're welcome to try explaining why there was no relevant difference in the contexts.

          • No, I think it is quite obvious that your "in plain English" objection was vacuous, given that you can leverage the big terms if it suits your purpose.

          • Doug Shaver

            First: Materialism is an ontological position, while explanatory gaps are an epistemological problem.

            Yep, and one's ontology cannot possibly be 100% disconnected from one's epistemology,

            Agreed. That was not a valid objection. If I’m convinced that a certain kind of thing doesn’t exist, then I can have no knowledge about it. But then, my epistemology should tell me what I can reasonably believe about what kinds of things may or may not exist.

          • Doug Shaver

            Assuming you are a materialist (I cannot recall if you have actually affirmed being one),

            I could have sworn I made a post yesterday in which I said I was one, but I can't find it now.

          • Doug Shaver

            how can our brains know anything about them [abstractions]?

            By producing them.

          • The metaphor of 'produce' hearkens back to fashioning something with one's hands which can act back on one's senses. But here, you want to say that the mind can produce something which cannot act back on the mind. In essence, you seem to be saying that material can produce the immaterial!

          • Doug Shaver

            The metaphor of 'produce' hearkens back to fashioning something with one's hands which can act back on one's senses.

            Then it was an inapt metaphor and thus a bad answer to your question. So, I'll try a different answer. You asked, in reference to abstractions: "How can our brains know anything about them?" My revised answer: They don't. Our brains don't know anything.

          • What do you call the entity which does "know anything"?

          • Doug Shaver

            What do you call the entity which does "know anything"?

            A human being.

          • Pray tell me, which parts of a human being are involved in producing abstractions other than the brain? Yes, it needs blood from the heart and nutrients, but let's not say that the janitor emptying trash cans is "involved" in a CEO planning where to take his/her company.

          • Doug Shaver

            The CEO can't do anything all by himself. It takes the whole company. And the whole company includes the janitors. Get rid of them and see how long the company continues to function.

          • Doug Shaver

            Pray tell me, which parts of a human being are involved in producing abstractions other than the brain?

            Are you making a distinction between "producing" and "involved in producing"?

          • I didn't originally intend such a distinction. It's more than I frankly don't see the relevance of the human liver, to talking about how the human produces abstractions or how the human knows about such abstractions. Your revision of brainhuman being seems utterly irrelevant to:

            LB: The metaphor of 'produce' hearkens back to fashioning something with one's hands which can act back on one's senses. But here, you want to say that the mind can produce something which cannot act back on the mind. In essence, you seem to be saying that material can produce the immaterial!

            If I replace "mind" with "human being", what changes? You're still getting something immaterial which you can know about. Are you not a materialist?

          • Doug Shaver

            You're objecting to my claim that abstractions don't cause anything. On further reflection, I'll revise that claim. Abstractions are a kind of thought. Thoughts can cause other thoughts, and a person's thoughts can cause that person to do certain things or not do them.

          • Ok. I'm just kind of shocked that you, an avowed materialist, would conscience something with zero causal powers. In your view, surely everything which exists can be poked and prodded somehow? And surely nothing which exists can produce something which does not exist? But perhaps you just haven't accepted materialism as thoroughly as you thought? If this is the case, perhaps further grappling with it will require you to revise your beliefs in unacceptable ways.

            Anyhow, we're now back here:

            LB: And are you a non-materialist if you allow that 'rationality' causes anything?

            DS': I believe rationality is an abstraction, and I believe abstractions don't cause anything.

            LB: Then how on earth can we know anything about them?

            DS: By producing them.

            I'm concerned about this logic. If I say that I believe X "because it is rational", that is quite meaningless if all I really mean is that I believe X "because I found a way to rationalize it". Do you think that the human produces rationality instead of discovering rationality? How do you avoid the following identity: 'rational' = 'rationalized'? By the way, at least one respected philosopher had worries along these lines; here's Ian Hacking:

            An inane subjectivism may say that whether p is a reason for q depends on whether people have got around to reasoning that way or not. I have the subtler worry that whether or not a proposition is as it were up for grabs, as a candidate for being true-or-false, depends on whether we have ways to reason about it. The style of thinking that befits the sentence helps fix its sense and determines the way in which it has a positive direction pointing to truth or to falsehood. If we continue in this vein, we may come to fear that the rationality of a style of reasoning is all too built-in. The propositions on which the reasoning bears mean what they do just because that way of reasoning can assign them a truth value. Is reason, in short, all too self-authenticating? (Language, Truth, and Reason)

            The way I see 'rationality' discussed, whether by Enlightenment folks or atheists who post on the internet, is as if it were a causal power which directs them toward what is true and away from what is false. But this would seem to require that 'rationality' really mirrors something "out there" in reality, such as what Heraclitus called the Logos. Your talk of rationality being 'produced' could have some connection to 'mirror', or it may not. Would you shed some light on this? How would you distinguish 'rational' from 'rationalize'?

          • Doug Shaver

            By the way, at least one respected philosopher had worries along these lines

            Is this discussion between you and me, or between me and the authors of all the books you've ever read?

          • I happen to believe that the hard work others have done is occasionally worth bringing into discussions like these. Otherwise, we would have to reinvent everything ourselves. Were we to take the not invented here approach, we would deprive ourselves of the ability to stand on the shoulders of giants. Do you really wish to hamstring yourself in this way?

            Given that I've brought in excerpts remarkably infrequently in this discussion as compared to what I often do, I find it amusing that you have so quickly objected. Surely it wasn't to avoid discussing the meat of my comment?

          • Doug Shaver

            I happen to believe that the hard work others have done is occasionally worth bringing into discussions like these

            I've seen apologists for young-Earth creationism do some very hard work to defend their beliefs. Even so, evolution cannot be discredited by quoting those hard-working apologists, now matter how extensively.

            Do you really wish to hamstring yourself in this way?

            In a way, yes. I will cite or quote other people when necessary to avoid plagiarism, but otherwise, when I'm defending my own ideas, I believe I should present my own arguments.

            Otherwise, we would have to reinvent everything ourselves.

            To say that they are my own arguments is not to say I've invented them. There isn't much I have to say about anything that hasn't already been said by someone else.

          • I've seen apologists for young-Earth creationism do some very hard work to defend their beliefs. Even so, evolution cannot be discredited by quoting those hard-working apologists, now matter how extensively.

            I suggest putting the shovel down. Placing Ian Hacking in the same ballpark as creationists and apologists reflects badly on you and nobody else. Moreover, having knee-jerk reactions like you're having now makes you no better than impulsive creationists. Going even further, what is ironic is that I excerpted from Hacking in the attempt to show that I wasn't just raising a hair-brained idea, but in fact a very respectable philosopher raised the same idea. (BTW, that essay shows up in Rationality and Relativism, which has 950 'citations'. It isn't some fringe essay.) What a glorious backfiring of that intention.

            LB: Were we to take the not invented here approach, we would deprive ourselves of the ability to stand on the shoulders of giants. Do you really wish to hamstring yourself in this way?

            DS: In a way, yes. I will cite or quote other people when necessary to avoid plagiarism, but otherwise, when I'm defending my own ideas, I believe I should present my own arguments.

            Fascinating. Perhaps our age is what differentiates us: I suspect that no longer can systems of ideas be entirely contained within one person's mind. One way to characterize modernity (as opposed to post-modernity) is that 'Reason' could reside entirely in each individual mind, instead of different minds having different, overlapping pieces of 'Reason' which need to be combined. By connecting my ideas to those of others, I contribute to a web of thought, a cooperative effort which I think is the only way we as humans will survive ourselves.

            To say that they are my own arguments is not to say I've invented them.

            Of course. But there is a reason that in any scientific or scholarly work you find these days, there will be copious citations, and this reason goes far beyond the need to avoid plagiarism. To deny this reason importance is, I'm afraid, to be anti-intellectual†. Anti-intellectualism in combox discussions dooms them to play on infinite repeat, instead of building up towards new understanding about reality. At best they can raise participants to some finite maximum level; at worst they are pure, a-rational entertainment. If there's anything our world doesn't need more of right now, it's entertainment.

            † More technically, I mean anti-'Intellect' in the sense of Jacques Barzun's The House of Intellect. Among other things, he spoke of humanity building a common understanding of reality together, instead of each person [merely] atomistically pursuing his/her own desires.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've seen apologists for young-Earth creationism do some very hard work to defend their beliefs

            Placing Ian Hacking in the same ballpark as creationists and apologists reflects badly on you and nobody else.

            You're the one who defended your appeal to his authority by telling me how hard he had worked.

            I excerpted from Hacking in the attempt to show that I wasn't just raising a hair-brained idea, but in fact a very respectable philosopher raised the same idea.

            I have not accused you of having any harebrained ideas. And for every respectable philosopher who agrees with you, I can find a respectable philosopher who agrees with me. I haven’t got time to waste on dueling authorities.

            Perhaps our age is what differentiates us

            We old folks do have a tendency to get set in our ways, especially if we actually tried lots of different ways when we were younger.

          • You're the one who defended your appeal to his authority by telling me how hard he had worked.

            No, it wasn't an appeal to authority. My argument cannot possibly construed to say: "Because «respected scholar» says X, X is therefore true." This is a giant distraction from the difficulty in distinguishing rationality from rationalizing, a difficulty I claim materialism compounds (unless the term 'material' is made impossibly vague).

            I have not accused you of having any harebrained ideas.

            That's fine; I'm merely decreasing the plausibility of any such accusations, whether implicit or explicit, whether properly inferred or improperly inferred. Think of it as an insurance policy.

            And for every respectable philosopher who agrees with you, I can find a respectable philosopher who agrees with me. I haven’t got time to waste on dueling authorities.

            The fact that one can find a respectable scholar who agrees with position X does not mean position X is true, or even probably true. I agree on that. However, failure to be able to find any respectable scholar who agrees with position X would constitute probabilistic evidence that position X is probably not worth thinking about.

            We old folks do have a tendency to get set in our ways, especially if we actually tried lots of different ways when we were younger.

            Oh, I have no doubt that you have much more wisdom than I. But when old folks refuse to allow their wisdom and knowledge to be purified of falsehood and badness, my experience is that it has a sort of half-life in terms of helping future generations. I call this the "Wisdom Propagation Problem". One way to construe this problem is that there is a tendency to generalize wisdom and knowledge, vs. carefully figure out the domains where they are valid—perhaps in the spirit of Ceteris Paribus Laws.

            So my challenge to older folks with more wisdom is whether they are interested in perpetual refinement and ever-better delivery to younger folks, or whether they're happy passing along a shoddy product which will be discarded after a generation or three. It's their choice. I just want to challenge them to consciously make the choice, instead of going with the flow.

          • Doug Shaver

            But when old folks refuse to allow their wisdom and knowledge to be purified of falsehood and badness, my experience is that it has a sort of half-life in terms of helping future generations.

            I’m OK letting the lurkers decide what, if anything, I am refusing to allow.

            So my challenge to older folks with more wisdom is whether they are interested in perpetual refinement and ever-better delivery to younger folks, or whether they're happy passing along a shoddy product which will be discarded after a generation or three.

            Likewise for the shoddiness of my worldview.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm just kind of shocked that you, an avowed materialist, would conscience something with zero causal powers.

            Then maybe you should read more literature by materialists. You’re beginning to sound like those creationists who keep going on about all those fossils that the theory of evolution predicts we should have discovered.

            In your view, surely everything which exists can be poked and prodded somehow?

            My view accepts some limitations on our abilities to poke and prod anything. It also says that when we reach those limits, we have reached the limits of what can know about whatever we have been poking and prodding.

            But perhaps you just haven't accepted materialism as thoroughly as you thought?

            I don’t think I’m infallible about anything.

            If I say that I believe X "because it is rational", that is quite meaningless if all I really mean is that I believe X "because I found a way to rationalize it".

            It could be a mistake. I don’t think something is meaningless just because it’s wrong.

            How would you distinguish 'rational' from 'rationalize'?

            Any reasoning is rational if it is logically consistent. “Rationalize” is a pejorative applied to reasoning that allegedly begins with a desired conclusion and collects premises that entail it or justify it while disregarding any premises that are inconsistent with it.

            Do you think that the human produces rationality instead of discovering rationality?

            I think the human does both.

            How do you avoid the following identity: 'rational' = 'rationalized'?

            I try to avoid it by being careful in my reasoning. Being a normal human with normal human failings, I don’t always succeed.

            The way I see 'rationality' discussed, whether by Enlightenment folks or atheists who post on the internet, is as if it were a causal power which directs them toward what is true and away from what is false.

            I see a lot of that, too. It is an unfortunate but unavoidable temptation.

            Your talk of rationality being 'produced' could have some connection to 'mirror', or it may not. Would you shed some light on this?

            Only by a gross oversimplification of what I believe, but I’ll try anyway. Our brains are a product of natural selection, and so their primary function is help us survive and reproduce. They could not have fulfilled that function, over the course of our history to date, unless our cognitive faculties, i.e. our perceptual capabilities coupled with our reasoning skills, were reliable more often than not, in situations of the sort in which we have normally found ourselves. And by “reliable,” in this context I mean “tending to produce true beliefs about our environment and the likely outcomes of any actions we take.”

          • LB: Ok. I'm just kind of shocked that you, an avowed materialist, would conscience something with zero causal powers.

            DS: Then maybe you should read more literature by materialists. You’re beginning to sound like those creationists who keep going on about all those fossils that the theory of evolution predicts we should have discovered.

            That's quite the criticism. Are you willing and able to back it up? Can you, for example, point me to a book or article (peer-reviewed or no) whereby material things are shown to produce something which cannot causally impinge on the material world? As far as I can tell, "A has no causal powers" is, to the materialist, the same as saying "A does not exist". I can of course rephrase so that I don't mention 'causal powers', but it the result would appear more complicated than necessary.

            My view accepts some limitations on our abilities to poke and prod anything. It also says that when we reach those limits, we have reached the limits of what can know about whatever we have been poking and prodding.

            Do these limitations extend to products of the human? (I would say "human mind", or to be more materialist, "human brain", but you took issue with that.) This talk of limitation seems like a red herring, since we were talking about abstractions produced by humans.

            Any reasoning is rational if it is logically consistent.

            I'm going to bring this back to the OP. I do think the discussion of whether evolution could produce 'rationality' instead of merely 'rationalization' is a fascinating one, but I think it's more valuable to first tease out what 'rationality' is (or at least: is not), with more precision.

            Surely you believe that some people who are impeccably logical are nevertheless irrational? (If not, I suggest a reading of GK Chesterton's The Maniac, plus perhaps a visit to your local insane asylum.) I would also point out Emerson's poignant claim: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." (Self Reliance) I had the privilege of extended conversations with David Politzer before he won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of asymptotic freedom. He cited a slightly different version of Emerson's maxim, by by Scott Fitzgerald: "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Do you think that David Politzer was promoting irrationality in saying that this intellectual ability is a key milestone in scientific maturity? The more general debate here is between that group of philosophers William James called 'rationalists', and those he called 'empiricists'. The former preferred systematic thinking with no logical inconsistencies, while the latter preferred "going by 'facts'", even if this resulted in logical contradictions. Do you really want to accuse the empiricists of not being rational?

            I belabor the above point because the very point of the The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem is that a Gödelian formal system cannot transcend itself; it cannot, from within its own internal resources, "jump" to a bigger formal system which can prove more things true. And yet, human beings have this curious ability to always game whatever system they find themselves in. Once we characterize the system well enough, we can beat it by rising above it. But this transcendence is deeply 'illogical', if the term 'logical' is defined by the smaller formal system. The conclusion is momentous: coming to a deeper understanding of reality is illogical, unless you judge logic by a transcendental ideal (e.g. a Platonic Form), instead of one's current conception of 'logic'.

            Now I will excerpt an extended bit from Hilary Putnam which supports the idea that even the process of hypothesis selection—not the more difficult topic of hypothesis generation—cannot be reduced to an algorithm:

            Epistemic Values are Values Too
            The classical pragmatists, Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead, all held that value and normativity permeate all of experience. In the philosophy of science, what this point of view implied is that normative judgments are essential to the practice of science itself. These pragmatist philosophers did not refer only to the kind of normative judgments that we call "moral" or "ethical"; judgments of "coherence," "plausibility," "reasonableness," "simplicity," and of what Dirac famously called the beauty of a hypothesis, are all normative judgments in Charles Peirce's sense, judgments of "what ought to be" in the case of reasoning.[7]
                Carnap tried to avoid admitting this by seeking to reduce hypothesis-selection to an algorithm—a project to which he devoted most of his energies beginning in the early 1950s, but without success. In Chapter 7, I shall look in detail at this and other unsuccessful attempts by various logical positivists (as well as Karl Popper) to avoid conceding that theory selection always presupposes values, and we shall see that they were, one and all, failures. But just as these empiricist philosophers were determined to shut their eyes to the fact that judgment of coherence, simplicity (which is itself a whole bundle of different values, not just one "parameter"), beauty, naturalness, and so on, are presupposed by physical science, likewise many today who refer to values as purely "subjective" and science as purely "objective" continue to shut their eyes to this same fact. Yet coherence and simplicity and the like are values. (The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 30–31)

            I want to make the case that what is going on is that the evaluation of "which hypothesis is best" is not 'logical', if 'logical' is understood as "according to the dictates of a Gödelian formal system". This is the same thing as saying "according to the outcome of some Turing machine running some algorithm". Here the fact/​value dichotomy rears it head in a very unexpected place: values become transcendental concepts, that is, concepts not expressible by algorithms. Hypotheses are selected not based on algorithmically definable 'facts', but transcendental values.

            Now the rub. If 'materialism' and 'naturalism' are defined according to Gödelian formal systems, they cannot [yet, and perhaps ever] account for how hypothesis selection happens. But if they are defined some other way, you will inevitably introduce vagueness, because we don't seem to know how to talk as precisely as we can with Gödelian formal systems, using any other kind of logic. If this vagueness is accepted, exactly what does that imply when the materialist or naturalist tries to make claims that intersect with the claims of Christian theology? Saying that "humans are just machines" becomes "humans are just {something more complex and powerful than Turing machines}". One could of course question the use of 'just' in the latter sentence, and I wouldn't be surprised if your average theist wouldn't take issue with the latter sentence.

            P.S. One possible objection to the above is that perhaps we are operating according to some Gödelian formal system, but that it is so big and complex that we'll simply never hit its limits. I cannot prove this stance wrong, but I can point out that falsifying it seems impossible in practice even if not in principle, and that things not falsifiable in practice do not tell us much of anything, if anything at all, about reality. For now, it would tell us as much about reality as string theory—which is to say, approximately nothing. Anyone attempting to draw metaphysical conclusions from string theory would be laughed at for this reason, and the same attitude ought to be brought to bear against the idea that humans are no more powerful than Turing machines.

          • Doug Shaver

            As far as I can tell, "A has no causal powers" is, to the materialist, the same as saying "A does not exist".

            If so, it would probably be because most of us materialists, as far as I can tell, believe that any entity, material or immaterial, without any causal powers might as well not exist for all the epistemological difference it makes. It could be real for all we know, but if it has no effect on the observable universe (which is implied by “no causal powers”), then we have no reason to believe it is real.

            Surely you believe that some people who are impeccably logical are nevertheless irrational? (If not, I suggest a reading of GK Chesterton's The Maniac, plus perhaps a visit to your local insane asylum.)

            I must confess to never having thought about that question. However, when I said, “Any reasoning is rational if it is logically consistent,” I was thinking of people with sound minds. I’m prepared to stipulate that the statement is possibly inapplicable to insane people.

            My view accepts some limitations on our abilities to poke and prod anything. It also says that when we reach those limits, we have reached the limits of what can know about whatever we have been poking and prodding.

            Do these limitations extend to products of the human?

            It extends to anything we try to know anything about.

          • LB: As far as I can tell, "A has no causal powers" is, to the materialist, the same as saying "A does not exist".

            DS: If so, it would probably be because most of us materialists, as far as I can tell, believe that any entity, material or immaterial, without any causal powers might as well not exist for all the epistemological difference it makes. It could be real for all we know, but if it has no effect on the observable universe (which is implied by “no causal powers”), then we have no reason to believe it is real.

            Yes. What I note is that my materialist-simulator picked up on this much faster than you, an avowed materialist. Simultaneously, you have the gall to write things such as:

            DS: Then maybe you should read more literature by materialists. You’re beginning to sound like those creationists who keep going on about all those fossils that the theory of evolution predicts we should have discovered.

            Don't you see the glaring contradiction?

            However, when I said, “Any reasoning is rational if it is logically consistent,” I was thinking of people with sound minds.

            Ok, but soundness is precisely the issue under question. The presumption that human thought is no more powerful than Turing machines could be quite unsound. I have argued precisely that. For you to just presume that soundness is something we so clearly agree on that it can be presupposed in the conversation is for you to utterly miss the content of the overarching discussion.

            Soundness, I'm pretty sure, is much harder than logic. Rationalizing is much easier than rationality.

            It extends to anything we try to know anything about.

            Look, it's obviously true that we might never be able to poke and prod dark matter—perhaps scientists in the future will. That's fine. But what I was clearly asking about is whether we should expect the limitations you discuss to apply to abstractions produced by the human. Do you really believe the topic of limitations arises with abstractions? All I can see is a giant red herring.

          • Doug Shaver

            Don't you see the glaring contradiction?

            No, I’m afraid I don’t.

            However, when I said, “Any reasoning is rational if it is logically consistent,” I was thinking of people with sound minds.

            Ok, but soundness is precisely the issue under question.

            Oh, it is? That comment was a followup to my response to your question, “How would you distinguish 'rational' from 'rationalize'? I thought that distinction was the issue under discussion.

            The presumption that human thought is no more powerful than Turing machines could be quite unsound.

