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Knowing an Ape from Adam

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NOTE: Today we begin a two part series by Dr. Edward Feser exploring questions about evolution, creation, faith, and human origins. We'll share the second part on Friday.
 


 
On questions about biological evolution, both the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and Thomist philosophers and theologians have tended carefully to steer a middle course.  On the one hand, they have allowed that a fairly wide range of biological phenomena may in principle be susceptible of evolutionary explanation, consistent with Catholic doctrine and Thomistic metaphysics.  On the other hand, they have also insisted, on philosophical and theological grounds, that not every biological phenomenon can be given an evolutionary explanation, and they refuse to issue a “blank check” to a purely naturalistic construal of evolution.  Evolutionary explanations are invariably a mixture of empirical and philosophical considerations.  Properly to be understood, the empirical considerations have to be situated within a sound metaphysics and philosophy of nature.

For the Thomist, this will have to include the doctrine of the four causes, the principle of proportionate causality, the distinction between primary and secondary causality, and the other key notions of Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) metaphysics and philosophy of nature (detailed defense of which can be found in my book, Scholastic Metaphysics).  All of this is perfectly consistent with the empirical evidence, and those who claim otherwise are really implicitly appealing to their own alternative, naturalistic metaphysical assumptions rather than to empirical science.  (Some earlier posts, on my personal blog, bringing A-T philosophical notions to bear on biological phenomena can be found here, herehere, here, and here.  As longtime readers know, A-T objections to naturalism have absolutely nothing to do with “Intelligent Design” theory, and A-T philosophers are often very critical of ID.  Posts on the dispute between A-T and ID can be found collected here.)

On the subject of human origins, both the Magisterium and Thomist philosophers have acknowledged that an evolutionary explanation of the origin of the human body is consistent with non-negotiable theological and philosophical principles.  However, since the intellect can be shown on purely philosophical grounds to be immaterial, it is impossible in principle for the intellect to have arisen through evolution.  And since the intellect is the chief power of the human soul, it is therefore impossible in principle for the human soul to have arisen through evolution.  Indeed, given its nature the human soul has to be specially created and infused into the body by God -- not only in the case of the first human being but with every human being.  Hence the Magisterium and Thomist philosophers have held that special divine action was necessary at the beginning of the human race in order for the human soul, and thus a true human being, to have come into existence even given the supposition that the matter into which the soul was infused had arisen via evolutionary processes from non-human ancestors.

In a recent article at Crisis magazine, Prof. Dennis Bonnette correctly notes that Catholic teaching also requires that there be a single pair from whom all human beings have inherited the stain of original sin.  He also rightly complains that too many Catholics wrongly suppose that this teaching can be allegorized away and the standard naturalistic story about human origins accepted wholesale.
 

The Sober Middle Ground

 
Naturally, that raises the question of how the traditional teaching about original sin can be reconciled with what contemporary biologists have to say about human origins.  I’ll return to that subject in a moment.  But first, it is important to emphasize that the range of possible views consistent with Catholic teaching and A-T metaphysics is very wide, but also not indefinitely wide.  Some traditionalist Catholics seem to think that the willingness of the Magisterium and of contemporary Thomist philosophers to be open to evolutionary explanations is a novelty introduced after Vatican II.  That is simply not the case.  Many other Catholics seem to think that Pope St. John Paul II gave carte blanche to Catholics to accept whatever claims about evolution contemporary biologists happen to make in the name of science.  That is also simply not the case.  The Catholic position, and the Thomist position, is the middle ground one I have been describing.  It allows for a fairly wide range of debate about what kinds of evolutionary explanations might be possible and, if possible, plausible; but it also rules out, in principle, a completely naturalistic understanding of evolution.

Perhaps the best-known magisterial statement on these matters is that of Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis.  In sections 36-37 he says:

"[T]he Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter -- for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.  However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church…
 
When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty.  For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.  Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own."

The pope here allows for the possibility of an evolutionary explanation of the human body and also, in strong terms, rules out both any evolutionary explanation for the human soul and any denial that human beings have a single man as their common ancestor.  This combination of theses was common in Thomistic philosophy and in orthodox Catholic theology at this time, and can be found in Neo-Scholastic era manuals published, with the Imprimatur, both before 1950 and in the years after Humani Generis but before Vatican II.

For example, in Celestine Bittle’s The Whole Man: Psychology, published in 1945, we find:

"[T]he evolution of man’s body could, per se, have been included in the general scheme of the evolutionary process of all organisms.  Evolution would be a fair working hypothesis, because it makes little difference whether God created man directly or used the indirect method of evolution…
 
Whatever may be the ultimate verdict of science and philosophy concerning the origin of man’s body, whether through organic evolution or through a special act of divine intervention, man’s soul is not the product of evolution." (p. 585)

George Klubertanz, in Philosophy of Human Nature (1953), writes:

"Essential evolution of living things up to and including the human body (the whole man with his spiritual soul excluded…), as explained through equivocal causality, chance, and Providence, is a possible explanation of the origin of those living things.  The possibility of this mode of origin can be admitted by both philosopher and theologian." (p. 425)

Klubertanz adds in a footnote:

"There are some theological problems involved in such an admission; these problems do not concern us here.  Suffice it to say that at least some competent theologians think these problems can be solved; at any rate, a difficulty does not of itself constitute a refutation."

At the end of two chapters analyzing the metaphysics of evolution from a Thomistic point of view, Henry Koren, in his indispensable An Introduction to the Philosophy of Animate Nature (1955), concludes:

"[T]here would seem to be no philosophical objection against any theory which holds that even widely different kinds of animals (or plants) have originated from primitive organisms through the forces of matter inherent to these organisms and other material agents…
 
Even in the case of man there appears to be no reason why the evolution of his body from primitive organisms (and even from inanimate matter) must be considered to be philosophically impossible.  Of course… man’s soul can have obtained its existence only through a direct act of creation; therefore, it is impossible for the human soul to have evolved from matter.  In a certain sense, even the human body must be said to be the result of an act of creation.  For the human body is made specifically human by the human soul, and the soul is created; hence as a human body, man’s body results from creation.  But the question is whether the matter of his body had to be made suitable for actuation by a rational soul through God’s special intervention, or if the same result could have been achieved by the forces of nature acting as directed by God.  As we have seen… there seems to be no reason why the second alternative would have to be an impossibility." (pp. 302-4)

Adolphe Tanquerey, in Volume I of A Manual of Dogmatic Theology (1959), writes:

"It is de fide that our first parents in regard to body and in regard to soul were created by God: it is certain that their souls were created immediately by God; the opinion, once common, which asserts that even man’s body was formed immediately by God has now fallen into controversy…
  
As long as the spiritual origin of the human soul is correctly preserved, the differences of body between man and ape do not oppose the origin of the human body from animality…

The opinion which asserts that the human body has arisen from animality through the forces of evolution is not heretical, in fact in can be admitted theologically
 
Thesis: The universal human race has arisen from the one first parent Adam.  According to many theologians this statement is proximate to a matter of faith."  (pp. 394-98)

Similarly, Ludwig Ott’s well-known Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, in the 1960 fourth edition, states:

"The soul of the first man was created immediately by God out of nothing.  As regards the body, its immediate formation from inorganic stuff by God cannot be maintained with certainty.  Fundamentally, the possibility exists that God breathed the spiritual soul into an organic stuff, that is, into an originally animal body…
 
The Encyclical Humani Generis of Pius XII (1950) lays down that the question of the origin of the human body is open to free research by natural scientists and theologians…
 
Against… the view of certain modern scientists, according to which the various races are derived from several separated stems (polygenism), the Church teaches that the first human beings, Adam and Eve, are the progenitors of the whole human race (monogenism).  The teaching of the unity of the human race is not, indeed, a dogma, but it is a necessary pre-supposition of the dogma of Original Sin and Redemption." (pp. 94-96)

J. F. Donceel, in Philosophical Psychology (1961), writes:

"Until a hundred years ago it was traditionally held that the matter into which God for the first time infused a human soul was inorganic matter (the dust of the earth).  We have now very good scientific reasons for admitting that this matter was, in reality, organic matter -- that is, the body of some apelike animal.
 
Aquinas held that some time during the course of pregnancy God infuses a human soul into the embryo which, until then, has been a simple animal organism, albeit endowed with human finality.  The theory of evolution extends to phylogeny what Aquinas held for ontogeny.
 
Hence there is no philosophical difficulty against the hypothesis which asserts that the first human soul was infused by God into the body of an animal possessing an organization which was very similar to that of man." (p. 356)

You get the idea.  It is in light of this tradition that we should understand what Pope John Paul II said in 1996 in a “Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.”  The relevant passages are as follows:

"In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points…
 
Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis.  In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines.  The convergence in the results of these independent studies -- which was neither planned nor sought -- constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory…
 
[T]he elaboration of a theory such as that of evolution, while obedient to the need for consistency with the observed data, must also involve importing some ideas from the philosophy of nature.
 
And to tell the truth, rather than speaking about the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution.  The use of the plural is required here -- in part because of the diversity of explanations regarding the mechanism of evolution, and in part because of the diversity of philosophies involved.  There are materialist and reductionist theories, as well as spiritualist theories.  Here the final judgment is within the competence of philosophy and, beyond that, of theology.
 
Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God…
 
As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man."

Some traditionalists and theological liberals alike seem to regard John Paul’s statement here as a novel concession to modernism, but it is nothing of the kind.  The remark that evolution is “more than an hypothesis” certainly expresses more confidence in the theory than Pius had, but both Pius’s and John Paul’s judgments on that particular issue are merely prudential judgments about the weight of the empirical evidence.  At the level of principle there is no difference between them.  Both popes affirm that the human body may have arisen via evolution, both affirm that the human soul did not so arise, and both refuse to accept the metaphysical naturalist’s understanding of evolution.  John Paul II is especially clear on this last point.  As you would expect from a Thomist, he rightly insists that evolutionary explanations are never purely empirical but all presuppose alternative background metaphysical assumptions.  Hence he notes that a fully worked out theory of evolution “must also involve importing some ideas from the philosophy of nature” and that here “the final judgment is within the competence of philosophy and, beyond that, of theology” -- not empirical science per se.  And as Bonnette notes, the Catechism issued under Pope John Paul II essentially reaffirms, in the relevant sections (396-406), the traditional teaching that the human race inherited the stain of original sin from one man.

Neither those conservative Catholics who would in principle rule out any evolutionary aspect to human origins, nor those liberal Catholics who would rule out submitting the claims made by contemporary evolutionary biologists to any philosophical or theological criticism, can find support in the teaching of either of these popes.
 
 
To be continued! Stay tuned for Part 2 on Friday.
 
 
NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 
 
(Image credit: National Geographic)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • I do not agree that materialism has been definitively defeated philosophically. I do not think that there is anything capable of being reasonably described as "intellect" that is demonstrably separate from a brain, including artificial brains. So I would also disagree that evolution is not responsible for the emergence of human brains and hence human intellect.

    • How about this line of thinking? The brain is just the tool that the intellect uses. If you are looking at a cat, I would not say your eyeballs are looking at a cat. I would say YOU are looking at a cat. The eyes are just the tool YOU are using. There is something separate about "you" and your eyes as well as "you" and your brain.
      Peace.

      • Not impossible, but also no reason to think this is the case. Every observation I know of suggests that I am my body. Not some other unobserved thing using my body. If you are right, then what need we of a brain at all?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Exactly. As long as that body is "animate." In classical thought, the soul is not a separate substance inhabiting and using a body. That's why Aquinas said, "I am not my soul." It took Descartes and the Scientists to come up with the res intelligens as a separate substance.

          Classically, the soul ("anima") is the substantial form of a living body and is united with it in a manner similar to the way that a sphere is united with rubber and air to make a basketball.

          Although there are always borderline cases, generally speaking, whether a being is alive ("animate") is not entirely unobservable.

          • Ok. I further believe that I exist only when my body, specifically my brain is alive. Not inanimate, whatever that means. I believe when my brain burns or decomposes I will no longer have consciousness or exist. Even if all of the atoms of my brain could be reconstructed exactly as they were when I was alive, I do not believe there would be continuity in "my" consciousness.

            This is also why I would never get on the Star Trek transporter.

      • Daryl K. Sauerwald

        Ben@2CM All your doing is suggesting another possibility for which you have no proof.Your hoping to convince people to support a cart before the horse of facts,tactics that is so typical of religion.

        • Hi Daryl,
          What would you accept as proof? Empirical data? Scientific method perhaps? We all believe things we can’t prove empirically. We all have a belief system, a world view, a philosophy. We need to deal with the immaterial and what is the most reasonable way to “prove” that?

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            See here we go again your argument is base again on something that dose not exist there is no such thing as "immaterial". I can only give credence to your statement if I'm willing to believe in something that dose not exist. You ask "What would I accept as proof?"; my answer is,proof. You say ,"We need to deal with the immaterial", no we don't, the very notion of "immaterial " is that it dose not have existence,therefore, it can't be dealt with.

          • Interesting that you suggest something in which you have no
            proof, "the immaterial does not exist". Since you did not specify the kind of proof you are looking for, I assume you are open to a metaphysical proof.
            HERE is a proof from this very blog that proves the immaterial (see the last paragraph)

          • ScienceJoe

            Daryl,
            "Immaterial" means it does not have material, not that it does not exist. One may not be able to detect it via material detectors, but there are effects for which "material" can never be the cause. This is proof for the existence of this immaterial cause.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            If it exist it is material. " but there are effects for which the " material" can never be caused" Ok I'm not close minded so i'm listening,explain,give an example.

          • ScienceJoe

            The universe itself cannot have been caused by something material nor can it be eternal.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            Prove that. I think that their is no such thing as nothing that things can break down to a most basic form but that something has always been and things arise and fall from this most basic stuff. I think something more complex forming from something more basic make far more sense. Even nothing is something.

          • ScienceJoe

            Daryl,

            I agree that nothing is something, but it is a non-material something. When I refer to nothing, I mean nothing material. If we don't agree on terms, there is no need to continue. You may skip the rest.

            The universe has been shown to not be past eternal. Predicted by the BGV Theorem and shown with evidence via investigations into the "Big Bang."

            If we are good there, then where did all this non-pre-existing matter come from? There was once no matter at all. Not an eternal, squeezed down, vacuum-packed pin-point of matter waiting to explode, but no matter at all.

            If, therefore, there was no matter, then something non-material must have given rise to it.

          • Caravelle

            The BGV Theorem shows that time had a beginning.

            Thus, "there was once no matter at all" is incorrect. At all points in time there was matter. Including at the first point in time. And there is no time before the first point in time, therefore no "once" for there to have been no matter in.

          • ScienceJoe

            I am sorry but that is incorrect. Where there is matter there is time. By definition, "prior" to the first point in time there must be no time and therefore no matter.

            While we cannot properly speak of "prior" to the first point in time (our language has a problem with that), it is not logically inconsistent in concept. That is, for a point to be "first" it cannot have been eternally the first point. It is the point at which it came into being.

          • Caravelle

            While we cannot properly speak of "prior" to the first point in time (our language has a problem with that), it is not logically inconsistent in concept.

            Yes it is. This isn't a problem with language, it's caused by the nature of time itself. It's like talking about the edge of a sphere, or four lines perpendicular to each other in a three-dimensional space. It's not that language fails us, it's that those things don't exist and cannot exist and cannot even be conceived of coherently. Like I said, at every point in time there has been matter. Even "come into being" suggests a prior point where it wasn't in being, a prior point which doesn't exist. And "once there was no matter" is a false statement. If you are imagining in your mind a moment before the beginning of time, you are imagining wrong, just like people who imagine the Big Bang as an explosion into a surrounding empty space.

            The only possible exception to this is if you're a fundamental physicist well-versed into how exotic "time" can be under the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, and you have a specific mathematical reasoning justifying this talk of a moment before the beginning of time, but this likely involves different co-existing kinds of "time" or other completely weird things that have little relevance to what us laypeople think of as "time". Also, those different definitions to time mean the BVG theorem probably doesn't apply the way it's usually thought to apply (for example, I think it's compatible with eternally inflating bubble universes)

          • ScienceJoe

            I'll bite on your similies. Take dimensions. Something confined to two dimensions sees itself differently than something that can move in three. If you deny the existence of the third dimension that two-dimensional something speaks alot like you do. "it's that those things don't exist and cannot exist and cannot even be conceived of coherently"

            And that makes my point. If it's not inside those two dimensions, then it must come from outside those dimensions.

            As you don't accept the BVG theorem, you won't accept my conclusion. That's fine. Good luck!

          • Caravelle

            Even a three-dimensional being can't draw, or coherently conceive of, three lines perpendicular to each other in a two-dimensional space. Like the edge of a sphere, it's just a mathematically nonexistent thing. This isn't an issue of lacking dimensions; we can reason mathematically about any number of dimensions, even if we can't picture them.

          • Michael Murray

            If the breakdown of other physical models like Newtonian mechanics is any guide there won't be a first point of time. There will be a gradual change from regions where time is a sensible and reasonably accurate description of the real world to regions where it is incoherent and useless. It won't just suddenly change.

            I always find this quote from Valenkin on WLC's site informative on the BVG theorem

            . . . 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.

            Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem#ixzz3Ph5rs7UO

          • Caravelle

            That's an excellent point, and very probably correct.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Even nothing is something."

            That's just incoherent. In the sensible realm, every thing is some thing; that is, every thing has a particular form that makes it what it is: a horse, a basketball, a petunia, Fido. Nothing is what you get when you take away every thing. It does not mean an "immaterial something."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Immaterial things exist all around: dog, justice, triangle, equals, yellow, propositions, syllogisms, truth, life. Fido is material; dog is not. You may see yellow light, but it is the light that is the matter, not the yellow. If life was material, then a body would weigh more when it is alive (since anything material has mass).

            For that matter (pun intended!) we have Werner Heisenberg, who said, "It has become clear that the desired objective reality of the elementary particle is too crude an oversimplification of what really happens." So even matter may not be entirely material.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            There is no way to prove it.

          • Caravelle

            Sure there is. Consciousness is something we can observe by proxy, and matter we can examine in various ways. If, hypothetically, we found that consciousness (as observed by proxy or directly via internal self-examination) had no material correlates at all, this would be strong evidence that matter doesn't instantiate consciousness. Obviously we could always argue that there are material correlates we haven't been able to observe, but this argument would become weaker and weaker as we observed more of the world's matter. And we've observed quite a lot of it by now.

            Or as I pointed out to Ben, if we could find a clear difference between some aspects of the mind being affected by brain states and some aspects never being affected by brain states at all, as we do with the mind and the eye, then that would be evidence that the mind is separate from the brain.

      • Caravelle

        There is something separate about "you" and your eyes as well as "you" and your brain.

        That's the issue though; is there something separate ? That's a question that can be investigated. For example we know that "we" are separate from our eyeballs because if you cover or remove our eyeballs it doesn't remove our awareness, our sense of self, our cognitive abilities, our emotional responses, our other perceptual senses, you name it - really the only thing that's removed is our ability to see the outside world. Even our visual abilities aren't completely removed as we're still able to picture things in our minds and reason visually, so even our sense of sight is at least partially separate from our eyeballs.

        The other metaphor I've seen to make this argument, and I think it's a good one, is the idea of a printer and a computer. If I mess with a printer I can make the output change, but the document in the computer is still there, unchanged and separate from the printer's output. The computer here being the soul and the printer the brain.

        But with that metaphor again this separateness between the information in the computer and the printer's output is something that can be seen in the output. Messing with the printer might affect the color of the output, erase parts of it, affect the formatting in various ways, but it won't, for example, change the language of the text. Or rearrange the words to get a different meaning. If we looked at a thousand copies of the same document out of a thousand malfunctioning printers we'd get a definite sense of what things the printer changes and what it doesn't, and it would also tell us about what the original, perfect document is like. We wouldn't need to appeal to an ineffable, undefinable perfect document-ness; we might also want to do that, but we'd also have concrete examples of things that remain constant regardless of what the printer does.

        Can you give an example of an aspect of the mind that isn't affected by the brain this way ?

        • ScienceJoe

          Caravelle,

          You are assuming that the document in-and-of-itself is knowable apart from the printer or some other output device. The document would seem to be the "self" or the soul. If that's so, it is the printer that makes the document knowable.

          You are correct that even an imperfect printer would tell us something about that document, but it would only tells us one aspect of it. For example, the rate of data entry, or the amount of corrections would not be shown when printed.

          Also a self is knowable only from the inside. No self can know another self directly. We can only know one from its effects. The cause itself is ineffable.

          Are there parts of your self that are hard to externally manifest? Aspects of you that your interfaces cannot show to others as well as you yourself know them?

          This does not prove something in the self that is not in the brain, but it does show that disconnect is not illogical or unlikely. Unless you assume a priori that it cannot be.

          • Caravelle

            You are assuming that the document in-and-of-itself is knowable apart from the printer or some other output device.

            I don't know where you see me assuming that. Obviously the metaphor assumes that the document exists separately from the printer (since that's the whole point of the metaphor), but my whole point is that we can find out aspects of the document that are independent of the printer only from the printer outputs. Whether the document is knowable from other processes or not is irrelevant.

            The question wasn't about whether we can understand the document (or self) fully just from the printer outputs (or brain activity). The question was about whether there is an aspect of the self that's separate from the brain activity. And I wasn't giving those examples to prove that the self isn't separate from the brain, but to show that the analogies that are commonly used to explain how it could be separate (like the eyes for Ben, and the computer/printer metaphor I've run across elsewhere) are actually cases where it's possible to tell there's a separation, just from outside observation. So either we can tell there's a separation just from observation for the soul/brain as well (hence my question to Ben about which aspects of the self aren't affected by the brain), or the analogies aren't quite as good as the people using them think.

            Arguing that our interior selves aren't fully knowable from outward behaviour and observation of the brain, therefore they're separate from the brain, would be a knock-down argument if we had a complete and thorough understanding of exactly how the brain works, but we don't so as things are it's rather irrelevant.

          • ScienceJoe

            I guess I am trying to get to whether one can know they are separate in order to validate the metaphor. If observation confirms that separateness, Ben has made his point. If observation cannot, I am asserting that non-confirmation through observation does not necessarily lead to non-separateness.

            As we are limited to the interfaces which may be faulty, the inability to know our interior selves is very relevant.

          • Caravelle

            Sure. But I was responding to a specific comment here, namely Ben's own response to Brian Green Adams, countering the latter's assertion that there was no demonstrable separation between the intellect and the brain. The reasoning of said counter-argument was apparently "in this analogy there is something separate, therefore there is also something separate in the case of the self and the brain". And my response was that in that analogy (and others of its kind), the separateness was demonstrable, so they're not a good counter to Brian Green Adams' assertion.

            As for your own argument, "absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence" is true only depending on context. For example if I don't see a bug in my garden that doesn't mean there aren't any; it's very easy for bugs to not be seen. On the other hand if I don't see a horse in my bedroom then that's extremely strong evidence that there isn't, in fact, a horse in my bedroom. Because if there were I'd certainly see it.

            It all depends on what evidence we'd actually expect to have in the case of existence and in the case of non-existence. And the prior likelihood of both or course. (In this case both examples are rather biased in that it's unusual for a horse to be in a bedroom, and extraordinary for a garden to have no bugs. You could replace them with "a king-sized bed" and "a contact lens" respectively to test the inverse case.)

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          if you cover or remove our eyeballs it doesn't remove our awareness, our
          sense of self, our cognitive abilities, our emotional responses, our
          other perceptual senses

          Awareness is the result of the common sense, which is a brain function that receives all the various sensory inputs (which arrive in the brain at different instants and at different loci) and forms a unified phantasm. It is this that divides the world into self and not-self, and so produces consciousness or awareness, our sense of self. Perception is the joint operation of the outer senses with the inner senses of common sense, imagination, memory, and estimation.

          Ever since analogical thinking was removed from the standard tests, understanding of analogies has been declining. There is no reason to suppose that covering the eyes would prevent the You from hearing. The analogy presents a relational equivalence: seeing is the eyes as thinking is to the brain. It does not suggest that the eyes are the brain as you seem to be objecting to.

          • Caravelle

            The analogy presents a relational equivalence: seeing is the eyes as
            thinking is to the brain. It does not suggest that the eyes are the
            brain as you seem to be objecting to.

            Incorrect. The analogy was, the self is separate from the brain, a tool it uses to think, just as it's separate from the eyes, a tool it uses to see.

            I pointed out that the separateness of the self from the eyes isn't just something that's "obvious", that obviousness is supported by strong evidence for that separateness. Thus, if the relationship between the self and its tools were truly similar (i.e. the separateness of the self from the brain can be understood in terms of the separateness of the self from the eyes), then there should be similar evidence for the separateness of the self from the brain.

            I've yet to see any; indeed you yourself don't seem to share Ben's position, saying that the self is generated by the brain.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            there should be similar evidence for the separateness of
            the self from the brain.

            Why should there be "separateness"? The same "I" that sees the marks on the screen is the same "I" that understands them as statements. Man is an integer, that is a single being, and is no more "separate" from his powers and faculties than a sphere is separate from a basketball. We might say that a tool is distinct from the tool-user in a metaphysical sense, but if the "I" ceased to exist, the power would likewise cease to exist. The siren on a fire engine is distinct from the ululating sound it makes, even though were the siren destroyed the sound would cease. The opposite is not necessarily the case. The sound may be stilled without destroying the siren as such.

            You yourself don't seem to share Ben's position, saying that the self is generated by the brain.

            Not exactly. Consciousness and the awareness that the self is distinct from "outside" objects derives from the power of common sense, it's not something "generated" by the brain. A dead dog still has a brain, but is no longer conscious of self. This goes back all the way to Aristotle. [cf. Brennan, Thomistic Psychology, pp. 14-16.]

          • Caravelle

            Why should there be "separateness"?

            Why should there be indeed. BGA argued there wasn't; Ben apparently argued there was, giving an analogy to illustrate; I made an argument in turn based on that analogy. I have no clue what you're doing. My comments were addressed to Ben, and dealt with the specific argument Ben made. You don't seem to share Ben's position so I don't know what exactly you think you're responding to here.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I have no clue what you're doing.

            Just adding some information from Aristotle and Thomas.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So, according to Thomistic psychology, consciousness is a function of the animal body not the rational soul? This would mean other animals would have their own consciousness.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Yes. Moderns get this mixed up because they keep confusing consciousness with intelligence with intellect with etc.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      For a mere 20 bucks you can be disabused of this notion if you buy the article by Ed Feser that Ed Feser links to.

      • GCBill

        Alternatively, you can read Ross' original proposal of the argument under discussion for free here.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Thanks! It's now on my reading list, GC.

        • Doug Shaver

          I tried reading it. The logic is too convoluted for me to follow.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            They'll argue its not too convoluted but your just not smart enough or your mind is being confused by satan. Most people who by it will never read it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What has satan got to do with The Journal of Philosophy? It was evidently not too convoluted for the editors and peer-reviewers. But it is not too strange that it might be hard to follow for laymen. That does not make the material "too convoluted," however. As Galileo pointed out, such conclusions are in the mind of the subject, not in the properties of the object.

      • He linked to something behind a pay wall? Wow.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Well, in fairness, the laborer is worth his wages.

    • Phil

      Hey Brian,

      Check out Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos". He is a fellow "naturalist" (i.e., he is not sympathetic to the idea of a deistic or theistic notion of God) but he also believes that reason, through modern science and philosophy, does not support materialism at all. He states well as others have, including theists, that materialism is false beyond a reasonable doubt.

      • Mike

        What's puzzled me is how materialism can be correct when according to materialism itself immaterial things sometimes called "emergent properties" can emerge out of matter but not be matter themselves: how if pure matter arranged in some special way "causes" immaterial properties to "emerge" can materialism ALONE account for that "emergence"?

        • Phil

          Hey Mike,

          Exactly; and Nagel does a good job with the "emergence" hypothesis by pointing out that no matter which way one tried to show that consciousness and all the subjective "qualia" that makes a human, a human, came to be, it would be utterly mysterious and somewhat magical in how these properties emerged from pure matter.

          (Not to mention there is the issue of getting life itself, not simply self-conscious life, from purely inert matter. To somehow propose that even in an potentially infinite amount of time that completely inert matter could form a single living and self-sustaining cell is highly doubtful; both philosophically and scientifically.)

          • Mike

            "utterly mysterious and somewhat magical in how these properties emerged from pure matte"

            I used to make this point to a physicalist named Darren on Unequally Yoked; that materialism must rely on magic to account for material phenomenon.

            How inert matter can eventually become "alive" without anything immaterial/transcendent, at least in the sense that pure math is immaterial or abstract concepts are or the laws of physics are, is simply impossible it would seem.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            Prove the Highly doubtful. Doubt still means it can happen,which then makes it possible and what's more possible nothing forming something or and eternal ,base material. Deductive reasoning would say eliminate all the other possibilities and what you have left no matter how unlikely is the fact. The problem here is that people are trying to prove God exist so then the can prove the bible is the fact. religion put the cart before horse and now it back tracking to prove scientifically that science is wrong. The word doubt make your argument meaningless,doubt is not proof but the lack of proof. Your circular reasoning. Magical? I though the church consider magic and witch craft evil.

        • Papalinton

          You must get real, Mike. Only material things can walk, but 'walking' itself is not material. Walking is an emergent property that can only be performed by a material body with legs. Any person who imagines or subscribes to the notion that 'materialism' is not a properly basic fundament is barking up his/her own pertootie.

          All this A-T stuff is predicated on the a priori understanding that there is a god and on that basis Thomists like Feser promulgate sef-selecting arguments that best reflect his particulara priori form of classical scholasticism. It's called Apologetics in normal parlance and the corpus of contemporary philosophy has moved on from engaging in rearward-looking philosophy. Modern philosophy simply has too sophisticated a mandate and too pivotal a brief as an explanatory tool to be constrained and limited or off-roaded by narrow theological considerations that guides the form of scholarship that Dr Feser advocates. Indeed A-T is peripheral to the main thrust of contemporary philosophy. This has been the inexorable trend since scientifically-informed philosophy emerged as the predominating explanatory paradigm with an almost prodigious level of success in explaining about man, our environment, the world, the universe and, yes, even about gods. Contrast this to the stasis of Thomist thought.