            If it’s only a presumption, it could be false, but not unsound. If it is the conclusion of some argument, then that argument could be unsound, but then the statement itself is no longer a presumption.

            In any case, I have said nothing about the relative power of human thought and Turing machines.

            For you to just presume that soundness is something we so clearly agree on that it can be presupposed in the conversation is for you to utterly miss the content of the overarching discussion.

            I stopped presuming a long time ago that there could be anything you and I agree on.

            Soundness, I'm pretty sure, is much harder than logic.

            Yes, if we’re talking about minds as opposed to logic. I am aware of no definition of “sound mind” that every reasonable person would agree to, notwithstanding that there are some people who every reasonable person would agree are not of sound mind.

            Do you really believe the topic of limitations arises with abstractions?

            Yes, I do. I cannot believe that our cognitive abilities are unlimited in any area of inquiry.

          • No, I’m afraid I don’t.

            I see, so while I ostensibly have a terrible understanding of materialism (like "creationists"), it was I who more quickly saw the ludicrous idea that, on materialism, human-generated abstractions could be immaterial. I'm honestly baffled that you couldn't see that immediately. It is as if you don't really fully buy into materialism.

            LB: How would you distinguish 'rational' from 'rationalize'?

            DS: Any reasoning is rational if it is logically consistent.

            LB: [omitted for brevity]

            DS: However, when I said, “Any reasoning is rational if it is logically consistent,” I was thinking of people with sound minds.

            LB: Ok, but soundness is precisely the issue under question.

            DS: Oh, it is? That comment was a followup to my response to your question, “How would you distinguish 'rational' from 'rationalize'? I thought that distinction was the issue under discussion.

            The one thing that 'rational' and 'rationalize' have in common is that they are "logically consistent". I was not asking what they had in common, but how one could distinguish between them. Now, you kind of got at soundness when you said the following:

            DS: “Rationalize” is a pejorative applied to reasoning that allegedly begins with a desired conclusion and collects premises that entail it or justify it while disregarding any premises that are inconsistent with it.

            But you failed to distinguish at all between sound and unsound premises. Therefore, you left my question completely unanswered.

            If it’s only a presumption, it could be false, but not unsound. If it is the conclusion of some argument, then that argument could be unsound, but then the statement itself is no longer a presumption.

            Yeah, I'm not sure I care here about the difference between truth/​falsity and soundness/​unsoundness. What is a premise in one argument can easily be the conclusion in another. Both these dimensions are about whether a piece of language corresponds to reality.

            LB: Do you really believe the topic of limitations arises with abstractions?

            DS: Yes, I do. I cannot believe that our cognitive abilities are unlimited in any area of inquiry.

            But that wasn't the context of 'abstractions'. You originally stated that you thought the material human could produce immaterial† abstractions. Then you brought up limitations. I don't see how limitations are relevant to the ability or lack thereof of thought-up abstractions to causally impinge on humans.

            † You said: "I believe rationality is an abstraction, and I believe abstractions don't cause anything." That which cannot cause anything cannot interact with material reality, and is thus 'immaterial'.

          • Doug Shaver

            If this discussion was supposed to be a test of endurance, you win. The last word is yours.

          • Nope. It is simply my experience that really getting inside another person's mind requires incredible diligence. It is much easier to caricature the Other—you know, the behavior which characterized the 2016 US election. My understanding of Christianity condemns the very thought that some people are irrelevant, that their voices can be ignored if not suppressed. Perhaps your understanding of materialism gives you license you to do such things.

          • Doug Shaver

            That's not the point, for one can almost always finagle one's understanding to fit new, contradictory data.

            Yes, one can always do that. My point is that, since materialism implies nothing about the age of the universe, no data about the age of the universe can contradict it.

        • You completely missed my point:

          LB: I get that materialists are able to adjust their understanding, but shouldn't we be allowed to place some importance on the best guess of a point of view before corroborating/​falsifying evidence is available?

          It's this "before" which allows a critique of:

               (A) pre-CMB-materialists & steady-state
               (B) pre-uniformitarianism Christians & young earth

          Yes, each group was able to finagle its understanding to fit the new evidence. That's not the point, for one can almost always finagle one's understanding to fit new, contradictory data. Instead, we're dealing with the essence of science, which is that by observing some finite aspect of reality, we can predict things about unobserved aspects. We are manifestly not merely finding the least complex fits to extant data.

      • Doug Shaver

        From my understanding, what happened is that at the time, there were two major contending theories: steady-state and a definite starting point.

        There was such a debate before the cosmic microwave background was discovered in 1964. Most of my reading on the subject was a long time ago, and I recall hardly any specifics about the debate.

        Materialists pushed steady-state as their best guess, and Christians pushed the definite starting point as their best guess. In this framing, there definitely was a vindication and a blow.

        Fine, but it's not my framing.

        I get that materialists are able to adjust their understanding

        And theists aren't? The history of Christianity suggests otherwise to me.

        but shouldn't we be allowed to place some importance on the best guess of a point of view before corroborating/​falsifying evidence is available?

        That depends on what you're claiming it's important for or important as, but it is a logical fact that materialism does not entail an infinite age for the universe.

        This turns into a criticism of Christianity when it comes to the age of the earth, by the way.

        Not really. I was still a Protestant fundamentalist committed to scriptural inerrancy when I stopped believing in a young Earth and accepted theistic evolution, and I got the idea of theistic evolution from other fundamentalists.

      • MNb

        "Materialists pushed steady-state as their best guess, and Christians pushed the definite starting point as their best guess."
        That's factually incorrect and hence smells like christian propaganda.
        The first one to propose a "definite starting point" was atheist commie Alexander Friedmann. One of his pupils was another atheist: George Gamow. He predicted the cosmic background radiation. Ralph Alpher, who also was instrumental in the theoretical research of the Big Bang, considered himself an agnost.
        Of course during the debate between 1948 and 1964 there weren't many christian physicists left, which makes your point worse than wrong - it's totally irrelevant.

  • MNb

    "Jews and Christians have always believed that the world, and time itself, had a beginning, whereas materialists and atheists have tended to imagine the world has always existed."
    The funny parts are that since Penzias and Wilson confirmed the Big Bang with their discovery of cosmic background radiation in 1964 all materialists and atheists have fully accepted it while quite a few jews and christians continue to deny it. BV's "criticism" is more than half a century behind.

    • neil_pogi

      atheists are double-standards. according to them, the 'self-replicating molecules' are not eternal by nature, but their existence is 'álways there'. if their one theory does not hold solidly, they use different word or phrases, but the meaning stays the same.

      • MNb

        Sorry, I don't understand you.
        The one atheist theory is "there is no god". It doesn't make much sense to use different words or phrases for this. And it holds solidly. Plus it has zero to do with the Big Bang. Neither do 'self-replicating molecules'.
        So what are you talking about?

        • neil_pogi

          i think you should re-read again my statement above. if you don't grasp it, then somebody might help you out

          • MNb

            How many times should I re-read it? See, I just re-read it for the 6th time. You are not the somebody who will help me out, I suppose?
            Well, then my tentative conclusion is that you simply don't make sense. But I'm still open to explanations.
            So what were you talking about?

          • neil_pogi

            according to atheists: 'Self Replicating Molecule' is not eternal but it 'always exists'... then why atheists avoid using the word 'eternal'?

            so now, i expect you to make an opinion of it

          • MNb

            I only have one opinion on what believers claim is according to atheists: they make up all kinds of nonsense. Your 'Self Replicating Molecule' is not eternal but it 'always exists' is no exception. It's made up nonsense. By you.
            Plus I don't avoid using the word 'eternal'. Quantum fields are eternal, if that word has any sensible meaning. There you are.

          • neil_pogi

            quantum fields are ''something''.. it was created.

            do you think these quantum fields just produced themselves from ''nothing''?

          • Will

            Quantum fields could be eternal, even if what we call the universe isn't. It's still possible that the universe itself is eternal, but there is some reason from physics to doubt it (a lot is unknown). Perhaps when we study physics, we are studying the mind of God which is embodied in the quantum fields. Atheists would be right that God can't be reasoned with via prayer, but wrong that it doesn't exist. All I can say is that Christianity is far to flawed to be divine. It has human finger prints all over it.

          • neil_pogi

            why would you say that the quantum fields are eternal? were you there when you observed it? that's just a basic question.

            i was comparing that to the biological realm where the cell is the smallest unit of life.

            so do those quantums, bosons, etc.. they might be the smallest entities in the universe.

  • GearHedEd

    From the OP:

    ...the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures depict God casting out man, sending him into exile.

    This was scripted by the writers of that particular story to insulate God's claimed perfection from the very observable fact that living on Planet Earth is a dicey business fraught with danger, struggle, uncertainty, etc. They HAD to reconcile the fact that Earth is (often) a shitty place to live with the concept of a 'perfect Creator', hence the story that lays blame on US.

    From "Twist #1":

    But that all changed with the discovery of the Big Bang, which came as a profound shock to the scientific community. According to Barr, "the Big Bang was as clear and as dramatic a beginning as one could have hoped to find" (22). When you combine that discovery with research built on top of the model, you have an overwhelming amount of support for a universe that began in the finite past.

    Vilenkin's subsequent quote notwithstanding, his comment references his "famous" Borde-Guth-Vilenkin paper which concluded (paraphrased) that all past-directed geodesics terminate at the Planck Epoch, but that there is no way of knowing without some "new physics" what if anything might have preceded it, if the question has any meaning to begin with. In other words, our local spacetime had a beginning according to their "past-directed geodesics" model (a way to mathematically model the progress of the universe in reversed time; but TIME is part of the "universe" they're attempting to describe...). Vilenkin has further commented on William Lane Craig's misunderstanding of the paper and his continued misuse of the conclusions therein. In short, the BGV paper only deals with events AFTER the Planck Epoch (1X10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang; or an infinity. No one knows, and the BGV paper says this explicitly).

    Twist # 3: The anthropic principle is refuted thus:

    Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, "This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, may have been made to have me in it!" This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for. We all know that at some point in the future the Universe will come to an end and at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there's plenty of time to worry about that, but on the other hand that's a very dangerous thing to say.

    Douglas Adams

    The point is, if the universe still existed but was incapable of supporting life, we wouldn't be around to ask stupid questions.

    Twist #4:

    If only matter exists, as the materialist thinks, then the human mind must be a machine.

    This is a reductio ad absurdum, and cheapens the discussion. Matter AND energy exist within a spacetime continuum, and determinism isn't an either/or thing. Further, the caricature of a mind as "merely a machine" charge laid against atheists thoroughly ignores the issue of complexity, as if atoms bouncing off each other were all that's going on inside our heads. No one seriously believes this, atheist or theist.

    Twist #5: Quantum indeterminacy supports the view expressed above that determinism isn't an either/or proposition. People are STILL determined by circumstance ("I chose this because..."), bu NOT determined by physics. This fits entirely within an atheistic view of the cosmos easier than it supports ultimate libertarian free will of the sort that theists claim must be the case in order for the stories to be valid.

    • This was scripted by the writers of that particular story to insulate God's claimed perfection from the very observable fact that living on Planet Earth is a dicey business fraught with danger, struggle, uncertainty, etc. They HAD to reconcile the fact that Earth is (often) a shitty place to live with the concept of a 'perfect Creator', hence the story that lays blame on US.

      Sure. And humans have been blaming the Other ever since. Including the Religious Right in the US, who blame the decline of the nation (one instance of decline; another) on homosexuals and such, in flagrant denial of the obvious Romans 1:18–2:24 arc, which ends this way:

      You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom 2:23–24)

      Originally written of the Jews, surely this applies to many Christians throughout time. What's even more ironic is that the reference here is to Is 52:5, which deals with Israel's exile. The narrative has the Israelites being carried off into exile because (i) they had been evil for generations; (ii) they had been completely unrepentant about it. If one compares this to the 2015-06-26 World article Our exile in Babylon, one finds a curious thing: the author makes no reference at all to the guilt associated with exile. Even as they were carried off into exile they blamed the Other. If only we would respect the lessons humans had learned 2500+ years ago. But no, let's pass the buck!

      Of course, there is another reason to deny that A&E had the resources to not sin. That suggests that maybe we have the resources to avoid terribleness such as the The Charitable–Industrial Complex, that our problem is not of ability or knowledge, but of will. That is, our problems are due to our sin. Perhaps the very thought of this is anathema to you? That wouldn't make it any less likely to be true.

    • BV: If only matter exists, as the materialist thinks, then the human mind must be a machine.

      GHE: This is a reductio ad absurdum, and cheapens the discussion. Matter AND energy exist within a spacetime continuum, and determinism isn't an either/or thing. Further, the caricature of a mind as "merely a machine" charge laid against atheists thoroughly ignores the issue of complexity, as if atoms bouncing off each other were all that's going on inside our heads. No one seriously believes this, atheist or theist.

      It cheapens the discussion if you do not recognize that however one updates the notion of 'machine', something is still denied by reducing human agency to the result. In and of itself this is ok—by denying something, you're actually making an empirical claim. You're saying the world is like this, not like that. What folks like Brandon and Stephen Barr are worried about is that in doing the reduction, one distorts if not denies important aspects of human nature. This is not an idle worry; there is a strong argument that the attempt to model the human world based on the natural sciences† greatly distorted the result, with harmful repercussions in modernity. One place this has gone on at least as of 2000 is in the love affair that sociology has with rational choice theory, a conception of human nature which is quite machine-like.

      If you want to up the level of discussion, why not take your interlocutor's position as seriously as you can, and challenge him/her to do the same to you? You might find that taking the first step in this can predispose the other to reciprocate. Of course, taking the first step means being vulnerable, which is something Jesus exemplified but nobody wants to emulate. You could shame Christians by exposing vulnerability where they won't. Perhaps a modern version of Mt 21:28–32 will have certain atheists "go into the kingdom of God before you". (There's a delicious ambiguity at least in the English: does "before you" mean that both are in the same line, or does it mean "while you watch, outside"?)

      If Brandon and Stephen Barr wanted to make their case rigorous, I would suggest an investigation of theoretical biologist Robert Rosen's Life Itself. He argues that the kind of entailment (the logical analogue of causation) one finds in differential and partial differential equations is insufficient to properly describe what life is. So, he looks to richer mathematics: category theory. Curiously enough, CT—which has long been seen as an absolutely obscure area of mathematics—might be helpful for dealing with the complexity of the human mind: A New Foundation for Representation in Cognitive and Brain Science.

      You, on the other hand, could take seriously work such as Fiona Ellis' God, Value, and Nature, in which she explores the shift from naturalism to "expansive naturalism"—a move some see required to treat the concept of value properly. You could take seriously the problems some see with naturalism which push them to expand it. Then you could look at Ellis' argument that once you expand it that far, thinking about God is a small step away. You might not be convinced by such things, but you might become convinced that belief in God is not as ridiculous—from a philosophical standpoint—as you probably do, now.

      But hey, the above would require work. It's so much easier to caricature the Other. And when they do it to you, you can do it a little less intensely back (at least in your biased judgment) and feel justified. As the current US election indicates, that spiral may not have a bottom.

      † Some argue it's worse: the stories natural scientists told about how they went about science didn't actually match reality.

  • Will

    The idea that the Earth sat at the center of the universe stemmed from Greek astronomy and philosophy, not religion;mdash;and certainly not Judaeo-Christian religion

    Ironically there was a recent movie by a Catholic who once frequented this site that still defends geocentrism...apparently some think it's important. The move is called "The Principle".
    The Catholic Church certainly embraced the idea enough to be willing to imprison Galileo over it, and there have been articles on this site defending the Church's action. Now it's just some "greek idea" eh. I suppose that's progress?

    The ancient Jewish picture of the world was vertical, not concentric, with the human race located between the heavens above and the "abyss" below. Humans were lower than angels and higher than plants and animals, but in no sense we were at the center.

    The Jewish view was more wrong than the Greek view? Is this supposed to help your case?

  • Will

    The idea that the Earth sat at the center of the universe stemmed from Greek astronomy and philosophy, not religion;mdash;and certainly not Judaeo-Christian religion

    Ironically there was a recent movie by a Catholic who once frequented this site that still defends geocentrism...apparently some think it's important. The move is called "The Principle".
    The Catholic Church certainly embraced the idea enough to be willing to imprison Galileo over it, and there have been articles on this site defending the Church's action. Now it's just some "greek idea" eh. I suppose that's progress?

    The ancient Jewish picture of the world was vertical, not concentric, with the human race located between the heavens above and the "abyss" below. Humans were lower than angels and higher than plants and animals, but in no sense we were at the center.

    The Jewish view was more wrong than the Greek view? Is this supposed to help your case?

  • Will

    But that all changed with the discovery of the Big Bang, which came as a profound shock to the scientific community. According to Barr, "the Big Bang was as clear and as dramatic a beginning as one could have hoped to find" (22).

    Contrast this with Christian Physicist Don page:

    In view of these beliefs of mine, I am not convinced that most philosophical arguments for the existence of God are very persuasive. In particular, I am highly skeptical of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which I shall quote here from one of your slides, Bill:

    If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause
    which brought the universe into existence.
    The universe began to exist.
    Therefore, there is a transcendent cause which brought the
    universe into existence.
    I do not believe that the first premise is metaphysically necessary, and I am also not at all sure that our universe had a beginning. (I do believe that the first premise is true in the actual world, since I do believe that God exists as a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence, but I do not see that this premise is true in all logically possible worlds.)

    The Big Bang is a temporal limit to our knowledge, we know that General Relativity is going to break down as we approach the initial singularity. In any case, there is nothing that suggests the initial singularity began to exist, but the singularity != to the universe. The question is "what can we learn about the initial singularity" if there are answers about what caused the Big Bang, they would lie there. "God did it" would be a place holder explanation (i.e. a pseudo-explanation) until then. Of course, there me some things that are truly can't be explained, so there may always be a place for the God of the gaps.

  • Will

    Just fyi, Vilenkin is overconfident about the universe having a beginning because the major work of his career depends on it. That doesn't mean he is wrong, he just has incentive to overstate his case.

    Some people claim your work proves the existence of God, or at least of a divine moment of creation. What do you think?

    I don’t think it proves anything one way or another.

    I went to a meeting of some theologians and cosmologists. Basically, I realized these theologians have the same problem with God. What was He doing before He created the universe? Why did He suddenly decide to create the universe?

    For many physicists, the beginning of the universe is uncomfortable, because it suggests that something must have caused the beginning, that there should be some cause outside the universe. In fact, we now have models where that’s not necessary—the universe spontaneously appears, quantum mechanically.

    In quantum physics, events do not necessarily have a cause, just some probability.

    As such, there is some probability for the universe to pop out of “nothing.” You can find the relative probability for it to be this size or that size and have various properties, but there will not be a particular cause for any of it, just probabilities.

    I say “nothing” in quotations because the nothing that we were referring to here is the absence of matter, space and time. That is as close to nothing as you can get, but what is still required here is the laws of physics. So the laws of physics should still be there, and they are definitely not nothing.

    http://now.tufts.edu/articles/beginning-was-beginning

    I think he asks a good question? What is the theological reason for a beginning of the universe? If there was not time before the beginning, then it doesn't even make sense to say the universe began to exist, because it was there at the first moment of time. The question is simply, why is there a first moment? If God did it, there must be some reason why, and I have never heard of a theological explanation. If there isn't one, what is theology explaining? Nothing it seems to me.

    • Michael Murray

      I don't understand why he says these things in interview but elsewhere (like William Lane Craig's website) we find Vilenkin saying

      . . . of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

      • Will

        It's easy to be overconfident at certain moments and write that way even if it's incorrect. William Lane Craig usually gets scientific topics so confused I avoid reading anything there to save the frustration...so who knows if there is some missing context there. There are many sites that claim Craig is misrepresenting Vilenkin, but I just prefer to ignore him altogether, so I can't claim these sites are accurate, here is one if you are curious:

        http://www.theaunicornist.com/2012/10/how-william-lane-craig-misrepresents.html

  • neil_pogi

    so, according to stephen hawking, AI (artificial intelligence) will someday rule the world..... http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-37713629

    and if these AIs rule the world....

    then they will say that: 'we were not created by intelligent human organisms... we created ourselves!

  • "I think atheists and theists can nod their heads in agreement: that's a
    clear, coherent, accurate depiction of the naturalist worldview. Its
    main plotline may be called the "marginalization of man.""

    Actually I would disagree with these statements. Naturalism is the view that nothing non-natural exists, it says nothing about the marginilization of humans. Interestingly, this is also not the view expounded by secular humanism, which considers human life paramount. This lengthy quote is rather a statement that the science has not shown the existence of anything supernatural or any seeming grand plan, design, or purpose to the cosmos. Certainly this promotes metaphysical Naturalism based on scientism. But it would be a mistake to say that all Naturalists believe science has "marginalized" humans.

    My own view is that things that are rare and fascinating like humans are incredibly valuable. Like we do not say that the scarcity of Stradivarius violins has marginalized them, neither should we draw this conclusion from the scarcity of human existence.

    • Naturalism is the view that nothing non-natural exists, it says nothing about the marginilization of humans.

      "says nothing" ⇏ "entails nothing"

      We can also differentiate between strict logical entailment and extant, lived examples. For example, I'm told that for a long time, Communists insisted that while the USSR had done Communism badly, there were ways to do it well. It seems wise to discount such claims, the longer one goes without a sufficiently good example actually being lived out. Maybe the Platonic Form of 'Communism' exists, but if we can't actually head towards it, it should be discounted. Same with the Platonic Form of 'Naturalism'. At the end of the day, people care more about what happens when you live it out, than what scholars and people on the internet claim should happen.