          One could reasonably ask, "What is the difference between Feser and Aquinas in terms of A-T philosophical development?" Only the dates of their careers.
          Comparatively, scietifically-informed philosophy is demonstrably a very different beast.

          • Mike

            Thanks but i don't think that metaphysics can be "reduced" to natural science.

          • Papalinton

            But metaphysics must of necessity supervene physics if one is to properly engage in its considerations. A metaphysic founded on revelation [divine or otherwise] is just .... opinion.

          • Mike

            I agree but thomism is not founded on revelation except on the sort available to you and me right now; he apparently starts with the human senses and reasons from there.

      • Sure, you don't need to be a theist do deny materialism. I might check it out thanks. I generally find the dispute is one of semantics, essentially labelling certain mental aspects ad immaterial. I just don't agree.

        • Phil

          Sure, and that is the big issue at hand when discussing the rationality of a materialist metaphysics--is it even in actuality possible to explain "consciousness", "conceiving", and subjective mental phenomena in general by recourse to matter alone. With the "success" of the physical sciences more began to believe that it was only a matter of time before this became the case.

          But then there has always been those that held that this is rationally impossible to do. I find it interesting that there are more metaphysicians starting to take this same view, and other's that even are starting to posit an Aristotelian type metaphysics without realizing it!

          • I am not reducing, suggesting they are simple or setting these things aside. The label "material" is just a very large category.

            I agree that no one understands what consciousness "is". But nether does anyone have a clue as to what immaterial mental activity might be or how to identify it. How does it explain consciousness? It doesn't.

            I don't claim to have answers here, but positing some undefinable, undetectable panacea and labelling it an "explanation" just adds more that we cannot explain to the issue.

          • Phil

            Here's the issue--we have only two options:

            (a) Either everything is material in nature
            (b) Or everything is not material in nature (i.e., some things are immaterial in nature)

            If we cannot, in principle, account for self-consciousness and conceiving by means of mere matter, then rationally we must posit that some sort of immaterial explanation must come into play. That doesn't even mean one has to know exactly how the immaterial "works" (though I do believe we can say rational things that explains how an immaterial human intellect "works with" a physical body). And yes, dualism is not a very good explanation!

            This issue is of course not a scientific one, but rather a philosophical one. The method of science, right now, is only directed towards studying things material in nature. By its definition it cuts out everything that is not material. That's why philosophy has no need to be afraid of the findings of science, because there should ultimately be a harmony. Philosophy can say true things about both things of a material and immaterial nature (though obviously not scientific truths, as philosophy is not a physical science.)

            [Note: I am specifically talking about human persons now rather than animals in general; hence using self-conscious instead of merely conscious.]

          • No, our inability to account for consciousness with matter does not require us to posit some immaterial explanation. If we can exclude any material explanation for consciousness, we could then conclude something non-material must be involved. I do not agree that material explanations for consciousness have been excluded. In fact everything we know about consciousness involves a material brain.

            Now if you could explain what the immaterial "is" and provide some reasonable basis for accepting it exists, then you would be reasonable to hypothesize that it could explain certain observed phenomena. But once you do that, the thing you observe will be properly considered material.

            You don't need to know how something works to be rational in accepting it exists but you to know what it is to believe in it. A lack of understanding of how matter could generate mental and subjective experience does not entail something immaterial exists or tell me what you mean by immaterial.

            Whether science or philosophy, it is not rational to believe in explanations of mysteries by suggesting a bigger mystery. You can hypothesize and then check if there is any observation that supports your hypothesis. But if nothing does, if all you have is "I don't understand how this could happen" then your are basing your belief solely on ignorance, which I would say is irrational.

          • Phil

            You can hypothesize and then check if there is any observation that supports your hypothesis.

            This is exactly what those who propose that self-consciousness is not reducible to the purely material have done. For example:

            1) We observe and study matter/energy.
            2) We observe and study what self-consciousness and conceiving is. (We do not assume off-the-bat that these are both material in nature, as that is what we are trying to figure out!)
            3) We use reason to understand that because of the nature of matter/energy, which we have come to understand from point (1), it is not the type of thing that can in principle completely account for self-consciousness and the powers of conceiving.

            Conclusion: Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that self-consciousness and the power of conceiving is not purely a material phenomenon. We don't even have to be able to explain yet what or how this non-material phenomenon works, but we can conclude it exists. (But again, I do believe we can say something about it.)

            Now if you could explain what the immaterial "is" and provide some reasonable basis for accepting it exists, then you would be reasonable to hypothesize that it could explain certain observed phenomena. But once you do that, the thing you observe will be properly considered
            material.

            This is the key point. You are saying that you are starting by assuming that self-consciousness can ultimately be accounted for and explained purely by recourse to matter/energy. The proper way to go about this is to say, "I don't know if self-consciousness can be completely accounted for by matter/energy. It may or it may not."

            The fact of the matter then is that matter/energy cannot in principle completely explain and account for self-consciousness, therefore there must be a part of self-consciousness that is not purely matter/energy.

            (Of course I am not proposing an argument to support this above claim, as that if for a different discussion. The point is that you can't start off by implicitly assuming something, and then find out that they answer is exactly what you assumed! Of course it will be what you assumed, because you narrowed it down so far that the only option was what you assumed!)

          • My dispute is with point 3. I do not think that consciousness or self-conscious is impossible to be accounted for by matter.

            I am not starting for the assumption that consciousness must be material. I agree it may or may not. I am saying I don't conclude that it cannot be accounted for in this way. You are concluding that matter cannot account for consciousness. This is a bold claim to say the least, given that a) you have no prior probability for anything immaterial existing, and b) you don't know what consciousness is in the first place.

          • Phil

            My dispute is with point 3. I do not think that consciousness or self-conscious is impossible to be accounted for by matter.

            And I won't beat around the bush in that it does take a significant amount of philosophical study and a good bit of scientific study to be able to conclude that it is true, beyond a reasonable doubt, that mere matter/energy cannot entirely account for the human intellect, self-consciousness, and the power of conceiving.

            --------
            Here is some reading to get you started from the positions that you may be less familiar with:

            -"Mind and Cosmos" - Thomas Nagal
            http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Cosmos-Materialist-Neo-Darwinian-Conception/dp/0199919755/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421344354&sr=8-1&keywords=mind+and+cosmos

            -"In Defense of the Soul" - Ric Machuga
            http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Soul-What-Means-Human/dp/1587430290/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421344392&sr=8-1&keywords=in+defense+of+the+soul

            -"The Wonder of the World" - Roy Varghese (This is one of the best all-around books I've read on the intersection of philosophy and modern science. I highly recommend it if you just want one book that is more of an general overview that goes into just enough depth on each topic.)
            http://www.amazon.com/Wonder-World-Journey-Modern-Science/dp/0972347313/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421344522&sr=1-1&keywords=the+wonder+of+the+world

            -"The Last Superstition" - Edward Feser (especially ch. 5)
            http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Superstition-Refutation-Atheism/dp/1587314525

          • Humour me. What science and philosophy am I missing that I would need to understand this? Not what books by apologists have I not read, what am I missing about neurology, or theoretical astrophysics do I need to learn. In terms of philosophy, what am I missing. I do have at least one post secondary course in philosophy and dad all of Godel Escher Bach and I actually understood it. Some of the passages on topographical number theory I did ignore, but I did understand how Godel disproved Russell. What neither did was disprove materialism.

            I'm sorry but if you are going to appeal to authority you will have to do better than people like Varghese.

            It is my understanding that materialism has not bee disproven to the majority of philosophers or scientists, even those who specialize in this area.

          • Phil

            This is not an appeal to authority, but rather an invitation for you to dive into the study more deeply. So I won't force you to read, but I will merely humbly invite you to begin with the couple of sources I suggest. This doesn't mean you will/should change your mind, but it will mean that you will be better informed on both sides of the issue.

            The other reason why this is not an appeal to authority is that none of those sources I recommended you to read are what we would call "well-known". I suggest them because they are clear and concise presentations of the issues. The other reason is that just because someone may not be well-known that doesn't mean they are wrong--that's a fallacious argument. It seemed you automatically wrote off a book because of the person's name attached to it (in actuality, Varghese didn't write the book, he merely compiled it). That is bad intellectual rigor.

            So again, this is simply an invitation, because I think after some more study of the side of the issue you are less familiar with, it will lead to more fruitful discussion in the future!

          • Thank you Phil. Please do not presume that I have not delved deeply into this issue or that I lack the scientific or philosophical understanding to appreciate your extraordinary claim that materialism has been soundly disproven.

            I am asking you to summarize the arguments succinctly and/or identify the science I would need to learn to appreciate it. Is it quantum mechanics? Theoretical astrophysics? Is there a particular structued epistemological approach I need to becomes familiar with? Is it the axioms of modal logic?

          • Phil

            Well, you are in luck! I have been actually working with some of the guys here on some formulations of logical arguments. And I should have an essay that will be posted on Strange Notions within the next several weeks. I'll give you a sneak peak at one outline of the arguments, which hopefully will be the "condensed" version on an argument you are asking about. The form should be familiar as it follows the same form that the series of articles on the necessity of an unconditioned reality followed:

            I will be proposing all 3 options for accounting for truth in a materialistic worldview. If all 3 of those options can be reduced to absurdity, then materialism is also reduced to absurdity and rejected. This is just an outline, so obviously the premises that need to be defended will not be done here, but it should give you a head start.

            Let us begin!

            -----------

            I. Either materialism is true, or materialism is false (i.e., not everything in reality is material in nature, there immaterial realities)

            II. If materialism is true, we have only 3 options in all reality:

            (A) The human person's belief-making mechanisms do not follow complex natural physical laws.

            (B) The human person's belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and always lead to true beliefs.

            (C) The human person's belief-making mechanisms mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs.

            III. Investigation of the 3 Materialist options

            Materialist Option (A)

            1) We start by assuming option A is true.
            2) Complete skepticism is false.
            3) If the human person's belief-making mechanisms do not follow complex natural physical laws, then complete skepticism is true. (This will be expanded in article)
            4) Contradiction between premise (2) and (3). Therefore, we reject materialist option A.

            Materialist Option (B)

            1) We assume materialist option B is true.
            2) The human person does not always hold true beliefs.
            3) Contradiction between premise (1) and (2). Therefore, we reject materialist option B.

            Materialist Option (C)

            1) We assume materialist option C is true.
            2) Complete skepticism is false.
            3) If the human person's belief-making mechanisms follow complex natural physical laws, which do not always lead to true beliefs, then to know whether we have reason to hold certain beliefs as more rational than any other beliefs is impossible.
            4) If we cannot know whether we have reason to hold certain beliefs as more rational than any other, then complete skepticism is true.
            5) Contradiction between premise (2) and (4). Therefore, we reject materialist option C.

            IV. All options for coherently accounting for materialism and truth and been reduced to absurdity, therefore we reduce materialism to absurdity and reject it.

          • Phil

            So I was going through one of the books I suggested, and I actually found a decent written out argument for the immateriality of the human intellect:

            1) All relations are either physical or non-physical.
            2) The relation between a word and its meaning is not a physical relation (e.g., there can be no physical connection between the physical written/spoken word
            "procrastination" and what procrastination actually is, because the concept of procrastination is not a physical thing. We can recognize procrastination because we understand firstly what the concept is, "embodied" by the word.)
            3) The person who understands the meaning of a word is active, while the word itself is passive
            4) That which is capable of action must subsist (i.e., the intellect)
            5) There, the agent intellect that understands words (i.e., understands the meaning) must be immaterial and subsistent.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            If you believe in non-physical,spiritual,immaterial, prove those first ,then take the next step. I don't feel them.don't see them,don't smell them,can't taste them,can't see their effects.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Phil just did so. "Procrastination." However, you can see its effects.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            Note its an argument for the immateriality of human intellect;this is an entirely different subject. Phil is talking about immaterial thought of an existing organism.That has nothing to do with the origin of man,and all other things,he is using immaterial in an entirely different subject.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Your challenge was non-physical, spiritual, immaterial, prove those first... I don't feel them, don't see them, don't smell them, can't taste them,can't see their effects.

            So I pointed out that you don't feel a procrastination, don't see it, don't smell it, don't taste it -- but you can see the effects of it. This demonstrates the existence of at least one thing that is not material (i.e., immaterial); viz., "procrastination." Other examples include "triangle," "dog," propositions, syllogisms, etc.

            The basic argument IIRC is that since the objects and products of the intellect are immaterial, intellect itself is also immaterial. Everything material has mass, which under a gravitational field equals weight. If thoughts were material, your weight would increase every time you had a thought, and the increase would be greater if the thought were bigger. This is not so. Therefore, thought is immaterial.

            Of course, much depends on how you are distinguishing "non-physical" from "immaterial" or "spiritual" from either.

          • I am familiar with this argument and we have discussed this in the past. Not sure what you mean by non-physical, but if you mean non material, I do not agree with the first premise.

          • Caravelle

            We use reason to understand that because of the nature of matter/energy, which we have come to understand from point (1), it is not the type of thing that can in principle completely account for self-consciousness and the powers of conceiving.

            If I may, what is it that prevents matter/energy from accounting for self-consciousness and the powers of conceiving ?

            Obviously you can't give an account of everything we know about matter/energy, or the contents of all those books in a single comment, but you could summarize the main arguments and we could go from there.

          • Phil

            Hey Caravelle,

            I'll try my best to put forward some of the main points concisely, but you're right it won't be very in-depth.

            The existence of truth: This may actually be one of the biggest metaphysical issues with materialism. It cannot account for truth. If the human person, and hence the person's intellect, is merely material in nature, then one has no ground to stand on to say that materialism itself is actually true. The person falls into radical skepticism in regards to everything immediately.

            This is because matter/energy has no interest in whether something is true or not. If the human person's intellect is merely material in nature, no matter how complex it may be, every single belief that we have is not due to the fact that it is actually true--in the end, there could be many reason why a person believes something to be true, except for the fact that it is actually true. The fact may be that a number of the beliefs a person holds are actually true, but the person cannot even begin in theory to tell you which ones are even true.

            So a person that holds that the human person is purely material in nature, it reduced to silence immediately, because one can't coherently say that their belief in materialism is actually a true one or simply a belief that they hold for any other of number reasons. The fact that skepticism is a rationally incoherent belief, and that materialism must lead directly to skepticism shows us that materialism itself is an incoherent belief.

            -------
            Conceiving:A materialist view of the human person cannot, in principle, account for the human person's ability to conceive. A lot could be said about this, but I'll keep it simple. Conceiving is in contrast to perceiving (which both humans and non-humans are capable of). But only humans are capable of conceiving, and hence why human language is so different from any type of animal "proto-language". An example of the human person's ability to conceive is to think about the word "procrastination". Human language embodies immaterial concepts.

            There is no physical thing such as "procrastination". We know what the meaning of procrastination is, and once we understand that we can recognize procrastination. But that doesn't mean that we can point to something and say "procrastination".

            Even when we use concepts such as "tree". Even though we can point to a tree, when we close our eyes and think of the concept of tree, we don't need to picture a tree. Conceiving is not perceiving.

            Another example is mathematics. Geometry and mathematics are not physical things about in the world. They are again "abstracted" from physical reality by an immaterial intellect that is capable of understanding, which itself is an ultimately immaterial process. But no actual true perfect squares, circles, or numbers exist in physical reality. Mathematics exist, but it just isn't a physical phenomenon.

            Here is an argument for the immateriality of the human intellect:
            1) All relations are either physical or non-physical.
            2) The relation between a word and its meaning is not a physical relation (e.g., there is no direct connection between the physical written/said word "procrastination" and its meaning)
            3) The person who understands the meaning of a word is active, while the word itself is passive
            4) That which is capable of action must subsist (i.e., the intellect)
            5) There, the agent intellect that understands words must be immaterial and subsistent.

            ---------
            Self-Consciousness: What is unique about the human person is that we are not merely conscious, but we are self-conscious. We are aware, that we are aware. That is truly astonishing because this means as we are experiencing something, our awareness is "folding back" on itself to be able to know that it is aware, that it is aware. And it be able to reflect on something immediately as it is happening. In fact, this can take place an infinitely amount of times--we are aware that we are aware, that we are aware, etc...

            This is just completely unintelligible on a purely materialistic account of the human person. Matter/energy can't suddenly transcend itself an infinitely amount of times, no matter how complex of a system or quantum system it is.

            This is where the belief that animals do not have an essentially immaterial intellect comes from because we understand that animals are merely conscious, and not self-conscious. In the end, it is an all-or-noting affair. The power for reasoning, conceiving, self-consciousness, and free will all go together. One is either capable of all 4, or one is not capable of any of the 4.

            ------
            Some things that would be an illusion if the human person was purely a material being: Free will is an illusion. Ethics doesn't exist--there is nothing actually wrong with rape, it just isn't our "flavor of ice cream". And of course I already mentioned that truth would be an illusion.

            So hopefully this will be a good start!

          • Caravelle

            Thank you for this summary, Phil ! Each of these three arguments seems not to take into account certain known properties of matter/energy, I'd be interested in knowing how they affect said arguments. Sorry for the length.

            This is because matter/energy has no interest in whether something is true or not. If the human person's intellect is merely material in nature, no matter how complex it may be, every single belief that we have is not due to the fact that it is actually true--in the end, there could be many reason why a person believes something to be true, except for the fact that it is actually true.

            This doesn't account for evolution. Aggregates of matter/energy that are the outcome of the evolutionary process are optimized to interact with their environment, which involves interacting appropriately with the environment that's actually there, i.e. reality. We see various levels of perception and cognition in the living world, and they all involve perceiving and appropriately reacting to the existing environment to a given level of precision, not perceiving and acting randomly. Different organisms have different cognitive abilities - from your basic chemo/phototaxis to distinguishing small numbers, complex problem-solving, reasoning about unseen causal forces, remembering objects, individuals, places... And whatever perceptual and cognitive abilities the organism has, they track with reality. The bird gets jumpy when there's actually good reason to think there's a person behind that tarp. An animal who can "count" to four will stay hidden if it sees four people enter a tent and only three leave, but will come out and play if four leave. This is the appropriate reaction to there being one vs zero people left in the tent. It doesn't do the opposite, or differentiate the two cases in a completely random way. If you do the same thing with five people it will come out and play either way, which points to a limit in its numerical savvy but is still the appropriate, reality-based behavior within the limits of its abilities.

            So evolution results in organisms that perceive and "reason" about the reality around them as far as their abilities allow. This is true for the whole range of perceptual and cognitive abilities we see in the living world. While one may be surprised at the extent or nature of humans' perceptive and cognitive abilities compared to other animals', their accuracy within their own limits is exactly what we'd expect.

            Here is an argument for the immateriality of the human intellect:
            1) All relations are either physical or non-physical.
            2) The relation between a word and its meaning is not a physical relation (e.g., there is no direct connection between the physical written/said word "procrastination" and its meaning)
            3) The person who understands the meaning of a word is active, while the word itself is passive
            4) That which is capable of action must subsist (i.e., the intellect)
            5) There, the agent intellect that understands words must be immaterial and subsistent.

            About 2) - on what basis would you argue that there is no physical relation between a word and its meaning in the brain ? For example, what if hearing the words "Halle Berry" activated the auditory cortex, which activated the language centers of the brain, eventually leading to the activation of the Halle Berry neuron ?

            Self-Consciousness: What is unique about the human person is that we are not merely conscious, but we are self-conscious. We are aware, that we are aware. That is truly astonishing because this means as we are experiencing something, our awareness is "folding back" on itself to be able to know that it is aware, that it is aware. And it be able to reflect on something immediately as it is happening. In fact, this can take place an infinitely amount of times--we are aware that we are aware, that we are aware, etc...This is just completely unintelligible on a purely materialistic account of the human person.

            Yet such self-reflection is also related to patterns of brain activation. And features such as recursion and self-diagnosis do occur in purely material entities, such as computers.

            Note that I'm not saying "brain patterns, therefore consciousness is material"; I am addressing the specific claim that matter/energy cannot in principle produce conscious self-awareness. The fact that some matter/energy entities at least correlate to conscious self-awareness is relevant to that claim.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

            This doesn't account for evolution. Aggregates of matter/energy that are
            the outcome of the evolutionary process are optimized to interact with
            their environment, which involves interacting appropriately with the
            environment that's actually there, i.e. reality.

            Yes, but if materialism and evolution are both part of the ultimate explanation, then you have no way to tell whether any belief, including what you propose above is true. Complete radical skepticism ensues. Sure, some things you may believe may actually be true, but you have no way to say whether your belief that "some things you actually believe are actually true" is itself true! Again, radical skepticism--which is why I mentioned that the appearance of the human person's ability for truth appears to be the single most complete argument against materialism.

            Each of these three arguments seems not to take into account certain known properties of matter/energy

            I will plan to spend a couple days reflecting on what is philosophically relevant, in regards to the properties of matter/energy, and try and write it up for you. It may be good to note that there may be somethings about matter/energy that we do not know yet--in fact I am sure there are some things. But this is not rational justification to say, there are some things we don't know about matter/energy yet, so therefore the things that we can't seem to explain by matter/energy will eventually be explained by matter/energy. Obviously, this is begging the question and assuming that materialism is true, and not showing that it is actually true. The point being, right now we have no evidence to rationally believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that materialism is true.

            In the end, this discussion is a philosophical one, and not a scientific one. Science assumes, and limits itself, to material entities. Science is not made to study immaterial entities. This is a philosophical issue, so one will have to use philosophical/metaphysical arguments to show that materialism is true/untrue.

            So evolution results in organisms that perceive and "reason" about the reality around them as far as their abilities allow.

            This is a common mistake among "pop science" advocates, and even among professional scientists that aren't familiar with the philosophical issues. (Unfortunately some brilliant scientists, make really bad philosophers and philosophical arguments! But we all have our individual gifts and talents.)

            Perceiving and conceiving are two different types of things. If any non-human animals actually did have the intellectual powers of reason and conceiving, they would look and act very similar to humans, even if with the smaller physical brains it was on a limited level. For example, animals would be capable of actual human language.

            The only way we have gotten animals to "look" like humans is through conditioning. Conditioning is very different from learning through the reasoning and conceiving that even a 3-4 year old child uses. Conditioning uses merely physical means to teach a non-human animal to do something you want it to do. (e.g., "solve" a math problem, look sad when we say the word "death", solve complicated puzzles, use sign language, make the sound of a word) Non-human animals are very smart when it come to physical signs, such as body language, and such. Sometimes even 'smarter' than humans when it comes to physical signs. When non-humans cannot do is use immaterial symbols, such as human language, (of course aside from conditioning, which isn't actually understanding the language).

            In regards to "Caledonian Crows" video you sent me--what we are seeing the crows to is not something out of the ordinary for an animal without the human intellectual powers of reason and conceiving

          • Phil

            Thanks for the thoughtful reply! If you have read some of my comments before, you will know that I use italicized bold text for main points, to hopefully make my responses easier to understand. (So it has nothing to do with yelling or attacking!) So I plan to do the same below.

            This doesn't account for evolution. Aggregates of matter/energy that are the outcome of the evolutionary process are optimized to interact with
            their environment, which involves interacting appropriately with the environment that's actually there, i.e. reality.

            Yes, but if materialism and evolution are both part of the ultimate explanation, then you have no way to tell whether any belief, including what you propose above is true. Complete radical skepticism ensues. Sure, some things you may believe may actually be true, but you have no way to say whether your belief that "some things you actually believe are actually true" is itself true! Again, radical skepticism--which is why I mentioned that the appearance of the human person's ability for truth appears to be the single most complete argument against materialism.

            Each of these three arguments seems not to take into account certain known properties of matter/energy

            I will plan to spend a couple days reflecting on what is philosophically relevant, in regards to the properties of matter/energy, and try and write it up for you. It may be good to note that there may be somethings about matter/energy that we do not know yet--in fact I am sure there are some things. But this is not rational justification to say, there are some things we don't know about matter/energy yet, so therefore the things that we can't seem to explain by matter/energy will eventually be explained by matter/energy. Obviously, this is begging the question and assuming that materialism is true, and not showing that it is actually true. The point being, right now we have no evidence to rationally believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that materialism is true.

            In the end, this discussion is a philosophical one, and not a scientific one. Science assumes, and limits itself, to material entities. Science is not made to study immaterial entities. This is a philosophical issue, so one will have to use philosophical/metaphysical arguments to show that materialism is true/untrue.

            So evolution results in organisms that perceive and "reason" about the reality around them as far as their abilities allow.

            This is a common mistake among "pop science" advocates, and even among professional scientists that aren't familiar with the philosophical issues. (Unfortunately some brilliant scientists, make really bad philosophers and philosophical arguments! But we all have our individual gifts and talents.)

            Perceiving and conceiving are two different types of things. If any non-human animals actually did have the intellectual powers of reason and conceiving, they would look and act very similar to humans, even if with the smaller physical brains it was on a limited level. For example, animals would be capable of actual human language.

            The only way we have gotten animals to "look" like humans is through conditioning. Conditioning is very different from learning through the reasoning and conceiving that even a 3-4 year old child uses. Conditioning uses merely physical means to teach a non-human animal to do something you want it to do. (e.g., "solve" a math problem, look sad when we say the word "death", solve complicated puzzles, use sign language, make the sound of a word) Non-human animals are very smart when it come to physical signs, such as body language, and such. Sometimes even 'smarter' than humans when it comes to physical signs. When non-humans cannot do is use immaterial symbols, such as human language, (of course aside from conditioning, which isn't actually understanding the language).

            In regards to "Caledonian Crows" video you sent me--what we are seeing the crows do is not something out of the ordinary for an animal without the human intellectual powers of reason and conceiving. It is using a physical sign of the human person coming and leaving, in conjunction of when the stick moves and whether a human had come, left, etc. Both the human going in, and the stick moving by power of the "secret" person, are physical signs for the crow to be cautious.

            In other words, the crow sees the human leaving as a sign that the stick will not come out again. It then also sees the stick coming out, by means of the "secret" human, as a physical sign that the stick could come out again.

            The way to show that a non-human animal actually has the intellectual powers of reasoning and conceiving is to have it show that it understands concepts like "the day after tomorrow" or "procrastination", without using any form of conditioning. If this can be shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, then I would most likely recant my statements about animals not having immaterial intellects. (I would still hold that humans have immaterial intellects though, and just add some/all animals to that list.)

            About 2) - on what basis would you argue that there is no physical relation between a word and its meaning in the brain ? For example, whatif hearing the words "Halle Berry" activated the auditory cortex, whichactivated the language centers of the brain, eventually leading to the activation of the Halle Berry neuron?

            This would be what is called a type of behaviorist-correspondence theory. Let's stick to the use of the concept "procrastination" (any human word works, but it is easier to see with a word that has no easy to a physical thing) to see a big issue with this theory.

            The spanish word 'dilación' means the same thing as 'procrastination'. There is next to no physical correspondence between the two words, either in written or auditory form. But the concept "in" the word is the same exact thing. This is the only reason we can translate old languages like latin and such, and it makes sense--because the same/similar concepts are "informed" in different physical words.

            Here are two key points if a word has some sort of a casual effect on certain neurons:

            1) If people have the same understanding, then they will be disposed to the same action, but only if they have the same desires.
            2) If people have the same desires, then they will be disposed to the same action, but only if they have the same understandings.

            Conclusion: The issue is that we can only know that the first is true, if we know that the second is true. And we only know that the second is true, if the first is true. It is a vicious circle which is ultimately a deadly blow to this theory.

            The Deadly Issue: But this isn't as bad as the thing that kills off this theory--If only physical instances of words exist, and they don't actually contain immaterial concepts that a human understands, then what the materialist is saying is saying is similar to the sound of the rustle of leaves and the shapes of fallen leaves on the ground. And the sound of a rustle of leaves or the shape of leaves don't convey any sort of meaning (unless and intellect person has used them to make meaning). So we have no reason to take seriously any of the audible sounds and written words of the materialist--because in the end they mean exactly as much as the rustle of leaves, and the patterns on the ground!

            This is why the appearance of truth and human language are the two big kills for conceiving the human person as purely a material being.

            Yet such self-reflection is also related to patterns of brain activation.

            Absolutely, I am a Aristotelian-Thomist philosophically, and a Catholic theologically, and both hold that the human person is a single unity of both physical body and a spiritual being. So we should not be surprised that the powers of the intellect have an effect on the physical brain, and damage to the physical brain appears from the outside to have an effect on the immaterial powers of reason. (Again, this is not a Cartesian dualist view, we are not somehow two completely separate substances brought together.) The human person is not purely reducible to a material or immaterial being--but both compose a human person.

            I was reading a story about a boy in a coma for like 12 years, who was believed to be near completely brain dead and having no experiences. But he woke up and related that he had been completely conscious the entire time! His physical body was just harmed in a way that he could no longer convey that to the outside world!

            And features such as recursion and self-diagnosis do occur in purely material entities, such as computers.

            Computers are obviously very different from persons. The person's have a center of being, and "I". Whereas computers have no such thing. We program them to do certain things, many time very complex things, but a computer will never be able to do something that it was not programmed in the beginning to be able to do. (Also a computer is not a living being, which is obviously a great difference, and cannot grow, eat, etc.) In other words, we will never be able to "breathe life" into purely inert matter. The "lifeforce" of a living being comes from within, from the smallest of single cells all the way up to a human person. (This is what Aristotelians termed "soul". All living beings have "soul", the human person simply have a unique kind of soul that is immaterial in nature in a way that does not rely completely on the body for its powers, and so therefore can subsist through bodily death.)

            ----

            Well, that's a lot, but have fun! Thanks for the great continued discussion!