      With the above understanding in-place, there is a pretty clear burden on @bvogt1:disqus and others to demonstrate that when naturalism is actually lived out, humans are marginalized. As evidence, he could use the following claim by an eminent sociologist:

      Sociological theory has conceptually centered nearly everything imaginable—nearly everything, that is, except human persons. We have centered action and meanings. We have centered interactions, society, and practices. We have centered culture. We have centered social structures. We have centered the functional requisites of society and the means and relations of production. We have centered habits and habitus. We have centered pleasure, exchange, and utility maximization. We have centered social network ties and social influence. We have centered social norms and values. We have centered power and conflict. We have centered social roles, identity, and creativity. We have centered social interest, social class, social facts, and social knowledge. We have centered gender and rational choice and emotions. We have centered individuals. All of that. But we have never centered human persons. And that explains, I suggest, why sociological theory has never quite worked. (To Flourish or Destruct, 60)

      I would argue that this is a great example of the marginalization of humans, via attempts to reduce them to something less-than-human. Let's note that there is a scientific case for doing so:

          There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

      See, if you actually theorize about persons as persons, you take a stance on what is important to humans. This stance can't help but be value-laden. It is therefore not 'objective' in the way we demand of science. There may be a way to resolve this conundrum, but I don't see it. Hence the publication of books such as The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy. tl;dr If you stay 'objective', you end up greatly damaging those in poverty.

      • "With the above understanding in-place, there is a pretty clear burden on Brandon Vogt and others to demonstrate that when naturalism is actually lived out, humans are marginalized."

        Naturalism is a metaphysical viewpoint, not a social, political, or economic theory. It has nothing to say about humans other than they have no non-natural part. How does naturalism marginalize humans?

        • Oh give me a break. There would be terrifically less excitement about naturalism if people thought it had zero bearing whatsoever on humans and humans in society. The subject matter of social, political, and economic theory is precisely "humans and humans in society".

          I provided you evidence of how naturalism marginalizes humans: (1) by refusing to give them ontological status, but instead reducing them to something more primitive; (2) by refusing to give the value domain theoretical status. If you want to say that only certain forms of naturalism do this, then I'll suspect your notion of 'naturalism' is impossibly vague (for more in this vein, see Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism).

          • "There would be terrifically less excitement about naturalism if people
            thought it had zero bearing whatsoever on humans and humans in society."

            I do not see much excitement about it in the first place. Rather I see many people concerned with the harm caused by belief in supernatural agents. Such harm is easily identified and quite often directly referenced as the reason justifying the behaviour.

            Naturalism in no way denies the ontological status of humans, it completely accepts the existence of humans. It makes no claims on the "primitiveness" of humans. What do you even mean by primitive?

            "by refusing to give the value domain theoretical status."

            What is the "value domain" I do not know what you mean by this.

            There is nothing vague in naturalism, it is very clear and simple. It is nothing more than a rejection of claims of the supernatural. What are you meaning when you use the term?

          • I do not see much excitement about it in the first place. Rather I see many people concerned with the harm caused by belief in supernatural agents. Such harm is easily identified and quite often directly referenced as the reason justifying the behaviour.

            I'm sorry, I just cannot believe that the primary reasons naturalism is pushed are one or both of: (i) it is intellectually interesting for reasons other than I mentioned; (ii) it is an antidote to something harmful.

            By the way, I've yet to see a single peer-reviewed article which shows a definite causal connection between "belief in supernatural agents [simpliciter]" and "harm". I do own a copy of The Myth of Religious Violence. If this kind of belief were so dangerous, you'd think it would have been studied, scientifically, extensively. Where's the corpus of peer-reviewed research?

            Naturalism in no way denies the ontological status of humans, it completely accepts the existence of humans. It makes no claims on the "primitiveness" of humans. What do you even mean by primitive?

            I suggest you revisit my excerpt from Christian Smith's To Flourish or Destruct. That's an illustration of what happens when one does not give humans ontological status, but instead to reduces the human being to more primitive (less complex) parts. The key is "reduce". As in: "Humans are nothing but a swirl of atoms"—or whatever version of "nothing but" is flying around these days. The core claim is that there is no causal power which is rooted in the human agent; instead, whatever looks like causal power there is really causal power of simpler elements.

            What is the "value domain" I do not know what you mean by this.

            Have you never heard of the fact/​value dichotomy?

            There is nothing vague in naturalism, it is very clear and simple. It is nothing more than a rejection of claims of the supernatural. What are you meaning when you use the term?

            Feel free to provide a rigorous definition of 'supernatural'. Until you do, defining naturalism as "not supernatural" is vague. I'm with Chomsky when he says that "body" and "substance" are meaningless and have been since Newton. (Noam Chomsky - "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding", 46:00) I suspect that there is no formal system with recursively enumerable axioms which can cover every kind of causation which happens in reality. Therefore, any attempt to model reality will capture some aspects of it and exclude others. From this foundation, it makes no sense to me, to assert some doctrine of materialism. You just guarantee you'll be wrong, but instead of admitting you're wrong, you'll stretch and twist and fold the definition, as Rauser sketches.

          • "I'm sorry, I just cannot believe that the primary reasons naturalism is pushed are one or both of: (i) it is intellectually interesting for reasons other than I mentioned; (ii) it is an antidote to something harmful."

            You have missed one, that is because it is the most reasonable explanation of what we observe.

            "By the way, I've yet to see a single peer-reviewed article which shows a definite causal connection between "belief in supernatural agents [simpliciter]" and "harm"."

            Oh, I make no such claim. I am just saying that when a suicide bomber says he is blowing people up for religious reasons, I believe him. That when women were burned as witches were burned and the Bible says "thou shall not suffer a witch to live" that the belief in this Bible shares responsibility. Or that when parents' second child dies when they believed they could pray and heal its illness. Or when people are bitten and die from snake bites believing that they are immune due to faith. Or when countless families are torn apart by differences in faith. I think it is reasonable to think these harms would not have occurred if everyone lacked a belief in the supernatural.

            "when one does not give humans ontological status, but instead to reduces
            the human being to more primitive (less complex) parts."

            I am not reducing humans to less complex parts, I accept humans are a sum of parts. I just see no reason to believe we have any non-natural part. If you think we do please provide it.

            "Have you never heard of the fact/​value dichotomy?"

            No. And I do not generally follow links, I want to have a discussion with you.

            "Feel free to provide a rigorous definition of 'supernatural'."

            I cannot, this is a central reason why I cannot believe it is real, no one has ever been able to describe to me what it is.

            I can define "natural" in this context: all of reality. Naturalism is: a belief that, to the extent there is an order to the cosmos, all of reality follows this order, there is no other part of reality that follows a different order, or no order.

            "I suspect that there is no formal system with recursively enumerable
            axioms which can cover every kind of causation which happens in reality."

            I share that suspicion. But that does not mean there isn't one. It is reasonable to believe there is, since just about everything we observe seems to be ordered.

            "Therefore, any attempt to model reality will capture some aspects of it
            and exclude others. From this foundation, it makes no sense to me, to
            assert some doctrine of materialism"

            That does not follow. Please explain.

          • You have missed one, that is because it is the most reasonable explanation of what we observe.

            I simply do not find it plausible that this is causally unconnected from "bearing whatsoever on humans and humans in society". Part of this is because the atomism of particles-moved-by-universal-laws has been replicated in logic and in explanation of humans and society. One could also consult the history of the Enlightenment, to see how fabulously excited the philosophes were that obeisance to Reason would lead to unfettered goodness.

            I think it is reasonable to think these harms would not have occurred if everyone lacked a belief in the supernatural.

            Only if other equivalent (or worse) harms would not have taken their place, does your overall claim hold any water whatsoever. And I have evidence that the lack of "a belief in the supernatural" allows plenty of evil to fill the void. Do I need to present it?

            I am not reducing humans to less complex parts, I accept humans are a sum of parts. I just see no reason to believe we have any non-natural part. If you think we do please provide it.

            Sorry, I took the conversation to be about whether humans are marginalized in social fact, not according to some rationalistic understanding you have of naturalism. My two excerpts are indicative of social facts of the human sciences. Tell me, when you try to learn about what Communism is, do you listen to someone all enthusiastic about its awesomeness alone, or do you also take into account how it has actually been implemented?

            No. And I do not generally follow links, I want to have a discussion with you.

            I'm sorry, but the fact/​value dichotomy is important enough for you to either do the extra work to learn a bit about it, or for me to decline the effort to tutor you on it. I simply don't have the time for tutoring when there are sufficiently good resources on the internet which introduce the topic.

            BGA: There is nothing vague in naturalism, it is very clear and simple. It is nothing more than a rejection of claims of the supernatural.

            LB: Feel free to provide a rigorous definition of 'supernatural'. Until you do, defining naturalism as "not supernatural" is vague.

            BGA: I cannot, this is a central reason why I cannot believe it is real, no one has ever been able to describe to me what it is.

            If you cannot define 'supernatural', and you define 'naturalism' as "not the supernatural", then you cannot define what 'naturalism' is. That's basic logic.

            I can define "natural" in this context: all of reality. Naturalism is: a belief that, to the extent there is an order to the cosmos, all of reality follows this order, there is no other part of reality that follows a different order, or no order.

            Merely defining 'natural' to be "all of reality" is pretty much meaningless; it's a shell game (intentional or not), where the vagueness of 'natural' gets shoved onto "all of reality". After all, some people include ghosts in "all of reality", while others do not.

            Your claim of no other order is perfectly consonant with the idea that reality is always in-line with the will of God. This would make the order personal, where every form of naturalism I've encountered—other than perhaps fringe panpsychism—claims that the order is impersonal.

            I'd also like to know what the multiverse does to your "all of reality", or if not the multiverse, the (possibly?) more restricted quantum field Lawrence Krauss thinks gave rise to our universe. I've never heard of anyone criticizing Krauss of not being a naturalist. But if he's a naturalist, then your "all of reality" is able to expand. But then before the expansion, it was not "all of reality". After—unless it's performed its final expansion—it's still not "all of reality". Instead, it's "all of knowable reality", where the precise definition of 'knowable' will probably turn out to be quite contentious. This limitation—to 'knowable'—is much more consistent with your "I cannot imagine everything, I have limits."

            LB: I suspect that there is no formal system with recursively enumerable axioms which can cover every kind of causation which happens in reality.

            BGA: I share that suspicion. But that does not mean there isn't one. It is reasonable to believe there is, since just about everything we observe seems to be ordered.

            What Christian doesn't presume complete ordering? The difference between the Christian and the naturalist is that the naturalist thinks that [s]he can say more about that ordering than the Christian. Now, whether it is rational to presume ordering depends entirely on where you stand:

            In 1590, skeptics still doubted whether humans can find universal regularities in nature; by 1640, nature was in irremediable decay: but, by 1700, the changeover to the "law-governed" picture of a stable cosmos was complete. (Cosmopolis, 110)

            Shall we examine the millennia prior? Would it be just devastating to you if the presumption that "God is in control" helped create the conditions for your "It is reasonable to believe"? (Whether this is actually true is something I'd like to research more before asserting.)

            That does not follow. Please explain.

            If you cannot see the problem with presuming that all of reality is like your limited conception of it, I'm not sure what else I can say. From everything you've said, you'd condemn Lawrence Krauss' A Universe from Nothing as heresy, as well as Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. Were you to adjust your orthodoxy so that these two people are no longer considered heretics, either you've just thrown the ball down the line a bit, or you would have made the terms 'material' and 'naturalism' vague. You still really haven't grappled with the entailment of Gödel's incompleteness theorems. If reality is infinitely complex, there is always the option that the next discovery radically relativizes everything we knew beforehand. The new, more powerful formal system which proves the truth that the previous formal system could only state can be quite different. Just recall the shift from Newtonian physics to QM + GR.

          • "I simply do not find it plausible that this is causally unconnected from "bearing whatsoever on humans and humans in society"."

            It works like this, who are convinced naturalism is true become concerned about harms caused by belief in supernatural beliefs. But I do not advance naturalism because of the harms caused by supernaturalism. If it were reasonable to believe in anything supernatural, I would, irrespective of the harms associated with it.

            "One could also consult the history of the Enlightenment, to see how fabulously excited the philosophes were that obeisance to Reason would lead to unfettered goodness."

            I do not deny that, but this is not a reason for disbelieving supernatural claims, rather an exitement that one did not need to await divine providence to improve human life, and that indeed human earthly life was worth improving. This was humanism.

            "Only if other equivalent (or worse) harms would not have taken their place, does your overall claim hold any water whatsoever."

            No. But I do not believe that to be the case. Particularly with respect to family divisions based on differences of belief. I wrote a blog post about a year ago in which I discussed these matters, in it I stated that I do not see atheism (or naturalism) as a relatively important cause in terms of social justice or to reduce harms in the world generally.

            "And I have evidence that the lack of "a belief in the supernatural"
            allows plenty of evil to fill the void. Do I need to present it?"

            If you like. I would be happy to discuss these with you.

            "Tell me, when you try to learn about what Communism is, do you listen to
            someone all enthusiastic about its awesomeness alone, or do you also
            take into account how it has actually been implemented?"

            I have looked at both, but I do Communism is an economic theory that allows for both theism and naturalism. Certainly most Communist regimes if not all have been generally been Marxist or Maoist and have been anti-religious and secular. They have also been repressive to varying extents. But they have also been autocratic or dictatorial. I would submit that the repression is more likely due to the autocratic, dictatorial nature. We can see in Russia and China that effectively removing the communist economic theory has had little positive effect on how these cultures treat their societies. But at the end of the day, I think the harms imposed by anti-religious societies such as the Soviets, the Chinese, North Korea are no more attributable to the harms caused by the Saudi Kingdom or is related to religion. It seems to me that in general, the societies with the least repressive regimes are those that divide power, govern on consent, respect the rule of law, irrespective of how religious the populations are or even whether they have state religions.

            Ok I have followed your link to the fact/value dichotomy. I was familiar with the inability to derive an ought from an is and I would agree with it.

            "Merely defining 'natural' to be "all of reality" is pretty much
            meaningless; it's a shell game (intentional or not), where the vagueness
            of 'natural' gets shoved onto "all of reality". After all, some people
            include ghosts in "all of reality", while others do not."

            No, I disagree. I am advancing the metaphysical viewpoint that all we observe and detect, or could detect, is all there is. And, that this set of things is best considered as one metaphysical category. Theists, for the most part hold that part of this reality, or some separate reality, is a separate kind of existence, that follows different or no rules. I do not know what this would be, and I cannot define it for you. If you believe in it, maybe you can tell me what it is you believe in without being vague? I can certainly describe the natural and material reality I believe in, I just do not believe there is this "anything else", that thesists subscribe to.

            "Your claim of no other order is perfectly consonant with the idea that reality is always in-line with the will of God."

            Are you saying that this God (supposing he exists) would be subject to this order? Or the other way round? I think this is the basis of disagreement between naturalism and theism. If it could be proven that there is an entity or aspect of reality that is not subject to this "natural" order, then naturalism would be false in my understanding. On the other hand, if a creator of the universe and ground of reality and morality etc., but was a function of the natural order, we would likely not label such an entity as a "god" or "supernatural".

            I would consider the multiverse, if it exists, to be natural, same with quantum theory. Sure all of reality expands all the time. It has particularly expanded with dark matter/energy.

            "What Christian doesn't presume complete ordering?"

            I would think all Christians and indeed all who subscribe to free will. This would be something that can change irrespective of what is going on in the natural order. Christians, I would have thought, that the order of the cosmos was not complete, perhaps absolute is a better word. That they believe this order is contingent on the freely exercised will of a God. That this order can be transcended, changed, or suspended, by the will of the creator, and in no way by natural forces. If you do not believe that, I would say that the naturalism issue does not divide us, but rather that we have a disagreement on whether certain things exist and have happened within an ordered, natural world. And really, this is the substance of the debate anyway.

            "Would it be just devastating to you if the presumption that "God is in
            control" helped create the conditions for your "It is reasonable to
            believe""

            Not at all! I think this indeed was a factor, but I do not think it was much of a factor. An interesting example is this term "naturalist" that we have been using. I had always associated this with people like Carl Lineaus, theists who wanted to describe God's creation, his study of the natural world and taxonomy paved the way for people like Darwin to develop his theory of Evolution, much to the chagrin of many religious leaders. In this context we are using the term very differently, but I accept the role that Lineaus' belief in God played in advancing science. I also have come to accept that the Christian view of an ordered universe acting in progression was a factor in developing modern scientific theory as opposed to just pre-christian ideas of an ordered but cyclical universe. I think this likely played an important role in Muslim scientific advancement. But I would not give it too much credit, given the tremendous advances in pagan Greece and the stagnation of Christian scientific advancement in the first 1000 years of its existence or more, particularly in the Byzantine Empire, the lack of any real progress out of Judaism. In terms of philosophy, I think the groudwork really was the Greeks, which was followed by many monotheistic philosophers and even theologians, I do not give religion credit for the emergence of logic.

            "If you cannot see the problem with presuming that all of reality is like your limited conception of it..."

            I do not presume this. But I do have a model I think justified. That isn't what you said in your comment though. I understood what you said to mean that any model of reality will not be able to capture all aspects of it, therefore materialsm is not reasonable. This would be the case only if there was reason to believe something other than material exists, if I am right, and there is no reason to believe anything non-material exists, I am reasonable to believe in materialism, even if something non-material does exist.

            "From everything you've said, you'd condemn Lawrence Krauss' A Universe from Nothing as heresy,"

            No and I thought I dealt with you criticism in this regard. Maybe I missed your criticism?

            "Were you to adjust your orthodoxy so that these two people are no longer considered heretics..."

            I do not have an orthodoxy, these are my beliefs, I do not assert them as certainties or anything approaching scientific facts. These are things I believe are the best explanation, which is to say they do not even necessarily rise to the standard of more likely than not.

            "or you would have made the terms 'material' and 'naturalism' vague"

            You have put it to me to define these terms and I have done so in a specific way. As we are discussing methaphysics and large categories of reality we are going to be dealing with some level of vagueness. I note that you have made zero effort to define these terms or advance any metaphysical model.

            "You still really haven't grappled with the entailment of Gödel's incompleteness theorems."

            I think I have, to the extent required, I explained that what Godel's incompleteness theories destroy is systems designed to be able to explain all of reality, such as Russell's Principia. I think you believed I was asserting that the human brain was a system such as that, and that Godel would destroy it. I think I clearly accepted I do not think the human brain or mind is such a system and I accept the limitations you assert materialism or naturalism would impose on such a mind, if they were true.

            "If reality is infinitely complex, there is always the option that the
            next discovery radically relativizes everything we knew beforehand."

            I never denied this.

            "The new, more powerful formal system which proves the truth that the
            previous formal system could only state can be quite different. Just
            recall the shift from Newtonian physics to QM + GR."

            Also never denied. You seem to be bent on the assumption that I am asserting a certainty in naturalism or materialism. I am certain that I am not certain of these beliefs and I await you explanation of what things like "deity", "supernatural", or "non-material" are, and how you know they exist.

            I await you asserting a model of the cosmos, or argue for anything at all.

          • It works like this, who are convinced naturalism is true become concerned about harms caused by belief in supernatural beliefs. But I do not advance naturalism because of the harms caused by supernaturalism. If it were reasonable to believe in anything supernatural, I would, irrespective of the harms associated with it.

            How can your claim here—of why you "advance naturalism"—be subject to attempted falsification? That is, could you possibly be wrong about the motivational complex which leads you to "advance naturalism"? Or are your introspective abilities sufficiently error-proof, contra Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 paper The Unreliability of Naive Introspection?

            BGA: I think it is reasonable to think these harms would not have occurred if everyone lacked a belief in the supernatural.

            LB: Only if other equivalent (or worse) harms would not have taken their place, does your overall claim hold any water whatsoever.

            BGA: No. But I do not believe that to be the case. Particularly with respect to family divisions based on differences of belief. I wrote a blog post about a year ago in which I discussed these matters, in it I stated that I do not see atheism (or naturalism) as a relatively important cause in terms of social justice or to reduce harms in the world generally.

            Seriously, "no"? Do you not think you need to defend something like the following empirical, historical counterfactual:

            (NBS) Had there been no (or at least less) belief in the supernatural in the past, humans would have been more humane toward each other.

            ? Note that nowhere did I say the void would be filled by 'atheism' or 'naturalism'. For example: the exuberant love affair with Communism of intellectuals around the world was neither naturalism nor atheism. Here's where the fact/​value dichotomy comes into play: atheism and naturalism dictate no values, no comprehensive idea of how to shape society. That stuff needs to come from elsewhere (even if science helps tell us how to achieve predetermined goal X). Eviscerate 'religion', and something else will take its place.

            It seems to me that in general, the societies with the least repressive regimes are those that divide power, govern on consent, respect the rule of law, irrespective of how religious the populations are or even whether they have state religions.

            Did not Communism promise to divide power?

            Ok I have followed your link to the fact/value dichotomy. I was familiar with the inability to derive an ought from an is and I would agree with it.

            Thank you. Now we have a bit more firm of a ground for examining what exactly that dichotomy entails.

            I am advancing the metaphysical viewpoint that all we observe and detect, or could detect, is all there is.

            But all that Galileo could observe and detect is smaller than all that scientists today can observe and detect. Fast forward to Star Trek, and we today look like Galileo. So all you can really claim is that all that humans could potentially detect is what exists. But that's a rather weak claim; it doesn't allow us to say much at all from what we've detected so far. And yet, materialism/​physicalism seems to want to say quite a lot, based exclusively on what we've detected so far!

            Theists, for the most part hold that part of this reality, or some separate reality, is a separate kind of existence, that follows different or no rules.

            This isn't specific enough. Are we talking about the rules scientists have discovered, or the true rules which that scientific realists claim scientists have approximated to some degree? And what of Lawrence Krauss' idea that a quantum field, operating by rules other than our own universe, gave rise to our universe and maybe a great number of other universes? Theists can also claim that there is a "final ruleset"—defined by God's being, not by some abstraction. Why is Krauss allowed to posit his final ruleset and have that be considered 'science', while theists stand condemned? The only difference I can see is between the idea that the final description of reality is finite, vs. infinite.