          • Caravelle

            Many of your arguments seem to be against claims I haven't made, so let me clarify upfront: my original question to you was "what prevents matter/energy from accounting for our self-consciousness/powers of conceiving". In other words, you made the argument that matter cannot in principle account for consciousness. Insofar as I feel there are objections to this argument that you haven't addressed, I'm arguing if anything for the opposite statement, i.e. matter could in principle account for consciousness. Not that it does. Or that consciousness isn't immaterial.

            Yes, but if materialism and evolution are both part of the ultimate explanation, then you have no way to tell whether any belief, including what you propose above is true. Complete radical skepticism ensues.

            When talking to Brian Green Adams you made an argument starting with "we observe and study matter/energy", and saying that this observation and study showed us matter/energy couldn't in principle be conscious. You then started your argument to me with "matter has no interest in whether something is true or not". Again, an argument based on the properties of matter. I am saying that our observation and study of matter in fact shows that certain arrangements of matter (those that are the outcome of the evolutionary process) must and do have a very strong interest in whether something is true or not.

            Your response seems to be along the lines of "but how do we know the theory of evolution is true", which lead right to brain-in-a-vat, are we in the Matrix radical skepticism, and this is a problem for all worldviews, not just materialism. Immaterial souls could also be in immaterial vats. I think your first approach, where we derive conclusions from the study and observation of the entities we're looking at, is much more sensible.

            It may be good to note that there may be somethings about matter/energy that we do not know yet--in fact I am sure there are some things.

            Of course there's also that, but I said known properties, and have only referred to known processes and phenomena.

            In the end, this discussion is a philosophical one, and not a scientific one. Science assumes, and limits itself, to material entities. Science is not made to study immaterial entities. This is a philosophical issue, so one will have to use philosophical/metaphysical arguments to show that materialism is true/untrue.

            Actually, this discussion (on my end at least) is specifically about whether or not matter cannot in principle account for self-consciousness. As you yourself rightly argued to BGA, this is a statement about matter, based on the properties of matter we infer from its observation and study, and on the properties of self-consciousness and conceiving that we also can observe and study (or so you said then).

            In regards to "Caledonian Crows" video you sent me--what we are seeing the crows do is not something out of the ordinary for an animal without the human intellectual powers of reason and conceiving.

            You seem to have misunderstood why I brought up those examples. I wasn't arguing that animals are as smart as us, or have the same cognitive abilities we have. I was illustrating the range of different abilities we observe in non-human animals, and how they all result in reality-appropriate behaviors. That's all. (and I linked that that video specifically because I think it's cool, but that's neither here nor there).

            As an aside, that behavior is out of the ordinary, that's why they wrote a paper on it and why corvids are considered particularly smart birds. Different animals have different abilities, and they don't all react in the same way to hidden entities. This is the kind of thing that looks obvious to us because we're very smart, but not all organisms are smart enough to do even that. It's the same thing with the mirror test - intuitively it doesn't sound like it should mean anything, because isn't it obvious that the person in the mirror is you ? But some animal species pass it and others don't; babies over a certain age pass it but younger ones don't. It isn't an obvious thing at all.

            The Deadly Issue: But this isn't as bad as the thing that kills off this theory--If only physical instances of words exist, and they don't actually contain immaterial concepts that a human understands, then what the materialist is saying is saying is similar to the sound of the rustle of leaves and the shapes of fallen leaves on the ground. And the sound of a rustle of leaves or the shape of leaves don't convey any sort of meaning (unless an intellect is using them to show meaning). So we have no reason to take seriously any of the audible sounds and written words of the materialist--because in the end they mean exactly as much as the rustle of leaves, and the patterns on the ground!

            That's clearly false; the sound of the rustle of leaves don't have the same causal impact on, say, the activation of language-related neurons as the sound of words do, whatever sound it is the words have. And words in different languages that have the same meaning are apparently treated the same in the brain.

            So it's perfectly possible under materialism to tell the sounds of leaves apart from the sound of words, and to interpret differently-sounding words with the same meaning as if they did have the same meaning.

            You seem to be confusing the claim that meaning is material with the claim that meaning doesn't exist. This is critical, because if you're going to argue that matter cannot in principle produce self-awareness and conceiving then you cannot define "meaning" as immaterial (the only reason why "meaning is material" would be the same as "meaning doesn't exist") and "immaterial" as something that matter cannot produce; this makes the argument a tautology, and makes a mockery of the idea that it's in any way based on the observation and study of matter - the tautology would be true whatever the properties of matter were.

            To get out of the tautology you need to either not pre-emptively define "meaning" as being immaterial - for example "meaning" could be specific patterns of activation in the perceptual, language, action and memory centers of the brain that relate to a given entity - or not pre-emptively define "immaterial" as being something matter cannot produce. And once those things aren't pre-emptively defined that way you can demonstrate that they're true (that "meaning" is immaterial, that immaterial things cannot be produced by matter) without it being a tautology.

            The human person is not purely reducible to a material or immaterial being--but both compose a human person.

            Right, and I explained right in the next paragraph that I wasn't claiming that neural correlates of consciousness proved that consciousness is material. I am addressing your claim that consciousness cannot in principle be material. You claim that matter/energy is the wrong type for supporting self-consciousness and conceiving, yet whatever type it is matter/energy can clearly distinguish between different concepts, react consistently to different instances of a single concept (like the name and picture of the same person) and even distinguish different kinds of self-reflection. Hence my original question, what exactly would prevent it from producing those things.

            Computers are obviously very different from persons. The persons have an obvious center of being, an "I". Whereas computers have no such thing.

            Like the crows, I brought up computers not to claim they were intelligent, but to address a specific point you made - that matter couldn't "fold back on itself", be "aware" of itself. Now, maybe you were defining these words as being immaterial processes that matter cannot do in principle, but that would be a tautology. I gave computers as examples of matter that can "fold back on itself" (recursive processes) and self-examine (self-diagnostics). This isn't a statement that a computer's recursive or self-examining processes are the same as those of consciousness, merely that they are recursive and self-examining. If that wasn't what you meant by those terms mean then you'll need to explain what you did mean a bit more precisely.

            Thank you for the responses !

          • Phil

            To focus this discussion, I am going to say we stick to what I find as the main argument against the reduction of the person to pure matter/energy: the existence of truth and "the self".

            You then started your argument to me with "matter has no interest in whether something is true or not". Again, an argument based on the properties of matter. I am saying that our observation and study of matter in fact shows that certain arrangements of matter (those that are the outcome of the evolutionary process) must and do have a very strong interest in whether something is true or not.

            So this is a point the directly ties to your point about the nature of matter/energy. Either matter/energy acts in accordance to natural laws, or it does not (doesn't matter how complex these laws may be). Science only works if the former is true. So then, if the human person is completely reducible to matter/energy, that means the human person also acts in accordance to possibly very complicated natural laws--but natural laws nonetheless.

            So all your beliefs are reducible to natural laws, not in accordance to whether or not a certain belief is true. With this fact, one could try and hold that the human person is never capable of ever holding a false belief statement (which would be defeated by a single instance of 2 people holding contradictory beliefs with the same evidence). But if one holds that the human person is capable of holding false beliefs, the human person is thrust into complete and radical skepticism. This is because every statement you make is due to natural laws that either produce true or false belief statement and it is impossible to say whether something you believe is actually true (including your beliefs that the human acts in accordance to natural laws, that it is reducible to matter/energy, etc).

            ------

            To restate: Once you get to the human person, who cannot help but make truth claims about the world, it does not make sense in the least to say that humans act in accordance to certain laws. The moment you say that the human person acts in accordance to laws, even complex ones that we could never understand, you are admitting that your belief that "the human person acts in accordance to certain laws" is because a complex law has brought you to believe this, and you have no way to tell whether it brought you to believe it because it is actually true, or for any other reason that isn't oriented towards truth.

            Again, I find the issue with truth and the "self" to be the most damning evidence against a materialist metaphysical view of the human person. A challenge to take up would be to show that true beliefs equal natural laws.

            ---------------------------------

            my original question to you was "what prevents matter/energy from accounting for our self-consciousness/powers of conceiving"

            This is exactly what many of my responses were in reference to. For example--the point about truth. Truth has a direct connection to self-consciousness and the powers of reason/conceiving. It's either all three, or none at all. (As I pointed out, you can even just take the truth issue by itself.)

            I also pointed out how self-consciousness is the consciousness transcending itself and "folding back" on itself: being aware that one is aware, that one is aware, etc. Well, this is just absurd to think about matter transcending itself. Matter could, in theory, account for a type of consciousness, a perceiving. But once you get to self-consciousness, one is out of luck.

            An example a friend of mine brought to my attention that I had completely forgot about was the existence of an "I". This has ties to the point about truth as well. But if you are simply a complex connection of matter/energy, then there is no "I". The self is completely illusory. When you say that "you think" or "you say" or "you believe", this is false. It is your specific collection of matter/energy that "thinks", "says", or "believes". Obviously you can see why this is problematic when it comes to the existence of truth.

            A point of clarification may be that it is important to recognize that I am making mainly philosophical arguments. (You are maybe looking for scientific arguments.) The reason for this is that a good philosophical argument is much stronger than a scientific argument. Science can always find new physical evidence that would defeat a previous theory. But if a philosophical argument is actually rationally solid, there is nothing that science could discover that would prove the philosophical point wrong. As I mentioned in a previous comment, it is a modern myth that somehow philosophical/metaphysical arguments can't be strong.

            In other words, you made the argument that matter cannot in principle account for consciousness.

            Just to clarify, I would hold that matter/energy cannot in principle account for self-consciousness and conceiving. As I mentioned before there is a huge, in fact an "infinite" difference between consciousness and self-consciousness, and perceiving and conceiving.

            You seem to be confusing the claim that meaning is material with the claim that meaning doesn't exist.

            Actually, one would hold that meaning cannot in principle be material in nature. We don't assume that it is immaterial. First, based on what meaning is, we then come to understand it can't be material in nature. Therefore if meaning is non-material, and the human person actually understands meaning, then the human person cannot be purely material. (Again this is just an overview of the argument.)

          • Caravelle

            With this fact, one could try and hold that the human person is never capable of ever holding a false belief statement (which would be defeated by a single instance of 2 people holding contradictory beliefs with the same evidence).

            We could, but why would one do that ? This goes completely against how beliefs work. For a belief to be accurate, i.e. to match reality, it must interact with reality (i.e. be based off information), and correlate with that reality by some systematic process (ideally, Bayesian probability updating). This means that any entity that doesn't interact with all of reality, i.e. have access to all existing information, can't be expected to hold only true beliefs.

            As you pointed out, with no prior information on how minds work and originated we wouldn't expect any particular matching of beliefs to reality, let alone them being all true or all false. Knowing that they're the result of evolution however we can expect our beliefs to be true by and large, but not perfectly so. Just like all systems generated by evolution, which are very good but not perfect. This is true both for our instinctual beliefs (i.e. the beliefs we have derived from information gathered on evolutionary scales, i.e. the reality our ancestors typically encountered), and the beliefs we derive ourselves from the information we encounter in our lifetimes (via a process which is also the outcome of evolution, and so that we can also expect to be very good but not perfect). We can also expect some predictable patterns in which of our beliefs tend to be true and which tend to be false, based on the evolutionary pressures that led to them directly (for instincts) or indirectly (via the overall belief-generating system).

            But if one holds that the human person is capable of holding false beliefs, the human person is thrust into complete and radical skepticism.

            You haven't addressed one of my objections, namely that this has nothing to do with materialism. Humans are capable of holding false beliefs regardless of the nature of souls. I still don't know why you think you aren't an immaterial soul in an immaterial vat. I assume you think immaterial souls have some immaterial manner of acquiring truth, but how do you know that's true ?

            Well, this is just absurd to think about matter transcending itself.

            I told you that if you didn't mean "recursion" or "self-examination" by that you needed to explain your terms better, because as it is I can't tell if you're making a substantive point or a tautological one. But you just repeated your previous statements.

            An example a friend of mine brought to my attention that I had completely forgot about was the existence of an "I". This has ties to the point about truth as well. But if you are simply a complex connection of matter/energy, then there is no "I". The self is completely illusory. When you say that "you think" or "you say" or "you believe", this is false. It is your specific collection of matter/energy that "thinks", "says", or "believes". Obviously you can see why this is problematic when it comes to the existence of truth.

            Again this is only true if we assume the "I" cannot be material, in other words you're assuming your own conclusion.

            If you aren't, and actually have a demonstration that the "I" cannot be material, then you should give it before making further arguments based on that assertion.

            A point of clarification may be that it is important to recognize that I am making mainly philosophical arguments. (You are maybe looking for scientific arguments.)

            The problem isn't that I'm looking for scientific arguments and your arguments are philosophical. The problem is that some of your arguments are circular. You seem to have completely ignored my statements to that effect in my previous comment. You also seem to be repeating the same points without addressing some objections I made to them in the comments you're responding to.

            Just to clarify, I would hold that matter/energy cannot in principle account for self-consciousness and conceiving. As I mentioned before there is a huge, in fact an "infinite" difference between consciousness and self-consciousness, and perceiving and conceiving.

            Sure; I said "consciousness" as a shortcut for "self-consciousness and powers of conceiving" because it was a mouthful to write that each time. If I use the term to mean something different (like "not unconscious") I'll specify.

            Actually, one would hold that meaning cannot in principle be material in nature. We don't assume that it is immaterial. First, based on what meaning is, we then come to understand it can't be material in nature.

            Great. So what's the demonstration that meaning cannot be material ?

          • Phil

            My goal here is to keep everything as focused on the key points as possible, so that is why I am trying to only respond to certain parts.

            Great. So what's the demonstration that meaning cannot be material?

            I will copy what I wrote above:

            Let's stick to the use of the concept "procrastination" (any human word works, but it is easier to see with a word that has no easy connection to a physical thing) to see a big issue with this theory.

            The spanish word 'dilación' means the same thing as 'procrastination'. There is next to no physical correspondence between the two words, either in written or auditory form. But the concept embodied by the word is the same exact thing. This is the only reason we can translate old languages like latin and such, and it makes sense--because the same/similar concepts are "informed" in different physical words. In other words, meanings have no hard connection to physical sounds and words--there could be a potentially infinite amount of ways to physically "embody" the concept of procrastination. What the human person does is attach the immaterial concept/meaning to a physical symbol (i.e., words).

            But let's say that both the spanish and english word are just two ways to that the brain describes the same thing happening in external reality. This leads to two key points if a word has some sort of a casual effect on certain neurons:

            1) If people have the same understanding, then they will be disposed to the same action, but only if they have the same desires.
            2) If people have the same desires, then they will be disposed to the same action, but only if they have the same understandings.

            Conclusion:
            The issue is that we can only know that the first is true, if we know that the second is true. And we only know that the second is true, if the first is true. It is a vicious circle which is ultimately a deadly blow to this theory.

            The Deadly Issue: But this isn't as bad as the thing that kills off this theory--If only physical instances of words exist, and they don't actually contain immaterial
            concepts that a human understands, then when the materialist speaks, what s/he is saying is similar to the sound of the rustle of leaves and the shapes of fallen leaves on the ground. And the sound of a rustle of leaves or the shape of leaves don't convey any sort of meaning (unless an intellect is using them to show meaning). So we have no reason to take seriously any of the audible sounds and written words of the materialist--because in the end they mean exactly as much as the rustle of leaves, and the patterns on the ground!

            I don't mean it offensively to say that what you are typing is akin to the leaves falling on the ground and trying to read them, but that is exactly what is going on if meaning is purely reducible to the physical occurrences of sound and writing.

            Knowing that they're the result of evolution however we can expect our beliefs to be true by and large, but not perfectly so.

            How do you know that this belief is actually true and you don't simply believe it because that's how the human person as a whole, or simply yourself, evolved? Again, radical skepticism is knocking.

          • Caravelle

            How do you know that this belief is actually true and you don't simply believe it because that's how the human person as a whole, or simply yourself, evolved? Again, radical skepticism is knocking.

            You really need to explain how you know you aren't an immaterial soul in an immaterial vat.

          • Phil

            You really need to explain how you know you aren't an immaterial soul in an immaterial vat.

            This is many times a staple of philosophy 101. Once we realize that the job of philosophy is to understand and describe reality as it actually is this belief makes no sense.

            All our human experience points towards the fact that we are, at least partially, physical beings that live in a physical world, and we live as if we are in a physical world. To hold a philosophy (like that we are brains in a vat) that contradicts how we live our life and common everyday human experience is called "a lived contradiction". One does not live as if they are a brain in a vat, so therefore one should not hold that they are a brain in a vat. If you can point out evidence that we are a brain in a vat and that we actually live as if we are brains in a vat--then you can try and argue this.

            Also, providing arguments (both for and against) that could even in theory show the fact that we are brains in a vat are impossible--so therefore we realize it is a ridiculous and pointless theory to entertain.

          • Caravelle

            Soooo... why does this all somehow stop being true when you're a materialist ? Your own explanation makes no reference to immaterial entities, or to the prior odds of our beliefs being true to begin with.

            Thank you for answering by the way.

          • Phil

            Here is the key.

            Brain in a vat:
            We have no evidence either for or against the fact that we are a brain in a vat. We also do not live as if we are a brain in a vat.

            Truth and materialism:
            We have evidence that we can come to truth about the world. In fact, the alternate position is incoherent. Consider the statement: "It is true that we cannot come to truth about the world?" Well, this is a self-refuting statement that can't even be coherently held. Therefore it is not rational to hold it.

            We also live our daily lives at each moment as if we can come to truth (even to doubt is to make a truth claim!).

            Therefore, if when we believe materialism and evolution to be true, its leads us to have no way to know whether we believe anything because it is actually true, or because that is simply how we evolved--that is not a good theory. Because it doesn't support the evidence about truth and it is self-undermining. "I believe materialism and evolution to be true because that is how we evolved". That statement cannot mention anything about the truth value of itself.

            [Now if someone holds that there is a part of the human person that is not subject to evolution, then we have the start to a theory that saves truth! But this part can't be material, because it then would fall prey to the same incoherency and evolution.]

          • Caravelle

            We have evidence that we can come to truth about the world. In fact, the alternate position is incoherent. Consider the statement: "It is true that we cannot come to truth about the world?" Well, this is a self-refuting statement that can't even be coherently held. Therefore it is not rational to hold it.

            Sure.

            We also live our daily lives at each moment as if we can come to truth (even to doubt is to make a truth claim!).

            Agreed.

            Therefore, if when we believe materialism and evolution to be true, its leads us to have no way to know whether we believe anything because it is actually true, or because that is simply how we evolved--that is not a good theory.

            Why "Therefore" ? Your previous two paragraphs are true whether or not we believe materialism. They make no reference to immaterial entities. If I read only those two statements out of everything else you wrote I would be completely unable to deduce whether you were a materialist or not.

            That statement cannot mention anything about the truth value of itself.

            Okay, I originally misread that sentence as "the truth value itself", and wrote the following paragraph as a result. Now on re-reading and seeing it's actually "the truth value of itself" I see maybe I'd understood your objection the first time, but I'm keeping the following paragraph anyway just in case I hadn't:

            Oh, I think maybe I misunderstood your objection, but if so then you missed the key point - that statement does mention the truth value, implicitly. We evolved to believe things because they are true. Saying "we evolved beliefs" isn't like saying "we got our beliefs from the purple bubblegum fairy"; it's not about saying what the origin of the beliefs are. In that case I'd understand asking "but how do you know the beliefs you got from the purple bubblegum fairy are true". But evolution is a specific process that generates systems that work well for their purpose. So when we say "our reality-matching-belief-generating processes evolved", we're saying our reality-matching-belief-generating processes work, because that's what the process that led to them does; it's pretty much implicit in the statement. Our beliefs are generally true for the same reason that our eyes see, our ears hear and our intestines digest. Or would you also ask someone who sees a dog whether there's really a dog there, or whether they were evolutionarily programmed to see a dog ? (when in actually they are evolutionarily programmed to see a dog if and only if there is really a dog)

          • Phil

            We evolved to believe things because they are true.

            Every belief that you and I individually hold is objectively true, including contradictory ones?

          • Caravelle

            That's not what that sentence means. "We evolved to see things that are there" doesn't make hallucinations impossible. And to answer your question, no, but you already knew that because I also disagreed with an earlier version of that assertion.

          • Phil

            Here may by the key question for you:

            How do you tell the difference between a belief that you hold because it is actually objectively true, and one that only appears objectively true to you, which arose through evolution from any millions of reasons?

            This is the materialist evolutionist's main problem of truth. (Obviously this issue can by broken down in all sorts of ways, as we have done. And there are other issues as well.)

          • Caravelle

            How do you tell the difference between a belief that you hold because it is actually objectively true, and one that only appears objectively true to you, which arose through evolution for any millions of reasons?

            There's parallel processing going on so you might just not have seen my replies to this in other comments, but just in case:
            If my mind arose through evolution then it must generally form true beliefs.

            Of course "generally" doesn't mean "always", and there are some hardwired, maybe not beliefs per se but intuitions that are inaccurate - or rather, they're good approximations in a prehistoric savannah environment but won't cut it when sending probes to comets. So how do I distinguish true beliefs which probably arose at least partly by evolution, like that it takes more force to move heavier than lighter objects, vs false beliefs which arose the same way, such as that an undisturbed moving object will eventually stop ? Answer : Same way as with any other belief, via observation and reasoning.

            The theory I propose does not have this problem because I propose that the human intellect is not reducible to the mere material and therefore is not at the whim of evolution.

            I look forward to hearing that theory. As I said, "it doesn't form true beliefs at the whim of evolution" doesn't tell us how it does form those beliefs.

            The human intellect is actually oriented towards using reason to figure out the truth of reality.

            So, so far, identical to my theory ? Except I'm saying "oriented by the whim of evolution towards using reason etc" and you're not giving any reason why it would be oriented that way. Not in that sentence at least, but I don't see it in the rest of the comment either.

          • Phil

            Except I'm saying "oriented by the whim of evolution towards using reason etc"

            How do you know that your belief that evolution is actually directed towards the arising of a human mind oriented towards truth, is actually objectively true; and it doesn't simply appear objectively true to you (or to all persons) because that is how the human person happened to evolve?

          • Caravelle

            So one can't rationally hold this belief, without first assuming what one is trying to prove. This is obviously a fallacious and bad argument.

            This would be a bad argument if I were trying to prove materialism, but I'm not, I'm responding to your claims that it's inconsistent, and circularity isn't inconsistency, it's the opposite. As discussed in the comments where we talked about circularity. We can continue discussing this particular point there.

            Plus, scientists would not hold that evolution is interested in or inherently oriented towards truth.

            I never said it was. I said arrangements of matter that are the product of the evolutionary process have an interest in truth.

            In other words, our human mind randomly came to be how it is right now.

            Evolution isn't random. It includes some random processes but overall it's an optimizing process, which few people would call random. And in particular the fact that products of an optimizing process are optimized for a particular purpose is not random in any sense of the word.

            And you still haven't explained your theory for how and why our minds use reason to arrive at true beliefs.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the very interesting reply!

            From these several statements:

            I never said it was. I said arrangements of matter that are the product of the evolutionary process have an interest in truth.

            Evolution isn't random. It includes some random processes but overall it's an optimizing process, which few people would call random.

            It sounds like you would hold to some sort of teleological view of matter/energy and of reality as a whole? In other words, matter/energy is actually naturally objectively directed towards some goal/purpose/"end"? (Obviously this is a very theistic view, but I don't know if you do consider yourself a theist.)

            Can you clarify if you are actually saying that all of matter and energy are actually directed towards an objective purpose/goal/end? Or are you trying to say something else? Thanks!

            ----------------------

            Circularity isn't inconsistency, it's the opposite

            Let me try to clarify--it isn't that I don't accept your conclusions because it is a circular argument (obviously circular arguments are always bad arguments, even if one cannot conclude that the conclusion from it is automatically false.) Let me write it out:

            1) Radical skepticism is an incoherent view (i.e., "I believe it is a true belief that humans cannot come to any true beliefs" is an incoherent philosophical theory)

            2) The combining of materialism and evolution leads to radical skepticism.

            Conclusion: Therefore we cannot hold both evolution and materialism to be true at the same time because it leads to an incoherent position.

            This wold be the best way of putting what I am pointing out.
            (In the least, from your circular argument we have no good reason to believe your view is either true or false. Again, complete skepticism. I will be more than glad to write out my metaphysical views, once we make our way through these questions.)

          • Caravelle

            It sounds like you would hold to some sort of teleological view of matter/energy and of reality as a whole?

            No I don't. "Teleological" isn't the opposite of "random". And when I say evolution is an optimizing process I'm describing what it does, saying what kind of process it is, not saying somebody decided for it to be an optimizing process.

            At this point I am very confused as to what your understanding of the theory of evolution is like. Would you mind answering some questions so I can better understand where you're coming from ?

            1) Do you agree that the human eye is the product of evolution, or not ?

            2) If you don't agree, what's your background on the question? Have you studied evolutionary biology to any extent, are you well-versed in Creationist arguments, are you well-versed in counter-Creationist arguments ? What's your level of understanding of the scientific knowledge on the question of eye evolution ?

            3) If you do agree, then how do you relate the sentence "evolution is random" with the sentence "human eyes are excellent at forming images" ?

            Let me try to clarify--it isn't that I don't accept your conclusions because it is a circular argument (obviously circular arguments are always bad arguments, even if one cannot conclude that the conclusion from it is automatically false.)

            It really seems to me you don't understand what "my conclusions" are. Could you please tell me what position you think I'm defending here, and what arguments you think I'm making to support that position ?

            You just posted an argument in the form of "premise 1", "premise 2" and "conclusion" as if I didn't understand your argument, when in fact I was challenging the premises and asking you to justify them. Re-iterating the premises and deriving a conclusion to this isn't an appropriate response.

            Let me try to figure things out here:

            1) You claim that materialism inevitably leads to radical skepticism. Is this correct ?

            2) One argument you make in support of that point is that under the assumptions of materialism, there is no a priori reason for our beliefs to be true. Is this correct ?

            3) Is 2) your only argument in support of 1), your main one, or one of many ?

            4) Regardless of the answer to 3), if someone could show that under the assumptions of materialism there is reason to expect our beliefs to be true, would this be a logically valid counter-argument to the specific claim 2) makes ?

            5) If not, what would a logically valid counter-argument to 2) look like instead ?

            6) In previous comments I asked you how you in your own philosophy dealt with radical skepticism, and you answered. In my replies I pointed out that your answers didn't appeal to immaterial entities or other concepts incompatible with materialism. Do you understand what the implications of this are ?

            7) If you disagree with my claim in 6) that your answers didn't involve concepts incompatible with materialism, could you point out the specific parts of your answers that did involve such concepts ?

            Thank you for your time.

          • Phil

            On Evolution:

            Let me first define what I have learned evolution to be:

            Evolution is the theory that describes the fact that some biological beings survive to reproduce and some do not survive to reproduce. The more beings with a certain trait that survive to reproduce have a higher probability of having their traits continued to be passed down to future generations. From a purely material point of view, evolution is not objectively "aimed" or "directed" towards anything. To say that it is, is to anthropomorphize the theory as if someone is directing it (I mean, unless you do believe in God?) (Which you want to avoid this, or you would start to lean towards teleological views.)

            -------
            Your questions:
            1) Yes, the physical eye came to be through evolution. To hold that matter/energy to directed towards the development of the eye is obviously false. Animals that had eyes survived to reproduce in the past, so we have eyes now.

            3) Animals that have eyes, that form the type of images we see now, survived to reproduce in the past. So therefore, human animals have eyes that form the type of images we see now. Again, evolution (and matter/energy as a whole) is not directed specifically towards the type of eyes we have right now.

            It is your subjective opinion that the eyes we have now are better than another eye that a past animal possibly in our history that had died out.

            --------------------------
            Second group of questions:

            1) Correct, obviously proper evidence would need to be provided for this.

            2) There is no knowledge whatsoever before experience. If you don't have any experiences, you can't have knowledge. All human knowledge comes from experience. (e.g., when someone holds that logical contradictions are a priori, (like "married bachelor"), they miss the fact that one must first have experiences of the concepts of "married" and "bachelor" before claiming this is not logical)

            3) That is actually not my main argument. Put concisely, my main contention is when you combine materialism and evolution, one has no way in principleto figure out if one believes that something is true because it is actually true, or is one believes it is true and it only appears true.

            4) There are two main ways to do this: (1) Show that we have reason to believe that all our beliefs are, and will always be, necessarily true. (2) Don't hold that the human intellect arose from evolution, i.e., hold that the human intellect is not material.

            6 and 7) The solution to radical skepticism is (1) to propose that the human intellect is not a material entity open to evolution, and (2) the intellect is the type of entity that is capable of using reason to come to actual truth of reality. If you get rid of either of these, complete skepticism is on your doorstop.

            ---------

            Thank you for your good questions! These type of things really help to move discussion and the search for truth forward.

          • Caravelle

            Evolution is the theory that describes the fact that some biological beings survive to reproduce and some do not survive to reproduce. The beings that survive to reproduce have a higher probability of having their traits continued to be passed down. From a purely material point
            of view, evolution is not objectively "aimed" or "directed" towards anything. To say that it is, is to anthropomorphize it. (Which you want to avoid this, or you would start to lean towards teleological views.)

            Okay, that's pretty accurate, except that you're missing the crucial implication : the beings that survive to reproduce have a higher probability of having their traits passed down, and those traits are related to their probability of reproducing, so over the generations the traits that make one better at reproducing become more common, resulting in the adaptation of the species to their environment.

            "Some being survive to reproduce and some don't, and those that survive pass their traits down" would be still be true if survival and reproduction were completely unrelated to one's traits, and evolution would happen in the strictest sense of allele frequencies changing over time due to neutral drift, but there would be no adaptation, and thus no development of the complex functional structures (or structures with the appearance of function, as others would put it who are more worried about the connotations of "function" than I am) that we know and love, such as eyes.

            It is your subjective opinion that the eyes we have now are better than another eye that a past animal possibly in our history that had died out.

            Obviously "better" must be defined in terms of a standard (better for what), but once we've done that there's nothing subjective about the fact our eyes form sharper images, see more colors, capture more light, resolve details and movements better, at a larger variety of distances, than do the eyespots of a flatworm. And these things allow us to interact with our visual environment more flexibly and effectively than a flatworm can. Moreover, our eyes have those characteristics because they allow us to interact with our visual environment well. Because that's the specific selective pressure our eyes have been under.

            The idea that evolution doesn't have a direction is a large-scale statement - it's talking about the process of evolution and the history of life in general. Evolution in general doesn't tend towards developing any specific trait. This is because evolution leads organisms to be adapted to their environment, and environments change, and different traits can be assets or liabilities depending on the circumstances, so evolution in general doesn't have an a priori preference for one. However the evolution of a given species, in a given environment, over a specific amount of time definitely has the direction of adapting that species to its environment, which can include the sustained change of a specific trait in one direction (direction which could be reversed next generation if the environment changes suitably of course, but only in that case).

            You seem to be assimilating adaptation to teleology, which isn't how those words are usually used.

            As for your answers to the other questions :

            2) There is no knowledge whatsoever before experience. If you don't have any experiences, you can't have knowledge. All human knowledge comes from experience. (e.g., when someone holds that logical contradictions are a priori, (like "married bachelor"), they miss the fact that one must first have experiences of the concepts of "married" and "bachelor" before claiming this is not logical)

            This doesn't answer my question, nor does it seem to have anything to do with materialism. Materialists have experiences too.

            3) That is actually not my main argument. Put concisely, my main contention is when you combine materialism and evolution, one has no way in principleto figure out if one believes that something is true because it is actually true, or is one believes it is true and it only appears true.

            This was an argument you made in response to my bringing up evolution. But I brought up evolution myself in response to an argument you made; it's that earlier argument, that you made to support 1), that I'm trying to track down here. If it isn't what I suggested in 2), what was it ?

            As for 4), it appears to be counter-arguments to what you gave in 3), is that right ? Before I address them, would you agree that a logically valid counter-argument is any argument that logically implies the negation of the argument it's countering ?

            6 and 7 didn't answer the question I asked; I was referring to specific other comments you and I made, do you know which ones I mean or should I try to link them ?

            Thank you for continuing to engage though !

          • Phil

            For now, I'm sticking to our "add-on discussion", because this has the best opportunity to bear fruit.

            I do want it noted that I already explained I'm not saying that propositional beliefs directly evolved.

            Would you then hold that propositional beliefs are not reducible to patterns of firing neurons and the overall the state of the nervous system?

            (The reason I ask is I thought you already tried to propose that concepts, which all propositional beliefs are composed by concepts, are reducible to firing neurons and the overall the state of the nervous system. This is because you rejected that concepts have any immaterial part to them earlier.)

          • Caravelle

            Would you then hold that propositional beliefs are not reducible to patterns of firing neurons and the overall the state of the nervous system?

            I wouldn't hold that at all, no.

            We've had several parallel threads going, and I addressed the difference between things being the direct products of evolution and things being indirect products of evolution (i.e. their specific characteristics not determined by adaptive pressures but still being produced by evolution by virtue of being part of an organism that was produced as a whole by evolution), with the example of language. Did you see that comment ?

            I also think you should address everything I said on adaptation and how evolution works, because we can't coherently discuss the products of evolution without understanding how evolution works and what kinds of entities it tends to produce. Was there anything I said you didn't understand, are confused by, or disagree with ?

          • William Davis

            I've never been very successful in arguing this one myself. If someone presupposes that evolution can't work without divine intervention, there isn't much you can say to remove that presupposition, at least in my experience. They would really need to sit down and read a couple books on evolutionary theory to quote "get it", and of course be truly willing to accept what those books said. I think the religious experience itself is a byproduct of evolution, but just because it is a by product of evolution doesn't mean it isn't a real experience. Just for the record you do a better job arguing it than me, and seem to have put deeper thought into it.

          • Phil

            I also think you should address everything I said on adaptation and how evolution works, because we can't coherently discuss the products of evolution without understanding how evolution works and what kinds of entities it tends to produce.

            I thought that was a good overview exposition on adaptation and evolution that you wrote; I definitely agree.

            We've had several parallel threads going, and I addressed the difference between things being the direct products of evolution and things being indirect products of evolution

            I do apologize--with all the parallel threads going I must have lost where you talked about this. (One reason I tried to narrow it down to one thread, since I know I was the main creator of the parallel threads.)

            It do absolutely agree that there would be some things that would be direct products of evolution and others that are indirect products of evolution. But wouldn't we, assuming materialism is true, hold that the "belief-making mechanisms", the "language-making mechanisms", the "propositional-making mechanisms" of the human person are in fact all direct productsof evolution? The "belief-making mechanisms", the "language-making mechanisms", and other such mechanisms are all reducible to the physical matter of the brain, and physical person as a whole. Would this be correct?

            -----
            PS-I've been actually working on an article for this site on materialism and the appearance of truth, so at some point I would love it if you could go over the basic outline of my main argument. I'll wait until our main discussion winds down though.

          • Caravelle

            I thought that was a good overview exposition on adaptation and evolution that you wrote; I definitely agree.

            Okay... except in that case I don't know what to make of all the things you said that made it look like you don't agree. In that spirit I wrote an other essay about evolution and stuff using a different example, hoping it's superfluous but for future reference in case it isn't.

            Before that though I'd like to clarify what your arguments are. You originally made the claim that materialism cannot account for our beliefs being true; I said that evolution does account for our beliefs being true. It seems to me there have been two objections to this argument, and that you've made both of them though I often found it hard to figure out which one you were making. Here they are as far as I could tell:

            1) The objection that evolution would be equally likely to result in us having false beliefs vs true beliefs, so evolution doesn't actually account for our beliefs being true it just pushes the question one step further (why would our evolutionarily-derived beliefs be true ?)

            2) The objection that evolution accounting for our beliefs being true requires us to believe that evolution itself is true, and how do we know that if we don't know our beliefs are true ?

            I'd like to know a few specific things:

            - Whether you agree with this characterization of the objections, and that you've made both of them

            - Whether you agree they are different objections, requiring different responses

            - Whether you think there are other objections to "evolution accounts for our beliefs being true" you've made that I missed here.

            I'm asking because I think if you agree that those are arguments you've made, and that the two are different, that we should be careful to treat them separately and keep track of which one we're talking about at any given time.

            Thanks ! Now the essay, and then an answer to the question you asked.

            It do absolutely agree that there would be some things that would be direct products of evolution and others that are indirect products of evolution.

            I thought of another example of this that's much better than language (because I don't know to what extent you think language is a product of evolution anyway) and a better parallel to what we're talking about than tree branches; even though we apparently agree I'll still give it in case it becomes useful later.

            Some birds hide food in various places and remember where it is so they can come back for it later. I'm sure we can agree this is a completely material ability that they've evolved to have (the ability to store food long-term is useful especially in seasonal environments, and plenty of species have different ways of dealing with the issue; caching is one of them). This doesn't mean that if a given bird has the memory "there are a lot of nuts under this specific tree" that this specific memory evolved; we can clearly see that having such a memory would be adaptive only if said specific tree had lots of nuts under it, and maladaptive otherwise (it would lead the bird to make a useless trip), and moreover that for most birds in that species' evolutionary history it wouldn't be true that there were lots of nuts under that specific tree; for most of their evolutionary history that specific tree wouldn't even exist ! So we wouldn't expect a specific memory like that to evolve.

            What actually would be adaptive would be a general ability to locate oneself in space, locate other places in space, and remember the places where the bird itself cached food. Doing this accurately would allow the bird to maximize going to the places that have food, and minimize going to places that don't. This would also lead a bird to have the memory "there are lots of nuts under that specific tree", not because that specific memory evolved, but because the bird did leave lots of nuts under that specific tree and it evolved the ability to remember that fact.

            Mind you, it wouldn't be adaptive to have a general idea of space that had no relation to the bird's environment, or to have memories of having cached food that had no relationship to where the bird actually had cached food, i.e. where food would actually occur. This would be worse than having no spatial ability or memory at all, because the bird's brain would be wasting resources and our badly-caching bird would be outcompeted by birds that don't cache at all and have correspondingly smaller/cheaper brains, or use their brains for other useful abilities.

            So it's not that the birds evolve random spatial or memory capacities - it's that if there is a way of matching their brain wiring and firing patterns to the outside environment and the bird's past history in a way that makes the bird accurately locate itself compared to specific places it went to in the past, and find its way back to those - their brains will evolve to work that way. And if this kind of matching were impossible then caching behavior in birds would be impossible to begin with, or unattainable via evolutionary processes, and such birds wouldn't exist.

            That doesn't mean the system must necessarily be perfect - few things produced via evolution are. Caching birds do sometimes forget where they left food. But it does mean the system is very good. The birds accurately remember where the food is much more often than not, or they wouldn't evolve caching in the first place.

            It also means the kinds of spatial-reasoning and memory-building systems caching bird brains used can be reasoned about independently of evolution - just like, say, the image-forming properties of lenses can be. We can reason about those properties on their own, and even create image-forming systems via non-evolutionary processes. The properties of a system are intrinsic to it, what evolution does is lead organisms for whom said properties would be adaptive to implement that system (or any other system that intrinsically has those properties).

            We can say the same thing of reason; saying reason evolved isn't saying that we evolved a completely random ability to relate propositions to each other or conceptualize a world. It's saying that features of reality relate to each other in specific ways, and if a system were possible that could reproduce those relationships in a brain and thus model reality, we'd expect a brain that was under adaptive pressure to model reality to develop that system.

            But assuming materialism is true, wouldn't we hold that the "belief-making mechanisms", the "language-making mechanisms", and the "propositional-making mechanisms" of the human person are in fact all direct products of evolution? The "belief-making mechanisms", the "language-making mechanisms", and other such mechanisms are all reducible to the physical matter of the brain, and physical person as a whole. Would this be correct?

            Yes, I would agree with this. (I mean, "belief-making mechanisms" is extremely vague so I don't know if I'd agree on any specific one, but if any such mechanism isn't a direct product of evolution I'd think there's an underlying mechanism generating it at some level that is, so.)

            PS-I've been actually working on an article for this site on materialism and the appearance of truth, so at some point I would love it if you could go over the basic outline of my main argument. I'll wait until our main discussion winds down though.

            Thanks, I saw that post to Doug and wasn't sure whether it was OK for me to butt in :) I see you've edited extensively and I did have some questions but I'll have to read it carefully first. I might make different replies with different questions if that's OK, instead of doing a Comprehensive Response thing.

          • Phil

            Throw this in with your next rely so we don't start two threads here and I'll wait if you need to edit it as well. Let's look at evolution and beliefs from a materialist POV (this works off of your eye example):

            On a materialist view, we could say of beliefs: that animals/persons in the past holding 'X' beliefs survived, so therefore we have 'X' beliefs. Whether or not these beliefs are actually true is a separate issue. But we have no way to separate beliefs and evolution, since as you stated, beliefs are complex states of the nervous system and neuronal activity. Which of course both of these came about through evolution.

            This is the issue with materialism and evolution I'm trying to explain.

          • Caravelle

            How do you know that this belief is actually true and you don't simply believe it because that's how the human person as a whole, or simply yourself, evolved? Again, radical skepticism is knocking.

            Also, evolution isn't an innate belief that evolved as its own thing. We believe evolution happened because it's a very well-supported scientific theory. Science itself isn't an evolved trait - it's a large set of processes put in place over the centuries in order to reliably improve our understanding of reality, and that shows every sign of working. What science is based on - basic reasoning and perceptual abilities - those are largely evolved traits, but we've got thousands of years of observation to see how reliable they are, investigate their limits, and consider alternate possibilities. And they're so basic that the Theory of Evolution doesn't directly derive from them; in no sense did we evolve to believe it.

            So then I get to, but how do I know basic reasoning works (you know, aside from the thousands of years of finding it works and investigating alternatives thing, and if basic reasoning didn't work what would be the odds of coming up with the Theory of Evolution to tell us it should work - but how do I know that reasoning works), and then I'm in the Matrix, but so are you.

          • Phil

            Science itself isn't an evolved trait

            1) How and why does science stand above every other belief we have as not having come from evolution? Is there some part of the human person that is not subject to evolution, or that stands above physical evolution?

            2) Also, how do you know that we/you haven't come to believe that science isn't an evolved trait because of another reason besides the fact that it is actually true? (i.e., we only believe it to be true, it isn't actually true) Again the black hole of radical skepticism ensues.

            ---
            The reason this is an issue is that we have good reason to believe that humans can actually come to truth about reality. In fact, taking the opposite position is incoherent. And if we hold both evolution and materialism to be true, it leads to radical skepticism. Therefore, we need to either reject materialism or evolution (or make some radical changes to evolution). I prefer to reject materialism and hold onto evolution as a reasonable and most likely valid scientific claim.

          • Caravelle

            1) How and why does science stand above every other belief we have as not having come from evolution?

            1) Science isn't a belief, it's a process.
            2) It doesn't. Most beliefs aren't the direct product of evolution. My belief that my car keys are in the top right drawer is hardly evolutionarily hardwired. I already made the distinction between instincts and beliefs we acquire through personal experience. The processes by which we form beliefs are at least partly hardwired and the direct product of evolution.

            2) Also, how do you know that we/you haven't come to believe that science isn't an evolved trait because of another reason besides the fact that it is actually true? (i.e., we only believe it to be true, it isn't actually true) Again the black hole of radical skepticism ensues.

            We know science isn't an evolved trait (not directly) via the simple observation that the scientific process was explicitly invented by a number of individuals within the last few millennia and spread to different groups of humans via cultural dissemination.

            But what about the black hole of radical skepticism you ask, how do we know our historical information on the development of science is even accurate, how do we know all our beliefs aren't false including those that make us think our beliefs are true ? A wise person once said something on this, what was it again, ah here it is:
            "This is many times a staple of philosophy 101. Once we realize that the job of philosophy is to understand and describe reality as it actually is this belief makes no sense.

            All our human experience points towards the fact that we are, at least partially, physical beings that live in a physical world, and we live as if we are in a physical world. To hold a philosophy (like that we are brains in a vat) that contradicts how we live our life and common everyday human experience is called "a lived contradiction". One does not live as if they are a brain in a vat, so therefore one should not hold that they are a brain in a vat. If you can point out evidence that we are a brain in a vat and that we actually live as if we are brains in a vat--then you can try and argue this.

            Also, providing arguments (both for and against) that could even in theory show the fact that we are brains in a vat are impossible--so therefore we realize it is a ridiculous and pointless theory to entertain."

            But really, this is all besides the point. This isn't about "can materialism prove its own truth and thereby escape the Matrix"; if you remember your original point, it's about whether materialism is internally consistent on this specific point. Not "can materialism prove our beliefs are true", but "can materialism account for our beliefs being true". There is, under materialism, an explanation for why our beliefs are generally true. That the explanation itself depends on our beliefs being true, aside from being an issue for any explanation for why our beliefs are true including immaterial ones, is completely irrelevant to your original claim, which was that materialism is incompatible with our beliefs being generally true.

          • Phil

            Science isn't a belief, it's a process. It [science] doesn't [stand over and above other beliefs]. Most beliefs aren't the direct product of evolution.

            But aren't all beliefs ultimately material in nature, on your account (i.e., they are reducible to firing neurons and the complex state of the nervous system)? Is the human person's nervous system and brain not a product of evolution then? If it is a product of evolution, has the brain and nervous system stopped evolving at some point in the past, and how can one tell?

          • Caravelle

            Yeah, maybe this sentence right afterwards was relevant to your question: "The processes by which we form beliefs are at least partly hardwired and the direct product of evolution.

            Surely we can agree that beliefs and the processes by which we form beliefs are two different things.

          • Phil

            Surely we can agree that beliefs and the processes by which we form beliefs are two different things.

            Both of these (and the entirety of the person's speech, actions, and thoughts for that matter) are ultimately reducible to the complex of the firing of neurons and the state of the nervous system, on your account--so no, there is no real difference. Unless you'd like to expand upon this and show how?

          • Caravelle

            Both of these (and the entirety of the person's speech, actions, and thoughts for that matter) are ultimately reducible to the complex of the firing of neurons and the state of the nervous system, on your account--so no, there is no real difference.

            Just like there is no real difference between apples and oranges because they're both fruit ?

            But if you want me to expand... It could be that the process by which we form beliefs is a constantly-occurring process involving the perceptual system, reasoning system, apparently a bunch of things in the frontal cortex, etc to assimilate facts, evaluate conclusions, etc, while beliefs themselves, insofar as they're propositional statements (I've been using the term a bit more widely than that but let's stick with propositions here), could be stored in memory and only activate when that specific belief is thought about or otherwise involved in reasoning.

          • Phil

            Just like there is no real difference between apples and oranges because they're both fruit ?

            Well, you can only say that there is a real difference if you first show that your concepts of "apple", "orange", and "fruit" are actually right, and that they are the same as mine! ;)

            (I am holding off on responding to your expansion right now because I am actually focusing on the main question I posted about ~15 minutes ago, as that cuts through the muck and gets to the crux of our discussion right now. Thank you for expanding though.)

          • Caravelle

            Oranges and apples and fruit don't exist in your mind, only the concepts do!

            ... It was an analogy making the point that two entities that belong to the same class can still be different. Proverbially so even.

            (Remember your map analogy. Let's say: we have 100 maps in front of us, all completely different. But all of them are using paper and pen. So it is for you with concepts and neurons.)

            Right. So you agree the person saying "there is no real difference between those maps" would be wrong ?

            Of course they're the same in some ways (paper and pen) and different in others; the real question would be, in the context of the specific question we're looking at, are the differences relevant.

            The specific question here was "how can Caravelle say that beliefs aren't the direct result of evolution but the processes by which we form beliefs partly are". For this question, is it relevant that different neural patterns are different ? Yes it is. The brain doesn't evolve as an undifferentiated bloc of everything working exactly the same way anymore than the rest of the body does. Some aspects of the brain are hardwired, others are affected by the environment, some are determined by the immediate circumstances, others are various combinations of all of those.

            For a practical example of such a distinction, take language. The ability to learn language is largely innate; it's a human universal; it's at least partly genetic; i.e. it can be an outcome of evolution. But what language you learn completely depends on your environment; there is nothing innate, universal or genetic about speaking English instead of Spanish. We certainly wouldn't say humans evolved to speak English, and we consider English, the specific language, to be the product of cultural evolution, not biological evolution.

          • Phil

            As another thought, wouldn't you also hold that the way, the process, that you form beliefs is also a product of evolution?

          • Caravelle

            As another thought, wouldn't you also hold that the way, the process, that you form beliefs is also a product of evolution?

            That is literally pretty much what I just said. The bit where I quoted myself in italics.

            Hopefully, it is beginning to become clearer that trying to reduce the human person and all its beliefs, thoughts, and actions to the complex firing of neurons and the state of the nervous system is going to lead to all sorts of issues of incoherency.

            It isn't clear to me at all you understand the points I'm making, though I do appreciate your engagement.

            Hence why I've said several times, materialism is ultimately incoherent when it comes to the human person, and necessarily leads to complete skepticism.

            Saying the same thing several times doesn't make it clearer.

          • Phil

            Great. So what's the demonstration that meaning cannot be material?

            Here is just a collection of reasons why it is rational to believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that immaterial abstract concepts do exist (and humans can in turn understand them, which tells us something about the nature of the human intellect!):

            1) One over many argument: "Triangularity", "redness", "treeness" are not reducible to any particular triangle, red thing, or particular tree. Or even to any group of those things. Any of those particular instances of them could go completely out of existence, but they could always come back into existence (e.g., all "red" objects disappearing, but "redness" could always come back into existence).

            Also, the "redness" of an object exists even when no human being is thinking about it. Hence concepts/universals are not material things nor collections of things, and neither do they only exist in the human mind.

            2)Geometry: Geometry deals with perfect lines, perfect angles, perfect circles, etc. and we discover objective facts about them. We didn't invent these facts, we discovered them, and since we can't change them--they do not depend on our mind. Since they are necessary and unalterable, and no material object has the perfection that geometrical objects have, they do not depend on the material world either. Hence geometrical objects are immaterial concepts that exist outside our mind, yet are not physical objects.

            3) Mathematics in general:Mathematical truths in general are necessary and unalterable, but the material world is contingent and changing. These mathematical truths were true before the human mind existed and would still be true is the human mind ceased to exist. The series of numbers is infinite, but there can only be a finite number of physical things, or a finite number of human ideas. Therefore, mathematical truths are not material things, but they do not also depend on the human mind. They are immaterial abstract entities.

            4) Nature of propositions: Propositions cannot be idenified with anything that is purely material or purely mental (in the mind). Some propositions like mathematical ones are necessarily true and remain true if the material world ceased to exist or if the human mind went out of existence. Others like "Einstien was born in Germany" also would remain true if the material world ceased to exist or if the human mind went out of existence. Even if there never was a material world or a human mind, the proposition "there is neither a material world nor a human mind" would still be true. Therefore propositions are neither material in nature, nor do they rely on the human mind for existence.

            5) Science: Science points out facts that are mind-independent, and relies on mathematical formulations and universals. To affirm the findings of science is to affirm the non-material nature of universals/concepts, and therefore the human mind.

            6) Words are universals too: A person can utter the same word and it applies to many different physical existing things--such as saying "red". This is enough to show that the meaning attached to the word transcends our mind and the physical world.

            7) The objectivity of concepts and knowledge, and possibility of communication: When we entertain the same concept, say "treeness" or "redness", we are each entertaining the same one concept. You aren't entertaining your private concept of "red" and "tree" and I my own private ones, with nothing in common in between them. This leads to the next point. We would never have access to eachothers private concepts of "red" and "snow", and therefore interpersonal communication would become impossible. But we can communicate, therefore concepts are not purely mental.

            [Note: these are a summary from some of the books I recommended]

          • Caravelle

            Hence concepts/universals are not material things nor collections of things, and neither do they only exist in the human mind.

            They're not just one of those, no, but you don't address the possibility that they're all of those. For example, that concepts are the correlate in the human brain of a real entity. By "entity" I mean things, collections of things, properties of things, behaviors of things, etc. By "correlate" I mean a state the human brain is in when it perceives, acts or reasons around said thing, and corresponds to among others the subjective experience of "thinking about that thing". I use the word "correlate" because under materialism, this state would have specific commonalities, literal correlations, with the reality it corresponded to; a bit like how neuron activity in the visual cortex spatially matches the image on the retina, but obviously not always that one-to-one or spatial.

            Any of those particular instances of them could go completely out of
            existence, but they could always come back into existence (e.g., all
            "red" objects disappearing, but "redness" could always come back into
            existence).

            This seems to argue that properties are immaterial and independent of objects that have them, which I don't think is obvious at all. I find the scenario of all "red" objects disappearing, but "redness" coming back into existence rather bizarre, but if this did happen, would redness exist during the period where all the red objects had disappeared, and before redness re-appeared ? Redness reappearing would involve the appearance of a red thing, right ? We should also distinguish between redness in the world, and our idea of redness - I can see how we could say that if all red objects disappeared but our concept of red remained in our minds then "redness" would still exist, because "redness" conflates both our idea of red and the reality of red, but if that happened our concept of red would be like our concept of a live triceratops : it wouldn't correspond to a real entity at that specific point in time.

            Tell me this: octarine is the eighth colour on the Discworld, the colour of magic. Magical objects and particles give off octarine light just like red objects give off red light. Would you say "octarineness" exists, and if so would you say it exists in the same way "redness" exists ?

            If not, would this be for some reason other than that no octarine object exists ?

            2)Geometry: Geometry deals with perfect lines, perfect angles,
            perfect circles, etc. and we discover objective facts about them. We
            didn't invent these facts, we discovered them, and since we can't change them--they do not depend on our mind. Since they are necessary and
            unalterable, and no material object has the perfection that geometrical
            objects have, they do not depend on the material world either. Hence
            geometrical objects are immaterial concepts that exist outside our
            mind, yet are not physical objects.

            Again, just because each of those things are true doesn't mean they need to add up the way you're adding them up. We don't invent mathematical facts so they exist in reality, but that doesn't mean perfect lines must exist in reality; imperfect lines follow mathematical rules too. When you think of it the perfect line is really the pure property of linearity, and mathematics investigates the relationship between that property and other pure properties. Objects with those properties exist in the world, their properties relate to each other in specific ways so the relationships also exist in the world, and the idea of a property abstracted from the the objects that have it can exist in our brains. And that gives you maths.

            4) Nature of propositions: Propositions cannot be idenified with
            anything that is purely material or purely mental (in the mind).

            Again - not either, but how about both ? Say that reality is independent of the human mind, and propositions are language-based statements that exist in a human mind or text, and elicit specific correlates in the human mind - for example the word "cat" elicits the pattern in the English-speaking human mind that corresponds to the group of real animals "cats"; the proposition "cats are green" elicits the appropriate combination of the concepts of "cat", "green" and "being" that is the idea "cats are green" in the human mind, but it happens that idea doesn't correlate with reality in the appropriate way, hence the proposition is false.

            In other words, you can have facts be real, propositions be mental, and the truth value of a proposition be the relationship between the mental entity and the factual one.

            6) Words are universals too: A person can utter the same word and
            it applies to many different physical existing things--such as saying
            "red". This is enough to show that the meaning attached to the word
            transcends our mind and the physical world.

            I think this and 5) get back to the question of whether properties are immaterial.

            7) The objectivity of concepts and knowledge, and possibility of communication:
            When we entertain the same concept, say "treeness" or "redness", we are
            each entertaining the same one concept. You aren't entertaining your
            private concept of "red" and "tree" and I my own private ones, with
            nothing in common in between them. This leads to the next point. We
            would never have access to eachothers private concepts of "red" and
            "snow", and therefore interpersonal communication would become
            impossible. But we can communicate, therefore concepts are not purely
            mental.

            This really distils the issue with your argument, is that you're conflating two things that "concept" can mean, i.e. the idea of something and the thing itself, and concluding that concepts are neither one nor the other, when they could just as easily be both. Trees, red things and snow exist outside the human mind. Treeness, redness and snowiness are properties of objects that exist outside the human mind. All you need for two humans with an idea of redness to communicate, to agree that they are using the word "red" appropriately and share a concept of "redness", is for the idea of redness in each of their minds to correlate to the real, outside-the-mind property of redness.

            And beyond the fact that we generally observe our ideas to correspond to reality in consistent ways, we also expect this to be true from evolution in general and the common evolutionary origin of all human brains specifically.

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry to interrupt your discussion with Caravelle

            To affirm the findings of science is to affirm the non-material nature of universals/concepts, and therefore the immateriality of the human mind.

            Not sure about the universals/concepts but setting that to one side how do get to the mind being immaterial ?

          • Phil

            Obviously, this is a point beyond figuring out the way that universal concepts exists, but the argument would go that if universal concepts, and abstract concepts in general, are immaterial and cannot be reduced to the mind, then the thing that understands them (i.e., the human intellect) cannot be purely material in nature. (So every point above would point towards this fact.)

          • Michael Murray

            OK thanks I can see the argument but I don't find it at all convincing. I don't see why A understanding B and B being immaterial means A has to be immaterial. Perhaps it is more so when spelt out in detail. Although I assume there are many philosophers not convinced by this argument ?

          • Phil

            It is only a very recent phenomenon (like in the past ~100 years) that many philosophers have started to take materialism, on such a widespread scale, so seriously (obviously we read of some promoting materialism back in ancient Greece, but it has most always been the minority).

            So many philosophers do, and have, found this argument very convincing. It is also the case that many philosophers are slowly starting to begin to see the bogey of a materialist metaphysics. Unfortunately, within much of the "materialist philosophical culture" it was the case that people began to assume that materialism was true, instead of proving that it was actually true. Many have held that one day materialism will be able to explain everything. Obviously this is not good use of reason, you don't start by assuming what you believe to be true.

            Just for kicks, let's assume that humans really do understand immaterial entities and abstract concepts--how would you personally go about explaining a purely material being coming to understand immaterial entities and abstract concepts?

          • Phil

            Actually, maybe this question will get to the point about words and meanings faster:

            1) Where would you say that meanings exist? In other words, we have the word "red", "tree", and "procrastination"--where do their meanings exist?

          • Caravelle

            I'd say in people's brains, as specific patterns of neuron connections and activations.

          • Phil

            I'd say in people's brains, as specific patterns of neuron connections and activations.

            Two points:

            1) Is it truly rational to believe that "redness" and "treeness" are equal to certain physical states of the nervous system and brain patterns, no matter how complicated those patterns may be? For example--for interpersonal language to be possible we have to say that there is something about an actual physical tree, which exists outside both of our minds, that makes it a tree. In other words, "treeness" exists as part of a physical tree in some way or it would not be rational to call it an actual tree. The same is true of a stop sign, "redness" is contained in some way in the stop sign.

            How is it possible to reduce concepts like "tree" and "red" to purely patterns of firing neurons, since both trees and red things do not contain any firing neurons?

            2) I will suggest that if you hold this position, you will not want to hold that all people have the same exact pattern of firing neurons when they are thinking about the same concept (this can be easily verified via brain scans). So the question is: when we are both thinking of the concept "tree" or "circle" and our brains/bodies have verifiable different patterns of firing neurons how do we verify that we are actually thinking about the same thing? All evidence in the world points towards the fact that we are thinking of the same thing, except the physical state of our nervous system and brain.

          • Caravelle

            1) The same way it's possible to reduce a continent to a map even though a continent isn't made of paper ? The two entities just need to be related in relevant ways. For example, that the firing pattern for the word "tree" be related to the firing patterns for the perceptual experience of a tree, for the properties of trees, for one's memories of having interacted with trees, etc. in ways that correspond to how trees actually look like, what properties they actually have, how you actually interacted with trees in the past (or how one typically interacts with trees), etc.

            You're confusing internal concepts with their referents again by the way - our internal concepts of treeness may be related to the external reality of "treeness", i.e. the set of common properties of trees in general but it's not the exact same thing. Our internal concepts are usually much simpler than the realities they point to; obviously, otherwise we'd have nothing to learn about reality. I'd think this would be considered true even from a non-materialist point of view.