            If you believe in it, maybe you can tell me what it is you believe in without being vague?

            I believe that reality is infinitely complex, and that all we can ever do is discover ever-more-encompassing Ceteris Paribus Laws. I believe that values such as 'justice' and 'beauty' unfold in a rational way as one proceeds from one finite level of modeling to the next finite, more complex level of modeling. I believe that humans have a faculty of detecting the general direction of the next few increases in complexity, and that this faculty is precisely what Gödelian formal systems preclude. If all this is too vague I could try to be more formal, but it's not clear you have the right training for that to be worthwhile. I will point out that you don't seem to have anything less vague.

            Are you saying that this God (supposing he exists) would be subject to this order? Or the other way round?

            The other way around. Causal power flows from God outward to creation, and he can choose how to be causally influenced by creation. (I happen to believe he makes himself vulnerable to creation, but plenty of folks disagree.) This is tantamount to saying that the top-level causal power is a person, vs. an abstract formal system (= impersonal).

            If it could be proven that there is an entity or aspect of reality that is not subject to this "natural" order, then naturalism would be false in my understanding.

            No, because you can always posit a "natural order" to which all phenomena you have associated with said entity adhere. The closest you could get is an entity which would teach you more science, then break those rules to reveal a bigger ruleset, wait until you figure out that ruleset, break it again, and so forth. Who says humans couldn't get "stuck" for some time at some given ruleset? Indeed, getting "stuck" is precisely what can happen if humans are [no more powerful than] Turing machines, and what may happen if humans believe they are [no more powerful than] Turing machines. While one might think that an omnipotent being could just smash through such silly beliefs, that idea must be carefully exposed to the "coercive vs. non-coercive" test.

            On the other hand, if a creator of the universe and ground of reality and morality etc., but was a function of the natural order, we would likely not label such an entity as a "god" or "supernatural".

            First, you might be surprised to note that your concept of 'supernatural' would not be intelligible to the ancient world, including Plato and Aristotle. I can speak more on this if you'd like. Second, if super-natural is just super-{our current understanding}, then is it so scandalous an idea?

            I would think all Christians and indeed all who subscribe to free will.

            I would be careful; the assertion of free will can merely be the denial that a person is but a nexus of causal chains, none of which terminate in him/her. That's fully compatible with determinism simpliciter. The problem, as I've said recently, is that 'determinism' is often taken to mean something much more restrictive than determinism simpliciter. If a person does not realize this, [s]he can be forced into a false irrationality via accepting a false dichotomy.

            That they believe this order is contingent on the freely exercised will of a God.

            That God freely exercises his will does not entail that he arbitrarily exercises his will. Instead, it means that we cannot perfectly model his will. He can always correct us. He can condemn me on the moral plane. That, I think is truly what the substance of the debate is. I believe I can be called a sinner in the deepest way possible. You do not. On naturalism, 'sin' is not a possible category. On naturalism, humanity cannot be condemned as a whole for being terrible to each other in ways for which they are fully culpable. Instead, we're evolved and doing about the best we can. The Christian is called to an impossibly higher standard than the naturalist, and has the offer of divine power which makes the impossible, possible. The naturalist not only believes that such power is not available, but is saved from the guilt which would otherwise arise from observing things such as The Charitable–Industrial Complex. See, we're just doing the best we can! Don't judge us too harshly! But God does. And then he saves instead of carrying out the sentence. Absolutely none of this requires that there is no top-tier ruleset, unless by ruleset you mean Gödelian formal system—that is, formal system with recursively enumerable axioms. By the way, such a formal system is a Turing machine, which something more powerful than a Turing machine can game. Yes, what's really going on here is that humans make 'God' out to be a Turing machine which they can then manipulate, because they are more powerful than Turing machines. Theism denies that God is manipulable in this way.

            Not at all!

            Ahh, so how confident are you that if all belief in the supernatural were deleted from history, that (i) science would have arisen at all; (ii) science would have arisen at least as quickly as it did? Note here that we need that science to not falter and permanently fail, otherwise it's subject to the imprisonment issues I've been mentioned with respect to Gödelian formal systems.

            LB: If you cannot see the problem with presuming that all of reality is like your limited conception of it [...]

            BGA: I do not presume this. But I do have a model I think justified.

            I'm afraid I don't see the difference between what I said, and what you've said.

            This would be the case only if there was reason to believe something other than material exists [...]

            The term 'material' is not a stable concept. For example, it must now be 'matter' + 'energy', instead of just atoms in the void. What happens when it needs to be something else, too? What is "other than material" gets subsumed under 'material'.

            No and I thought I dealt with you criticism in this regard. Maybe I missed your criticism?

            There is nothing 'material' about Krauss' quantum field in ground energy state. A physicist from the nineteenth century would have seen absolutely nothing 'material' about it.

            I do not have an orthodoxy, these are my beliefs, I do not assert them as certainties or anything approaching scientific facts.

            Scientific facts rely for their certitude on the metaphysical backing. You cannot be more sure of scientific facts than you are of the metaphysical backing. That doesn't make sense. Think about it: you have some thought-machinery in your head which decides to be some level of confident about some scientific fact. But that confidence is a function of {thought machinery, fact}, not just {fact}. The idea that you can be globally less certain about anything than the next person is perhaps possible, but I'm pretty sure the result is that you will have less persuasive force, not to mention coercive power, in reality. And when I see stuff like Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood, I see great certainty. If you really are globally uncertain to a much greater degree, then perhaps this blog post was not aimed at you.

            I note that you have made zero effort to define these terms or advance any metaphysical model.

            Recall when I said "I'm with Chomsky when he says that "body" and "substance" are meaningless and have been since Newton."? That was my declaring futility to defining 'material' or 'natural'. As the the metaphysical model, I have started the sketch of one in this comment to you.

            I think I have, to the extent required, I explained that what Godel's incompleteness theories destroy is systems designed to be able to explain all of reality, such as Russell's Principia.

            How does 'material' not attempt to "explain all of reality"? Compare: "All of reality is material." ∼ "All of mathematics can be built on these axioms."

            You seem to be bent on the assumption that I am asserting a certainty in naturalism or materialism.

            No. But I am expecting your claim that "everything is material" to entail some things and deny others. So for example, 'materialism' in the nineteenth century entailed that energy fields don't really exist. They were wrong. Now we have 'physicalism', which asserts that matter + energy fields are all that exist. Of what use is that statement, if it's just going to get proven wrong? (I can think of some uses, but I first want to hear what you have to say.)

            I am certain that I am not certain of these beliefs and I await you explanation of what things like "deity", "supernatural", or "non-material" are, and how you know they exist.

            I would start by asking what it would mean for a person to be irreducible to parts; what it would mean for human agency to be a unique causal power which cannot be reduced to constituent parts without loss of descriptive power.

            I await you asserting a model of the cosmos, or argue for anything at all.

            Oh c'mon, I argued for aplenty when I described the implications of Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Just because I haven't hit everything you want answered in a way you find satisfying doesn't mean I haven't argued for anything at all.

          • "How can your claim here—of why you "advance "naturalism"—be
            subject to attempted falsification? That is, could you possibly be wrong
            about the motivational complex which leads you to "advance naturalism"?"

            Of course I could be wrong. I never said I was error-proof.

            "Here's where the fact/​value dichotomy comes into play: atheism and naturalism dictate no values, no comprehensive idea of how to shape society. That stuff needs to come from elsewhere (even if science helps tell us how to achieve predetermined goal X). Eviscerate 'religion', and something else will take its place."

            Sure. Hopefully it is secular humanism.

            "Did not Communism promise to divide power?"

            Sure, but it did not, in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea it centralized power in a single in a single individual. In North Korea this involved supernatural myth-making with respect to Kim Il-Sung.

            I make no claim that there is no more to the cosmos than we have discovered, but everything we have discovered is material. Accordingly, I see no reason to hold to a belief that there is anything non-material. I fully expect there is more material to be discovered.

            "Are we talking about the rules scientists have discovered, or the true rules which that scientific realists claim scientists have approximated to some degree?"

            We are talking about actual the order of the cosmos whether it is discovered and articulated accurately or not. On this level it is distinguished from a non-ordered cosmos, or a partially ordered cosmos. My position is that there is such an order and that all of reality is subject to it. This is essentially what I mean by "naturalism".

            "And what of Lawrence Krauss' idea that a quantum field, operating by rules other than our own universe, gave rise to our universe and maybe a great number of other universes?"

            I am not familiar with it, but it sounds like he is saying different rules apply in different contexts. That would be consistent with naturalism. Are you suggesting Krauss meant these other rules are non-natural?

            "Theists can also claim that there is a "final ruleset"—defined by God's being, not by some abstraction."

            Of course, but the question is that ruleset subject to God's will or the other way around?

            ""Are you saying that this God (supposing he exists) would be subject to this order? Or the other way round?"

            The other way around. Causal power flows from God outward to creation, and he can choose how to be causally influenced by creation...This is tantamount to saying that the top-level causal power is a person, vs. an abstract formal system (= impersonal)."

            This is what I thought, and this is indeed what I would call theism. I would say that is the difference between naturalism and theism. I think it is fair to say that we both observe an order, (whether we actually observe or understand all or any of it is another question) I would call this the "natural order", and I believe (without certainty) that it is a fact of the Cosmos and is not caused.

            I see no evidence or convincing argument for a "person" being the source of this natural order.

            "No, because you can always posit a "natural order" to which all phenomena you have associated with said entity adhere."

            Right, just like you can posit a "creator" to which any "natural order" finds its source. The difference is, we actually observe the order, but never this "creator" or person.

            "Second, if super-natural is just super-{our current understanding}, then is it so scandalous an idea?"

            No, but I would find labeling it "supernatural" to be misleading. Better just to say we do not understand the event. But this is generally the fallacious method of demonstrating anything supernatural.

            "That God freely exercises his will does not entail that he arbitrarily exercises his will."

            I think it does actually. If not, by what standard does God operate His will? Other than other things established by His will? That is exactly what I would call "arbitrary" - a decision made without any reference to any other standard.

            "The naturalist not only believes that such power is not available, but
            is saved from the guilt which would otherwise arise from observing
            things such as The Charitable–Industrial Complex. "

            No, naturalism does not protect one from such feelings of guilt.

            'Ahh, so how confident are you that if all belief in the supernatural
            were deleted from history, that (i) science would have arisen at all;
            (ii) science would have arisen at least as quickly as it did?"

            I cannot assess those questions at all, belief in the supernatural was so pervasive that I could not begin to place probabilities on what would have occurred had no such beliefs existed.

            What I can place probabilities is that Herbert and Catherine Schaible lost their belief in the supernatural after they failed to pray their first child's illness away, they would not have tried to pray their second child's illness away, and that child would not have died for a lack of medical treatment.

            "The term 'material' is not a stable concept."

            No term is. Not even the term "term" is stable. But you are correct, the more we detect in the cosmos, we are likely to include it as "material". If you want to call energy immaterial, then, on that definition, that is fine, it would be wrong to call me a materialist. I am fine with a definition of "material" as all that can be detected empirically, directly or indirectly. The point being, the word is only useful if it helps us. I use it to distinguish myself from those who believe something else exists other than matter and energy.

            "There is nothing 'material' about Krauss' quantum field in ground energy state."

            OK, well whatever the word is for those who believe only matter and energy exists, that is what I am.

            "Scientific facts rely for their certitude on the metaphysical backing. You cannot be more sure of scientific facts than you are of the metaphysical backing."

            This is true, science acts inside a context with certain axioms. But scientists often use the language of certainty, I do not agree that it is actual certainty, but just degrees of confidence, as you rightly point out, based on certain assumptions. Science does not and cannot address these assumptions, those are philosophical questions and I believe that no philosophy has been able to contradict them or justify them. (but this is all way off base, all I said was I was not making claims of certainty or of scientific facts.)

            "How does 'material' not attempt to "explain all of reality"? Compare: "All of reality is material..."

            It is a statement of a metaphysical position, it does not explain anything, it doesn't explain how a bicycle works or why bees can fly, for example.

            ∼ "All of mathematics can be built on these axioms.""

            Again, this is not a statement trying to explain all of reality. It is noting something about the nature of mathematics.

            "Of what use is that statement, if it's just going to get proven wrong? "

            It is useful to distinguish oneself from those who believe more than matter and energy exist. I think it was reasonable in the 19th century to suggest that energy fields do not exist, but were more like mathematics or abstractions, but once it was proven that energy and matter are the same things, a new perspective emerges.

            "I would start by asking what it would mean for a person to be irreducible to parts"

            Don't know, it depends on the context in which you are asking. In some senses I would agree that humans are not "reducible" to parts, that a catalogue of the substances in a human misses how the thinks, felt, acted and so on. But if you include all that I think you have identified all that was the human. I just do not think the acts, feelings and so on are non-material.

            "what it would mean for human agency to be a unique causal power which cannot be reduced to constituent parts without loss of descriptive power"

            I am afraid I do not know what you are asking. I don't know what it means be a "unique causal power" or to have a "loss of descriptive causal power". I mean, every cause is a unique cause. And all causes have causal power I suppose, (this concept of causal "power" is not something I have ever really grasped.) So I do not know how there could be anything but unique causal power. On the other hand "human agency" relies on billions of causes, from the neurons firing to the motion of, in some sense all the matter and energy in the cosmos. So in a sense every action a human takes is the result of billions of unique causes exerting their "power".

            I really do not know what you mean by "descriptive power", do you mean the ability of a human to communicate something?

            "Gödel's incompleteness theorems" is not a metaphysical standpoint. It works on all metaphysical viewpoints (materialism, dualism, idealism, naturalism, theism) , which is why I think it is irrelevant to this discussion.

          • Of course I could be wrong.

            That's a rather empty statement if you cannot indicate how you could be shown to be wrong. When the scientist says the F = GmM/r^2, [s]he is telling you that if in fact it's F = GmM/r^2.001, the phenomena will quickly demonstrate that it is one way, and not the other. Can you provide the same, or can you only say "if God exists, I'd be wrong", with no indication whatsoever of what phenomena would convince you that "God exists" is a more likely explanation than any alternative? Here's an example where you presented an r^2, I presented an r^2.001, and you stuck by your r^2:

            BGA: Theists, for the most part hold that part of this reality, or some separate reality, is a separate kind of existence, that follows different or no rules.

            LB: This isn't specific enough. Are we talking about the rules scientists have discovered, or the true rules which that scientific realists claim scientists have approximated to some degree? And what of Lawrence Krauss' idea that a quantum field, operating by rules other than our own universe, gave rise to our universe and maybe a great number of other universes? Theists can also claim that there is a "final ruleset"—defined by God's being, not by some abstraction. Why is Krauss allowed to posit his final ruleset and have that be considered 'science', while theists stand condemned? The only difference I can see is between the idea that the final description of reality is finite, vs. infinite.

            BGA: I am not familiar with it, but it sounds like he is saying different rules apply in different contexts. That would be consistent with naturalism. Are you suggesting Krauss meant these other rules are non-natural?

            I don't see how you can avoid calling Lawrence Krauss a 'theist', based on your "follows different or no rules". Based on your seamless pivot, I have absolutely no idea what you mean by "other rules are non-natural". The very term 'natural' changes, from your understanding to Krauss' understanding. If it can change so easily, it seems meaningless, other than "final ruleset", from which our current state may be arbitrarily distant. I will also reiterate: "There is nothing 'material' about Krauss' quantum field in ground energy state."

            I never said I was error-proof.

            A self-reflective stance of being error-proof is not required in order to be error-proof. You can merely be error-proof without thinking you are. One way you can do that is to fail to set out clear standards by which your understanding of reality can shown to be wrong and/or incomplete. Another way you can do that is to seamlessly change your stance when it is shown to be wrong/​incomplete. Christians are of course notorious for doing just this, but do Christians actually do that with higher frequency than non-Christians? Or is it just that Christians tend to be more willing to articulate the foundation of their beliefs, so that more of their understanding of reality is made visible?

            LB: Eviscerate 'religion', and something else will take its place.

            BGA: Sure. Hopefully it is secular humanism.

            Are you open to the possibility that as 'secular humanism' is further and further implemented, things get worse? And are you open to the possibility only in theory—as in your "I could be wrong" above—or also in practice—as in setting forth objective measures so that there are phenomena which would falsify your understanding? To illustrate, you probably know that the Bible contains plenty of critique of Jewish and Christian leaders, based on beliefs they allegedly have. An excellent example is Romans 2:1–24. Can the secular humanist be "held to account" like Jews and Christians can? Can you give me any examples of Romans 2:1–24-type behavior in this day and age, where avowed secular humanists are plausibly described as rank hypocrites?

            LB: Did not Communism promise to divide power?

            BGA: Sure, but it did not, in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea it centralized power in a single in a single individual. In North Korea this involved supernatural myth-making with respect to Kim Il-Sung.

            Ok, so we have that an ideology which promises great things cannot automatically deliver them. First, I want to emphasize the allure that Communism had, via citing empirical evidence summarized by a prominent US sociologist:

                Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

            Next, here is empirical evidence summarized by a prominent US judge, that many of those duped by Communism failed to ever admit their error:

            The number of public intellectuals duped by the Potemkin-village tactics of their communist hosts in tours of the Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, East Germany, Cuba, and elsewhere in the communist bloc is legion.[64] Paul Hollander quotes a remarkable number of statements by distinguished intellectuals that reveal astonishing ignorance, obtuseness, naïveté, callousness, and wishful thinking. Yet relatively few people have read the small literature of which Hollander’s book is an exemplar, and the luster of the deceived fellow travelers (many of them still alive and still speaking on sundry public topics, like John Kenneth Galbraith, Jonathan Kozol, Richard Falk, Staughton Lynd, and Susan Sontag) remains for the most part undimmed by their folly. (Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, 150)

            What steps are you aware of that secular humanists have taken to avoid the above pattern? Have they in fact insulated themselves from really being criticized, from really being shown to be wrong about any of their fundamental beliefs? One way to answer this question would be to produce a "lessons learned" over the lifetime of secular humanism. What used to be a strong belief, which was later shown, by the evidence, to be false?

            There is an obvious onus on me to reciprocate: by what standards can Christianity be found wanting? Where does it make grandiose claims like the Communists did, while fostering a terrible reality? A quick example is 2 Tim 3:1–5; there you have the recognized possibility that there can be the appearance of godliness without the power of godliness. It would be silly to expect Christians to be perfect, but it should be possible to find some ΔRighteousness and ΔJustice among them. If there isn't, then what justification is there to say that God's power is evident? In other words:

            But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Cor 4:19–20)

            No power ⇒ no God [currently active in that area]. Of course, enough "no power" militates against the bracketed qualification and toward a universal statement.

          • Good point. I do not know if it is possible for me to be wrong on naturalism. I'm just saying I'm not making a claim of certainty.

            I can think of a number of ways I could be convinced of a gods existence. But none that would provide me with certainty.

            Also good point on Krauss. I should not try and say what theism means in terms of rules. I would change that to theists are distinguished by a belief that natural rules can be abridged.

            Sure I'm open to secular humanism making things worse and that secular humanists can be hypocrites. But I can't think of any examples I would not at all be surprised if there were many. I myself have failed to live up to the values I hold.

            The steps secular humanists should attempt to take to avoid the pitfalls of repressive regimes is to ensure out institutions are respected and power is divided. But of course this engages essentially all political theory probably a bit big for this already long discussion. But you have not given any reason to think that the secular or atheist nature of communist regimes bears a causal nexus to the repression. Such repression is common in theistic regimes too.

            Secular humanism values critical thinking and reflection highly. In theory and practice.

            I think in terms of self correction, theism is in a worse position it has no reality check. For example. If the pope were to say he has been given an infallubke order from God that Muslims must all be killed. How would you check if this was true?

          • Good point. I do not know if it is possible for me to be wrong on naturalism. I'm just saying I'm not making a claim of certainty.

            Actually, if it's impossible for you to be wrong as judged by your own system, then it would seem to be more correct for you to have a sense of certainty.

            I can think of a number of ways I could be convinced of a gods existence.

            Do feel free to share. When Trent Horn asked Raphael Lataster that question, he flubbed it.

            Also good point on Krauss. I should not try and say what theism means in terms of rules. I would change that to theists are distinguished by a belief that natural rules can be abridged.

            Not all theists holds that God would create one ruleset and then alter it haphazardly; see for example Leibniz's theistic case against Humean miracles. Why would an omniscient god need to abridge any rules? Note that humans can always be quite mistaken about what form the next deeper layer of rules take. This can create the appearance of an abridging of the rules.

            Sure I'm open to secular humanism making things worse and that secular humanists can be hypocrites. But I can't think of any examples I would not at all be surprised if there were many.

            Have you even looked? Note that the Bible displays quite a tradition of criticizing the religious elite. It's not clear that the international intellectual elite has a similar tradition. Perhaps Trump's victory will encourage some deeper self-criticism than has occurred so far, but I fear simple retrenchment.

            I think in terms of self correction, theism is in a worse position it has no reality check. For example. If the pope were to say he has been given an infallubke order from God that Muslims must all be killed. How would you check if this was true?

            I would point out that killing your enemies seems rather antithetical to loving them. I could point to a text suggesting this, which the Pope ostensibly respects. Now I shall turn things back on you. What makes the Charlie Hebdo attacks any less justified than the 1999 NATO bombing of a Serbian news station? Because I fully get your "in theory", but I'm suspicious about your "in practice":

            Secular humanism values critical thinking and reflection highly. In theory and practice.

            If secular humanism values critical thinking and reflection, I don't understand how the British Humanist Association can churn out videos such as this one (transcript). (I link to avoid YouTube embedding and to include the discussion—Dr. Rauser's and the comments; see also this comment of mine.)