            2) The firing patterns don't need to be identical, they just need to relate to reality in sufficiently similar and consistent ways.

          • Phil

            1)

            The same way it's possible to reduce a continent to a map even though a continent isn't made of paper

            I mentioned this earlier, but the two biggest strikes against the theory of concepts you are proposing is this:

            A. If matter/energy is purely responsible for making a "map of reality" using concepts then (1) we again have no way to tell whether your map of reality is actually true and (2) whether it is the same as anyone else's. To try to explain why your map is right and the same as mine is to make a truth claim, which is exactly what you are trying to prove! It is a self-defeating and incoherent theory.

            B. We assume that human person's are purely material:

            1. If people have the same understanding, then they will be disposed to the same action, but only if they have the same desires.
            2. If people have the same desires, then they will be disposed to the same action, but only if they have the same understandings.

            Conclusion: The issue is that we can only know that the first is true, if we know that the second is true. And we only know that the second is true, if the first is true. It is a vicious circle which is ultimately a deadly blow to this theory.

            -------------

            2) If they don't need to be exactly identical, then your concept of "red" is objectively not the same as my concept of "red". For example, we have two maps of Africa, one is the slightly diamond shape, the other is oval. These two maps are objectively not the same. Therefore, we can never say that your concepts are the same as mine, unless the maps are the exact same.

            The issue, is this radical reductionism. It gets ridiculous because to say "your" concept and "my" concept is even false. You are just a bunch of matter/energy and I am just a bunch of matter/energy. There is no "you" or "me" that is separate from the collection of matter/energy. We can't even talk about this without saying that "I" or "you" are something other than a collection of matter/energy!

          • Caravelle

            Conclusion: The issue is that we can only know that the first is true, if we know that the second is true. And we only know that the second is true, if the first is true.

            Or, you know, alternatively, the two people could talk to each other about what they mean by X and see if what each one says makes sense to the other.

            To try to explain why your map is right and the same as mine is to make a truth claim, which is exactly what you are trying to prove! It is a self-defeating and incoherent theory.

            You're confusing "incoherent" with "circular". They're both bad when trying to prove something, but they aren't the same thing, in fact they're polar opposites. If you can use an assumption to prove that assumption, that's circular but it's also internally consistent. Because it's circular you can't use it to show the assumption is true, but then I'm not trying to show materialism is true am I. You are the one trying to show materialism is inconsistent. Circularity doesn't show that, if anything it shows the opposite (that there's at least one aspect of the assumption that is internally consistent).

            The issue, is this radical reductionism. It gets ridiculous because to say "your" concept and "my" concept is even false.

            "Material" doesn't mean "false".

          • Phil

            Or, you know, alternatively, the two people could talk to each other about what they mean by X and see if what each one says makes sense to the other.

            But everything you use to try and explain a concept will itself contain concepts that you have to explain. This will continue on ad infinitum. So you will never be able to explain coherently any concept (unless one could explain a concept, not using concepts, which is impossible).

            You're confusing "incoherent" with "circular".

            I would agree that they are different. But the argument we are dealing with is ultimately a self-undermining one, which is sightly different from a circular one. Circular arguments are bad, but doesn't mean that the conclusion is automatically false. Self-undermining beliefs are always incoherent: e.g., "It is an objective truth that all truth is subjective"

          • Caravelle

            But you haven't shown the belief is self-undermining, you've shown it's circular. "My observation and reasoning skills lead me to believe evolution is true, and if evolution is true I can infer that my observation and reasoning skills are accurate (because they're the product of evolution, which generates functional things)" is circular. X, therefore Y, therefore X.

          • Doug Shaver

            it does take a significant amount of philosophical study and a good bit of scientific study

            I've done both.

            Here is some reading to get you started . . . .

            Yes, the old "You just haven't studied it enough" argument. For any belief I hold, conventional or unconventional, somebody can suggest a book I have not yet read and say, "This will (or ought to) change your mind."

            And maybe it would. I cannot address any argument that I have not studied. But after many years of studying many arguments to the same conclusion, and having found all of them lacking cogency, I think a bit of skepticism is warranted when I am assured that it's just my bad luck that I haven't yet found the killer argument.

          • Phil

            Hey Doug,

            The reading was actually not presented as being able to change anyone's mind, only you can change your mind and no book can do that for you! I, personally, have no ultimate goal of changing anyone's mind. Our goal is to discover the truth of reality together. They were also not presented as an argument. The books were presented as opportunity to grow in knowledge of the author's positions. I presented the handful of books to specifically Brian because through our discussions I think these books would help him to get an even better grasp on both sides of the arguments. You may have more overall knowledge than him, which means you might be more familiar with the argument presented in these books (but only you would be able to decide this).

            Again, anyone is free to read them, they are just suggestions. And anyone is free to ignore them, or me--I won't be offended! Feel free to suggest any reading for myself as well.

          • Doug Shaver

            Phil, I intended no suggestion that you were trying to force anything on anybody. When I say that a book changed my mind, all I mean is that I discovered, when I read it, some new facts, or a new argument applied to facts I was already aware of, that I found sufficient to justify a change in my beliefs. That sort of thing happens to all of us who read books, or at least it ought to.

          • Phil

            Doug,
            Got a favor to ask if you are interested. I am writing up an article for this site on materialism and the existence of truth. Since you have some background of in-depth study of both philosophy and the physical sciences, as you mentioned, I would love for you to offer some critique/suggestions on the outline of the argument thus far:

            -------
            (We begin by assuming materialism is true)

            1) The human person’s belief-making mechanisms are reducible to the overall physical state of the human person, including but not limited to, the chemical processes in the brain and the overall state of the nervous system.

            2) Either the chemical processes in the brain and the
            overall state of the nervous system (2a) obey natural physical laws or (2b) they do not.

            2a) If they do not obey any sort of natural physical laws, then our beliefs are completely random, and we have no reason to hold one belief as more likely to be true than another, including the belief that materialism is true. (Complete skepticism)

            2b) If they do obey physical laws then either: (3a)
            they always come to true beliefs or (3b) they do not always come to true beliefs.

            3a) That we always come to true beliefs is obviously false by the fact that two people can hold two contradictory beliefs to both be truth. It is also shown forth by the fact that people do, and have in the past, come to false beliefs about reality. (People on a site like StrangeNotions are actually working from the assumption that they are coming together to discuss the actual truth of reality, which assumes false beliefs about reality are possible.)

            3b) If persons do not always come to true beliefs, and the chemical processes and the overall state of the nervous system do follow natural physical laws, this means that these physical laws lead us to both true and false beliefs. To know whether a belief we hold is actually true, or if it only appears true, is impossible. This leads to complete skepticism.

            4) Therefore we can reject that the human person is
            reducible to a purely material being.

          • Caravelle

            This is because we are subject to ultimately deterministic thoughts,
            actions, and beliefs based upon these natural physical laws.

            What role does determinism play in this argument ? I'm asking because wouldn't it be the case that any system that leads us to true beliefs, whether material, immaterial or any other alternative must be deterministic ? I mean, given any question, such a system would always give one pre-determined answer - the true one. Even if there are several true answers, or none, or it's functioning in Wonderland and reality made no sense, the outcomes of the system would be determined by whatever reality is. Could you explain maybe what you mean by deterministic if not this ?

          • Caravelle

            6b) If persons do not always come to true beliefs, and the chemical processes and the overall state of the nervous system do follow natural physical laws, this means that these physical laws lead us to both true and false beliefs. To know whether a belief we hold is actually true, or if it only appears true, is impossible.

            I do not believe that last sentence follows; I looked at the question in an analogous system to figure out why.

            Under materialism, whether a belief is true or not is a statement about whether a pattern in our brain correlates with reality in a specific way or not. Similarly, if we have a candle, a spherical lens at a certain distance away and a piece of white paper at specific distance away on the other side, as per your basic physics textbook you'll get an image of the candle on the paper. This is saying that the characteristics of the paper will be correlated in a specific way to those of the candle (namely, the same pattern of light will be coming from both of them).

            Now, there is nothing in the laws of physics that says the paper should be correlated with the candle. In fact, if the lens weren't there, or there was an opaque rock in its place, there would be no correlation, no image. If the lens was slightly different we might get a fuzzy or distorted image. If instead of the lens we had a film projector showing The Wizard of Oz we'd have images that were completely unrelated to the candle. The basic laws of physics followed by the quarks in the paper and the photons bouncing off it allow them to do any of these things.

            That said, all of these alternatives depend on there being something else there instead of the lens. If we look at the quarks in the piece of paper and the candle and the photons around them in isolation then any combination of their behavior is possible, but if we take the quarks in the piece of paper, the candle, photons, and the lens then the same physical laws lead the photons from the candle to interact with the quarks in the lens in specific ways and then reflect off the quarks in the paper in a way that correlates with the photons coming from the candle. Once you've decided whether we have a lens, a flawed lens, a rock or a videoprojector showing The Wizard of Oz there, then what light the paper reflects and the extent to which it resembles the light coming from the candle are determined; you can't get The Wizard of Oz or a dark shadow if there's a good lens there, you can only get a good image. And if it's a flawed lens you'll get a flawed image, but its very flaws will be strictly determined by the flaws of the lens, or any other obstacle to the photons between the candle and paper; they won't be random and unpredictable.

            I think we must make the same distinction for beliefs. "The physical laws lead us to both true and false beliefs" is true in that taken in isolation, basic chemistry and physics is compatible with any brain pattern, correlated with reality or not. But put together with the brain as a whole, including its perceptual and reasoning abilities, then those same laws of physics lead to very specific patterns, that have a very specific relationship with reality. And even if that relationship isn't always a perfect correlation (i.e. our perceptual systems and reasoning abilities aren't perfect, we can acquire false beliefs), that doesn't mean the flaws are random and that it's impossible to compensate for them (there are various ways we can test our beliefs against reality and each other, specific cognitive biases we can learn about and try to compensate for, etc), nor does it mean it's a 50/50 chance that any belief is true or not (in fact most of our beliefs are true, as we can see from how much consistency there is between them and how we successfully interact with reality in our day-to-day lives - just like the possibility of optical illusions and hallucinations don't make our vision useless and those illusions impossible to identify as such).

            Hope this helps.

          • Phil

            Thanks for the response--I have actually completely revamped this argument. One of the reasons being what you point out. I'm thinking of passing along the new one to you.

          • Phil

            Thank you Caravelle for taking the time to look this over. I really appreciate it! So this formulation right now got a big thumbs up from the local "philosophy department", so I figured I would turn it lose before writing up a draft of the article. This formulation follows a standard logical philosophical "proof" form. If you remember the series of posts on the existence of an unconditioned reality, this follows the same form.

            I will be proposing all 3 options for accounting for truth in a materialistic worldview. If all 3 of those options can be reduced to absurdity, then materialism is also reduced to absurdity and rejected. Let us begin!

            -----------

            I. Either materialism is true, or materialism is false.

            II. If materialism is true, we have only 3 options in all reality:
            (A) The human person's belief-making mechanisms do not follow complex natural physical laws.

            (B) The human person's belief-making mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and always lead to true beliefs.
            (C) The human person's belief-making mechanisms mechanisms do follow complex natural physical laws and do not always lead to true beliefs.

            III. Investigation of the 3 Materialist options

            Materialist Option (A)

            1) We start by assuming option A is true.
            2) Complete skepticism is false.
            3) If the human person's belief-making mechanisms do not follow complex natural physical laws, then complete skepticism is true.
            4) Contradiction between premise (2) and (3). Therefore, we reject materialist option A.

            Materialist Option (B)

            1) We assume materialist option B is true.
            2) The human person does not always hod true beliefs.
            3) Contradiction between premise (1) and (2). Therefore, we reject materialist option B.

            Materialist Option (C)

            1) We assume materialist option C is true.
            2) Complete skepticism is false.
            3) If the human person's belief-making mechanisms follow complex natural physical laws, which do not always lead to true beliefs, then to know whether we have reason to hold certain beliefs as more rational than any other beliefs is impossible.
            4) If we cannot know whether we have reason to hold certain beliefs as more rational than any other, then complete skepticism is true.
            5) Contradiction between premise (2) and (4). Therefore, we reject materialist option C.

            IV. All options for coherently accounting for materialism and truth and been reduced to absurdity, therefore we reduce materialism to absurdity and reject it.

            ------

            Critiques and/or affirmations? Obviously, in the article I would need to defend all the premises, but I am curious what, if any, of the premises would you take the biggest issue with? (The logical form is correct. So if the premises are true, then the conclusions are necessarily true.)

            Thanks again!

          • Caravelle

            3) If the human person's belief-making mechanisms follow complex natural
            physical laws, which do not always lead to true beliefs, then to know
            whether we have reason to hold certain beliefs as more rational than any
            other beliefs is impossible.

            Still the issue, for me, but I'm not sure what to say about it that I haven't already. Let's try this. What if one were to make this argument :

            If the human person's belief-making mechanisms do not always lead to true beliefs, then to know
            whether we have reason to hold certain beliefs as more rational than any
            other beliefs is impossible.

            Is this a good argument ? Does it demonstrate that radical skepticism inevitably follows from our ability to form false beliefs ?

            If not, then how exactly does the "follow complex natural physical laws, which" addition affect the argument to make it sound when it wouldn't be otherwise ?

          • Phil

            The difference is I will be arguing that belief-making mechanisms based upon any kind of natural laws necessarily lead to complete skepticism. The formulation you propose, not based upon natural laws, does not necessarily lead to complete skepticism.

            This is because I would in fact hold that the human person's belief-making mechanisms do not always lead to true beliefs, but this is either because of bad reasoning, or incomplete information. And judging whether a person has reasoned badly or has incomplete information is not do to any natural laws. (If our judgment of whether a person has reasoned badly or has incomplete information is also reliant to natural laws, then we are back at complete skepticism.)

            The key distinction is being able to actually hold that we have reason for holding this specific belief to be actually true, rather than any other belief about a certain being or reality. My job in the coming essay is to show that materialism cannot support this position, and leads to complete skepticism.

          • Caravelle

            Thank you for replying, and sorry for maybe pushing you into it when you're busy - that wasn't my intent. But since you did reply I certainly appreciate it.

            This is because I would in fact hold that the human person's belief-making mechanisms do not also lead to true beliefs, but this is either because of bad reasoning, or incomplete information.

            That's interesting (I assume you meant "false" beliefs there, it's what makes more sense). By "belief-making system" (I believe I was the first to use that expression) I meant "the set of processes by which people come to form beliefs". This, it seems to me, includes not only what I think we'd both agree are the "correct" ways of forming beliefs, i.e. reason and unbiased observation, but also the other processes that influence our beliefs, including all our cognitive biases, too-rough heuristics and other examples of "bad reasoning". Thus, while I agree that a perfectly reasoning person with full information can only come to true beliefs, I think we can both agree that none of us always reason perfectly and always have full information. Which is why we sometimes come to have false beliefs.

            As for evaluating whether we or another person used bad reasoning or has incomplete information, does this not involve using our own reasoning abilities (good and bad) and as much information as we ourselves can gather (which can also be incomplete) ? In other words, doesn't evaluating whether someone came to their beliefs correctly involve using the same tools we use to come to our beliefs in the first place ?

          • Phil

            No worries at all, I didn't wanna leave you hanging as well!

            That's interesting (I assume you meant "false" beliefs there, it's what makes more sense).

            I do actually mean that the human person is capable of believing something to be true that is not actually true. And what you propose above I completely agree with. And this is quite obvious from lived reality. What I do not hold is the two extremes: compete certainty/infallibility or complete skepticism.

            An Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the human person would hold that the human intellect (what I would call the person's "belief-making mechanism") is actually capable of coming to truth, and that is actually the end and purpose of the human intellect. But this human intellect is not subject to natural laws so this does not undermine it's ability to come to truth qua truth.

            And capability to come to truth does not equal infallibility or 100% certainty. But not having infallibility or 100% certainty does not equal complete skepticism. It means that if we have true facts and we reason correctly we have actually come to actual truth about reality. (The fact that we can never have 100% certainty was alluded to by you, and is made clear that only someone with a "God's-eye view" could know the whole. We can't since we are part of the whole.)

            In other words, doesn't evaluating whether someone came to their beliefs correctly involve using the same tools we use to come to our beliefs in
            the first place?

            Yessir! And that is bringing us closer and closer to the issue with materialism that I hope to make clear in the essay. Every belief we hold, including evaluating other people's beliefs, rely on proper use of our reason/intellect/belief-making mechanisms.

            The problem we run into with materialism is that all our belief-making mechanisms ultimately reduce to matter/energy, since that is all that exists. Well, this matter/energy either follows natural laws, or it does not. So we evaluate both those positions, and if we must logically conclude that they lead to internal contradictions, we must rationally conclude that materialism is false (in regards to specifically the human person).

          • Caravelle

            Thank you for the reply Phil, now I'm the one who left you hanging ^^

            An Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the human person would hold that the human intellect (what I would call the person's "belief-making mechanism") is actually capable of coming to truth, and that is actually the end and purpose of the human intellect. But this human intellect is not subject to natural laws so this does not undermine it's ability to come to truth qua truth.

            How would you say does being subject to natural laws undermine the intellect's ability to come to truth ?

            It isn't because being subject to natural laws leads to mistakes; we already agree that humans can make mistakes when forming their beliefs, whether or not they're subject to natural law.

            So where specifically does natural law come in ?

          • Doug Shaver

            Glad I can be of some help. I'll have a response shortly.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think the argument rests on a false dichotomy between radical skepticism and absolute certainty, and this goes to your premise 6b, and in particular, "To know whether a belief we hold is actually true, or if it only appears true, is impossible." This is true only if knowledge must be infallible if we are to count it is a knowledge. In other words, it assumes that I cannot justifiably say "I know P" unless I have demonstrated the impossibility of P's being false. With exceptions irrelevant to this discussion, I can never do that. The probability that we are all so many brains in so many vats is not zero, though we may treat it as indistinguishable from zero for all that it matters to our common epistemology.

            You state in premise 2: "Persons can make truth claims about reality that they have reason to believe are actually true." Yes, we can. And we do. That is, we do have reasons to believe many of the truth claims we make. The question is whether our reasons need to be such as to rule out any possibility of error. And I don't see why they do. Our reasons just need to be good enough to make the likelihood of error negligible for some substantial portion of our beliefs. That portion constitutes our common knowledge, the set of propositions about the world that we all agree are matters of undisputed fact. We could all be wrong about that body of beliefs, but we all agree to go on living with one another on the assumption that they're true.

            That doesn't mean we never question this common knowledge. We should check our justifications from time to time to see if they're as good as we thought they were. Just because something passes inspection, even repeated inspection, doesn't mean it should never have been inspected or never again be inspected.

            I believe that a materialistic account of our biological origins suffices to justify a supposition that our brains generate a perception of our environment that is substantially reliable and also capable of self-correction in certain circumstances. Such an account, I also believe, justifies the idea that we can identify those circumstances and bring them about on many occasions when we perceive that some self-correction may be necessary. This is all quite consistent with the realization that we cannot infallibly know anything about our environment.

            I'm not going to review Epistemology 101 here, but if I say I know some proposition P, then whoever would deny that I know P must demonstrate at least one of three things: (1) P is actually false; (2) I don't actually believe P; or (3) my belief in P is unjustified. The adversaries of materialism do not deny the truth of what we all regard as common knowledge. Nor do they deny that we materialists actually believe those things. They try to deny that we can justify our beliefs. This denial rests, I believe, on a gross misunderstanding of what evolution was capable of doing with our brains during the geological ages over which it was fashioning them.

          • Phil

            Thank you for the reply Doug. With input from both you and several others, my formulation was completely re-drawn. And we believe that it is much stronger now (it actually follows the same type of structure that the series of articles on the existence of a unconditioned reality took).

            In regards to your comment on a false dichotomy, maybe this would make it more clear what I will be trying to get across in the, God-willing, coming article.

            I think you are exactly correct that there are 3 positions on knowledge: complete skepticism, absolute certainty, and the middle ground--reason to believe that something we hold is actually true, but of course never with 100% certainty.

            I believe that this middle ground is the truth of reality. We can say with great certainty that we have a good rational reasons to hold that something is true rather than something else. For example, the earth being round. We can hold that this is a reasonable belief: It is true, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the earth is round.

            My job in the coming article was to show that materialism necessarily leads to complete skepticism. Complete skepticism is an issue, not that we can't have 100% certainty. So the key point in the upcoming article is that from a materialist POV, there is no way, in principle, to tell the difference between a belief that is actually true and one that only appears true.

            So we shall see as the article is in the proofreading and final edit stage. Thanks again!

          • Doug Shaver

            I look forward to reading it.

          • Caravelle

            Does this mean you don't intend to reply to the last questions I asked you on this subject ? It's OK if you don't, though I would be interested in knowing whether it's purely a time/effort constraint or is there an issue with the questions themselves.

          • Phil

            I apologize, sometimes I have previous commitments so its takes me several days to get back, but in the past I have normally been able to get back within ~4-8 days. I do have all your comments in a thread of emails.

            I was working on the article over the weekend so I appreciate your comments and help with that. I do plan to comment on that right now, since that can help with the article. Thanks!

          • Phil

            Let me use an example from science to maybe help the first part of my last comment clearer:

            Scientists right now have good reason to believe that something exists that they call "dark energy". They have never observed this nor do they know exactly how it works, but many still believe that they have good reason to believe something that is equal to "dark energy" exists.

            When it comes to the immaterial nature of the human intellect and self-consciousness it is similar, though not the exact same. It is similar in that we have used observation and reason to conclude that the human intellect is not completely reducible to matter, though we could never observe something that is not material in its nature (duh!).

            It is different in that further observations could radically change what scientists believe about "dark energy". But when it comes to the philosophical point about the human intellect and self-consciousness, if the philosophical argument is both deductively valid and inductively correct, then nothing could ever disprove it. No discovery of any physical science could change its conclusions.

            That is why metaphysical (i.e., philosophical) arguments are so powerful. They are much closer to geometrical/mathematical arguments than they are to scientific arguments, which makes them able to stand on much solid ground than a scientific proof. It is only a recent phenomenon in culture that has given so much weight to scientific arguments and provided the myth that metaphysical arguments aren't strong. Part of this is because there are many that just don't understand how to think critically using philosophy. And the other reason is many just don't know how a philosophical argument actually works and how to formulate a good philosophical argument.

            Hope this makes some things clearer!

          • I disagree that the dark matter analogy is relevant. Scientists believe that the mass of the universe is much greater than the matter observed, they conclude that there must be something to account for this discrepancy. They have no idea what it is. dark matter and dark energy are mysteries. It would be unreasonable to conclude that there is something immaterial or supernatural at play in these cases.

            When it comes to consciousness i think we are in a better position to say that the material brain and its activity are consciousness. Everything we observe in ourselves that we consider mental or intellectual correlates to brain activity. When there is no brain l we have no evidence of any human mental activity absent a brain. We have myths and faith beliefs and unreproduced anecdote, but when these claims are investigated they fall apart.

            There is no good reason to conclude that everything we call mental and intellect is non material. In fact we have no evidence of non matter existing. I find the very concept incoherent.

            I think you are confusing valid arguments with strong arguments. All presidents are lizards, Obama is a president, Obama is a lizard is a valid argument, but incredibly weak because one of its premises is unfounded.

            The unfounded premise you are relying on is the assertion that matter cannot fully explain mental activity. I see no reason to accept this premise and you haven't given me any.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I'm certainly not qualified to say this with confidence, but I often wonder if your perspective isn't actually closer to the ancient Hebrew mindset than Thomism is. From what I can tell, ancient Israelites would have a distinction similar to our "transcendent versus immanent" distinction (and God was understood to transcend even this distinction, i.e. He was both transcendent and immanent), but they would not have distinguished between material and immaterial. Maybe someone who knows more than I do can comment on this. Did ancient Canaanite / Israelite culture even have a concept that maps to our concept of "matter"? And if not, would the word "immaterial" even make any sense to them?

      • Not sure about ancient Hebrews, I doubt we have much information to go on. Certainly such ideas were not uncommon in classical Greece and Plato would certainly have been known in the Levant in the first few centuries BC.

        My impression of their world view from the early chapters of the OT is that they believed Yaweh was a god like the others he was jealous of in Canan. This morphed into a more ethereal version in centuries. But I'm no expert either!

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I wouldn't say that He morphed into something ethereal (at least not in the heart of the story of Israel - we can argue about what happened later in Christian times). He morphed into something transcendent. Transcendent, as I'm sure you realize, does not mean immaterial or ethereal. As I read it, transcendence in the Israelite sense works like this: Whatever you are hoping for when your temple has been destroyed and your loved ones have been killed, and you have been taken far from the land that you love and you see no hope of returning, that's transcendent. That object of your longing, whatever it is, transcends everything that you can measure or reasonably expect. The Jews, in contrast to every other tribe that we know about, never gave up on that transcendent expectation. They can therefore lay claim to being the vehicle by which the transcendent God was revealed.

          I can't see that the object of their longing was immaterial. The object of their longing was the New Jerusalem. That was still the hope even after the revelation of Christ, as we can read in the last book of the NT, Revelation: the heavenly city descending and coming together as a new heavens and a new earth (reflecting the Lord's Prayer that things be "on earth as they are in heaven"). If I may adapt the great Gil Scott Heron lyrics (The Revolution Will Not Be Televised): the resurrection will not be immaterial.

    • Daryl K. Sauerwald

      Sorry but materialist are not separated from having a philosophical view.

  • It is certainly possible that something called a soul was placed in a single pair of humans. Of course this makes me wonder what happened to the humans who did not get a soul or intellect. The Bible doesn't say, or even contemplate that any other humans existed.

    • "Of course this makes me wonder what happened to the humans who did not get a soul or intellect."

      But to be a human is to have a rational soul (and thus also an intellect.) Therefore your sentence is incoherent. It's like saying, "Or course this makes me wonder what happened to the square which did not have four sides."

      If a being lacks a soul or intellect, it is not a human.

      • GCBill

        So say Catholic theologians. I'm not sure how you expect to persuade someone who is skeptical of the notion of "soul" along these lines.

        If I were a vitalist, I couldn't dismiss Brian-prime's speculation about humans lacking élan vital by saying "to be human is to possess a vital principle."

        Furthermore, your square analogy is flawed. It is clearly possible to imagine a member of the biological species Homo sapiens which lacks a rational soul. It's not possible to imagine a square which lacks four sides (unless your imagination is non-Euclidean).

        So while you may object to Brian's terminology, his hypothetical scenario is coherent. If you're too bothered by his word choice, sub in "Homo sapiens" for "humans" and you're good to go.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think Brandon means if a being lacks a human soul, it is not a human being. These beings would be more like apes in terms of mental abilities.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          So say Catholic theologians.

          Aristotle was a Catholic theologian? Who knew!

          It is clearly possible to imagine a member of the biological species Homo sapiens which lacks a rational soul.

          That makes the "sapiens" designator a bit tricky. But in a previous essay here, commenters objected strenuously to the notion that there could be such critters when it was proposed as a solution to the "Adam/Eve" problem. Your objection amounts to the assertion that "soul" is not a biological accident, which of course it is not.

          • GCBill

            I'm not sure what to call such a hypothetical creature other than "H. sapiens sans soul." Now I realize that the rational soul is supposed to account for the capacity of sapience. Nonetheless, "H. sapiens" designates a biological species, so I don't see the problem with using it to refer to the right kind of strictly biological entity. The scientific name could have been better for the purposes of natural philosophers, but it still works okay I guess. It's at least as good as the confusing distinction between "biological" and "metaphysical" humans, because if Catholics (and Aristotle!) are to be believed, members of the former group aren't human at all.

            Of course these beings are possible in the logical sense (like their friendly cousins the p-zombies). I'm not sure whether or not either has ever existed.

      • I was using the biological meaning of human not your theological one.

      • Papalinton

        So according to your definition, THIS CHILD is not a human because he was born with anencephally, that is, without a brain. No brain, no intellect, right? Therefore not a human.

  • Mike O’Leary

    He also rightly complains that too many Catholics wrongly suppose that this teaching can be allegorized away and the standard naturalistic story about human origins accepted wholesale.

    With how often many of these teachings and writings do get allegorized, it should come as no surprise when Catholics see no trouble in doing it regarding this specific matter.

  • David Nickol

    I have read the above and also checked out the second part on Edward Feser's own blog, and it seem to me the notion of the soul here is very much in line with the "ghost in the machine." The posts seem to envision a human body that can (or at least could, at some stage of pre-human to human development) live and function either with or without a soul. Those with souls and without souls would function on different levels, since the soul is necessary for rational thought. But the "unsouled" and the "ensouled" would be physically identical and so much alike that they could live side by side as a single species. The "ensouled" could continue to live with their "unsouled" immediate ancestors and their "unsouled" contemporaries in some kind of community (and as we shall see, even interbreed with them).

    I don't see this notion of the soul as compatible as the notion so often espoused in Catholic thought, including here in this forum, as "the form of the body." With that idea of a soul, a human being without a soul isn't a somewhat intellectually inferior human. He or she is a dead body.

    I note, by the way, that all of the above is not so much an attempt to defend Catholic thought on human origins, but rather a necessary exercise to defend the Catholic interpretation of Original Sin.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think you are confusing what A-T philosophers mean by soul as the form of the body. EVERY living thing has a soul. Not every living thing has a rational soul.

      • David Nickol

        You are going to have to explain more if you want to move the discussion forward. Are you saying that what God allegedly did to create Adam and Eve was to replace the animal souls of a male and female human being with spiritual souls? Exactly what would the differences be between Adam's identical twin brother and Eve's identical twin sister who didn't get spiritual souls? Is such a thing possible? Could there be two identical human beings, one with an animal soul and one with a spiritual soul?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          They would not be identical human beings. One would not have a rational soul and the other would. The world of fictional literature is chock full of characters with animal bodies and rational souls. Smaug is one example. Or in the Narnia tales, there are beavers who are just beavers and there are some beavers who have rational souls.

          • David Nickol

            Smaug is one example. Or in the Narnia tales, there are beavers who are just beavers and there are some beavers who have rational souls.

            Well, yes, but on the other hand, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel had a soul, while Spike and Drusilla did not have souls. And yet the latter two could think just as abstractly as Angel could. But I am interested in talking about reality.

            For the sake of argument, let's grant that humans do have rational, spiritual souls. Does that mean that any creature can be given a rational, spiritual soul and function as a person on a level comparable to a human being? A bacterium, for example? Or a worm? Or even a beaver? Is it just a coincidence that human beings have more complex brains than other animals?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            From the A-T perspective the claim that Spike and Drusilla do not have rational souls is false simply because they can think abstractly and have free will.

            Your question about other forms of life is interesting. I'm not a psychologist, but in our our case I'd say in order for our souls to function we have to be able to take in the outside world through our senses, process it with the help of memory and imagination, and then express ourselves through our bodies. It would seem that without language it would be hard express our rationality either internally or externally.

            It would seem that without the complexity of our brains and our physical ability to speak, our souls would be shut up inside themselves.

        • "Exactly what would the differences be between Adam's identical twin brother and Eve's identical twin sister who didn't get spiritual souls?"

          There would be several differences, recognized by pagan and religious thinkers alike. These would include:

          - Having a rational soul

          - Being able to transcend the material realm

          - Having a moral sense

          - The ability to know (intellect) and love (will)

          I suggest you read Mortimer Adler's book, The Difference of Man and the Difference is Makes.

          • David Nickol

            pagan and religious thinkers alike

            I'm really not quite sure what you mean by pagan.

            It seems to me you are accepting the assumption that there could be biologically identical animals—identical in every respect, as identical twins—one with an animal soul and one with a rational, spiritual soul. Even if one believes everything the Church teaches about human origins, souls, and so on, this does not seem to me to be something that can be simply assumed.

            As has come up before when we have discussed Mike Flynn's scenario, he hypothesizes a mutation that sets "Adam" and "Eve" apart from all other human beings up until their time.

            From a strictly Catholic point of view (accepting the idea of humans needing to be ensouled directly by God), it seems to me one can raise the question whether just any physical body would do. Could God, for example, have infused rational souls into our ancestors of, say, 10 million years ago. To put it simplistically, don't body and soul have to be specifically designed for one another? Once again, I point out that according to the Catechism, death is defined as "when the soul leaves the body." This indicates to me at least the possible hypothesis that a truly human body requires a human soul. A human body is something that can't be alive without a human soul. So the idea of two absolutely identical human bodies—one with a spiritual soul and one without—may not make sense. The one without the soul would lack not merely rationality, but life itself.

          • "This indicates to me at least the possible hypothesis that a truly human body requires a human soul."

            Your hypothesis is not just possible. It is correct.

            "A human body is something that can't be alive without a human soul. So the idea of two absolutely identical human bodies—one with a spiritual soul and one without—may not make sense."

            You're right that it doesn't make sense. But it doesn't make sense because it's not what A-T adherents argue. There is no such thing as a living human body without a soul. A body that appears to be human, but lacks a soul, is simply not a human. All living humans are body-soul composites.

          • David Nickol

            There is no such thing as a living human body without a soul.

            May I assume you mean a spiritual soul? What I am trying to get at is that it seems quite plausible to me, even accepting all the Church teaches, that it is not the case that at some point in the development from prehuman to human, the physical development from prehuman to "true human" was completed, and all God had to do was select a male and female specimen and infuse souls in them, making them biologically identical in every important way to their contemporaries, but nevertheless transforming them into the first "true humans." If that was the case, all the human body would have needed to be alive at the dawn of human history would have been an "animal soul."

            A body that appears to be human, but lacks a soul, is simply not a human.

            But when the next part of the article is published, we are going to be dealing with the concept of "metaphysical humans" living among (and interbreeding with) physical humans without spiritual souls.

            All living humans are body-soul composites.

            The question is how you mean that. Suppose Adam had an identical twin. Adam was given a spiritual soul, but his brother was not. If this is possible, they would be identical physically but not "metaphysically." If you are saying that humans are body-soul composites by definition, then you could just say Adam's twin is not a human being by that definition. But the big question is—Would it have been possible for Adam to have an identical twin brother, physically and physiologically identical to him in every way, who could have lived without a spiritual soul?

  • David Nickol

    A very important piece of information in evaluating Catholic views of human origins against the theory of evolution is when the first "true" humans existed. When did God infuse souls into animal bodies to make human beings? In the story of Adam and Eve, Cain is a farmer and Abel is a shepherd. But that would place Adam and Eve too close in time to contemporary humans for them to have populated the earth.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Since the theory of evolution cannot account for the presence or absence of intellect and will, it's hard to see how there could be a conflict.

      • David Nickol

        Since the theory of evolution cannot account for the presence or absence of intellect and will, it's hard to see how there could be a conflict.

        It is not a matter of whether examining the fossil record or the DNA of human (or prehuman) ancestors can detect intellect and will. It is a matter of whether (given the hypothesis that the human race has "first parents") those alleged first parents could have been far enough back in time so that enough interbreeding could have taken place (and enough die-off) so that they are common ancestors of everyone alive today. Also, it does not seem plausible to me that "first parents" could have lived, say, 10 million years ago. If we are going to posit physical humans and "metaphysical humans," the physical humans have to be far enough advanced to be "soul-ready."

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Genghis Khan lived only 750 years ago, and yet 10% of all men withing the boundaries of his empire are already today strict patrilineal descendants of this one man. Open that up to descent through daughters and through male-and-female mixed descent, and it is likely a much more sizable percentage of the people. And this is for a purely biological thing. They can spread rather more swiftly than we may have once supposed.

          For sons of the Gael, there is also this: http://www.cell.com/ajhg/abstract/S0002-9297%2807%2962363-5

  • Kevin Aldrich

    It think this is a helpful article because it puts two things on the table that are non-negotiables for Catholics, so it could provide a lot of light in dialogue with atheists. First, the Church rejects polygenism as incompatible with the doctrine of the transmission of original. And second, the Church rejects the notion that the rational intellect can arise from material causes.

    • Mike O’Leary

      The second statement can not be disproven because an extra element which can not be disproven has been added. Someone looks at the evolution of our species and notes how our intellect has grown step by step, and it appears to arrive from natural causes. Christians will say that there is that extra element, the soul, and claim it is the basis of rational intellect. Since we can not detect the soul, add a soul to something without a rational intellect, or remove a soul from something with a rational intellect we can't disprove it in any way.

      Think of this way: I delcare that my version of God imparts certain people with musical ability by adding an undetectable item to that person called the flupnar. I also say that true musical ability (unlike that basic kind from birds and such) only comes via the flupnar and not form material causes. Someone who wishes to prove me wrong can not state whether a person has or does not have the flupnar. They can't add it or remove it from a person to demonstrate its value in giving a person musical ability. My statements about musical ability, just like those of Christians regarding souls, are completely unprovable.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        A-T philosophy does not argue that there is something "more" in the human intellect that can not be disproven. Just the opposite: "the intellect can be shown on purely philosophical grounds to be immaterial[;] it is impossible in principle for the intellect to have arisen through evolution."

        In addition, what is this "step by step" intellectual growth you note that evolutionary biology shows?

        • Mike O’Leary

          Here is a brief article in Scientific American describing the changes in the human and humanoid brain. For example:

          For instance, the neocortex had begun to expand, reorganizing its functions away from visual processing toward other regions of the brain.

          and

          The shape changes we see accentuate the regions related to depth of planning, communication, problem solving and other more advanced cognitive functions.

          How would you back the idea that A-T philosophy shows "it is impossible in principle for the intellect to have arisen through evolution."?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thank you for the link. Not having looked at it yet, would it be safe to say that we can only empirically compare human brains with the actual brains of living primates? The archeological evidence would only show different sizes and shapes of cranial cavities.

            To back the idea that it is impossible for the intellect to have arisen through evolution, Feser provided a link to his own argument and someone posted the original article Feser comments on. Feser's essay is behind a paywall but the original is free.

          • Doug Shaver

            Not having looked at it yet, would it be safe to say that we can only empirically compare human brains with the actual brains of living primates? The archeological evidence would only show different sizes and shapes of cranial cavities.

            You are correct. We are assuming that similarity of size and structure correlates with similar functionality. If we had good reason to doubt that correlation, then many bets would be off.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Someone looks at the evolution of our species and notes how our intellect has grown step by step

        That's a neat trick. What does a fossil of an intellect look like? What does "half" the ability to abstract universals from concrete particulars look like?

        • muchsarcasm

          Obviously intellect is a concept. I can't show you intellect itself but I can show you fossils which demonstrate human intellect. In the same way I can't show you artistic talent or fossilized emotion but I can show you items (e.g. artwork, writings) that demonstrate that they existed in the past.

          As far as the question about half the ability to understand abstract concepts, demonstrate that there was an Adam and Eve and that they were just past the bright line between humanity being capable to understand no abstract concepts and being capable of understanding all of them.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            1. What sort of fossil would demonstrate human intellect?

            2. There is no claim of that one must understand all abstract concepts if one understands any. The claim is that the ability to abstract concepts from percepts is not something that can be chopped down into tiny incremental steps. One can do this even a little bit or not at all. People have claimed that there obviously must have been incremental shades leading up to it, but no one has ever described what those shades were.

          • Mike O’Leary

            {A brief note: The Mike O'Leary and muchsarcasm accounts are one and the same. I was accidentally logged into the latter account I use for pop culture sites.}

            1. Cave paintings not only are a form of abstract representation of items, but they also demonstrate an understanding of time outside the immediate present. It relates a past event and is kept in place to communicate to future generations.

            2. No, the claim is that man is incapable of possessing an intellect without a soul. I'm waiting for someone to demonstrate this by means other than stating it with unwarranted confidence.

            Maybe you would like to take a crack at my analogy above. Show that musical ability doesn't come from some other immaterial item. In fact, demonstrate that man has a single soul and not a multitude of souls powering our intellect depending on the type of thought needed to achieve it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            1. I guess this is acceptable now. At another time, when I pointed to the cave paintings as evidence of intellect, the hue and cry was in the opposite direction. Go figure.

            2. Man is incapable of possessing an intellect without a soul for the excellent reason that without a soul he would a corpse, and a corpse is incapable of intellection. This is much clearer in Latin, where anima simply means "alive." It is whatever a living body has that a dead body does not. Hence, the existence of soul is an empirical thing that can be tested.

            The various powers of soul at the sensitive and nutritive levels, together with the inanimate form, are shown schematically here:
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0019.GIF

            The sensitive portion of a soul with a rational annex is shown schematically here:
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0010.GIF

          • Mike O’Leary

            That which a living body has that a dead body does not is brain function supported by organs that keep it operating. There is no need to add this immaterial element called the soul to the equation. By making the soul the act of living itself you provide no evidence of what the soul is or does. It could almost be called Spinoza's Soul.

            Your diagrams do not show that there must be only one soul in a body, nor does it proclude other immaterial items that could be involved in human function (like the example regarding musical ability I gave earlier). As always, it asserts without evidence. Again I'm not discounting souls, but the article claims that intellect accomplished via completely material functions and arising from evolutionary processes has been disproven. This is simply not so and your wishy-washy definition of a soul as living itself is a discussion-ender and provides no enlightenment.

            Let's look at this alteration I made on your second diagram:

            I have decided that when the soul uses the intellect it sends an instantaneous and immaterial signal to the Moon, where the collective consciouses of all men is stored, then immediately a signal is sent back to the soul. How is my diagram any less accurate or viable than yours?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That which a living body has that a dead body does not is brain function supported by organs that keep it operating.

            What "function"? You are simply assuming the explanadum. The body is living because the brain is functioning. But the brain is functioning because the body is living. Why are you adding this immaterial element called the functioning?

            By making the soul the act of living itself you provide no evidence of what the soul is or does.

            Details follow after a definition. What the soul is is simply the principle of life in a potentially living body. What the soul does can be deduced from study of actually living beings. For example, the nutritive soul possessed by plants and the like does essentially three things: a) it takes in nutrients, b) converts some of it to its own stuff, c) uses some of it to reproduce itself. In addition, d) it maintains a homeostatic balance with its environment.

            Your diagrams do not show that there must be only one soul in a body,

            In what sense can a petunia or a poodle be said to be alive more than once at the same time? Some folks say that because an animal incorporates the nutritive functions an animal has two souls. But this overlooks the essential unification of the animating principle. The nutritive and sensitive powers act as a single whole. Likewise, the rational soul, which incorporates the sensitive and nutritive powers. The "Mike" that eats and reproduces is the same "Mike" that sees colors and apprehends shapes and the same "Mike" that composes answers on internet comm boxes.

            nor does it proclude other immaterial items that could be involved in human function (like the example regarding musical ability I gave earlier).

            In what manner is this musical ability some sort of "function" other than that of a living being? The auditory power belongs to the sensitive portion of the soul; the fingering of the clarinet belongs to the locomotive power; and so on.

            As always, it asserts without evidence.

            Actually, evidence that a body is alive is generally straightforward. Compare petunias to pebbles.

            the article claims that intellect accomplished via completely material functions and arising from evolutionary processes has been disproven.

            By whom? Unlike the outer senses (e.g., sight), which have as their object the color of material objects, the intellect has as its object things that are immaterial -- concepts. Fido and Spot have material existence, but dog does not. Concepts like "dog" are abstracted from material being through reflection by the agent intellect, as shown in the bent arrow in the prior diagram.

            your wishy-washy definition of a soul as
            living itself is a discussion-ender

            Sorry. That was the original definition. If Moderns like Descartes and the rest mucked it up, take it up with the Cartesians. Usually, definitions are the basis for subsequent discussion. I think what you mean is that the Aristotelian/Thomistic definition of anima is not what you had in mind.

            I have decided that when the soul uses the intellect it sends an instantaneous and immaterial signal to the Moon, [etc.]. How is my diagram any less accurate or viable than yours?"

            Because it has no basis in fact or observation, whereas the Aristotelian analysis is based on observation of what living beings actually do and (in the human case) through introspection/self-observation of the actual stimulus-response loop.

          • Mike O’Leary

            You've declared by fiat that everything that separates a living human from a dead one is a single and immaterial entity -- the soul. Then when someone tries to suggest that the things which separate a living human from a dead one are possibly multiple in number and possibly material you turn to your definition and say that it's impossible by definition. It could be the poster child for fallacy by definition.

            You have failed at every turn to show:
            * that a soul is necessary
            * that what the soul is claimed to do can not be achieved through material means
            * that a person can not have more than one soul (which is odd considering I assume you believe in the trinity)
            * that what the soul is claimed to do does not require input from other entities (such as the Moon)

            Everything you have said about the soul is a fanciful notion, fun for discussion, but completely undemonstrable and unnecessary for explanitive purposes.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You've declared by fiat that everything that separates a living human from a dead one is a single and immaterial entity -- the soul.

            A soul is not an entity. It is the substantial form of a living body. Every body is a synole of matter and form. ("Every thing is some thing.") No one gets excited to think that a basketball is a hylomorphic union of rubber and a sphere, denying the existence of sphere or declaring that sphere adds nothing to our understanding of basketballs, or wooling over the "sphere-basketball problem." But the fact that the substantial forms of living bodies gets a special name, anima, because they are, well, "animate" is yet another example of the confusion started by Descartes.

            when someone tries to suggest that the things which separate a living human from a dead one are possibly multiple in number and possibly material you turn to your definition

            Duh? If someone demands to know howcum cats don't evolve into dogs, one turns to the definition of evolution and points out that cats turning to dogs is not what is meant by evolution. The problem is you may never have encountered the original definition of anima and are still arguing against the soul as some sort of additional "entity."

            You have failed ... to show: * that a soul is necessary

            But if anima just is the principle of life, its necessity is obvious. You may be thinking of some ectoplasmic woo-woo or something. You don't see a basketball and declare that you have seen two things: some rubber and a sphere. The basketball just is a union of the rubber into a spherical form.

            You have failed ... to show: * that what the soul is claimed to do can not be achieved through material means

            What part of matter+form was too difficult? A living body obviously exercises its powers through matter because it is a living body, and the body is the matter. In fact, one deduces the powers of life by observing the acts performed by the physical body. But that body must also be alive in the first place. Otherwise, the brain won't "function," nor the supporting organs.

            You have failed ... to show: * that a person can not have more than one soul (which is odd considering I assume you believe in the trinity)

            Please explain how a body can be alive twice at the same time. Do you simply string words together without any thought to their meaning? (I'd ask why you think the Trinity has anything to do with this, but I expect your understanding of the latter is of the same measure.)

            You have failed ... to show: * that what the soul is claimed to do does not require input from other entities (such as the Moon)

            Oh, dear. In theology, of course, the soul is caused by God, so you may be groping your way toward this; but really? The Moon? Why the resort to woo-woo? In what manner does the Moon provide "input" to digestion or to other living functions, other than say as an object of study to the eye or the intellect or (in the case of the Apollo program) the will?

            Everything you have said about the soul is a fanciful notion, fun for discussion, but completely undemonstrable and unnecessary for explanitive purposes.

            I'm not sure why the notion that some things are alive is "fanciful," although the notion that "life" is a human construct has been raised in no less than Scientific American. Nor am I certain that whether this or that body is alive is indemonstrable. I grant that there may be borderline cases, like viruses. But your claim that life is unnecessary to explain life is bizarre. Your only attempt to "explain" life amounted to circular reasoning: the body is alive because the brain is functioning? Oy! Such "functioning" (motion) just is what it means to be alive.

          • David Nickol

            Every body is a synole of matter and form.

            Could you please cite some reference that explains the word synole. A google search shows you to be about the only person using it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Synole is from a Greek word synolon used by the Big A. It means a union of matter and form (hylomorphic union). In particular the union of a body (soma, "somatic") and soul (psyche, "psychic") form a synole, or unified whole. That is why Aquinas said, "My soul is not I." That is, he was not a "ghost in a machine."

            Synolistic comes down to us as "holistic," sometimes (more correctly!) as "whole-istic." I ran across it in Brennan's Thomistic Psychology (Macmillan, 1941) p. 6 et al. along with threptic, dianoetic, oretic, poietic, and other terms.

            Google? That all depends on who posts something. There probably aren't a whole lot of sites explicating Aristotelian psychology and evidently no modern corporation has adopted it as a trade name.

          • David Nickol

            Google? That all depends on who posts something. There probably aren't a whole lot of sites explicating Aristotelian psychology . . .

            Don't forget that a Google search can include Google Books, not just web sites.

            It appears to me that in most discussions, where you would use synole, others simply use synolon. There is no shortage of pertinent hits if I do a search for "synolon form matter," but there is almost nothing pertinent when I search for "synole form matter."

          • Mike O’Leary

            A soul is not an entity. It is the substantial form of a living body.

            And I say that the substantial and not accidental form of the living body (if you want to couch things in Artistotlean terms) is a brain receiving blood and oxygen. I ask again, show where immaterial properties are necessary for a human to be a living human.

            Every body is a synole of matter and form. ("Every thing is some thing.") No one gets excited to think that a basketball is a hylomorphic union of rubber and a sphere,

            That is until it a little air comes out of it and it doesn't have the same spherical form. I know the part where Artistotle talks about melting down a bronze statue to make a different bronze statue. It's where hylomorphism begins to get a bit wonky. If there is a tear in the basketball and I put a patch over it, is that patch now part of the form of the basketball? Would we consider that to be a substantive form of the basketball?

            denying the existence of sphere or declaring that sphere adds nothing to our understanding of basketballs, or wooling over the "sphere-basketball problem." But the fact that the substantial forms of living bodies gets a special name, anima, because they are, well, "animate" is yet another example of the confusion started by Descartes.

            Assuming hylomorphism is accurate it by no means shows that soul-body dualism is also accurate, especially one with a soul that is immaterial and singular in nature and one that supposedly is responsible for human processes as described in your earlier charts.

            Duh? If someone demands to know howcum cats don't evolve into dogs, one turns to the definition of evolution and points out that cats turning to dogs is not what is meant by evolution.

            But if someone wontonly adds elements to the definition of evolution, then uses that incorrect definition to assert items not in evidence we have a problem. Let's say that I declare all of the things that separate a car that can be driven from one that can't is the "autoessence". Besides questioning the necessity of that terminology no one will really have a problem with it. But then I say that "autoessence" means that ghosts that no one can see or detect cause the car to function the way that it does those same people would question the accuracy of that term which I myself made up.Take it another way I will make a set of positivie integers that are only evenly divisible by themselves and 1 and call them prime. If I then claim certain additional properties of that set they must be accurate (for example I can't say that they are all odd numbers). So if you want a soul to be the set of all properties that a living person needs to live, go ahead. Just don't then extrapolate any further properties without evidence.

            The problem is you may never have encountered the original definition of anima and are still arguing against the soul as some sort of additional "entity."

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes a person's soul as a separate single entity that leaves the body. I naturally assumed that on a Catholic apologist website that you were using the term "soul" in the same way the church does.

            But if anima just is the principle of life, its necessity is obvious. You may be thinking of some ectoplasmic woo-woo or something. You don't see a basketball and declare that you have seen two things: some rubber and a sphere. The basketball just is a union of the rubber into a spherical form.

            Let's go back to my analogy about the car and back to your diagrams regarding the soul's purpose. As I noted before I'll call "autoessence" all those things that require a car to be able to be driven. I realize this is a non-living thing that I'm comparing to a living thing, but bear with me. I'm not a car expert but I can name several things necessary and not necessary for a car to be a driven. Wheels are necessary but tires are not. An alternator is necessary but a brake pedal is not. The point is that the number of items in my set that I call "autoessence" are multiple. Now let's take the set you call a "soul". Since you don't want to treat souls the way the church does, we will go by your non-church definition so a person can only have one soul. How many items make up that set? What can we do to assure the number we come up with is accurate? According to your diagrams the soul does several different things, but is the mechanism by which they are accomplished singular in nature or does the soul have multiple parts? How many?

            What part of matter+form was too difficult? A living body obviously exercises its powers through matter because it is a living body, and the body is the matter. In fact, one deduces the powers of life by observing the acts performed by the physical body. But that body must also be alive in the first place. Otherwise, the brain won't "function," nor the supporting organs.

            How have you deduced that these powers of life are immaterial in nature? Can you back up any assertions at all?

            Please explain how a body can be alive twice at the same time. Do you simply string words together without any thought to their meaning?

            If you were projecting any more I'd be holding a bag of popcorn and a ticket stub.

            (I'd ask why you think the Trinity has anything to do with this, but I expect your understanding of the latter is of the same measure.)

            Do you mean how my understanding is acutally cogent? I brought up the Trinity because it's use of one is three and 1+1+1=1 and other fun with numbers. I didn't want to rule out the possibility that a person's soul was another such example.

            Oh, dear. In theology, of course, the soul is caused by God, so you may be groping your way toward this; but really? The Moon? Why the resort to woo-woo? In what manner does the Moon provide "input" to digestion or to other living functions, other than say as an object of study to the eye or the intellect or (in the case of the Apollo program) the will?

            I resort to woo-woo in response to woo-woo. You can't show that the moon doesn't interact with the soul in some way since you can't describe how the soul works at all.

            I'm not sure why the notion that some things are alive is "fanciful," although the notion that "life" is a human construct has been raised in no less than Scientific American.

            I agree that discussion about what is life is one of the most complex and fascinating questions man has tackled. What I find fanciful is to just throw out things like the soul (as an entity) as an explanation for things, knowing full well that we have not ruled at all a completely material explanation for life and for intellect.And remember the point of this article that this whole comment section is about. It's about the soul of a man being different than that of an ape (by God's grace). If the soul as you define it is that which separates a living animal/person from a dead one and that separating is totally physical then Feser's argument fails completely.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            And I say that the substantial and not accidental form of the living body is a brain receiving blood and oxygen.

            You seem unclear on the difference between matter and the arrangement of matter. A brain is "receiving" blood and oxygen only if the body is already alive. The question is not about the "brain." It's about the "receiving." That is, it's about Newtonian "dead matter" being in motion. Besides, a plant does not have a brain, yet it is alive.

            I ask again, show where immaterial properties are necessary for a human to be a living human.

            "Properties" is the wrong word, but take a power like homeostasis. Anything material has, per the Scientific Revolution, qualities like size, weight, location, etc. How much does homeostasis weight? Where is it located? What is its length, breadth, or height? Lacking such things, how can it be material? For that matter, how much does "life" weigh?

            That is until it a l ittle ai r comes out of it and it doesn't have the same spherical form.

            You may have discovered that basketballs can die!

            A ssuming hylomorphism is accurate

            Provide an example of a thing that lacks either matter or form. "Every thing is some thing." That is, every thing is some form of thing.

            one with a soul that is immaterial

            Are you saying the soul is material? I think you are debating Rene Descartes, not Thomas or Aristotle.

            and singular in nature

            You have not explained how a thing may be alive twice at the same time.

            and one that supposedly is responsible for human processes as described in your earlier charts.

            It would be hard to be alive and not possess at least the powers of digestion, metabolism, and reproduction. You cannot explain these motions simply by saying the body is in motion. That's circular.

            Let's say that I declare all of the things that separate a car that can be driven from one that can't is the "autoessence".

            I would have called it the driver's intentions. Besides, an artifact does not have (by definition!) an essence except in a derivative sense. It's being is accidental, not essential. Unlike the parts of a petunia, which emerge from the petunia by immanent powers of morphogenesis, the parts of an automobile must be forcibly assembled by an external intelligence. That's where Newton, with his "dead matter" and "forces" went wrong, and why he wound up postulating divine intervention or fine-tuning to explain why his system would not eventually come apart. There are useful analogies between natural things and artifacts, but the two are not equivalent.

            Just don't then extrapolate any further properties without evidence.

            I think there is evidence of digestion, sensation, motion, and other properties.

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes a person's soul as a separate single entity that leaves the body.

            Not exactly. It defines the human soul as the principle of human life. A principle is an origin or source, just as a term is an end. Because the intellect and will deal with things that are immaterial -- Fido exists in matter, but dog does not -- there is no reason to believe that the rational parts of a human soul perish with the material substrate. Its vegetative and sensitive powers, which are based in matter, will undoubtedly perish with the matter, but note that the Church also teaches that the soul will be reunited with a body, because the soul in and of itself is not "you."

            According to your diagrams the soul does several different things, but is the mechanism by which they are accomplished singular in nature or does the soul have multiple parts? How many?

            You may find these lectures by William Wallace useful. Wallace is a physicist, but you don't need physics to follow him. Lecture 1 (http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02001.htm#1) covers basics of knowledge. He takes up matter and form in Lecture 2 (http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm). Lecture 3 picks up the idea of soul (http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02003.htm) and compares it to inanimate forms; Lecture 4 addresses plant and animal souls (http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02004.htm) and goes on to motion/change.

            How have you deduced that these powers of life are immaterial in nature?

            Because they do not themselves have the attributes of a material body: size, weight, dimension, etc.

            Please explain how a body can be alive twice at the same time.
            If you were projecting any more I'd be holding a bag of popcorn and a ticket stub.

            Please explain how a body can be alive twice at the same time.

            You can't show that the moon doesn't interact with the soul in some way since you can't describe how the soul works at all.

            But I have described it. At the level of the nutritive soul, it provides the motions of digestion (the most primitive sort of cognition), growth/development, and reproduction, plus the homeostasis that maintains the balance. Plants themselves lack an autonomic nervous system for homeostasis, but they do have processes that are analogous to the operations of the autonomic nervous system in animals and humans.

            What I find fanciful is to just throw out things like the soul (as an entity) as an explanation for things,

            That's because otherwise you cannot explain why the body is in motion. The dead body consists of the same matter as the live body, so it cannot be the matter alone. In fact, that matter is replaced numerous times in the course of a lifetime. Natural science must simply take motion for granted. For example, all your attempts to explain what makes a living body alive amount to a prior assumption of life.

            If the soul as you define it is that which separates a living animal/person from a dead one and that separating is totally physical then Feser's argument fails completely.

            No more than it fails to distinguish a monkey from a mosswort. Read some of the links. Apes do not lack souls, they lack rational souls. That is the distinction.
            There is an extended discussion that begins here: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/07/in-psearch-of-psyche-some-groundwork.html
            and continues unfinished through four parts.

          • Doug Shaver

            Man is incapable of possessing an intellect without a soul for the excellent reason that without a soul he would a corpse

            This is question-begging.

            This is much clearer in Latin, where anima simply means "alive." It is whatever a living body has that a dead body does not.

            My point exactly.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You may be thinking of "soul" in the Cartesian sense as a sort of "ghost in the machine," a second substance or an additional, invisible organ. This is a consequence of certain metaphysical commitments made by the 17th century revolutionaries which regarded Nature as comprised of "dead" matter on which motion and order were extrinsically imposed. Hence, the soul was seen as as extrinsic "force" that motivated the body. If you want to say the Early Modern Scientific Revolutionaries were wrong about this, too, go ahead. But that doesn't lay a glove on what Aristotle or Thomas wrote. If you wish to refute them, you must address what they actually wrote.

            I think you meant "tautologous" rather than "question-begging." To say that "anima" meant "life" no more "begs the question" than any other definition.

          • Doug Shaver

            If your point was that a person has to be alive in order to have an intellect, then I'm not disagreeing. But it seemed as though you were trying to prove something more than that.

            But that doesn't lay a glove on what Aristotle or Thomas wrote. If you wish to refute them, you must address what they actually wrote.

            You're the one writing to me. I'm addressing what you're writing. If you wish to quote Aristotle or Thomas, then I'll address those quotations.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            it seemed as though you were trying to prove something more than that.

            Only that the Early Moderns took something fairly simple and straightforward and turned it into a Cartesian contraption, and the High and Late Moderns have been reacting against that contraption ever since.