            You talk of a "reality check", and yet what does the fact/​value dichotomy say about 'reality' producing oughts? You can talk about people's subjective likes and dislikes, but that leads us to Donald Trump. Is that just reality? Or do you really wish to reach toward something deeper than purely subjective likes and dislikes? Can you formulate that something with any rigor?

          • BGA: Theists, for the most part hold that part of this reality, or some separate reality, is a separate kind of existence, that follows different or no rules.

            LB: This isn't specific enough. Are we talking about the rules scientists have discovered, or the true rules which that scientific realists claim scientists have approximated to some degree?

            BGA: We are talking about actual the order of the cosmos whether it is discovered and articulated accurately or not. On this level it is distinguished from a non-ordered cosmos, or a partially ordered cosmos. My position is that there is such an order and that all of reality is subject to it. This is essentially what I mean by "naturalism".

            I'm not sure what you mean by these distinctions. For example, when Einstein exclaimed, "God does not play dice!", was he arguing against "a partially ordered cosmos", in favor of a completely ordered cosmos? Let's be careful here:

            For example, it has been repeated ad nauseum that Einstein's main objection to quantum theory was its lack of determinism: Einstein could not abide a God who plays dice. But what annoyed Einstein was not lack of determinism, it was the apparent failure of locality in the theory on account of entanglement. Einstein recognized that, given the predictions of quantum theory, only a deterministic theory could eliminate this non-locality, and so he realized that local theory must be deterministic. But it was the locality that mattered to him, not the determinism. We now understand, due to the work of Bell, that Einstein's quest for a local theory was bound to fail. (Quantum Non-Locality & Relativity, xiii)

            Albert Einstein thought reality was ordered in a very specific way; our best understanding of reality now says he was quite wrong. So, any philosophy based on the erroneous component of Einstein's belief would have been problematic. We can also ask whether there is a purely indeterministic aspect to reality, but would that push toward "a partially ordered cosmos"? How does Heisenberg's unsharpness relation bear on the matter?

            So, it's just not clear what you mean to deny, to say doesn't happen, with anything but the extreme position of "a non-ordered cosmos". What kind of phenomena do you wish to say you will [probably] never observe?

            Are you suggesting Krauss meant these other rules are non-natural?

            I partially addressed this in my other reply, so I'll just say: yes, they're 'non-natural' by your original definition, but I can see you quickly changing the definition of 'natural' so that Krauss' rules become 'natural'. The question would be: why does the term 'natural' get to morph in that way, and what controls its ability to morph so it doesn't become Gumby?

            BGA: Are you saying that this God (supposing he exists) would be subject to this order? Or the other way round?

            LB: The other way around. Causal power flows from God outward to creation, and he can choose how to be causally influenced by creation. (I happen to believe he makes himself vulnerable to creation, but plenty of folks disagree.) This is tantamount to saying that the top-level causal power is a person, vs. an abstract formal system (= impersonal).

            BGA: This is what I thought, and this is indeed what I would call theism. I would say that is the difference between naturalism and theism. I think it is fair to say that we both observe an order, (whether we actually observe or understand all or any of it is another question) I would call this the "natural order", and I believe (without certainty) that it is a fact of the Cosmos and is not caused.

            We may need a detour to establish this, but I think Hume made a compelling argument to the effect that one does not perceive causation, but instead infers/​presupposes it. If this is correct, then the choice to infer personal causation or impersonal causation doesn't seem to be an empirical matter, but a philosophical matter. You can spend all day talking about what "we actually observe", but if you secretively mean "only the hard sciences", then you are excluding the human sciences, or at least making an extraordinary faith-based statement that the human sciences will ultimately be reducible to the hard sciences. My guess is that any human being not baptized into this way of thinking generally thinks that there really is a thing called 'human agency', and that it isn't automatically or obviously reducible to non-human, non-personal causation.

            A very concrete result of presupposing that causation is ultimately impersonal is the kind of theorizing you find in my excerpt of To Flourish or Destruct: we try to understand the human being "from below", instead of allowing for the bare possibility that human agency is irreducible (⇏ un-analyzable). By asserting that all causation is ultimately impersonal, you depersonalize the person. You promote the "marginalization of man". According to you, in the ultimate scheme of things, the "most correct description" of why you believe X isn't because "it was most rational", but merely because that's how the laws of nature happened to operate, in you. After all, the same laws of nature are operating in the person who concludes that they are impersonal as the person who concludes they are personal, right?

            The difference is, we actually observe the order, but never this "creator" or person.

            In Medieval Ages Europe, plenty of people "observed" God acting. The trick is that 'observation' = 'model' + 'perception'. If you want an example of how this might work inside the human brain, see Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). To briefly characterize part of Grossberg's argument: humans only become conscious of patterns in their perceptual neurons for which they have sufficient matches in their non-perceptual neurons. You may know that for any given set of phenomena, multiple models can often fit. So to suggest that a given set of phenomena only support one model (your "the order") over any other (e.g. "this "creator" or person") is ridiculous.

            There's another problem, and that is you aren't necessarily observing "the order", if "the order" = "final ruleset". People who thought that F = ma was the final order were wrong. Same with those who thought that general relativity described the final order. It is as if we're approximating the final order "from below" with science. But if we have to continually make the laws more and more complex, where are they headed? Toward the "personal"? How can we intelligibly investigate this trajectory?

            LB: That God freely exercises his will does not entail that he arbitrarily exercises his will.

            BGA: I think it does actually. If not, by what standard does God operate His will? Other than other things established by His will? That is exactly what I would call "arbitrary" - a decision made without any reference to any other standard.

            Suppose, instead, that there is an "other standard". What would make that "other standard" not "arbitrary"? Indeed, according to Lawrence Krauss and others, the very physical laws of our own universe are "arbitrary".

            No, naturalism does not protect one from such feelings of guilt.

            It doesn't protect against all feelings of guilt, but it protects against the idea that we could, now, be doing a much better job than we are. Why? Because the Malthusian competition of resources bequeathed to us by evolution is based on there simply not being enough to go around. Opposed to this is the idea of God ensuring we have enough, if only we would get over our own sin. It seems to me that naturalists can much more easily convince themselves that they're doing about the best they can do. Why would they think that they could be doing much more than they are? That seems tantamount to saying that the laws of nature or initial conditions could be very much different than they are. Am I in error, here? If so, how?

  • Twist 1

    I think a steady-state universe would be more likely on Naturalism and I think it fair ground to say that a Cosmos with a "beginning" is more likely to support some forms forms of theism.

    However, Big Bang cosmology is not, as far as I can tell, one that supports theism any more than a steady-state cosmology.

    The kind of theism we are speaking requires a universe of space/time that was created by an entity outside, or that transcends that space/time.

    However, Big Bang cosmology entails that all that exists, emanates from that Big Bang singularity. In other words, something outside or transcending the singularity is not contemplated or in any way supported.

    It seems this twist simply changes the theist's response from, "while the universe looks like it always existed, somehow, God is outside/transcends it and created it" to "while it looks like the universe arose from a singularity, God is outside/transcends it and created it"

    This twist has gained little ground, if any.

    • However, Big Bang cosmology entails that all that exists, emanates from that Big Bang singularity. In other words, something outside or transcending the singularity is not contemplated or in any way supported.

      Lawrence Krauss' A Universe from Nothing seems to contemplate precisely what you say "is not contemplated". Oh, and I just checked to see if he thinks the Big Bang happened: "The Big Bang really happened."

  • Twist 2 Questions Beyond Questions

    I'm not sure I understand the point here other than to say "science doesn't have all the answers?"

    Ok... so what. Whether on theism or naturalism there is always the ability to ask "why" after any answer.

    The scientific point of view here is that we can identify patterns and make predictions, indeed with a question like "'Why does this metal act this way?' or 'Why does this gas act this way?' but 'Why is the universe like this?" actually have generated useful answers. Not ultimate answers and not answers about meaning.

    Of course these questions get no answers from theism, ask your priest why aluminum's melting point is twice as high as lead's, he will not know or he will give you a scientific answer. Ask a scientist why the law's of physics are the way they are and he will not know, but neither will a priest.

    Some fundamental questions for theism that we have no answers for: what is god's plan and purpose for my life? Why does something exist instead of nothing? Why is it moral to be loving but immoral to be hateful, instead of the other way round? Why is the Universe like it is, instead of the earth being the centre surrounded by crystal spheres?

    If your answer to any these is "I do not know exactly but God has a purpose and reason" I would say this is less credible than a Naturalist saying "do not know exactly but there is a natural explanation", because on naturalism we have answered millions of non-ultimate questions. Thesim has answered zero.

    • neil_pogi

      quote: '"science doesn't have all the answers?" -- atheists have such answer to that, 'we don't know'...

      can a law, which is immaterial in nature, came from 'nothing'? , if so then what's your answer or what's the atheists'answer to it? 'we don't know'!

  • Twist number 3 the fine tuned universe.

    I grant that on their own, on theism a cosmos with more precise constants, is more likely on theism than one with less precise constants.

    However, there are two major problems with this.

    The first is that accepting this is like accepting that if you have a block of ice that fits a complex hole perfectly, it implies that the ice was designed to fit it, rather than it happened to freeze in that precise shape. This doesn't tell us much unless we know more about how the hole and ice came to be that way. If we find out that the hole is a pothole and the block of ice is a puddle that froze, even though the ice fits so perfectly that coincidence s ruled out, that doesn't at all rule out natural explanations. We know nothing about how these constants are derived.

    The other problem is that he fine tuning argument selects only those features of the cosmos that it feels supports theism. Most of the rest of the cosmos is inexplicable on theism, but makes perfect sense on naturalism. These are the size of the universe, the fact that more than 99.9% of it is deadly to life. The age of the universe and the desperately late introduction of life, much less human life. These have no explanation on theism, other than to accept that these features are natural functions of the kind of cosmos we have. But if you make the move that the size and age of the universe are natural consequences of the universe, not properties designed by God, you are seriously undermining the argument that the constants are features that must have been designed, or that the designer was omnipotent.

    There is nothing illogical about a universe with the shape and size that supports theism that still obeys natural laws.

    • neil_pogi

      atheists have the answer to fine tuning properties of the universe, that is the multiverse! what you have said above, tell it to your inventors of the multiverse!

      as to the 99.9999% of the universe not supporting life, then tell your SETI friends that it is so useless to search for another alien life in this universe. only the remaining 1% is actually our home planet that supports life. this is not accident, this is a design!

      • Many have told SETI this, which is why it is very poorly funded research project.

        "only the remaining 1% is actually our home planet that supports life. this is not accident, this is a design!"

        Well, most of our planet is inhospitable to our lives anyway, if it is design it is not designed for us, or it was done by a poor designer. It is like building a house for someone with 99% of it designed to kill them painfully.

        • neil_pogi

          and you think that the earth should be filled with life forms 100% and it should all be filled up with life forms? if all the space of the earth is filled up with living forms, specially humans, then do you even think that he will survive?

          of course, the earth needs to survive also, that is why it has space for vast oceans to support life, mountain ranges, snow, deserts to control temperature and control the tilt movement of the earth.

          and if you think that the earth is inhospitable for you, then, you can go to Mars with Hawking to plant seeds there. all you do is just complain.. aren't you happy that you were created a human and not a mosquito?

          and so the SETI project is poorly funded, then why not all atheists fund that? and see how fools are you expecting to find any life forms there! (note: you said that 99.9999% of the universe is not supportive for life)

          • "and you think that the earth should be filled with life forms

            100% and it should all be filled up with life forms?"

            Nope. I just think that if the world was designed as a home for us then more of it would be habitable. But it is not just the Earth, its the whole universe that is inhospitable.

            "of course, the earth needs to survive also" no, the Earth is not alive.

            "and if you think that the earth is inhospitable for you"

            No, I think most of the Earth is inhospitable to me. Most of the earth is molten magma. The rest is water in which I will drown, arctic - i will freeze. and so on.

            I fully agree that mars is inhospitable.

            "all you do is just complain.. aren't you happy that you were created a human and not a mosquito?"

            I haven't complained. I do not believe any gods exist, but yes, I am happy to be human not mosquito.

            "and so the SETI project is poorly funded, then why not all atheists fund that?"

            Because there are more important things to fund. Such as cancer research, and refugee assistance.

            "and see how fools are you expecting to find any life forms there! (note: you said that 99.9999% of the universe is not supportive for life)"
            I do not expect SETI to find signs of life. Nor do I expect that those responsible for SETI are necessarily atheistic. They could easily be Catholics.

            You can deflect all you want. The facts are clear if this Universe was created, it does not make sense it was created for humans to inhabit. Even on Catholicism we are such a small a part of it we are virtually non-existant.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: ''Nope. I just think that if the world was designed as a home for us then more of it would be habitable. But it is not just the Earth, its the whole universe that is inhospitable''. - why would i question God if He just created life confined only on this beautiful planet earth? not all God created is for creating life.

            quote: ''Because there are more important things to fund. Such as cancer research, and refugee assistance.'' - actually the research for SETI has grown up.. those fools are spending billions of dollars for it!

            quote: ''I haven't complained. I do not believe any gods exist, but yes, I am happy to be human not mosquito.'' - why not just review the statements you have posted above? so you can't prove that God doesn't exists, it's just your personal choice that you never believe in any forms of god, but failed to prove that God's doesn't exists.

            quote: ''I do not expect SETI to find signs of life. Nor do I expect that those responsible for SETI are necessarily atheistic. They could easily be Catholics.'' - then what's the point of SETI researches? then again you are only pinpointing that only catholics are hopeful of finding extraterrestrial life, it only means that you deny it.. again, atheists are double-standards.

            the Bible even gives some glimpse that the universe was created for man's fulfillment of his study of it.

  • Twist number 5.

    this relies on a presumption that naturalism relies on determinism or materialism. This is not the case. Indeed, most atheists I meet accept that free will exists and are dualists.

    Free will is a requirement of some faiths, such as Christianity. People like me accept determinism and might argue against free will as an attack on Christianity.

    But demonstrating free will exists, or that a dualist universe is true, does nothing to defeat naturalism.

    • neil_pogi

      quote:'But demonstrating free will exists, or that a dualist universe is true, does nothing to defeat naturalism.' -- and why arguing with theists?

  • Twist 4.

    Again there is nothing in naturalism that requires a human mind to be a machine only, or for that materialism is true.

    nothing has been said here to show that human intellect arises out of anything other than human bodies obeying natural laws.

    Brandon simply asserts that sometimes humans make irrational choices and that, I guess, the only way to explain this is a God?

    It is no problem to explain on naturalism, even on the computer analogy. we can easily imagine a complex calculator that almost always answers correctly, but sometimes gives the wrong answer. This problem may or may not be detectable.

    Of course there is no reason to expect that on naturalism human brains evolved to be correct or logical and so on. They evolved to survive.

    • Again there is nothing in naturalism that requires a human mind to be a machine only, or for that materialism is true.

      Brandon was a bit sloppy in using the term "naturalism". Here's the publisher's description of Modern Physics and Ancient Faith:

      A considerable amount of public debate and media print has been devoted to the “war between science and religion.” In his accessible and eminently readable new book, Stephen M. Barr demonstrates that what is really at war with religion is not science itself, but a philosophy called scientific materialism. Modern Physics and Ancient Faith argues that the great discoveries of modern physics are more compatible with the central teachings of Christianity and Judaism about God, the cosmos, and the human soul than with the atheistic viewpoint of scientific materialism.

      You'll notice that words with the stem "naturali-" are only used in the introduction; Brandon switches to words with the stem "materiali-" after that.

      Brandon simply asserts that sometimes humans make irrational choices and that, I guess, the only way to explain this is a God?

      Would you mind quoting Brandon precisely as possible, and making a step-by-step logical argument which results in this as the conclusion? Because from what I can see so far, it's quite insulting. But perhaps Brandon did inadvertently imply this. I doubt he intended to imply it.

      • Ok, well, I have never heard of "scientific materialism" until now. I do not know if I would defend it or not, or if it is atheist or not.

        I cannot quote Brandon on this one, because I do not understand his argument.

        • It would be helpful if @bvogt1:disqus would elucidate just what Stephen M. Barr means by 'scientific materialism', and perhaps how that contrasts with 'naturalism'. There is a slipperiness to such terms—just as there is with 'Christianity'.

          Would you mind responding to the question at the end of my comment? If you're going to make incendiary comments on this site, I think you ought to defend them upon request.

          • Will

            Why should he care what you think he ought to do?

          • Brandon starts off saying the human mind is thought to be only material. He then references Barr citing Godel and others as demonstrating that the human mind must involve something non-material.

            The substance of Barr's quote is the following:

            "If, therefore, human beings were computers, then we could in principle learn our own programs and thus be able to outwit ourselves; and this is not possible, at least not as we mean it here."

            This is irrelevant to whether human minds are material only or a mixture of material and non-material or just non-material. I do not know what is meant by "outwit" ourselves. But he suggesting that material computers are capable of learning their programming and outwitting themselves. I do not see why having elements of minds be non-material would prevent this. If a material synthetic computer can do this, why not an immaterial one? (I also do not think this is at all what Godel did, but that is besides the point.)

            Brandon then goes on to say:

            "Perhaps the only way to refute the Lucas-Penrose argument against the
            "machine mind", which leans on Gödel's Theorem, is to say that the human
            intellect reasons in a way that is inherently inconsistent"

            I did not get that at all from the Godel stuff but okay. I do not dispute that human intellect reasons in a way that is inconsistent. Sometimes it makes choices that follow logic, other times it seems to give into short term desires irrationally.

            "This would imply not just that human beings sometimes make
            logical mistakes (which is obvious), but that the human mind is
            radically and inherently unsound in its reasoning faculties."

            Then he raises this idea of us being "unsound in our reasoning faculties" this is a new idea. And many humans are, babies, for example seem to have no reasoning faculties, as to the insane. Others have very sound reasoning, but still act contrary to what their reasoning tells them.

            "Yet that's a huge problem. Why? Because then to maintain the belief that
            your mind is only a machine, you would have to argue against your own
            mental soundness. You would literally identify as insane. Not many
            physicists are willing to go that far."

            Well yes, when humans are unsound mentally, we generally are considered to have mental illnesses or immaturity and we do not accept that these individuals are capable of making decisions for themselves.

            But the fact that humans make inconsistent decisions does not imply that they are mentally unsound or insane, nor does it imply that their minds are not material, or, as I suppose he really means, deterministic. It just means they are not perfect or entirely logical. What human minds are, on my understanding, is extremely complex neurological computers. Some of the human brain is devoted to what we might call "higher functions" associated with the cerebral cortex on the outer layers of the brain. This would be associated with abstract thought, logic, and reflection. However, parts of our brain are more like nerves, the brain stem or "lizard brain" as you might have heard it called. Indeed lizards have this. We also have emotions, and powerful chemicals that cause emotional states in our brains. We have executive functions and so on.

            So we can easily understand with a brain like this that we might understand how we can make illogical choices and be inconsistent.

            Indeed this whole idea of understanding our programming to outwit ourselves is, in essence, the whole study of human psychology and particularly cognitive behavioural therapy.

            So, at the end of the day, I stand by my comment, and I do not think it was insulting or incendiary.

          • Thanks for laying this out. I don't see anything which provides logical support for the underlined:

            BGA: Brandon simply asserts that sometimes humans make irrational choices and that, I guess, the only way to explain this is a God?

            I don't think you've properly grappled with Gödel's incompleteness theorems, which apply here because we're dealing with Turing machines (feel free to posit a materialism which allows for hypercomputation), which are formal systems. It is assumed that the formal system is "strong enough" for Gödel to apply—e.g., that the formal system can do arithmetic. Gödel requires us to make a choice with our given formal system:

                 (A) there are truths the formal system can never prove
                 (B) the formal system contains an inconsistency

            The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem states that we must accept (A) or (B), or reject that the mind can be well-modeled as a Turing machine. Pending some other materialist way of modeling thought, that means accepting (A) or (B), or rejecting materialism. The idea here would be that materialism offers a very restricted substrate for computation, which is good if it's up to the task, but bad if it's not. Our task to see if whether it's up to the task.

            What @bvogt1:disqus is saying is that embracing (B)—so as to remain a materialist—means admitting contradictions into the core human reasoning process. In other words, it makes the core human reasoning process irrational. This is a rather straightforward inteprretation of (B). I don't see how God comes into the picture, or how irrationality points to him.

          • Valence

            The human brain certainly isn't a Turing machine, that doesn't mean that it isn't a machine of some sort, depending on how one defines machine. Physicalism in no way entails that the human brain is a Turing machine, so using this as an argument against monism/physicalism doesn't get far at all.

          • Are you suggesting that the brain is more powerful than a Turing machine can be? Because if you aren't, then Gödel's incompleteness theorems would seem to apply just the same. It was simply convenient for me to approximate to "Turing machine". But we can get absolutely precise if you'd like.

          • Valence

            The Lucas Penrose argument is specifically about Turing machines. This is old news in Philosophy of Mind.

            http://www.iep.utm.edu/lp-argue/

          • It's rather irrelevant if it were framed as being "specifically about Turing machines"; the logic applies to all targets of Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Turing machines† are, however, a very convenient exemplar of this class. Indeed, they may well be the most powerful exemplars of this class; the notion of recursively enumerable is dependent on computability. If the human brain is better understood as a deterministic finite automaton, it can still be susceptible to Gödel's argument. That most of the discussion you see picks out Turing machines is rather irrelevant to the logic of the argument.

            † Well, sufficiently powerful Turing machines. But humans would have to be in that class if they were Turing machines.

          • Valence

            It's rather irrelevant if it were framed as being "specifically about Turing machines"; the logic applies to all targets of Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Turing machines† are, however, a very convenient exemplar of this class.

            Do you understand what the target of Godel's incompleteness theorem is? It's not machines in general, its formal axiomatic systems.

            Gödel's incompleteness theorems are two theorems of mathematical logic that demonstrate the inherent limitations of every formal axiomatic system containing basic arithmetic.[1] These results, published by Kurt Gödel in 1931, are important both in mathematical logic and in the philosophy of mathematics. The theorems are widely, but not universally, interpreted as showing that Hilbert's program to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics is impossible.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_incompleteness_theorems

            Turing machine:

            A Turing machine is an abstract machine[1] that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules; to be more exact, it is a mathematical model of computation that defines such a device.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine

            One can coherently argue that a Turing machine is an abstract mathematical formal system. Plenty of machines aren't mathematical formal systems.

            If the human brain is better understood as a deterministic finite automaton, it can still be susceptible to Gödel's argument.

            The human brain certainly isn't a deterministic finite automation, which is just a subset of turing machines. The link below even shows it as a subset of Turing machines, and I had just got done saying that I don't think the human brain is anything like a Turing machine.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finite-state_machine

            FWIW I've actually used Finite state machines in programming, and they are pretty dumb and limited compared to what one would expect from intelligence. Finite state machines are not even considered AI as far as I know, and current AI is far below human intelligence, generally at least (on specific tasks it can sometimes beat human intelligence, of course).

          • Do you understand what the target of Godel's incompleteness theorem is? It's not machines in general, its formal axiomatic systems.

            I understand that the term 'machine' can be made nebulous, such that it is not clear whether all machines can be perfectly simulated by Turing machines. That is precisely what matters—the "can be perfectly simulated". It's not clear that you understand the import of this; it's not clear you've had any formal training in theory of computation (≠ programming). I have.

            One can coherently argue that a Turing machine is an abstract mathematical formal system. Plenty of machines aren't mathematical formal systems.

            See my "can be perfectly simulated".

            The human brain certainly isn't a deterministic finite automation, which is just a subset of turing machines.

            That "certainly isn't" is your opinion; someone I respect who has done work in AI (even putting AI on a space ship which was launched) differs from you. (At least in part, because we have finite memory and Turing machines don't!) And so, I thought I would include DFAs for illustrative purposes. What position one takes on this matter is actually immaterial to my argument.

            FWIW I've actually used Finite state machines in programming, and they are pretty dumb and limited compared to what one would expect from intelligence.

            You've used small FSMs.

          • Valence

            I'd add that even if the Lucas penrose argument is correct and Turing machines are incapable of strong Ai, it's not clear that structured networks of Turing machines (a possible form of connectionism) would have the same limitations. Obviously entire brains can do things impossible for neurons or ganglia.
            Clinical neurology and neuroscience have done well under functionalist philosophical assumptions and functionalism basically assumes the brain is a machine and the mind is what the brain does. It's possible that functionalism can't capture everything we want to know about minds... So far qualia seems a problem for the paradigm but these fields are fairly new, so we'll see.

          • [...] it's not clear that structured networks of Turing machines (a possible form of connectionism) would have the same limitations.

            You are welcome to show how a "structured network of Turing machines" could possibly be capable of hypercomputation.

            Obviously entire brains can do things impossible for neurons or ganglia.

            The whole point of Turing computation is that it is the minimal unit which doesn't fit into this pattern. A more complex Turing machine can do precisely what the simplest of Turing machines can do. See the Church–Turing thesis for more, although the intro to Turing completeness may provide a better intro (see: "Turing equivalence").

            It's possible that functionalism can't capture everything we want to know about minds...

            Of course. What's important to do, IMO, is to sketch out precisely what the limits are for a given way of thinking. To do that, the given way of thinking has to be precisely articulated. Here, 'mechanism' is limited to anything that is [Turing] computable. One would probably want to identify materialism with something like the Church–Turing–Deutsch principle. Fail to do this or pick something similarly precise, and you just aren't saying anything when you say 'mechanism' or 'materialistic'.

          • Valence

            You are welcome to show how a "structured network of Turing machines" could possibly be capable of hypercomputation.

            We're talking about the incompleteness theorem that states what a single formal system can't do. It doesn't state what many formal systems containing different axioms can do, such is outside the scope of the theorem.

            A more complex Turing machine can do precisely what the simplest of Turing machines can do. See the Church–Turing thesis for more, although the intro to Turing completeness may provide a better intro (see: "Turing equivalence").

            This isn't correct functionally if the system must function in real time. Check out the amount of hardware Deepmind's Alphago used to get a high elo rating and beat Lee Sedol in Go.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaGo#Hardware

            There is no way a commodore 64 could do this so this complex network of Turing machines can certainly do things that the simplest Turing machine can't. It's nice that we have empirical evidence for this currently :)

            One would probably want to identify materialism with something like the Church–Turing–Deutsch principle. Fail to do this or pick something similarly precise, and you just aren't saying anything when you say 'mechanism' or 'materialistic'.

            I only argue for substance monism...i.e. there is only one substance that exists. It's not clear that this substance can be perfectly simulated, that depends on the core nature of physics. Dualism is defeated by the interaction problem, currently there is no theory on how two completely different substances can possibly interact, and there are plenty of arguments that show they couldn't possible interact as interaction requires at least something in common.
            FWIW it does look like quantum computing will allow for some impressive simulation, however.

            https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/quantum-computer-simulates-hydrogen-molecule-/1010041.article

          • We're talking about the incompleteness theorem that states what a single formal system can't do. It doesn't state what many formal systems containing different axioms can do, such is outside the scope of the theorem.

            Why can these "many formal systems" not be embedded in a larger, single formal system? Are they, for example, mutually inconsistent? But @bvogt1:disqus dealt with that. You'll need some other reason. That reason will almost certainly undermine the definition of 'machine', so that it no longer means much of anything definite beyond some vague 'substance monism'. We can switch from discussing machines to discussing substance monism if you would like.

            This isn't correct functionally if the system must function in real time.

            What can be done in realistic finite time vs. any finite time is 100% irrelevant to Gödel's incompleteness theorems.

            There is no way a commodore 64 could do this so this complex network of Turing machines can certainly do things that the simplest Turing machine can't. It's nice that we have empirical evidence for this currently :)

            This is more evidence that you have little experience with theory of computation. When it comes to Gödel's incompleteness theorems, the discussion is what can be done in theory, not on extant machines. Otherwise, it would be 100% wrong to include the following in the definition of Turing machine: "the tape extends or is indefinitely extensible to the right". See, when you run into things like the halting problem, what that means is that no algorithm, even given infinite tape, can implement it. That's a very strong statement.

            I only argue for substance monism...i.e. there is only one substance that exists. It's not clear that this substance can be perfectly simulated, that depends on the core nature of physics.

            If you never cared about differentiating 'machine' from 'substance monism', it would have been helpful for you to say so. Otherwise, it's quite reasonable for someone to draw on the mechanical philosophy and extant machines, in order to understand what subset of reality is being picked out.

            Substance monism, by the way, is even broader than materialism. Do you mean to allow that for all you know, Bishop Berkeley's idealism is true?

            Dualism is defeated by the interaction problem, currently there is no theory on how two completely different substances can possibly interact, and there are plenty of arguments that show they couldn't possible interact as interaction requires at least something in common.

            Having looked into the interaction problem, I know that it is indeed a problem. But the kind of causal connectivity and monism you seem to require may also have a severe problem, specifically this one: "(5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable." As far as I've explored that matter, you need multiple causal nexūs, where no nexus can completely control the other, where neither nexus is completely controlled by something outside. Without this, the threat of truth collapsing to power is very strong. And yet with this, you have the possibility of radical difference between nexūs, which gives rise to an interaction problem. (I don't think your "at least something in common" works, because then there is an interaction problem between the parts of a person which are "in common" and which aren't.)

            FWIW it does look like quantum computing will allow for some impressive simulation, however.

            https://www.chemistryworld.com...

            What I find especially interesting about that is the focus on doing what [current] quantum computers are best at, which is modeling reality. For centuries if not millennia, humans viewed themselves as microcosms of reality. Most seem to have lost this sense completely. It would be quite ironical if the desire to produce quantum computers which can do something useful (we are very far from quantum computers which can efficiently crack encryption) ends up bringing back the microcosm idea. I still hold out some hope for topological quantum computers, especially since non-abelian anyons may exist.

          • Valence

            Why can these "many formal systems" not be embedded in a larger, single formal system? Are they, for example, mutually inconsistent? But Brandon Vogt dealt with that. You'll need some other reason. That reason will almost certainly undermine the definition of 'machine', so that it no longer means much of anything definite beyond some vague 'substance monism'. We can switch from discussing machines to discussing substance monism if you would like.

            I suppose they could be, but they don't have to be. Human brains are discussed in the context of a larger network we call society, so most human achievements are largely dependent on the network and the knowledge that comes from others. Let me define machine: "a physical system the performs a function or a variety of functions".

            This is more evidence that you have little experience with theory of computation. When it comes to Gödel's incompleteness theorems, the discussion is what can be done in theory, not on extant machines. Otherwise, it would be 100% wrong to include the following in the definition of Turing machine: "the tape extends or is indefinitely extensible to the right". See, when you run into things like the halting problem, what that means is that no algorithm, even given infinite tape, can implement it. That's a very strong statement.

            I just showed where a large networked system can do things that a simple system cannot do in real time. You said the fact that you propose the human brain might be a finite state machine while not realizing that is a subset of Turing machines shows your own lack of knowledge. My major is in electrical engineering with a minor in computer science and I work in the field. I've studied theory of computation and philosophy of mind on my own a great deal. The fact that you don't understand what I'm saying and misrepresent it is just more evidence that you either have reading comprehension issues or are fumbling around with concepts you have no business fumbling with.
            This silly arrogance of yours is truly unwarranted and it constantly resurfaces without reason, and I don't see any reason why I should ignore it. In general I've gotten the impression that you have no idea what you are talking about, you just use concepts without really understanding them. I will no longer waste valuable time trying to engage you, as all you present is confusion with a narcissistic twist. As narcissists almost never admit that they have I problem, I'll present a list of symptoms, I do hope you get help for it.

            Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
            Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
            Exaggerating your achievements and talents
            Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
            Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
            Requiring constant admiration
            Having a sense of entitlement
            Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
            Taking advantage of others to get what you want
            Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
            Being envious of others and believing others envy you
            Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

            http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20025568

            I'm guessing you don't get the feedback you want in real life, and come here searching for it...I hope you get help, and I will block you to be sure I won't bother you in the future. I really don't like narcissists, and I'm not going to waste my time trying to discuss the issues when the person I'm trying to talk to is simply working to blow up their own ego...such is a consistent pattern in your writing. Have a nice life, and hopefully you can overcome this one day.

          • Let me define machine: "a physical system the performs a function or a variety of functions"

            You've just played the shell game, although hopefully unwittingly: now 'a physical system' is the vague term. Let me explain. One way to achieve your "something in common", which I claimed† is actually "everything in common", is to assert that all change in state happens according to differential or partial differential equations. Mathematical biologist Robert Rosen explains just what this means in Life Itself, arguing that this constitutes mathematical straight jacket which prevents him from properly defining what 'life' is. Any time you give a concrete, restricted definition, you do two things: (i) you make an empirical claim—the world is like this, not like that; (ii) you open yourself up to the possibility that there are extant phenomena you cannot well-explain. You can't have (i) without (ii), and you cannot obtain ¬(ii) without having to accept ¬(i). And yet, you seem to want to get both (i) and ¬(ii).

            † Search for "at least something in common". That which is not in common is separated by the interaction problem.

            I just showed where a large networked system can do things that a simple system cannot do in real time.

            And I maintain that this is 100% irrelevant when it comes to The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem. What I challenged you to do was to demonstrate hypercomputation, which means doing something no Turing machine can do, which means quantum computers, too. So far, you have only vaguely waved your hands in this direction. That's not surprising—as far as I understand, hypercomputation is not well-understood. But given the state of ill understanding, you have work to do on knowing what you do not know.

            You said the fact that you propose the human brain might be a finite state machine while not realizing that is a subset of Turing machines shows your own lack of knowledge.

            Said comment does not entail "not realizing".

            In general I've gotten the impression that you have no idea what you are talking about, you just use concepts without really understanding them.

            At least one of us does appear to be using concepts without really understanding them.

          • Avantasia

            Otherwise, it would be 100% wrong to include the following in the definition of Turing machine: "the tape extends or is indefinitely extensible to the right". See, when you run into things like the halting problem, what that means is that no algorithm, even given infinite tape, can implement it. That's a very strong statement.

            The halting problem is easily solved in practice with an independent watchdog timer. This is something outside the formal system that can intervene and cause a restart upon an infinite loop (or at least, a suspected infinite loop). Humans seems vulnerable to the halting problem too, in that we have no idea how long a calculation will take unless we've done it before...we can guess but that guess can certainly be wrong. A watchdog engine amounts to an artificial guess.
            Human thinking occurs in real time, so certainly what can be done in real time is quite relevant to thinking, whatever that is. It's also clear that lower level hardware cannot do many things that more advance hardware can (like run programs including windows or autocad) so certainly there are differences there. Hypercomputing is clearly relevant for a true solution to the halting problem (though a true solution may not even exist at all) but not to Godel's incompleteness theorems. Again they state what single formals systems can do, not multiple somewhat independent formal systems can do.
            When we talk about the capabilities of the human brain, we do so in the context of a society which is basically a network. From my perspective, the human brain can't do all that much intellectually by itself in the wild, it needs the network we call society and the stored knowledge of our ancestors. In light of this (and many other similar lines of reasoning), perhaps Godel's theorem applies to human brains too, whether or not they are Turing machines.

          • The halting problem is easily solved in practice with an independent watchdog timer. This is something outside the formal system that can intervene and cause a restart upon an infinite loop (or at least, a suspected infinite loop).

            That's irrelevant, for the halting problem deals with provability, not 'suspected'. All you can say with a watchdog timer† is that some computation is infinite or takes more than N clock cycles to complete. Such a result is antithetical to the spirit of the halting problem. In the scope of the larger conversation on cognition, mechanism, and materialism, this adds nothing. Watchdog timers are indeed quite helpful, because we can say with more certainty that some operation in an embedded system ought not take longer than N cycles, than we can be certain that computations won't get stuck. But this is due to reality being quite a lot messier than theory of computation; nobody in the theory of computation has to worry about an SD card locking up in a new and unexpected way.

            † I have no idea why you included the extraneous word 'independent'—that's implied by 'watchdog'. BTW, I'm aware of watchdog timers; I have written assembly for ATMEL's 8-bit AVR microcontrollers.

            Human thinking occurs in real time, so certainly what can be done in real time is quite relevant to thinking, whatever that is.

            I don't disagree. However, if I can tell you that in theory something is impossible, that may set an upper bound you didn't know was there, and may have fallaciously thought you could surpass. It is sometimes less interesting for me to tell you that in theory something is possible, because perhaps it is possible given a million years of computation on a million times as many computers as we have with a million times as much computing power. When it comes to The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem, we're in the "in theory impossible" domain. This theory only talks about models, but when one says the model of humans is not just a model, but actual—that's where Gödel can be used to criticize materialists and mechanists.

            Again they state what single formals systems can do, not multiple somewhat independent formal systems can do.

            Are you really going to tell me that "multiple somewhat independent formal systems" cannot be encapsulated within a larger, single formal system? If so, why exactly is that impossible, and what does that entail for how the independent formal systems interoperate? On casual inspection, it seems like the only reason for impossibility here would be contradictory elements in the various independent formal systems. But surely contradictions don't help your case in arguing that the human is a [consistent] machine, and so it seems you fall on the "irrationality" horn of the dilemma which @bvogt1:disqus discussed.

            When we talk about the capabilities of the human brain, we do so in the context of a society which is basically a network. From my perspective, the human brain can't do all that much intellectually by itself in the wild, it needs the network we call society and the stored knowledge of our ancestors. In light of this (and many other similar lines of reasoning), perhaps Godel's theorem applies to human brains too, whether or not they are Turing machines.

            I know of no logical demonstration that a network helps you surpass Turing computation, and I deeply suspect that this is because there is no such demonstration. I'm pretty sure this is like saying that while one person cannot count to infinity, if we have a network of them using Twitter and Facebook, then they can count to infinity. And yet, I strongly suspect that humans actually are capable of hypercomputation. So my resistance to certain formulations of 'materialism' and 'machine' is not entirely theological. Model how thinking and creativity work badly and you harm humanity. Then again, my theology says that what offends God does harm humanity, although it may take a while for the harm to manifest and the harm might show up somewhere unexpected.

          • "I don't think you've properly grappled with Gödel's incompleteness theorems,"

            That is definitely the case.

            "The Lucas-Penrose Argument about Gödel's Theorem states that we must accept (A) or (B), or reject that the mind can be well-modeled as a Turing machine."

            I accept "A" as being the case for the human mind. I certainly accept that there are proofs that the human mind can never prove. And I do think I understand Godel enough to get why this is the case.

            Can you accept that this is consistent with both materialism and determinism?

          • It is too abstract to simply say that "there are proofs that the human mind can never prove". We need to get more of a sense of which ones, and whether that matters. Some claim that whatever formal system it is we Turing machines currently run on, it is good enough to capture anything and everything of relevance to human beings. But are they right? How do we know?

            Let's consider the distinction Gödel establishes between truth and provability. A consistent formal system of sufficient power can represent more true statements than it can prove are true. But what do you do when you hit a statement which is true, but cannot be proven to be within the formal system? From our point of view—being outside the formal system—we can get some sort of mysterious sense that it might be true. But from within the formal system, it is merely a statement which cannot be proven true. It looks like all the other statements which cannot be proven true. There is no "intuitive glow" surrounding it.

            So, if we're machines, I strongly suspect that truths we cannot prove within our formal system will be invisible to us. They simply won't look any different from an infinity of statements which are false but not provably so [again: provably within the system]. We would be forever imprisoned in our formal system, and we wouldn't know it. At best, there would be a Matrix-like "splinter in your mind". But without Morpheus to explain it to you, you simply couldn't do anything with that splinter—unless you want to play with pure metaphysics, with zero possible connection to reality.

            If we're not machines, there is still the danger that we will model ourselves as machines, and thus create our own prison, a prison which cannot be tasted, touched, heard, felt, or seen. One might construe Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary as arguing that we have indeed constructed an analytical prison for ourselves. I have suspicions that Paul's stoicheion is the building block of this prison. The difference between a formal system and beauty is well-captured by a technically perfect musical performance as compared to one with feeling. A pianist learns scales (= formal system) in order to provide a foundation for beautiful expression (= breaking from the formal system according to a set of aesthetic rules which cannot be expressed by any known formal system). Could Paul's notion of "freed from the law" be explored from this vantage point?

            What I find most tantalizing is the possibility that a huge part of Jesus saving us really was convincing us to think differently. I'm not a liberal Protestant, but I want to take their focus on the 'subjective' more seriously than I think most orthodox Christians do. Not everything that we believe is possible is, but what we believe to be impossible is. Too often, claims about observed actuality are interpreted as claims about possible potentiality. "Because I observe thus-and-so, X will never ever be possible." Where this is false, such reasoning constructs immaterial prisons which put us in material bondage. There is an intellectual dimension to this, as well as a moral dimension.

            Can you accept that this is consistent with both materialism and determinism?

            Both of these terms are nigh meaningless, especially at the level of perception (vs. theorizing various ontologies), unless you start providing concrete articulation, such as: "All time-evolution of state occurs via differential and partial differential equations." But once you do that, you make your notions of substance (matter) and causation more restrictive than they necessarily are. Mathematical biologist Robert Rosen provides a wonderful, very rigorous treatment of this "more restrictive than they necessarily are" in Life Itself.

            With the above [major] caveat, I can probably accept said consistency. I'm not sure what such acceptance entails, though. When I try to imagine what phenomena it says I'll never perceive, I get the null set. It seems metaphysical, not empirical. And yet does that dichotomy even make sense, on materialism? There's a curious problem of self-reference here—it's what makes Gödel's incompleteness theorems work, too.

          • "It is too abstract to simply say that "there are proofs that the human mind can never prove"."

            As I understand Godel, it was a response to Bertrand Russell and others' attempt to develop a formal system of logic and mathematics that could describe anything. What Godel showed was it could not describe anything, because if we fed a code representing itself into that system it would break the system, or, that when you put in that code, it still could not describe itself completely, because it would not be accounting for the way the system was handling its own code.

            I think what you are getting at, is that computers also suffer from the same incompleteness problem. I accept that any human mind would suffer from the same problem. I do not see how adding a non-material element changes this, or really what the relevance of this is. I do not think anyone is advancing that a human brain is perfect formal system as Russell was arguing for with Principia Mathmatica.

            But the problem simply does not arise for computers that do not make claims of perfection. A pocket calculator cannot prove its own consistency either, does that mean it needs to rely on the non-material?

            "But what do you do when you hit a statement which is true, but cannot be proven to be within the formal system?"

            You are unable to prove it.

            "So, if we're machines, I strongly suspect that truths we cannot prove within our formal system will be invisible to us."

            Well, no, we will still see them, we just cannot prove they are true.

            " We would be forever imprisoned in our formal system, and we wouldn't know it."

            Yes!

            "At best, there would be a Matrix-like "splinter in your mind"."

            No, it would be Matrix-like, which is exactly what we experience. I don't know what you mean by "splinter".

            "But without Morpheus to explain it to you, you simply couldn't do
            anything with that splinter—unless you want to play with pure
            metaphysics, with zero possible connection to reality.'

            It is far worse than that, even with Morpheus to explain it to you, you have no way of proving he is real, the matrix is fake or vice versa, or that the whole thing is the matrix and you're still in the tank. Or that it is all a dream. This is simply the problem of induction, we cannot know any empirical things to be true in an absolute sense. We can know abstractions are true, but this is simply gymnastics of equivalency.