            If you wish to quote Aristotle or Thomas

            That is exceptionally literalist. So far as I know, everything I have set forward is congruent with Thomistic Psychology. You have been objecting -- so it seems from the natures of your objections -- to the Caretesian Contraption, not to what the classic positions were.

          • Doug Shaver

            In ordinary discourse, soul is not simply equivalent to life. When you say that intellect cannot exist without a soul, you are being disingenuous if you then complain that people think you are defending Cartesian dualism.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But ordinary discourse is frequently vague and imprecise. Consider common usage of "nuclear" or "evolution," let alone "simple curve." If all one seeks is to show common discourse inadequate to complete understanding, that's like Godzilla vs. Bambi.

            Intellect cannot exist without soul. Neither can metabolism, reproduction, sensation, perception, and a host of other powers exhibited by various souls. I would be hard-pressed to think of any examples of these powers possessed by inanimate beings.

          • Doug Shaver

            But ordinary discourse is frequently vague and imprecise.

            Yes, and that can be a problem. But how does your solution fix it? We have a word for what you claim to be talking about: "life." Do you think that word is more vague or imprecise than "soul"?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No, only that they are the same term and to argue against "soul" in the sense it was used by Thomas (or by Aristotle) as opposed to Descartes requires an understanding of this.

          • Doug Shaver

            If they're the same thing, then we can just argue about life.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sure, but if anima = soul = alive, you'll get things like the recent article in Scientific American arguing that life does not exist.

          • Doug Shaver

            If life does not exist, then we must infer either: (a) intellect does not depend on life or (b) intellect does not exist.

          • Bob

            I believe that the catholic position is that intellect does not depend on life, at least that is the thomistic position.

          • Doug Shaver

            That is my understanding of historically orthodox Christianity in general. Protestants took it with them more or less intact when they broke away.

          • Bob

            Of course Ye Old's assertion that intellect cannot exist without a soul may just be a bit heretical, but ymmv...

          • Doug Shaver

            I believe intellects exist. I do not believe that what almost everyone else means by souls exist.

      • Mike

        Isn't this how ppl used to judge "inferior" races, by their achievements in building sciences, art, technology, social organization etc? Wouldn't we be able to conclude based on your reasoning that some races really are just smarter than others?

        • muchsarcasm

          That's actually a good question. Phrenology was a pseudo-science that tried without testing or study to arrive at a desired result (much like the idea of souls). Thanks to actually study via CT scans we have a better grasp as to not how our brains work, but how they are both similar and different from other animals.

          This article is outright stating that it's impossible for rational intellect to have formed from natural evolutionary processes. The author has completely ruled out the possibility that this could have occurred and the fascinating science of brain study is all for naught -- as if incredulity alone was a reasonable excuse to state something is not true.

          See, I'm not ruling out that souls exist; but I don't think it's too much to ask for the tiniest bit of evidence that shows that they exist and/or that an otherwise biologically operational human being with a working brain and no soul can not have rational thought.

          • Mike

            I think what would help is considering that apparently some apes share 99.9% of our dna and yet can't do basic arithmetic that a 4 year old can which seems to imply that the difference is not entirely reducible to dna/matter but perhaps something about the way it has been "organized" something about its "form" plays a role - well that "form" is what has been termed "soul" which enables trillions of atoms to "activate" and become rational self reflective human beings.

            I think that looking for answers to questions about the intrinsic value of a human being or race via a microscope or chemical brain analysis is very very risky as what happens if the "science" does find an actual difference in brain structure/ability? Does that then on atheism permit different treatment? I think we have to look to philo/religion for those answers.

            Thx. for engaging.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think what would help is considering that apparently some apes share 99.9% of our dna and yet can't do basic arithmetic that a 4 year old can which seems to imply that the difference is not entirely reducible to dna/matter but perhaps something about the way it has been "organized" something about its "form" plays a role

            The usual estimates are not quite that high. The figures I hear most often are between 98% and 99%.

            Your point is still well taken. However, what we now know about DNA tells us that a pretty small change can have large effects on an organism's development. DNA is often called the body's blueprint, but that is a bad analogy. A better analogy would compare DNA with a recipe, or with a book of instructions for building a house. If the instructions were sufficiently detailed, the book would need no drawings or any other visual aids. A few minor revisions to that book could change the end result from a one-bedroom cottage to a Victorian mansion.

          • Caravelle

            Moreover, when we look at the differences there are between human and chimpanzee genomes we see differences in genes related to language, brain formation, muscle formation, i.e. exactly the kinds of differences we'd expect given the differences we do observe between humans and chimpanzees.

          • Mike

            Yes that is an interesting field that is developing; i think it's called epigenetics? and so what it seems to be saying is that just bc you have a certain gene doesn't mean that that trait will necessarily exhibit itself as it may still need to be activated or something to that effect. It seems to be saying that the interactions btw our environments and our bodies and probably our thoughts as well can have an impact on our gene expression. This is a fascinating area of biology.

          • Doug Shaver

            Fascinating indeed. It's been solving a lot of longstanding puzzles.

    • Michael Murray

      You need to make a clear statement about what polygenism means for the Church though. Does it mean that all of us alive descend exclusively from Adam and Eve or are their contemporaries allowed to be involved in our family trees ? If it means exclusively from Adam and Eve then current scientific evidence based on DNA studies already says this is false.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I don't know to answer to those questions. Maybe someone else does.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        If it's not clear what the Church was teaching, then it's not clear what the Church was teaching (*). There is even a (very subtle) hint that some ambiguity was intended in the phrasing of the teaching: " ... it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled ... ", is different than, "... it is definitively impossible to reconcile ..." Perhaps (I am just speculating) a reconciliation can arise precisely with the distinction you are raising between two different possible meanings of "polygenism".

        I don't have time to hunt it down now, but I believe the teaching on infallibility is something along the lines of: "If it's not clear whether something is infallible, then it's not infallible". If one fails, after honest effort, to discern the intended meaning of a teaching, then it is perfectly acceptable to use one's judgement to select amongst different possible meanings.

      • Nick Cotta

        The dogma is not defined nor will it be unless it is necessary to do so the question is kind of moot. For the sake of argument, assume the second case allowing contemporaries. Most evolutionists already theorize that Y Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve were not themselves contemporaries (although they can't rule it out and are probably suffering from the same thing Fred Hoyle and Co. suffered from i.e. the Big Bang is not true because we've staked our ground theologically with the anti claim) Just provide some valid proof that not even this original pair is possible and we'll have some serious intellectual backtracking to do - it will be the first time a Catholic dogmatic teaching has been proven false by empiricism.

        The deal with uber rationalists is that they would like the Catholic Church to make an empiric statement worthy of falsification based on the current level of science. Aldrich is simply pointing out that they made one (two actually but I don't know about the precision of his second claim) and everyone at a forum like this can basically agree on one intersection of science and theology that can be falsified.

        This paper cited on wikipedia seems to think Y Adam and Mito-Eve were contemporaries:
        http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6145/465

        • Michael Murray

          Aldrich is simply pointing out that they made one (two actually but I don't know about the precision of his second claim) and everyone at a forum like this can basically agree on one intersection of science and theology that can be falsified.

          But my point is that they didn't make an empiric statement worthy (capable of ?) falsification if they didn't define the term polygenism. In fact as Jim also points out it isn't even completely clear what the phrase "it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled" with is supposed to mean.

          This is pretty much what I found out last time this topic came up here and I went around in circles with someone over the definition of polygenism.

          Thanks everyone for the responses.

          • Nick Cotta

            Basically, the way that original sin operates according to the Church is through ancestry so every human on earth today must have the same common pair of ancestors.
            How is this not falsifiable?

          • Michael Murray

            There are two possible situations:

            (a) for every person alive if you follow their family tree backwards it goes through Adam and Eve

            (b) for every person alive if you follow their family tree backwards it goes only through Adam and Eve

            Blogs and articles I've read in the past differ over which of these they call polygenism and I don't think it's clear which the Church means.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        It seems that Feser is saying that we descended exclusively from Adam and Eve. This also is what I always understood the teaching of the Church to be. It seems Feser believes those who believe otherwise are heretics.

        If Feser is right, the Church either has a wrong dogma or must revise her dogma, which we are told she never does. It seems scientific findings can disprove some of the Church's teachings and thus her claims on her own authority.

        • Michael Murray

          Yes I agree. In particular this article he references

          http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/did-adam-and-eve-really-exist

          tries very hard to argue for a single Adam and Eve as the sole ancestors of all of humanity. On a quick reading it seems he dismisses any contradiction with science because (a) science can't prove anything and (b) science only estimates the bottle neck so maybe it's wrong.

          I'm not convinced though that the Catholic Church has a definitive position on this though. Is this really dogma ? I think it is dogma that original sin comes down to all of humanity from one pair of humans. But that is not the same thing.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I can only say that it was my distinct impression when I was Catholic that we are all descended exclusively from two first parents. This teaching was Catholic Doctrine on the level of the teaching on female priests.

            However, viewing Feser's newest article, I guess I read him wrong.

    • I believe it is still correct to say that both Christianity, in general, and Roman Catholicism, in particular, remain in search of a metaphysic, that philosophy remains an autonomous method from both science and theology. While there are certain preambles to the faith, which are indeed indispensable metaphysical presuppositions without which the life of faith would make little sense, Christianity's coherence certainly wouldn't turn on which philosophy of mind or interpretation of soul one inclines toward, as long as one's anthropology affirms certain beliefs about human nature, e.g. that it's clearly differentiated by its rationality, that it's rationality includes a radically free will, and so on. This is to suggest, for example, that a nonreductive physicalist account of the human soul would not seem to me to be a priori incompatible with Christianity. I would be surprised to discover that it's necessarily incompatible with Roman Catholicism given that a great deal of Nancey Murphy's work on emergentist accounts of human nature was accomplished during a decade or more of collaboration with the late Bill Stoeger and his fellow Jesuits under the auspices of the Vatican Observatory, as published by Nitre Dame, the Vatican, Oxford Press and others. I affirm that Aristotelian notions of causation can help elucidate emergentist heuristics but I don't buy into the notion that one root metaphor or the next (substance, process, experience, etc) delivers the only metaphysic compatible with the Gospel, not for Christians in general or Catholics in particular. It may be that if one adopts a substance metaphysic and traffics in concepts like immaterial that one gets inescapably driven to Feser's conclusions regarding theological anthropology. I have little reason, however, to employ his metaphysics or to think it successfully refers to primal realities much less describes them. A more vague phenomenological approach committed to metaphysical realism works well enough it seems.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Not to scare you with a man-crush, but I am honestly thinking about making a bumper sticker that says "Read More Johnboy!" All of your comments here (and on EN) have been exploding with insight. Please keep it up!

        Not to harsh on the Aquinas fans, but I am nearly in despair sometimes when Aquinas is seemingly given priority over Jesus himself. I know I owe Aquinas an immense debt of gratitude for what he elucidated for the Church, but all this Thomistic metaphysics seems so far afield sometimes from the eucharistic experience. Give me Exodus, or Dante, or the Easter fire outside of Church on a cold dark night! Metaphysics puts me to sleep, and all I want to do is wake up!

        So, it is a great relief to me to see someone who can, with some authority, create at least some white space between the dominant metaphysics of the Church and the euangelion that she carries deep within her. Thanks!

        • It's a delicate balance to believe without being fideistic, to be rational but not rationalistic, to be empirical but not evidentialistic, moral but not legalistic, liturgical but not ritualistic, etc Most believers seem to be unconsciously competent, philosophically. Good philosophy and metaphysics contribute to a more consciously competent appropriation of faith, hope and love. Modern Thomists, Scotists, process thinkers, phenomenologists, analytics and others are indispensable to setting forth, clearly, how eminently reasonable the life of faith can be and how existentially actionable over against the facile, often militant, naysayers. I don't judge Feser's polemical tone but trust it issues from a voice of truly prophetic protest, for example. Badly needed, too, given some modern atheological bullying, which is wholly unjustified. I have interacted with a gentler cohort of atheists and agnostics known as religious naturalists and consider them dialogue partners not antagonists. Different gifts, same Spirit.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            known as religious naturalists

            Like Ursula Goodenough?

            What sort of metaphysical framework do you use for dialogue with folks of that mindset?

            What I'm getting at is that, again without meaning to put Thomism down (and how could I, as a self-confessed ignoramus on the topic), I would love to see posts here that present Catholicism within a more postmodern framework (I'm imagining some sort of non-nihilistic and coherent flavor of postmodernism, but I don't know the lingo). I know SN is intended as a site for dialogue with atheists, but atheism is a broad tent, and I imagine many of them are not so far away from religious naturalism.

          • Yes, like Ursula. We share enough from what can be inferred from human evolutionary epistemology, a pragmatic semiotic realism and an emergentist heuristic in order to explore our shared human values and strategies for realizing same. In Ursula's specific case, for example, she and Terry Deacon affirm teleodynamics. This amounts to a minimalist telos that wouldn't necessarily violate physical causal closure or correspond to that much more robustly (theologically) conceived primal telos, but, at least, we encounter there a heuristic bridge for those of us with an analogical imagination. The
            semiotic realism of Charles Sanders Peirce provides a constructive postmodern approach that has been adapted by those of diverse approaches, whether a religious naturalist like Ursula or a Roman Catholic theologian like the late Don Gelpi, S.J. ... I would encourage you to look up Gelpi's work via Google or Amazon. Also, I commend the work of Joe Bracken SJ (the Divine Matrix) and Jack Haught (a process theologian). Finally, Bernard Lonergan's anthropology lends itself to fruitful dialogue with people of all perspectives.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            pragmatic semiotic realism and an emergentist heuristic

            Not that I could have come up with such a clear and concise description, but if I had to come up with a label for my own metaphysical stance, that would be as accurate as anything.

            Thanks for the references. I'm a big fan of Jack Haught. Have heard great things about Lonergan for years but have never dived into his stuff. I am very weak in terms of my philosophy background, but I will give it a shot. Will check out Gelpi as well. Thanks.

          • Great Silence

            I'm just finishing Bracken's "Self-emptying Love", he really is worth the effort.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Let me ask you a question, since even you find it unproblematic to speak of "preambles of faith". I find this idea to be more vexing than any other. Even a virginal conception is more plausible to me than the idea that one could have "pre-anything" of faith.

        Maybe I just don't understand the idea, but what good does it do to "prove" or even "presuppose" something within a metaphysical system, when the metaphysical system itself can be questioned?

        How can metaphysical presuppositions be a "preamble" to faith? It seems so clear to me that faith is the preamble to metaphysics. What on earth am I missing?

        • Those preambles don't presuppose any given metaphysical system and aren't delivered by any metaphysical system. They aren't provable and don't function like propositions that one would argue. They are meta-metaphysical, an inventory of ontological givens, without which no argument could advance, no proof could be attempted, no metaphysics could be hypothesized. Common sense notions of causation, the existence of other minds, principles of noncontradiction and excluded middle and sufficient reason are methodological stipulations, provisional beliefs that are indispensable to all human value-realizations, whether delivered by the methods of science and philosophy or the interpretations gifted by faith. We don't disprove solipsism; we just ignore solipsists!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That sheds some light, thanks.

            I still question the terminology though. I have seen almost every one of your "ontological givens" contested here at some point in the past two years. They are indeed "given" but some people aren't receiving! For some people, there is no trust in those gifts anymore. In that sense, I think trust in "givens" needs to precede reception of "givens".

          • Those givens refer to proximate reality, in my view, and aren't terribly controversial in that sense. When one employs them to refer to ultimate and primal realities, that's much more controversial and they best be considered methodological stipulations, without which inquiry could not proceed, not metaphysical necessities.

            In what seems to be a pervasively emergent cosmos, our givens may be as local as the rules of one's neighborhood supper club, as some laws, themselves, seem to be emergent. We evolved in and adapted to a zone of sufficient regularity in a far from equilibrium environment, so I refer to the PSR as a principle of sufficient regularity.

            What Thomism has demonstrated by extrapolating the principle of sufficient reason to conceptions of causation that are eternal, atemporal - amounts not, as many seem to imagine, to the probabilistic proposition that reality's local intelligibility necessarily implicates its universal comprehensibility, but to a pragmatic observation coupled with an evaluative disposition, which is that, if such regularities and causal chains don't perdure, we're, unfortunately, epistemically screwed. While it makes no sense to presuppose that we'll ever be either methodologically thwarted, epistemically, or metaphysically occulted, ontologically, for that would a priori foreclose on inquiry, it doesn't mean we aren't thereby screwed? For all practical purposes, best I can understand, the closer we get to T=0 near the Big Bang, the less modeling power we enjoy. A suitable amount of epistemic humility would seem to be invited where T doesn't refer at all.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Awesome response in every respect. Thanks.

  • GCBill

    The human soul is immaterial – so what? A-T metaphysicians insist that all living things possess souls, and that those souls are distinct from the matter which composes them. A-T souls are always "immaterial" in some sense of the word.

    But as far as I know, A-T metaphysics doesn't require that every creature must be specially infused with the appropriate type of soul. Why can evolution produce creatures which possess some types of immaterial souls, but not Homo sapiens individuals with human souls?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      A-T metaphysics does not posit that all living things possess souls that are immaterial.

      • David Nickol

        A-T metaphysics does not posit that all living things possess souls that are immaterial.

        Are you saying animal souls are material?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Yes.

          • Mike

            That's intriguing, can you say alittle more about this? Do you mean that maybe a dog's mental "abilities" can be reduced to pure "motions of the atoms" in his brain?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            @Jim (hillclimber), too.

            The A-T view is that every living thing has a soul, which is what is there when the thing is alive and gone when it is dead. At one moment the living thing is a unity of trillions of motions of atoms and the next it has returned to the state of trillions of atoms doing their own thing.

            So, a plant has a particular kind of life, a worm another, a dolphin yet another, and man different from all of them (actually vegetative powers, animal powers, and on top of them rational powers).

            The argument for the immateriality of the human soul arose from a consideration of the kind of life the human being has--one with rationality. From this came the conviction that the human soul is immaterial and therefore immortal.

          • Mike

            Thanks for that clarification; i still wonder how it is possible that at one level i am 100% "dead" matter, just trillions of atoms and other material substances and yet at another i am "me" and able to reason and to form mental pictures and do math in my head and etc. etc. It's bizarre how that is possible if materialism is true.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes, but matter isn't dead (even though it is not alive). It is full of potentialities and powers.

          • Mike

            I agree but it can only have those potentialities bc materialism is not true, correct?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think so. Water droplets have the potential to form into an almost infinite variety of unique shapes as snowflakes just due to material properties. I think that is independent of whether or not materialism is true or false.

          • Mike

            i know what you mean but what you're describing is shape what i am talking about is how a particular molecule can have certain properties that are not dependent on shape but are somehow intrinsic to that particular arrangement of say the diff atoms - it's like there must be a vlookup table which says this many hydrogen and carbon will equal salt whereas this many hydrogen and carbon and whatever else shall equal something else...the information about what properties the molecule will have is NOT in the individual atoms it is an "emergent" property in which case the information (properties themselves) are immaterial.

            Do you see what i am getting at?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This makes my brain hurt. In A-T philosophy I'm pretty sure what you are describing would come under potency--things that exist have certain potentialities that are built into them. I don't know what it means to say that those potencies are not material, even though at one time there are not in existence and then later they are.

          • Mike

            Yes i am referring to potency but pointing out that if strict materialism is correct then that potency or "emergent property" would "somehow" have to be "built into" the actual physical structure of atoms - so each atom apart from it's force values, number of protons etc. would also have to contain some "information" about what to "do" when arranged in a specific pattern and that information (on the materialist view) would either have to be material itself or would refute materialism; if the "information" were somehow determined by the physical properties of the atom it would still have to have been "put there" by something or be acting like a VLOOKUP table in excel so it would know that in this arrangement i have these properties bc that's what in the "master table" but in this other arrangement i would have to "act" in a different way.

            Never mind if i am not being clear; i guess it's just my way of trying to prove that materialism may be true but if it is the whole truth it also includes magic, or something like that.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That is very interesting.

            Philosopher of science Mario Artigas says that elementary particles know the laws of the universe better than the best physicists, because they "know" what to do in any situation.

          • Mike

            ah very interesting observation by artigas if tongue in cheek, and that's the point i am driving at; i guess i think that either you posit "God" sustain-er creator of universe or trillions of brute facts each coordinating with the next in perfect harmony/balance in which case Creator/artist seems more plausible.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Kevin, I would like to hear more, but that seems to me to be a very difficult position to maintain.

            Is it not anima that makes an animal an animal? This may just be my philistine understanding, but I don't see the crucial distinction between anima and ruach (?) And isn't ruach immaterial?

            EDIT: I suppose that, in my understanding at least, ruach is a concept that transcends later distinctions between material and immaterial. But I think the point still stands.

      • GCBill

        Well then what are they?

        They're clearly not made of matter.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The soul of your fern is immaterial?

          • David Nickol

            The soul of your fern is immaterial?

            Ye Olde Statistician says:

            The soul is not itself matter -- not even animal or plant souls -- but those of its powers may be rooted in material objects, like the power of sight is rooted in the eye (broadly construed to include the optic nerve, etc.). Consequently, when those material objects perish, the powers perish with them.

            So it seems that a fern (according to the philosophical system which I believe you are espousing) does have an immaterial soul. It doesn't have a spiritual soul, but it does have an immaterial one.

            From my point of view, it seems to me that saying every living thing has a soul is just a way of saying every living thing is alive, and if it is not alive, it doesn't have a soul. It is kind of like saying every spherical object has a shape called a sphere, and if it gets smashed, it doesn't have the spherical shape any more, so it is not a sphere.

            Claiming something must have a soul to be alive (or every living thing has a soul) seems to me to assume is something we don't understand. But I think we do understand life. It is a chemical. It can be an awesomely complex chemical process, but nevertheless it is a chemical process. Simple living organisms have been created in laboratories from nonliving matter.

          • ben

            ...Simple living organisms have been created in laboratories from nonliving matter.
            Where's the data to back that statement up? I hope you're not going to cite "Miller–Urey"

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What is wrong with Miller-Urey?

          • ben

            False assumptions

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You only asked for a laboratory experiment that produced living organisms from nonliving matter. You did not specify what initial conditions are allowed.

          • Caravelle

            Miller-Urey wouldn't fit that bill though, they didn't create living organisms.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Stand corrected. That did not seem to be Ben's objection to the experiment though.

          • David Nickol

            Where's the data to back that statement up?

            Craig Venter creates synthetic life form

            Craig Venter and his team have built the genome of a bacterium from scratch and incorporated it into a cell to make what they call the world's first synthetic life form

            Scientists have created the world's first synthetic life form in a landmark experiment that paves the way for designer organisms that are built rather than evolved.

            The controversial feat, which has occupied 20 scientists for more than 10 years at an estimated cost of $40m, was described by one researcher as "a defining moment in biology". . . . .

            The full article is here.

          • ben

            Sorry, no, that won't cut it:

            http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/05/has_craig_venter_produced_arti035081.html

            "... What Venter and his team did was to determine the sequence of the DNA in one of the world's simplest bacteria, use the sequence information to synthesize a copy of that DNA from subunits sold by a biological supply company, then put the synthetic copy of DNA into a living bacterial cell from which the natural DNA had been removed.

            As Nicholas Wade pointed out i... Eckard Wimmer and his colleagues did something similar in 2002 by synthesizing poliovirus RNA. Wimmer and his colleagues then used that synthetic RNA to make functioning polioviruses. But viruses are not living cells. No one has ever been able to make a living cell from its DNA--not even Craig Venter....

            By themselves, however, RNA and DNA are biologically inert. Only a living cell is alive, and in our experience, life always comes from life. That's why spontaneous generation doesn't happen. That's why origin-of-life researchers have not even come close to solving their problem. And that's why Venter and his team couldn't create life; they had to start with it. There is much more to living cells--even relatively simple cells
            ... Venter "has not created life, only mimicked it," ...

            an important advance in our ability to re-engineer organisms, not make new life from scratch. Frankly, scientists don't know enough about biology to create life.

            "the researchers had to use the shell of an existing bug to get that DNA to do its stuff."... "

          • GCBill

            That does seem to follow from hylomorphism, so sure, why not?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I would like to see more discussion of this as well. Ye Olde Statistician sometimes points out (if I remember correctly) that the soul of a basketball is a sphere. That seems sensible enough to me, but it seems to imply things that aren't often talked about, including the fact that the souls of basketballs have an origin and a destiny that is eternal. I have no problem with that conclusion, and I therefore see no obvious reason why basketballs will not participate in the general resurrection (I bet my free throw percentage will be a lot better with one of those!), but I'm curious to hear if others see problems with that conclusion.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        the soul of a basketball is a sphere.

        If the basketball were alive, its substantial form (sphere) would be its soul. This is an analogy intended to point out that a soul is not a "second" thing in addition to the matter (rubber). Inanimate forms are not souls in fact.

        The soul is not itself matter -- not even animal or plant souls -- but those of its powers may be rooted in material objects, like the power of sight is rooted in the eye (broadly construed to include the optic nerve, etc.). Consequently, when those material objects perish, the powers perish with them.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Helpful clarification - thanks!

          Darn - I was really looking forward to playing with a glorified basketball!

          So, would it be correct to say that there is no glaring difference (at least none that we are able to parse well from our modern vantage point) between ruach, anima, and soul?

          And given that animal and plant souls are not material, where does that leave us with respect to GCBill's question (the one that initiated this particular thread) ?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Anima (originally "breath") is simply the Latin word that was translated as "soul." (OE "sawol" meant the spiritual and emotional part of a being.) The word "spirit" (also meaning "breath") is cognate. To exhale (spirate out) is to "gust" and so produces a "ghost." Eventually all these terms got moshed.

            Nutritive and sensitive souls are not material even though they may be (in some sense) an "arrangement" of matter. Since a material thing has mass, if an arrangement was material it would have its own mass and would result in the component parts so arranged suddenly weighing more. Since even materialists find themselves accepting immaterial things like patterns (spheres, quincunxes, shapes, flows, etc.) it is now common for them to refer to themselves as "physicalists."

          • GCBill

            Since even materialists find themselves accepting immaterial things like patterns (spheres, quincunxes, shapes, flows, etc.) it is now common for them to refer to themselves as "physicalists."

            Was there ever a time at which materialists/physicalists didn't accept the existence of patterns in some nominal sense?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Of course they did. That's why they dropped the name "materialist" when their noses were rubbed in the contradiction. Most of the camp followers were probably unaware of the issue, since they never thought their positions through.

          • Doug Shaver

            From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

            Physicalism is sometimes known as ‘materialism’. Indeed, on one strand to contemporary usage, the terms ‘physicalism’ and ‘materialism’ are interchangeable. But the two terms have very different histories. The word ‘materialism’ is very old, but the word ‘physicalism’ was introduced into philosophy only in the 1930s by Otto Neurath (1931) and Rudolf Carnap (1959/1932), both of whom were key members of the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians active in Vienna prior to World War II. It is not clear that Neurath and Carnap understood physicalism in the same way, but one thesis often attributed to them (e.g. in Hempel 1949) is the linguistic thesis that every statement is synonymous with (i.e. is equivalent in meaning with) some physical statement. But materialism as traditionally construed is not a linguistic thesis at all; rather it is a metaphysical thesis in the sense that it tells us about the nature of the world. At least for the positivists, therefore, there was a clear reason for distinguishing physicalism (a linguistic thesis) from materialism (a metaphysical thesis). Moreover, this reason was compounded by the fact that, according to official positivist doctrine, metaphysics is nonsense. Since the 1930s, however, the positivist philosophy that under-girded this distinction has for the most part been rejected—for example, physicalism is not a linguistic thesis for contemporary philosophers—and this is one reason why the words ‘materialism’ and ‘physicalism’ are now often interpreted as interchangeable. [Pasted from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/#1%5D

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Yup. Materialism held that all things that existed were made out of matter (as understood in physics). The tension between this and the undoubted reality of relationships, gravity, arrangements of matter, meant that materialism was inadequate. Hence, the linguistic foo-foo. This was even before Heisenberg undermined the materiality of matter. And then Popper blew positivism out of the water, cutting the whole thing off at the knees. Fun times.

  • Peter

    The universe moves from a beginning of low entropy to an eternity of high entropy, from a simple state back to a simple state. Complexity is the means by which the universe moves from low to high entropy, because its creation produces greater net entropy. After a while complexity ebbs away as the universe moves towards its perfectly simple state of maximum entropy where it remains forever.

    This is the atheist view, where complex structures like the human brain are not an end in themselves but merely a transient and ephemeral means to an end. It becomes irrelevant whether the human mind is supernaturally created by God or naturally produced by the brain. The objective of the universe is not to produce complex structures capable of harbouring a mind, but instead to return to a simple state where it will remain for eternity.

    And from that simple state, given an eternity of time and the infinite vastness of the universe, the physics does not prevent the spontaneous quantum-mechanical appearance of entire brains. Ultimately the universe could be littered with them, to the point that it could be argued hypothetically that the purpose of the universe is to create brains spontaneously just as it is to create them through evolution.

    This is the atheist view which leapfrogs the entire argument of whether man is unique. If the universe lasts forever and can spontaneously produce anything, what significance does the fleeting existence of man have?

    • Mike

      Maybe it has none in which case the whole world of possibilities opens up before us.

      • Peter

        The capability of the universe to spontaneously produce anything rests on its ability to last forever. The great flaw in the atheist argument above is the hypothesis that the universe will end up in thermal equilibrium and remain there for eternity.

        This hypothesis has suffered a great reversal with the discovery of the higgs boson and the calculation of its mass which makes the universe so unstable that it may only last a few more billion years before collapsing in on itself.

        The eternal heat death of the universe is therefore not a foregone conclusion, as atheists would have us believe, but an increasingly untenable hypothesis which they cling to in order to diminish the significance of conscious beings like ourselves.

        • Mike

          I am not sure i follow you sorry; atheism is by definition a hopeless philosophy bc it denies any possibility of an afterlife.