            The rest of your post loses me in abstraction and vagueness, I have no idea what you are on about with all this.

            My point is that our minds may be like a computer, a very good computer, but not a perfect formal system such as Principia Mathmatica. The allusions to Godel and so on are misplaced.

            A human brain is material, non-supernatural, non-perfect computer. I do not see anything you, or Brandon have said that makes this less likely. I see no evidence of anything non-material or non-natural at play in human experience. If you have such evidence, you are welcome to articulate it.

          • I'll take this one out-of-order so it doesn't get lost in the weeds:

            My point is that our minds may be like a computer, a very good computer, but not a perfect formal system such as Principia Mathmatica. The allusions to Godel and so on are misplaced.

            This is only true if you can appeal to a form of human reasoning which doesn't fall prey to Gödel. The fact that humans are sometimes irrational surely doesn't fix the problem. That would be the height of absurdity. No, they need to be better than Turing machines. Otherwise, they are locked in arbitrarily small prisons which they do not have the resources to escape. The bare assertion that maybe the formal system we truly run on is big enough is just hard for me to swallow. And I see no other rational way out of this puzzle except what I describe below (search for "recursively enumerable").

            Another way to say this is that asserting that humans are broken machines doesn't help. No, machines would have to be broken humans. This would, of course, fly in the face of reductionism.

            As I understand Godel, it was a response to Bertrand Russell and others' attempt to develop a formal system of logic and mathematics that could describe anything. What Godel showed was it could not describe anything, because if we fed a code representing itself into that system it would break the system, or, that when you put in that code, it still could not describe itself completely, because it would not be accounting for the way the system was handling its own code.

            I take your meaning to include "everything" in addition to "anything". That would be roughly correct, although I think Russell would have preferred to speak in terms of "a complete, axiomatic foundation for all of mathematics". Or from WP: Principia Mathematica: "PM was an attempt to describe a set of axioms and inference rules in symbolic logic from which all mathematical truths could in principle be proven."

            Your "fed a code representing itself into that system" is an odd way to paraphrase WP: Gödel's incompleteness theorems § Syntactic form of the Gödel sentence. And I don't think there's any way to get "could not describe itself completely". One of the neat things about Turing machines is that they can actually print out a complete description of themselves. The problem here is that of being able to represent true statements, but not prove their truth.

            I do not see how adding a non-material element changes this, or really what the relevance of this is.

            A non-material element would allow for a formal system with axioms which are not recursively enumerable. That is, the axioms couldn't be generated by any algorithm. Or in terms found at Gödel's incompleteness theorems, they couldn't be generated by an "effective procedure". Of course, "material" can be redefined to allow for this, but one can then ask whether "material" has changed from an apple to an orange as a result.

            But the problem simply does not arise for computers that do not make claims of perfection.

            The concept of "perfection" doesn't show up in my comment. Being imprisoned in an artificially small view of reality is much worse than simply not being perfect. It is in danger of accepting a pathetic mediocrity as being all we will ever get.

            LB: So, if we're machines, I strongly suspect that truths we cannot prove within our formal system will be invisible to us. They simply won't look any different from an infinity of statements which are false but not provably so [again: provably within the system].

            BGA: Well, no, we will still see them, we just cannot prove they are true.

            I clarified my statement in the subsequent sentence, which I have included and underlined. Do I need to further articulate what I meant by "intuitive glow"?

            No, it would be Matrix-like, which is exactly what we experience. I don't know what you mean by "splinter".

            Do you know what Morpheus meant by "You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."?

            It is far worse than that, even with Morpheus to explain it to you, you have no way of proving he is real, the matrix is fake or vice versa, or that the whole thing is the matrix and you're still in the tank. Or that it is all a dream. This is simply the problem of induction, we cannot know any empirical things to be true in an absolute sense. We can know abstractions are true, but this is simply gymnastics of equivalency.

            Actually, it's worse than this. With the typical brain-in-the-vat scenario, one can imagine a possibility even if it's not actual. But if you're imprisoned in a small formal system, your very ability to imagine is curtailed. Imagination requires structure (not utter formlessness), and yet a given formal system only has so much structure, with zero ability to build further structure. (It cannot alter its axioms, on pain of [self-defined] irrationality.)

            The rest of your post loses me in abstraction and vagueness, I have no idea what you are on about with all this.

            I'm not surprised; most lay-understanding I find about how human imagination works is ignorant in precisely the way Noam Chomsky describes:

            younger Chomsky: "While it's true that our genetic program rigidly constrains us, I think the more important point is the existence of that rich, rigid constraint is what provides the basis for our freedom and creativity."Q: "But you mean it's only because we're pre-programmed that we can do all that we can do."A: "Well, exactly; the point is, if we really were plastic organisms without an extensive pre-programming, then the state that our mind achieves would in fact be a reflection of the environment, which means it would be extraordinarily impoverished. Fortunately for us we are rigidly pre-programmed, with extremely rich systems that are part of our biological endowment.(Noam Chomsky on "Education and Creativity", 15:56)

            The most effective prison is one that a person cannot detect. If you hamstring his/her ability to imagine, you do precisely that. A great example of this is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk The danger of a single story, which has over 11 million views. The way to escape all of this is to realize that natural language is more powerful than Turing machines, which Chomsky hints at when he says:

            Specifically, Descartes speculated that the workings of res cogitans—second substance—may be beyond human understanding. So he thought, quoting him again, 'We may not have intelligence enough to understanding the workings of mind.' In particular, the normal use of language, one of his main concepts. He recognized that the normal use of language has what has come to be called a creative aspect; every human being but no beast or machine has this capacity to use language in ways that are appropriate to situations but not caused by them—this is a crucial difference. And to formulate and express thoughts that may be entirely new and do so without bound, may be incited or inclined to speak in certain ways by internal and external circumstances, but not compelled to do so. That's the way his followers put the matter—which was a mystery to Descartes and remains a mystery to us. That quite clearly is a fact. (Noam Chomsky - "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding", 9:58)

            If there is anyone alive who has the right to say what is still a mystery to us when it comes to how language functions, it's Noam Chomsky. That may not be a universal opinion—see for example David Braine's Language and Human Understanding: The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought—but it is important to note, for this lack of understanding surely permeates modern consciousness and attempts to understand many things about humans. Note, by the way, the possible connection between 'creativity' and the futzing with axioms in a formal system (with recursively enumerable axioms). A Turing machine cannot do that.

            A human brain is material, non-supernatural, non-perfect computer. I do not see anything you, or Brandon have said that makes this less likely. I see no evidence of anything non-material or non-natural at play in human experience. If you have such evidence, you are welcome to articulate it.

            It is hard to know what the precise empirical import of what you're saying really is. What is the boundary like between the phenomena you can explain, and the phenomena you cannot explain, based on your ontology? Note that if I'm right that your very ability to imagine can be curtailed, things get more difficult than I generally see assumed in discussions like these.

          • "'My point is that our minds may be like a computer, a very good computer,
            but not a perfect formal system such as Principia Mathmatica. The
            allusions to Godel and so on are misplaced.'

            This is only true if you can appeal to a form of human reasoning which
            doesn't fall prey to Gödel. The fact that humans are sometimes irrational surely doesn't fix the problem"

            No, human reasoning does indeed fall prey to Godel, that is my point. There is a problem and it is not fixed. I accept the problem that human minds cannot prove all truths.

            "Another way to say this is that asserting that humans are broken machines doesn't help. No, machines would have to be broken humans. This would, of course, fly in the face of reductionism."

            The problem here is with your characterization of human minds as machines or being broken or not. That is not the issue, the issue is whether they are deterministic or have any non-material part.

            "But if you're imprisoned in a small formal system, your very ability to imagine is curtailed."

            It certainly is! I cannot imagine everything, I have limits.

            I fully grant you that things like the imagination, language, consciousness are still largely mysterious.

            You have indicated a view that I have a lay understanding of human imagination. I do not grant that, but I do have a lay understanding of human cognition, neuroscience, linguistics (save one undergraduate course), philosophy, and many other subjects. If you are interested in a professional discussion on these topics, you are in the wrong place.

            "Note that if I'm right that your very ability to imagine can be curtailed"

            You are right about this, of course it can be curtailed. I can have a mental illness, I can die and so on. What you haven't done is demonstrate any contradiction in naturalism, materialism, or determinism. Nor have you provided any evidence or reasonable demonstration of the existence of anything non-natural or non-material.

          • No, human reasoning does indeed fall prey to Godel, that is my point. There is a problem and it is not fixed. I accept the problem that human minds cannot prove all truths.

            Then I don't understand why you said "The allusions to Godel and so on are misplaced." You don't seem to have changed your position since we started talking; did I miss it?

            The problem here is with your characterization of human minds as machines or being broken or not. That is not the issue, the issue is whether they are deterministic or have any non-material part.

            As I've said before, 'deterministic' is a woefully underdefined term, or contentiously defined to actually mean a very specific kind of determinism. Importantly, it is virtually always used to deny agent causation, even though for all I (we?) know, it is perfectly metaphysically possible. To define a general term according to a specific notion is philosophically irresponsible or dishonest (those are your only two options, until you can prove that agent causation is logically impossible). Until 'deterministic' is given its most general form, the following is a false dichotomy: "Everything is either determined or purely random." (For pedants: the stricter version would be: "Everything is a combination of 'determined' and 'purely random', with no other kind of contribution.")

            When it comes to "non-material part", that also depends entirely on what is meant by 'material'. If what is meant is an imagined formal system (with recursively enumerable axioms) which will unify quantum physics and general relativity, then it still falls prey to Gödel, due to the Church–Turing thesis. And yet, if the possibility is held open that whatever describes reality cannot be formulated via a formal system with recursively enumerable axioms, then calling the result 'materialism' is meaningless, until some new way of unambiguously tracing the bounds of what it can and cannot explain are provided. If the bounds are continually burst, one suspects that there is a progression going on, where the end-result is not well-described by any frozen, universalized intermediate step.

            But how would we know if there is a non-material part? Reason number one would be to take seriously the possibility that there is, and work really hard to rigorously imagine what that would entail. As evidence for the importance of imagination preceding understanding, I could cite Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, or just point out that the development of new mathematics often precedes its application. Do we take this seriously enough? Do we take seriously the idea that maybe if we didn't have a rigorous, pre-established imagined framework in mind, we might not be able to either discover certain aspects about reality or construct certain new kinds of things (made of things or people)? I think the possibility that Turing machines may have a (practically relevant) profound weakness when it comes to imagination is something we ought to take quite seriously. I return to the first bit of Chomsky I transcribed: without rigid pre-programming, creativity is squashed and you end up mirroring the environment.

            Another way is to work really hard to define just what 'material' is, and then see if it can really explain all the phenomena before us. I transcribed Chomsky saying we cannot explain "the normal use of language" via Descartes' mechanical philosophy (which we have not advanced upon), and I could point to Colin McGinn's The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World. McGinn still thinks consciousness is material, but he suspects we'll never know how this works. That's a "God works in mysterious ways" if I've ever heard one, and one is quite justified in questionining his premise of materialism. But this whole endeavor—a very empirical one, by the way—is hamstrung, kneecapped, and shot if one does not carefully define 'material'.

            LB: But if you're imprisoned in a small formal system, your very ability to imagine is curtailed.

            BGA: It certainly is! I cannot imagine everything, I have limits.

            Limits which are physically impossible to transcend? Logically impossible to transcend? If the Bible says anything, it says that we are limited, weak, fallen creatures. But it also holds open the possibility for growth—perhaps infintie growth. Those two premises can only be held together if there is an outside benevolent source, because the causal power of perfection has to come from someone. (A somewhere would result in a perfection which is entirely impersonal, which just doesn't seem to make sense.) Back to Gödel: what I think you might be missing is that presuming that the human mind can be perfectly modeled by a formal system with recursively enumerable axioms could set artificial limits. We could put ourselves into bondage to an artificial set of laws. That's the profound danger!

            What you haven't done is demonstrate any contradiction in naturalism, materialism, or determinism. Nor have you provided any evidence or reasonable demonstration of the existence of anything non-natural or non-material.

            I didn't realize the scope of this discussion entailed an obligation on my part to do either one of these things. But I could give it a shot, if you want to provide a rigorous definition of 'material' and to provide some sort of metaphysics of causation, which you will call "determinism of this sort" instead of 'determinism' simpliciter. To the extent that you are vague on either or both of these things, the weight of the criticism of "God works in mysterious ways" lies at your feet.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            'deterministic' is a woefully underdefined term ... [when determinism is understood in the restricted sense of mechanistic / impersonal determinism] the following is a false dichotomy: "Everything is either determined or purely random."

            I'm always glad to see this point raised.

            If asked whether 'clock' (implying mechanistic / impersonal determinism), or 'dice' (implying randomness) is a better metaphor for a person, I suppose I could pick one. But the point -- in my view -- that seems to be missed in many of these discussions is that those are not the only two root metaphors on offer. When we say that some phenomenon manifests personal agency, we are saying, I think, that neither 'clock' nor 'dice', but rather 'self' is the best metaphor for what lies behind the phenomenon. It seems highly likely to me that 'self' is an irreducible root metaphor.

          • Yes; one of the things one finds in exploring the disaster that was trying to make the human sciences in the image of the hard sciences was that you simply distort the human being too much. Human agency is not rational choice theory (clock) and it is not raw desire (dice).

            There is, however, a danger. That danger is that by worshiping the clock and dice, we become like them. This is an implication of Romans 1:22–23 which I never see identified—it's always in terms of monkeys or sex. The idea of the self requires a kind of unity, one which may have as its ideal something awfully like divine simplicity. A major theme of modernity is fragmentation. Not only fragmentation via division of labor where different fields can hold radically incommensurate views of reality, but a fragmentation of social role, so that you adapt your norms based on the social group you're in at 11:30am on a Thursday or 11:30pm on a Saturday. Both of these things are utterly real, probably becoming more real, and create evidence for the clock vs. dice dichotomy. It is still a distortion of human nature, but we humans are awfully good at ignoring signs of distortion.

            It also doesn't help that God gave us reality to be actualized, and yet science is framed almost exclusively as a study of reality as actualized. This allows us to demean the value domain and ignore the fact that modernity denies any meaningful ability to shape reality to the vast majority of human beings. (Making the fantasy football team of your choice, having sex with whom you wish, and buying what tickles your fancy are pathetic ways to shape reality.) Reality becomes mechanical because we don't want God to do a new thing. The logical thing for God to do is to fragment reality, to shatter its heart of stone, so that a heart of flesh can be put in some remnant. That heart of flesh will not be an individual with enlightened self-interest who occasionally engages in altruistic behavior. (What a pathetic downgrade from "priests and rulers" that notion is!)

          • "This is only true if you can appeal to a form of human reasoning which doesn't fall prey to Gödel."

            Godel is concerned with the limits of deductive proofs within formal mathematical systems. It should be pretty obvious that deduction from first principles isn't the way most human reasoning works. Most of our reasoning, including scientific reasoning, is inductive. It involves pattern matching and trial and error learning. This sort of reasoning is perfectly capable of identifying potentially true features of reality, but does not have the ability to "prove" much of anything in a logically rigorous manner.

          • Can you demonstrate how inductive logic helps one prove truths which can be stated via the axioms in some formal system, but not proved within that formal system? If your answer is "no", then inductive logic does not help you one iota.

            There is the further problem that inductive logic, when applied empirically instead of logically, falls prey to the problem of induction. One is completely disallowed from saying: "I've observed part of reality, and can therefore conclude that all of reality is like the part I have observed." And yet, is this not what materialism/​physicalism is, at least when given rigorous definitions? The very shift from 'materialism' → 'physicalism' signifies a failure all by itself: quantum theory made clear that energy had to be admitted into the pantheon. Why won't there be another failure? And another?

            So, if we are no more powerful than Turing machines, which is necessarily true if the Church–Turing–Deutsch principle holds, which seems entailed by any remotely rigorous definition of 'materialism' or 'physicalism' I've encountered, then we are necessarily locked within a finite ability to imagine, where truths greater than that ability cannot be seen as possibly being truths—that fuzzy conjecture-intuition mathematicians seem to have would not exist.

            I understand that not all human thought is rigorously logical. But unless you want to allow that 'rationality' is not definable within a formal system with recursively enumerable axioms (that is, a target of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, as long as it is powerful enough to support something like basic arithmetic), this doesn't help you. And if you want to define 'rationality' such that it cannot fall prey to Gödel's incompleteness theorems, you will need to defend its possible existence against the claims of materialism/​physicalism.

          • Well, yes, my view is that inductive reasoning does, in fact, fall prey to problems of induction. Empirically, so does most human cognition. It would also explain the "fuzzy conjecture-intuition mathematicians seem to have", which don't always lead to something provable. It's also certainly possible that human thought is constrained in some absolute sense.

            There is also something odd about the assumption we're making here about rationality. I'm tempted to say that rationality, like a lot of ideas, probably doesn't have a coherent definition within a formal system with recursively enumerable axioms. Would we not also say the same thing about love? Kindness? Virtue?

          • I agree with all of the above. Some interesting things are entailed by what you say, though. If 'rationality' cannot be perfectly captured by a Gödelian formal system, then it requires a 'substrate' which is not perfectly modeled by a Gödelian formal system. It's not clear we have a good way to think about this domain.

            In Beyond Objectivism and Relativism, Richard Bernstein tells an interesting story of Paul Feyerabend's attempt to challenge the orthodoxy of the philosophy of science over this question: just what is scientific rationality? Because his interlocutors were convinced that rationality was a certain way, he was reduced to appearing irrational when questioning their understanding. He wasn't actually being irrational—he was working according to a higher level rationality—but this was logically invisible to his interlocutors. He paid a price for his challenge to orthodoxy: Against Method § Scholarly reception.

            I fear the same charge of irrationality gets thrown at people who challenge the concrete claims which accompany the more concrete forms of materialism and naturalism. There is such a thing as an intuitive sense that not all is right with some way of thinking; coming up with a rigorous logical framework with which to frame that discontent is not always easy. Were we to more carefully understand the process of moving from one formal system to another more powerful one, we might be less quick to punish 'rebels'. We might be more willing to admit the limits of any established way of thinking.

  • Peter

    There is another shocking plot twist. First, life on earth started far earlier than previously thought, just a few hundred million years after the formation of the planet. Second, the building blocks of life including amino acids have been found in meteorites and comets. Organic molecules must have reached such a high degree of complexity in space for life on earth to appear almost immediately after the planet's cooling. If organic molecules rely on space conditions rather than the particular conditions of a planet to achieve near-life complexity, then earth is not so special after all.

    Whilst the distinctive conditions of individual planets will vary immensely, the conditions in space would be far more homogeneous, which means that they are highly likely to be repeated elsewhere. The consequence of this is that organic compounds of near-life complexity could exist anywhere or everywhere across the cosmos, vastly increasing the likelihood of life taking hold on nearby planets.

    The discovery of a potentially fertile and bountiful universe will come as a body blow to materialists who believe that the cosmos is fundamentally hostile, or at best indifferent, to life and that its presence on earth, although permitted by the laws of nature, results from a highly improbable string of freak events.

    • Doug Shaver

      The discovery of a potentially fertile and bountiful universe will come as a body blow to materialists who believe that the cosmos is fundamentally hostile, or at best indifferent, to life

      That would be so, if materialism entailed a universe hostile to life. But it doesn't. Materialists don't believe the universe is hostile to life because they are materialists. They believe it because almost all of that portion of the universe that we can observe has seemed hostile to life. If new observations make it seem otherwise, materialists will have zero problem with that.

      • Peter

        If I were a materialist I'd have a great problem with that. The discovery of life elsewhere, particularly with our crude instrumentation, would raise the prospect of a cosmos teeming with living things. It would lead me as a rational person to suspect, or at least be open to the possibility, that the universe has a purpose which is to create them. That is, of course, unless I were a materialist of the dogmatic kind and forcibly blinded myself to that likelihood.

        • Doug Shaver

          If I were a materialist I'd have a great problem with that.

          Then you don't understand materialism.

          • Peter

            Even if a central tenet of materialism is true - that mind naturally emerges from matter alone - the presence of other intelligent races throughout the cosmos would still point to a universe that has been designed to create them.

            In fact the widespread existence of such races would actually reinforce that notion by revealing a universe which is destined to acquire collective consciousness.

          • Doug Shaver

            the presence of other intelligent races throughout the cosmos would still point to a universe that has been designed to create them.

            Maybe, to an Aristotelian. But I'm not an Aristotelian.

          • Peter

            Whatever you claim to be cannot avoid the reality of scientific observation

          • Doug Shaver

            The destiny of the cosmos cannot be observed. It must be inferred from the conjunction of observation and presupposition. That includes presuppositions about final causes.

          • Peter

            There is no need to presuppose anything. We know the end product of the material evolution of the universe since its inception. It is us - we are examples of it - conscious beings with brains that represent the apex of material complexity.

            Were it just to have happened on earth, after an improbable series of freak accidents, I could accept that the universe is not particularly destined to create life, despite the laws of nature permitting it. The presence of such life-friendly laws would not in themselves be enough to convince me.

            However, the growing signs are that life is prevalent throughout the cosmos and, crucially, that this widespread potential for life is the direct result of a narrowly focussed yet powerfully driven cosmic evolution stretching back from the very beginning. The laws of the universe are not merely life-friendly; they are life-directed.

            Unless you can demonstrate that other universes exist, a naturally-occurring vast number among which ours happens to be not only life-friendly but also life-directed, you cannot escape the conclusion that our universe is designed. And since our designed universe will preclude the existence of other universes, the designer cannot be another alien inhabiting one of them, but God himself.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is no need to presuppose anything.

            Really? You don't think design presupposes intelligence?

          • Peter

            Non-theists make the common mistake of thinking that all theists presuppose God and then point to what they consider to be evidence to justify that presupposition.

            That's not my approach. I start with an open mind and follow the evidence to where it leads. I presuppose nothing, just look at the facts and draw conclusions from them and them alone.

            The facts, growing evidence in favour and absence of evidence to the contrary, strongly suggest that the universe is designed. This what I am observing. I therefore deduce the likely presence of a supreme intellect.

          • Doug Shaver

            Non-theists make the common mistake of thinking that all theists presuppose God and then point to what they consider to be evidence to justify that presupposition.

            Some non-theists do that. Some theists make the mistake of thinking that whatever some non-theists do, all non-theists do.

            I presuppose nothing

            That isn't possible. A presupposition is just a type of assumption, and there is no reasoning without assumptions. It can't be done.

          • Peter

            It is also the assumption or taking for granted of something in advance , in this case God. That is what I do not do as I have tried to tell you.

          • Doug Shaver

            You did say you don't presuppose God. You also said, "I presuppose nothing, just look at the facts and draw conclusions from them and them alone." But if you really presuppose nothing, then you cannot look at the facts and draw any conclusions at all.

          • Peter

            You are probably applying a philosophical meaning to the word and I a practical one.

            Yes, where God is concerned I presuppose nothing. Unlike the standard perception that non-theists have of theists, I do not assume in advance that the existence of God is true and then look for evidence to support it. I do not presuppose the existence of God but arrive at that conclusion through deduction.

            This is a useful approach because it opens up the possibility of discovering God to those with no preconceived notion that God exists such as non-theists.

          • Doug Shaver

            You are probably applying a philosophical meaning to the word and I a practical one.

            I believe it is both a philosophical and a practical impossibility to think rationally without assuming anything. You can certainly reject any particular assumption when you make an argument, but you can't reject all assumptions.

    • The discovery of a fertile and bountiful universe will come as a body blow to rare earth proponents who believe that the cosmos is fundamentally hostile to life and that its presence on earth results from a highly improbable string of freak events.

      When it comes to @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus's understanding of materialism [edit: I say this because he respond to you and I want to see if you detect the same pattern], it's not clear that any phenomenon could possibly falsify it. I can provide very specific exchanges between us if you'd like. Here's a sampling:

      LB: I'm pretty sure materialism can be made to fit any conceivable phenomena.

      DS: For nearly half the time I was a Christian, I was pretty sure that all Catholics were going to burn in Hell.

      Doug's responses remind me of the following:

      LB: In a debate with Raphael Lataster, Trent Horn asked, "What would constitute evidence of God's existence?"[1] The answer was incredibly revealing, for Horn kept pressing Lataster to demonstrate that he hadn't actually presupposed God out of existence (by God always being a less probable explanation than something naturalistic). I think Lataster's response was pathetic (but honest).

      [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFaW01dZ7m0#t=55m50s

      • Peter

        The onslaught of scientific discovery and observation is rapidly reducing the number of nooks and crannies where materialists can hide. Even a universe that totally fits their description - where mind ultimately emerges from matter - cannot avoid the likely conclusion of being precisely configured to evolve that way. In fact, it encourages such a conclusion and this is the paradox of materialism.

        Even if a materialist were to succumb to the argument that the universe is designed, and I don't see how they can continue to avoid it, they could claim it as the handiwork of intelligent aliens in another universe or dimension and nothing to do with God.

        There are two difficulties with this approach. First, there is no evidence of separate universes or dimensions, let alone of aliens that populate them; there are only hypotheses. Second, even if there were evidence, the question would remain of who created those aliens and so on.

        • I suspect your ideas of what materialism and how explanation ought to function are very different from mine. First, I suspect that your understanding of materialism comes more from hostile sources than the best defenders. (It tends to be called 'physicalism' these days, btw.) Second, I expect true knowledge of God to enhance one's ability to love other (agape) people. This means that knowing God allows you to contribute to the Other's telos, or to use a more biblical term, the Other's poiēma. It is not clear to me that what you mean by "knowing God" has this property. I should add that I expect God to be arbitrarily well-knowable, leading to arbitrarily great excellence at loving others.

          You may note that the classic objections to various arguments for God's existence are that they don't establish much of a God. That is, sans special revelation, there's just a terrific amount one cannot know. And do we really expect that the things we can know when not in an active, growing relationship with God (contrast these in the OT: hardened hearts, hearts of flesh) will be overly good for humankind? Do we treat God as one of those Psalm 115 idols who cannot speak, hear, feel, walk, or talk? (Maybe they did in the past, maybe there are stories of them doing so in the past, and probably there are ways to rationalize how they really are doing the same in the present, when actually they aren't.)

  • I'm not sure how this is engages with any meaningful way with the materialist worldview. Most of the arguments take the form that "the consensus among materialists used to be X, but now we understand that X is wrong, and therefore materialism is discredited", which could be said for basically every single school of thought that's been around for any amount of time (compare: the census among Christian scholars used to be that the earth was flat, but now we know that the earth is not flat, therefore Christian scholarship is discredited). Being wrong about things, more or less, a human constant.

    But to understand materialism, it's helpful to compare it to the theistic contention, which is that, at the root of it all, there is something resembling a personal agent. The materialistic contention is (broadly speaking) that this is incorrect, on the argument that the most productive empirical research programs have more or less entirely abandoned personal language when trying to understand natural phenomena.

    • Being wrong about things is different from being wrong about the central ideas that birthed your philosophy. I think that is the contention here. Science leads to atheism. Why? If those reasons no are no longer supported by the latest science then maybe we should question the philosophy it led to as well.

      Christianity was never based on the earth being flat. It is questionable how many ancients actually believed that. If Christianity was denying the resurrection of Jesus and still saying there are other reasons to believe it is true then you should question it.

      • If you don't like the flat earth, there are plenty of other doctrines that Christians have historically been quite invested and that modern science suggests are incorrect. Even today, you have people arguing that their faith.requires them to interpret the account of creation in genesis as 100% literal history. My point is that it's very easy for me to assert that science discredits your worldview if I'm willing to retroactively identify as "central to your worldview" the views that science has since discredited.

        I don't think most self-described scientific materialists would say that a steady state universe or hard determinism (points 1 and 5) are central to their worldview. Have you ever seen a scientific materialist claiming that the big bang theory was a hoax put on by religious people to convince the world that the universe had a beginning?

        • You need to be precise about what historically invested means. Having a consistent definition means we are not moving the goalposts when science proves something wrong. That is why the Catholic Church defined precisely when infallibility applied.

          So you objection is similar. It is not what materialists think now. It is what they thought when steady state was in fashion. The name "Big Bang" is something coined by the theories opponents who wanted to mock it. There was very much the idea that a Big Bang implies a big banger.

          • Indeed, I think "moving the goalposts" (or, perhaps more precisely, cherry-picking the history of science for discoveries that could be construed to complicate the materialist worldview, while ignoring the fact that could be said for every worldview ever, and Christianity especially) is precisely what Vogt is doing here.

            It's not that you're wrong here; there were certainly prominent strains of materialist thought that were put to bed by the discovery of the big bang (in much the same way that certain strains of christian thought were put to bed by Copernicus). But the point is they were replaced by a new and more robust strain of materialist thought, which is what you would expect from any worldview that claims to respect science (including, I might add, Catholicism).

            That said, it's funny you should bring up the Catholic Church's carefully defined limitations on infallibility, when scientific materialism doesn't make any claims to infallibility at all. One of the nice things about scientific materialism, as an intellectual tradition, is that it's spared the labor of reconciling its inevitable errors with any claim that it's privy to revealed truth.

          • Errors are inevitable if your claim of revealed truth is false. A corollary of that is that if said errors don't materialise we can take it as strong evidence that the claim is true. Certainly that was one of my main reasons for becoming Catholic.

          • Doug Shaver

            Errors are inevitable if your claim of revealed truth is false.

            A Protestant evangelical couldn't have said it any better than that.

          • I was such a Protestant. Yet i did see more and more problems. Specifically with the question of what kind of Christianity is true. Then you get the No True Scotsman problem to any.truth claims you make. Catholicism has much more precise truth claims and a much longer track record of infallible teaching. So the Protestant claim is similar but much less compelling.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was such a Protestant. Yet i did see more and more problems.

            I was such a Protestant, too, but the problems I saw did not discredit the Protestants' particular claim to revealed truth. They discredited the very notion of revealed truth.

          • What problems were those? I never had a problem with God revealing truth. In fact, when I grew in my desire to know that truth and obey that truth that these issues became more serious.

          • Doug Shaver

            What problems were those? I never had a problem with God revealing truth.

            As long as I thought he was real, I had no problem believing he could have. My problem was that I couldn't discover a good reason to believe he actually had done so.

          • I didn't have that issue. I had personal experience with God's healing in my life. Even before that I believed God was real based on finding the story of Jesus quite compelling. Then I encountered the church as another intervention by God in human history. Something that humans could not have created or made up.

          • Is your argument that the catholic church has never erred? I must point out that, even among Christians, that's a highly contentious claim.

          • Sure, even the claim that the bible is inerrant is rejected by many. Yet I find both to be true if you interpret them charitably. That is you leave room for your own lack of understanding and the notion that not every detail is a show-stopper. John Henry Newman wrote some interesting stuff on Development of Doctrine which can be helpful.
            http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/index.html
            What he does it try to distinguish between a revelation that is growing over time but not contradicting itself and a revelation that is just all over the place and self-contradictory. Even then things are debatable. Still I find his framework helpful for understanding why some religions are so inconsistent they should be rejected and some are not. He argues Protestantism is obviously in the first category and that Catholicism is, less obviously, in the second.

          • Peter

            ...prominent claims of materialistic thought that were put to bed by the discovery of the big bang...were replaced by a new and more robust strain of materialist thought.

            Whatever the new materialist thinking is, it certainly isn't very robust if it's based on speculation and hypothesis.

          • David Nickol

            If you are trying to say that materialists fought against the big bang and religious folk supported it, I think that is nonsense. The big bang was accepted by virtually all scientists when the evidence for it became clear. Yes, Georges Lemaître was a Catholic priest, and yes Fred Hoyle rejected the big bang because he thought the idea of a beginning of the universe was "religious," but in general, establishing the big bang as the dominant theory it now is was not a war of materialists against Catholics. It was a matter of accumulated empirical evidence.

          • I think the point here is not the argument. The point is that the steady-state theory led to a rejection of God as creator. Then the scientific theory disappears yet the philosophical conclusions that flowed from it remains. Hoyle might have been thinking people would reevaluate their rejection of creation once steady-state disappeared. He gave humanity too much credit.

          • David Nickol

            It is not the business of scientists to accept or reject theories based on what their alleged religious or philosophical implications are imagined to be. It is also unwise to attempt to use scientific theories to argue in favor or against particular religious and philosophical positions. That point was made right here some time ago in Why We Should Be Cautious Using the Big Bang Argument. The big bang theory does not prove the existence of God or make Genesis any more believable.

    • Doug Shaver

      the census among Christian scholars used to be that the earth was flat

      Can you identify even one of those Christian scholars?

      • A google search turns up some hits (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth#Early_Christian_Church), although, in retrospect, I'd use a different example, where there was a clearer consensus (the geocentric model of the universe is a good one). Regardless, I think the general point that "consensus among christian scholars has been verifiably incorrect" stands.

        • Doug Shaver

          A google search turns up some hits

          Yes, a minority. A consensus, by definition, cannot be a minority viewpoint.

  • Andrew Roddy

    'If only matter exists, as the materialist thinks, then the human mind must be a machine'.

    I see no valid connection here with the proposition and the conclusion. If only matter exists then the human mind might be liquid or plasma or orgasm or phantasm or Lego or a second-class ticket to Giggleswick.

  • David Nickol

    Can praying affect the outcome of the November 8 presidential election? Does it make sense to pray for the election of the candidate you consider the best choice?

    • Rob Abney

      Yes, but recall that the righteous man's prayer is more efficacious. The results will shine a spotlight on all of us!

      • Doug Shaver

        Since each candidate has some people praying for them, may we assume, after the votes are counted, that the winner's supporters were more righteous than the loser's?

        • Rob Abney

          No, that judgement will come at a later date!

          • Doug Shaver

            Then what do you mean when you say that a righteous person's prayer is more efficacious?

          • Rob Abney

            The righteous man does more of the right actions in general, including fulfilling his civic duties by studying and understanding the issues and voting and persuading others to vote the same way based upon right thinking. And in addition he prays unceasingly.
            Here on earth we will never know which candidate had more righteous voters. We could assume that Trump had more voters who prayed but that's not a certainty since he may have caused a lot of voters to pray who do not usually make a habit of praying.

          • David Nickol

            I am a little confused here. Aren't elections decided by votes rather than by prayers? Are you implying that we can deduce that Trump won because more people prayed for him? Trump won because of the way people voted, not because of who, or how man people, said prayers.

            And what do you make of the fact that Hillary Clinton got more votes than Trump? Clinton lost not because she got fewer votes than Trump but because he won over 270 votes in the Electoral College. With 99% reporting, Trump got 47%
            of the vote (59,821,874) and Hillary Clinton got 48% (60,122,876).

          • Rob Abney

            Votes are cast by voters, so voters decide elections. Prayers help decide everything.
            US presidential election is decided by the electoral college so vote total is irrelevant.

          • Doug Shaver

            so vote total is irrelevant.

            Not entirely. You don't win the electoral college without getting a substantial portion of the popular vote.

          • Rob Abney

            He was referring to overall nationwide totals though.

          • Doug Shaver

            He was referring to overall nationwide totals though.

            He said, "Trump won because of the way people voted." How is that falsified by the electoral college's role in our elections?

          • Doug Shaver

            The righteous man does more of the right actions in general, including fulfilling his civic duties by studying and understanding the issues and voting and persuading others to vote the same way based upon right thinking. And in addition he prays unceasingly.

            That tells me what you mean when you call someone righteous. Now what do you mean when you say that his prayer is "more efficacious"?

          • Rob Abney

            It means the prayers are answered.

          • Doug Shaver

            But are the answers always Yes?

          • Rob Abney

            Wouldn't that be nice! But it seems like that would make us God.

          • Doug Shaver

            So what is the difference between an unanswered prayer and a prayer to which the answer is No?

          • Rob Abney

            For an unanswered prayer I would keep asking. For a prayer obviously answered no, such as if I prayed that a certain candidate would be elected and he/she wasn't then I would reassess whether I am aligning my will with God's will.

          • Doug Shaver

            I didn't mean to ask what you would do in either case. I meant to ask how anyone could tell the difference between the cases.

            You offered an example of a prayer being answered by No, and you claimed it was an obvious No. To us unbelievers, it is just as obvious that the prayer was unanswered. How are we supposed to know the difference?

      • David Nickol

        Yes, but recall that the righteous man's prayer is more efficacious.

        Putting on my Christian theologian hat briefly, I think it is a serious mistake to speak of any prayer as efficacious. To pray is not to utter magic incantations that cause something to happen. To pray is to ask something of God. It is totally up to God how to respond to requests. There are a great many books on Amazon with "powerful prayers" as part of the title, as if a prayer was like an application for a foundation grant or an application to medical school, and if you just know the correct form that has succeeded for others, your "powerful prayers" will convince God to give you what you are asking for.

        God is perfect free to answer prayers any way he wants, and if he chooses to answer the prayers of a miserable sinner rather than a "righteous man," then that is what he will do. I would speculate that God answers prayers not based on who says them, but rather on what is asked.

        The true Christian, or so it seems to me, is one who realizes that it is not what he wills that is important, but what God wills. Remember that even Jesus in Gethsamane said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” We would assume that Jesus was the most "righteous" man of all, and yet he was not spared by God. His prayer was not "efficacious." We also have to remember the "good thief," who was guilty of all the crimes for which he was being executed for, but whose simple request Jesus responded to with, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

        Prayer has no power of its own, and so it cannot be efficacious.

        And anyway, how can we be sure of who is "righteous"?

        • Rob Abney

          That is good advice about prayer, I agree that anyone can pray effectively. But I was referring to James 5:16.
          One attribute of a righteous man is that he does pray, and he prays that his will be aligned with the will of God.

  • The gist of the argument is that if one knew the program a computer
    uses, then one could in a certain precise sense outwit that program. If,
    therefore, human beings were computers, then we could in principle
    learn our own programs and thus be able to outwith ourselves

    Pardon? That appears to be blatantly bait-and-switching between "computer" and "program". So I'm not at all sure where Brandon's overarching argument is trying to take it.

    First, any neuroscientist can tell you that brains are not computers and minds are not programs. In some regards it's a helpful analogy, such as with respect to materialist reductionism, but it's no more than an analogy.

    Second, regarding the bait-and-switch, there are of course two ways to make it consistent: use "computers" in both places, or use "programs" in both places.

    (A) If human brains were computers, then they could run any program they were given to run. In principle, then, we could determine which program was running on a particular person's brain at a particular time, and then replace it with a different program that could beat the first one at some defined task. There is nothing contradictory or even unusual about this. We do it with real computers all the time.

    (B) If the human mind were a specific program or set of programs, and could not be reprogrammed without ceasing to be a human mind, then even in principle we could NOT directly outwit ourselves. What we could do is program a computer to outwit specific human-mind programs at specific tasks. And we already do that, for instance with AlphaGo.

  • I think atheists and theists can nod their heads in agreement: that's a clear, coherent, accurate depiction of the naturalist worldview.

    No, it's a theist's view from the outside of the naturalist worldview. It's not a naturalist's view from the inside of the naturalist worldview.

    If you didn't recognize it, let me fnord it a moment to show you:

    purpose and meaning, aside from the purposes and meanings we choose to give them ... supposed to be central to that cosmic purpose ... comforting beliefs can no longer be maintained ... cold, blind, and purposeless machine ... iron grip of science ... just chemical reactions ... greatest creative chess geniuses of all time has been thrashed by a mass of silicon circuitry ... violating the precise mathematical relationships imposed by the laws of physics ... ceaseless, aimless motion ... the void ... there cannot be any cosmic purpose or meaning ... impersonal and undirected mechanisms ... no purposes anywhere in nature ... there can be no purpose for the existence of the human race ... purpose that does not exist ... Science has dethroned man. Far from being the center of things, ... a very peripheral figure indeed. ... scientific revolution has further trivialized him and pushed him to the margins. Copernicus removed the Earth from the center ... Earth is an insignificant speck ... human history is a fleeting moment ... we are latecomers. ... just one branch on an an ancient evolutionary tree ... a curious accident in a backwater.'"

    That's a majority of some paragraphs, and literally none of that would be present in a naturalist's own account of naturalism.

    In particular, a humanist naturalist would completely reverse most of those sentiments:

    * Humane values are the highest values which actually exist.
    * Each of us has the great gift of freedom to choose our own purpose in life.
    * All our desires and knowledge, our deeds great and small, our experiences and dreams, are all material, and therefore material is something strange, complex, and wonderful.
    * We are each a part of the universe that looks out toward the whole, understanding and tending to our portion of it, and therefore the universe is subtle, deeply interrelated, and capable of giving meaning to itself.
    * We are each of common ancestry and shared history with all Earthly life. Every human, animal, and plant you see is distant family. None is wholly 'other'.

    • Peter

      None of the above five sentiments preclude the existence of a Creator.
      Such a Creator would pre-configure the universe to materially evolve towards the ultimate creation of sentient races across the cosmos. These races would include humans, and in their material complexity represent the pinnacle of cosmic evolution. This would enable them to:

      * be capable of high values;
      * possess free will;
      * marvel at the wonder of the cosmos;
      * find the universe intelligible;
      * understand their place in nature.

      Even if you apply a purely materialist solution to the evolution of humanity, where mind is purely matter, the case for a Creator is still compelling.
      That is the dilemma of materialism; it cannot avoid a Creator.

      • Sentiments are not arguments. Any worldview *could* incorporate them, with more or less tension. Humanism naturally incorporates the five I listed.

        I find it interesting that you had to severely weaken and mysticize the five sentiments to get them to fit with a creator myth.

        • Peter

          I'm unsure whether I weakened the sentiments, but I certainly did not mysticize them. There is no need. The materialist worldview I posited is that matter evolves to such an extreme point that it naturally acquires the trappings of consciousness. The sentiments are not mystical but natural.

          A universe where consciousness is the end product of natural evolution is a far more fine-tuned universe than one where consciousness results from divine intervention. In the latter case, the universe needs no particular evolutionary direction. God would intervene periodically to configure matter - to create life, complexify it, and then imbue it with a supernatural soul.

          The materialist standpoint demands a universe which is delicately configured from the outset with latent processes. These will gradually unfold over time to generate complexity, life and ultimately consciousness itself. The irony is that a materialist universe requires far more advance design than a Christian universe. Far from weakening the case for a Designer, materialism makes it stronger.

  • Peter

    Another shocking plot twist is the discovery of the DNA double helix and the marvel of genetic coding and translation to create proteins. So wonderfully precise is its organisation and operation, that it has given rise to groups who believe that it is the work of direct divine intervention.

    There is no evidence of that, but there is evidence in the interstellar medium of complex organic compounds that could create the building blocks of DNA and its associate RNA. If the basic ingredients of DNA and RNA are out there, and if more complex compounds can be observed with future telescopes, it would only be a matter of time before we make the link between them.

    When the link is discovered, these fundamental structures of life, DNA and RNA, would be the culmination of a directed process of molecular complexification which began at the inception of the universe. Even without direct divine involvement, the molecules are so extreme in their delicacy, intricacy and harmony that they nonetheless appear as the work of a great Mind, one which has set the universe in motion from its very outset towards the ultimate goal of creating them.

  • Tim H.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I'm really enjoying the book, especially the quality of the writing.

  • Another Argument from Ignorance/God of the Gaps. When one goes back far enough, "I don't know" is the only honest answer to these type of questions.