  • Mike

    Maybe the "intellect" is not material in the same way or sense that the laws of physics are immaterial? After all there is no debate that these laws are in fact immaterial is there?

    http://physics.about.com/od/physics101thebasics/p/PhysicsLaws.htm

    Do serious atheists argue that the mathematical laws, the relationships that "govern" matter, expressed in the form of mathematical notation, actually occupy some material space?

    So if the laws of physics of the universe have been present since the beg of the universe and shaping it, maybe something called "intellect" has also been here in some nascent form "waiting" for the emergence of the human brain the tool to appear in order for the "intellect" to finally become "operational"?

    Surely the atoms in my brain are more like a computer's hardware than the software, the code, the system of logic that wrote the software in the first place.

  • I thought that this was an interesting article, and helpful for dialogue, as it presents what Catholics can and cannot accept about evolution.

    The argument about the intellect does not seem obvious. Why can't an immaterial intellect evolve? If the immaterial intellect can be affected by the material world (influenced by genetics, environment, brain injury, etc.) or even if it corresponds to the material world in some way, it seems as though certain features of the intellect might be naturally selected.

    Some of the philosophical arguments that the mind is not identical to the brain seem to imply that consciousness, even the sort of self-awareness available to certain primates, elephants, dolphins, magpies, is not identical to brain chemistry. Would this mean that these animals also have features that did not evolved, but were put there specially by God at some point?

    Finally, how does God do it? By what process does God give us souls? Can this process be investigated at all by science? Would the Catholic Church welcome or even allow such an investigation?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think the human mind, like the human being himself, is a composite of body and soul, so the mind has both material and immaterial powers. The material parts of the human mind would be shared with animal minds--things like the fight, flight or freeze response, and emotions and passions with their aversions and attractions. Those things, I would think, are selected for naturally. That selection would be, for example, how we came to become social animals.

      I think the Church would welcome investigation into anything human beings can investigate.

      • It seems to me as though some of the philosophical arguments that the mind is not identical to the brain would lead me to think that emotions are not physical. If animal minds have emotions, animal minds are not entirely physical.

        An example argument that I find fairly convincing is Chalmers's zombie argument. It goes roughly like this: I can imagine that a zombie of myself, a human body that has the exact same reactions and responses as me but has no experience of what it is like to be a person. This person it seems would be physically identical to myself, and so I conclude that there's something to me that's non-physical.

        I can imagine dog-zombies that don't experience what it's like to be a dog, but behave exactly like a dog. It seems as though there's something non-physical about dogs as well.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Emotions are caused by hormones flooding the body, right? A zombie Paul would feel pleasure eating chocolate cake and he would not stop eating until the cake ran out or he was utterly full. A real Paul would say, one piece is enough for now.

          • A zombie Paul has no feelings, unless you think all there is to feeling is neuro-chemical reactions, that there is no significance to "what it is like to feel full". If that were the case, why not say that my intellect is just neuro-chemical reactions that cause me to stop eating the whole cake, under certain conditions? Why accept that there's anything immaterial about the intellect?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ye Old answered your question (above) better than i could.

          • And, in doing so, said that feelings aren't merely physical. Do you agree or disagree?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what to make of it.

          • Doug Shaver

            A zombie Paul . . . would not stop eating until the cake ran out or he was utterly full.

            Not so. In this context, a zombie by definition does not behave differently, in any way, from a real person.

        • Doug Shaver

          I have two objections to Chalmers's argument.

          One, I don't agree that something is possible just because we can imagine it. I don't think that the limits of reality are coextensive with the limits of our imaginations.

          Two, even stipulating that zombies are possible, the possibility of A happening without B does not mean that in the actual world, B is ontologically distinct from A.

          • I think both of those are important objections. It does seem as though further arguments need to address distinctions between what can be imagined and what is logically possible, as well as what is logically possible and what is metaphysically possible.

            As a trained philosopher, what is your opinion on a third option, which says that the argument is valid and sound, and that it describes the real world? In this view, if I understand it, we would all be p-zombies and "qualia" is an incoherent concept.

          • Doug Shaver

            what is your opinion on a third option, which says that the argument is valid and sound, and that it describes the real world?

            My inner pedant compels me to note that "valid and sound" is redundant. Not all valid arguments are sound, but any sound argument, by definition, is valid.

            It seems to me that Chalmers' argument, if sound, would be a proof of mind-body dualism. We would then have to figure out what kind of dualism was the case, but if you can have a mind without having a brain, then some version of dualism is a fact.

            In this view, if I understand it, we would all be p-zombies and "qualia" is an incoherent concept.

            I don't construe Chalmers' argument as demonstrating that we all are zombies. A problem for the argument, I think, is that it leaves each of us unable to determine whether anyone but himself is a zombie. Ex hypothesi, a zombie is indistinguishable, by any observer, from a person with a mind. I'm of the opinion that if there is no possible way, even in principle, to distinguish A from B, then A is identical with B. Or at least, we are unjustified in thinking that A isn't B.

            I don't know what to say about qualia. The people who talk about them say they are inexplicable on materialism, but their arguments to that conclusion all look to me like arguments from personal incredulity.

          • Thanks for the correction on validity and soundness, and thanks also for your assessment of the argument.

          • Doug Shaver

            You're welcome.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Why can't an immaterial intellect evolve?

      The objects of the intellect -- universal concepts -- have no material existence and it's hard to see natural selection getting any traction on the immaterial. Concepts are abstracted from the perception of concrete particulars through a process of reflection. Percepts, unlike concepts, are materially rooted and among the higher animals the powers of perception -- sensation, imagination, memory, and estimation ("imagination" in a broader sense) -- can result in feats which to us closely resemble rational acts.

      seem to imply that consciousness, even the sort of self-awareness available to certain primates, elephants, dolphins, magpies, is not identical to brain chemistry.

      Virtually all animals are conscious. This is a consequence of the "common sense" of the animal soul, which takes all the disparate images from the various senses (which interestingly arrive in the brain at different times) and constructs a whole ymago (phantasm) from them. This act necessitates a distinction between the sensor and the sensed, which results in consciousness. The brain is the organ of this coordination and therefore the seat of consciousness. (cf. Brennan, Thomistic Psychology, Macmillan (1941), p. 15)

      None of any of this is identical to brain chemistry any more than a journey is identical to the footprints it makes.

      • Baseball bats can get quite a bit of traction on the intellect.

        None of any of this is identical to brain chemistry any more than a journey is identical to the footprints it makes.

        But the shape of the sand can affect the journey. It seems as though you should have involvement, or at least correspondence, going both ways. My genes determine some things about the nature of my consciousness. Some of those things may help with my survival.

      • I did want to say that this:

        None of any of this is identical to brain chemistry any more than a journey is identical to the footprints it makes.

        is a beautiful way to express the difference between mind and brain.

    • Loreen Lee

      I have been wondering about this question also, particularly when it comes to talk about 'gifts from the Holy Spirit'. I even attempted through introspection to try and figure out whether this was true, or whether there was some sort of realignment of my neurons which produced even a change in character once some weakness of same had been identified? Also, as it is accepted (Catholic teaching), that children come to the age of reason at about seven years of age, is this suddenly like another gift, or a breath of God, or do the neurons just suddenly 'kick in'? Interesting questions are being asked here. Perhaps in writing the story of Adam and the Ape, (no I cannot always distinguish them, a bit like "you don't know your a#^ from a hole in the ground) centuries later, the writers were so aware of their 'powers of judgment' being able to produce even the thought of God, that it was just another deduction to attribute the presence of such 'powers' to his causation. Just musing here!!!!

    • Peter

      ESP and telepathy are pseudo-sciences because there is no current evidence for them. If they were true, it would be true that the mind acts immaterially and therefore it would be true that the mind is, in part at least, immaterial. And if the mind, or part of it, is immaterial, this raises the question of where that immateriality comes from and opens up the prospect that it could have come from God.

      Any research, therefore, ought to concentrate of human extra sensory ability.
      A start seems to have been made:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2747131/Is-proof-humans-TELEPATHIC-powers-Two-men-4-600-miles-apart-send-messages-using-just-minds.html

      • HowardRichards

        Let's be a little more careful. ESP and telepathy are putative phenomena. The people most interested in them tend to employ pseudoscience, which is a flawed methodology. The methodology and the phenomenon are distinct, though. There is a huge amount of pseudoscience surrounding UFOs regarding extraterrestrials, but that fact does not prove that intelligent extraterrestrials cannot exist.

        • Doug Shaver

          but that fact does not prove that intelligent extraterrestrials cannot exist.

          Nobody claims it does. The proposition "Intelligent extraterrestrials exist" is very different from the proposition "Intelligent extraterrestrials have been visiting our world." The second implies the first, but evidence for the first does not constitute evidence for the second.

          • Howard

            Likewise, even if it could be conclusively proved that not only was the evidence for ESP and telepathy in a specific case faulty, but that there was not the slightest amount present, that could not prove that they exist nowhere. It is no easy thing to prove a universal negative.

          • Doug Shaver

            Right, it's not easy. But it's often not necessary, either. I can't prove that unicorns don't exist, and neither can anyone else, but doesn't mean I'm unjustified in believing that they don't exist.

          • HowardRichards

            So, you're comfortable with believing that there might be intelligent organisms on other planets, but not with believing that there might be horse-like organisms (possibly on another planet) each with one horn growing out of its head.

          • Doug Shaver

            I meant that I justifiably believe, even though I cannot prove it, there are no unicorns on this world. Whether they exist on other worlds, I have no opinion.

          • HowardRichards

            OK. So there is no problem with their being unicorns (not counting rhinos, which are believed to be the original unicorns reported in ancient traveler's tales) on earth in principle, just there happens not to be one -- sort of like I justifiably believe that there is no person named Rufus Xavier Trombone Xylophone McBlackadder, though in principle there could be such a person.

          • Doug Shaver

            The problem with unicorns on earth has nothing to do with principles. It has to do with evidence. If they existed here, we should have had found some evidence by now, and we haven't found any.

            It's also my understanding that biologists have good reason to think that the genetic mutation necessary for a horse to grow a single horn out of its forehead is extremely improbable.

          • HowardRichards

            I just think you chose a poor example. A horse with wings would have been a better choice. I remember seeing pictures of a one-horned goat, supposedly due to just such a mutation, though it may have been surgically altered.

            The unicorns of legends were not horses, by the way: they were horse-like, but they had cloven hooves, like deer, goats, cattle -- animals with either horns or antlers.

          • Doug Shaver

            It's been a few years since I read whatever gave me that idea about what evolution could have done with horses, and I wouldn't stake anything on my memory.

            If the question is whether unicorns actually do exist, or ever have existed, I still say I'm justified in believing that the answer is no. I will not accept rhinoceroses or one-horned goats as counterexamples.

          • HowardRichards

            If the question is about what you will accept, I can't argue against you.

          • Doug Shaver

            You could argue about whether I ought to accept it. There was a time in my life when I would not accept anything contrary to scripture. I got over that.

          • Caravelle

            That's eminently reasonable. Intelligence is a broad and useful property, and we know it's possible for it to evolve (it did here), so it's reasonable to think that however low the odds are of it evolving, it's probably dwarfed by the number of planets that could theoretically support it.

            On the other hand "horse-like" to the point that it literally looks indistinguishable from a horse to an onlooking human is an extremely specific property, and not particularly useful (various broad features of horsiness are useful, but looking specifically like a horse has no use beyond the usefulness of those broad features). So an organism evolving on another planet that looks just like a horse is extremely unlikely, even on the scale of the observable Universe.

            But at least we know horses can evolve. We don't know that about unicorns. It sounds reasonable, but horses don't have horn, and in fact no animal that's even vaguely horse-like has a single unicorn-like horn. Maybe the kind of selective pressures that lead to horselike animals are incompatible with the development of unicorn horns. Maybe they aren't. But since we don't know, adding the horn reduces the odds of this animal evolving elsewhere significantly, and they were already vanishingly small.

            That's for other planets. On Earth the evolution of a horselike animal is extremely likely, since it would just need to be a sufficiently close and convergent relative of actual horses, and those exist. However we've observed enough of the Earth by now that the existence of such a large terrestrial animal that was known to human cultures in the past wouldn't have escaped our notice. So the existence of unicorns on Earth is also vanishingly unlikely.

          • HowardRichards

            First of all, it depends how one defines things like "intelligence" and "reason". I'll let that go, however.

            I think you underestimate the likelihood of convergent evolution. Wolf-like mammals have arisen many times, and there have been several mammals, not closely related to each other, that a layman looking from a safe distance would probably call some sort of weird, saber-toothed cat. Given the variation of the descriptions of unicorns, the variation of what people think looks like a horse, and the fact that the "unicorn" was originally a description of a rhinoceros, I suppose that if life is as prolific as most suppose, there must be many quadrupedal "animals" with a single horn. It would be much less surprising than the narwhale's tusk, the purpose of which is still controversial.

          • Caravelle

            Wolf-like mammals have arisen many times, and there have been several mammals, not closely related to each other, that a layman looking from a safe distance would probably call some sort of weird, saber-toothed cat.

            But mammals are related to each other, and they're much much much much much more closely related to each other than they'd be to organisms that they have no common evolutionary history with. Even if you could show me wolf-like reptiles, or wolf-like fish, or wolf-like insects, or wolf-like carnivorous plants - which you can't - they'd still be extremely closely related to each other compared to how closely related they'd be to the organisms of another planet.

            Convergence would definitely lead me to expect extraterrestrial autotrophs and heterotrophs, very possibly extraterrestrial organisms with teeth, skeletons, nervous systems - who knows, why not four thin legs adapted for running in wide open plains, flat teeth to eat grass-like organisms, the general size and shape of a horse. This would be mind-blowingly amazing convergence, but I wouldn't call it "destroy my suspension of disbelief for this Star Trek episode" unlikely. It's a big Universe. Looks indistinguishable from a horse is many steps beyond that.

            Of course if by "horse-like" you actually meant "anything in the body-shape space ranging from the rhinoceros to Bambi", then we might be closer to something not so vanishingly unlikely that it might as well be impossible, but I don't think that's sensible - whatever the unicorn was originally supposed to describe, nobody today would think of a rhinoceros when you use that word. The unicorn is in fact a fairly specific mythical creature with specific properties. It's not "any quadruped with a single horn".

            As for how it depends on how one defines "intelligence" and "reason" you are absolutely right; certainly I wouldn't expect aliens to have an intelligence exactly like ours anymore than I'd expect them to look just like a horse. The question is in figuring out which aspects of our intelligence are idiosyncratic, and which are universal features that any organism under similar adaptive pressures to become intelligent would develop convergently. That's hard to do with a sample size of one, but it's clear our intelligence isn't all idiosyncratic; if that were true it would mean that our reasoning has no relationship to the world at all, which it clearly does.

          • HowardRichards

            Yet you have no problem with assuming intelligence would arise independently in creatures that share no common ancestor.

            Maybe I can't show you a wolf-like fish, but I can show you a fish-like wolf, sort of: a killer whale. It is believed to have evolved from a wolf-like predator, and its pack behavior is certainly reminiscent of wolves, but due to the constraints of living in the water, it now looks superficially very much like a fish. So did the ichthyosaur.

            If there is life on other planets, is it likely that in many places some of it will be motile. If some of the planets have atmospheres that accumulate oxygen due to some form of photosynthesis, it is likely that some of these "animals" will develop the ability to breathe it. Most of the other branch points are not crazy, either: bilateral symmetry, quadrupedal locomotion (sure, there will be some with 6 legs, but even on earth, evolution tends to favor the minimum number of limbs for large animals), etc. Maybe 1% of planets with microbial life develop something like a sponge; maybe 1% of those develop something like a worm; maybe 0.1% of those develop something vaguely horsey; but that would still mean something vaguely horsey in every 10 million planets with microbial life. Given that there are estimated to be about 0.1 mole of stars in the observable universe, and allowing that even microbial life might be rare, it's still quite conceivable that there are more than a billion stars in the visible universe with "horsey" creatures.

          • Caravelle

            Yet you have no problem with assuming intelligence would arise independently in creatures that share no common ancestor.

            None whatsoever. Like I said, intelligence is a broad ability.

            Well, I'd have a caveat - I think most of the uncertainty about "what aliens might be like" are at very low organizational levels. How likely is it for photosynthesis to evolve, or oxygen metabolism to evolve, for an eukaryote-like level of organization to evolve, for a multicellular organization with three germ layers to evolve, etc. It's hard to tell what the odds of those things happening are, what life might be like if those events didn't happen or something else did instead, and whether those things not happening puts some large-scale abilities completely off the table or whether they can be arrived at in other ways.

            What I would say is that I think given enough time, the odds of intelligence evolving are of the same order of magnitude as the odds of neurons, or something that can do the same things as neurons, evolving. I think that's probably a controversial opinion but I don't really agree with the counter-arguments. The ability to respond to the environment in the best possible way is universally useful, the only reason there is a range of such abilities in nature is because it's also very expensive. We see convergence in almost every aspect of this ability - even organisms without neurons, like plants, have some ability to respond to their environment. In organisms with neurons we see multiple trends towards encephalization and more complex nervous systems; among animals with brains we see multiple trends towards larger and more differentiated brains, usually associated with more complex and flexible behavior. Including advanced abilities like thinking through a problem before solving it, reasoning about the behavior and motivations of other animals, etc. There is some argument that it's vital to evolve specific brain structures without which it's impossible to be more intelligent - like the mammalian neocortex - but the variation of brain size and differentiation even in fishes, and the development of various smart abilities in birds that don't have a neocortex, suggest that the neocortex isn't a unique pre-requisite for intelligence, just a very good one.

            After that, I guess the argument that our kind of intelligence would be vanishingly unlikely to evolve assumes that our intelligence isn't a part of this pattern - that it's obviously adaptive for a chimpanzee to use tools to catch ants, or for a Japanese crow to drop nuts on crosswalks for cars to break, both behaviors that require some planning and reasoning about the world, but that the human's ability to use even more advanced planning and reasoning abilities to make bows and arrows with which to hunt other animals is a weird quirk of evolution that couldn't possibly evolve twice and isn't particularly adaptive. I don't buy that; we're definitely a large step further than the smartest other animals, but it seems to me we're on the same road, and not the only ones walking in this direction.

            Another argument is that our human intelligence isn't just about raw brainpower and reasoning - it was also critical that we have agile hands to manipulate the world, and a social structure so we'd learn to reason about others, which might play into self-awareness. I can buy that. But even if it's true, agile grasping appendages and social living are also traits that are clearly useful and have evolved many times. The combination of three likely features is less likely than any one on its own, but it isn't vanishingly unlikely either.

            Maybe I can't show you a wolf-like fish, but I can show you a fish-like wolf, sort of: a killer whale. It is believed to have evolved from a wolf-like predator, and its pack behavior is certainly reminiscent of wolves, but due to the constraints of living in the water, it now looks superficially very much like a fish. So did the ichthyosaur.

            Again, that's using "wolf-like" in the general sense of "pack hunter", which is a very broad trait (and much broader than "looks like a wolf", which is why you'd first brought up the thylacine); the point was that "is a unicorn" isn't broad at all. Though now that I know that to you, a rhinoceros would qualify, that obviously changes things. But Doug's the one who claimed not to think unicorns existed, so you'd have to ask him how precise a trait "unicorn" was in the context of his claim.

          • HowardRichards

            Killer whales are like wolves now in that they are pack hunters, but they are also thought to have evolved from something like a mesonychid. (Maybe not exactly a mesonychid, due to questions about whether it was an even-toed or odd-toed ungulate, but something of that general design.) Now I will insist that the pictures you can find online for a mesonychid look a lot like the pictures you can find in children's books for the Big Bad Wolf.

            As for the rest, we do not have enough evidence to settle our disagreement. Have a nice weekend!

          • Caravelle

            iller whales are like wolves now in that they are pack hunters, but they are also thought to have evolved from something like a mesonychid. (Maybe not exactly a mesonychid, due to questions about whether it was an even-toed or odd-toed ungulate, but something of that general design.) Now I will insist that the pictures you can find online for a mesonychid look a lot like the pictures you can find in children's books for the Big Bad Wolf.

            ... and ? If it's supposed to be about non-wolves looking like wolves that's a weaker example than the thylacine because mesonychids are even more closely related to wolves than thylacines are. If it's supposed to be about non-fish looking like fish, then sure but there's a specific thing going on there: being a marine hunter involves particularly strong constraints on shape, stronger than being a land herbivore does. So, isn't particularly relevant to the odds of finding unicorns (and Doug confirmed he meant something more specific than "quadruped with a horn" by that) on other planets.

            In case it wasn't clear, this isn't about whether convergence happens or not. It's about how likely convergence is for this or that specific trait.

          • Howard

            Wrong. The topic was whether or not it was as likely that somewhere in the universe there is something that a man (say from about the year 1400) would identify as a unicorn (because the guy who brought it up sadly did not think of a winged horse, which would be vastly less likely) as it is that somewhere else in the universe there is life that is intelligent in the way we are, as opposed to the way an octopus is. That was the topic. The rest is nitpicking about what "unicorn" means, how close the match would have to be, and finally how convergent evolution might work on unrelated life forms, and all this has taken us farther from that topic -- which itself was meant to be in response to my comment that people using pseudoscience to support the existence ESP does not have any implications for whether ESP exists or not.

          • Caravelle

            The topic was whether or not it was as likely that somewhere in the universe there is something that a man (say from about the year 1400) would identify as a unicorn (because the guy who brought it up sadly did not think of a winged horse, which would be vastly less likely) as it is that somewhere else in the universe there is life that is intelligent in the way we are, as opposed to the way an octopus is. That was the topic.

            Agreed. Except for the "say from about the year 1400" part, which is completely arbitrary and your own idea; the person who first brought up unicorns, and thus who would need to identify said creature as a unicorn, would be Doug. A person "say from about the year 2014" would also be a common-sense interpretation.

            The rest is nitpicking about what "unicorn" means, how close the match would have to be

            In other words, "the topic". Obviously what "what a person would recognize as a unicorn" means depends on, well, what a person would recognize as a unicorn. (also, a man from 1400 might expect a different range of visual unicorns, but he'd also expect the unicorn to have specific reactions to virgins, so).

            I'm interested in your bringing up intelligence "the way an octopus is" by the way; either you mean it in the sense of "intelligent in the way a smart non-human animal is", which I'll agree is way more common than human-level intelligence, or you meant it as "intelligent in the specific way of humans, and not the alien ways of the octopus", in which case it's relevant that an octopus' intelligence isn't alien at all; in fact that such familiar kinds of problem-solving abilities, exploratory and playful behavior etc developed completely independently at least twice is evidence to me that such intelligence is a broad trait, not a human idiosyncrasy (it could be an idiosyncrasy of Bilateria...).

          • HowardRichards

            Yeah, I am taking into account that the description of a unicorn is not static. The fully "evolved" unicorn of heraldry is pretty specific indeed, but it is also very different from the earliest unicorn stories. The same is true of dragons. We call a Chinese dragon a dragon, and something like Smaug from Tolkien or the 6-legged dragons of C.S. Lewis dragons, but the earliest European dragon stories were about giant snakes. I can't help think we're getting off topic, though.

      • Caravelle

        How does an experiment that allowed two people to know each other's thoughts by detecting electrical signals in one's physical brain, converting them into electrical information, sending that information through wires and wifi signals across the world, re-converting that information into electrical pulses used to stimulate the other's brain, demonstrate that the mind is, in part at least, immaterial ? If anything it would seem to be decisive proof that the mind is, in part at least, constituted of patterns of electrical activation in the brain.

    • Doug Shaver

      Finally, how does God do it? By what process does God give us souls?

      I will welcome correction from any Catholics here, but I'm pretty sure the Catholic Church doesn't claim to know the answer to that question. There is something supernatural about ensoulment, whatever else it might be, and no apologist whom I've ever encountered has claimed to know anything about the mechanisms of supernatural events. It is simply stipulated that God, because of his omnipotence, can make things happen that would not happen if natural forces were the only forces operating in the universe. Science allows us to gain knowledge about natural forces. It is ineffective when we seek to understand the supernatural.

      • I think that's a good characterisation of Catholic thought on the supernatural (Catholics can correct us here, if we're talking nonsense). It frustrates me, and it seems very arbitrary. How can we be sure that we can't come up with a science of the supernatural? If there are actually supernatural things out there, maybe we can figure them out, how they work, what they do. At some point, we might be able to make predictions about the supernatural. Find out what God is made out of. Discover the mechanism of ensoulment. Why not? Why should I accept that these things cannot be understood, beyond a theologian's say so?

        • Doug Shaver

          How can we be sure that we can't come up with a science of the supernatural?

          Because those who believe in the supernatural define it that way.

  • Mike

    Is this correct: the "genetic mutation" or whatever it was that finally enabled "adam" to reason abstractly and therefore "become a metaphysical human" is what genesis describes as god "breathing life into adam"?

    If so genesis is not talking about "how" God did it but that it happened; the first "man" was "created" but via a mutation that enabled abstract rational thought not "breathing of life" into?

  • Mike

    Gotta post this again for everyone; it's just fun reading:

    http://tofspot.blogspot.ca/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html

    and this quip in the middle is good too:

    (We could take that further and say that the physical universe itself existed beforehand in various active powers, like gravitation or quantum mechanics. If only a physicist of the stature of Hawking would be courageous enough to say that in the beginning there was the word: "Let F=G(Mm)/d^2." But we digress.)

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Feser argues many strong claims by simply linking to articles. I am not at all convinced that humans have an immaterial soul.

    Feser then digresses into an argument from the authority of the Catholic Church. Some of us aren't particularly convinced that the Catholic Church is a source of truth. Furthermore, Feser seems to think that the Church teaches that humans descended exclusively from Adam and Eve. I agree with him on his assessment of what the Church teaches, but science tells us that the church is most likely wrong on this point. However, there was an article here that contradicts what Feser seems to be saying:

    http://strangenotions.com/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice/

    I guess I'm not really sure what Feser is getting at in his article. He makes numerous claims without giving any evidence, then he talks about what the Catholic Church teaches. Am I missing something?

  • VicqRuiz

    Have any Catholic biologists opined on how, exactly, original sin is transmitted from generation to generation?

    Nature or nurture? Does original sin have a DNA marker?

    Or since Adam was born sinless, is the legacy of sin an example of Lamarckian soft inheritance?

    • Loreen Lee

      Had to Google this one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_inheritance Although I couldn't understand all of it, it left me with the impression, (last paragraph) that this would be a possibility, affecting the genome structure but not the DNA?????? (Although soft inheritance is generally not accepted.!!)

      • VicqRuiz

        but couldn't the 'sin' just be part of the territory that comes with being 'sapient'

        Since Adam and Eve were sapient before they sinned, I don't think that will work.

        • Loreen Lee

          Were they? Read a link to an article that made a story of their having language but not the ability to think to 'universals'. But I'm not out for an argument. But also, couldn't the eating of the fruit be associated with the development of 'normative thought'. So of course, if you know what is good, then you also know what is evil. Another case for it not necessarily being related to some sort of specific gene. (I just like to speculate!!!)

    • Great Silence

      It is really arguable whether sin is really transmitted, or whether we are each responsible for our own sin, with a propensity for sin as opposed to an actual transmission of sin. St. Augustine may have mistranslated St. Paul somewhat.

      Andre

      • VicqRuiz

        Nonetheless, something was different in Adam's makeup that made sin optional for him, but necessary for all his descendants. What was it??

        • Great Silence

          Full rational consciousness?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What is full rational consciousness and how does that differ from ordinary rational consciousness?

          • Great Silence

            I am assuming a gradual process of the development of consciousness. A fully developed rational consciousness would, for example, allow for an accurate distinction between right and wrong, for a conscience to have developed.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            How does that explain why Adam's sin was optional but ours is necessary.?

          • Great Silence

            I am not trying to solve all of these questions. I gather from the efforts of people like Feser, Mahoney and so on, that the Church still has a way to go with this before we have the full picture.

            With that said, I'm happy to take a stab at your question. Firstly, it had to start somewhere. Someone, the nominal "Adam", would have had to be the first one. Secondly, do we have to accept that his situation was optional? Given his newfound ability, did the responsibility of employing that level of consciousness to the good, to make the right choice(s) not come with an imperative? Just like we cannot ignore or deny our moral choices, maybe Adam also did not have this choice.

            Even in a gradual process there would have been a first candidate to have been worthy of receiving the censure of "I expected better of you, Adam".

            Again, I am speculating.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        You just said in your own words what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

        405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin—an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

        • Great Silence

          You've lost track of the timeline again, Kevin. I said that two weeks ago. When I still managed to believe.

  • Michael Murray

    Interesting that the image chosen was an orangutan. The Pope's country of birth Argentina has just granted an orangutan the right to "life, liberty and freedom from harm":

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/argentina-grants-an-orangutan-human-like-rights/?WT.mc_id=SA_syn_RDFRS

  • Howard

    "However, since the intellect can be shown on purely philosophical grounds
    to be immaterial, it is impossible in principle for the intellect to
    have arisen through evolution. And since the intellect is the chief
    power of the human soul, it is therefore impossible in principle for the
    human soul to have arisen through evolution. Indeed, given its nature
    the human soul has to be specially created and infused into the body by
    God -- not only in the case of the first human being but with every human being."

    Let me play devil's advocate here for a moment. This seems to imply that although my body is related to my parents, my soul has no relation to them. Why, then, should it be that I inherit Original Sin -- an immaterial trait if ever there was one -- from my parents, when my soul does not derive from them?

    I'm guessing the first shot at an answer is that the soul is the form of the body, and since my parents strongly influence my body, they likewise influence my soul -- even if they do not give rise to it. On the other hand, neither Baptism nor Confession makes any obvious change to the body. (Baptism makes the body wet, of course, but so would an invalid baptism that does nothing to Original Sin.)

  • Dan Carollo

    I like how John Stott puts it. He describes Adam and Eve as the original "homo divinus" -- that is, the single pair through whom God initially gave both the capacity for knowing him, but also the capacity to choose to turn away from him (that is, being culpable to sin). We know, of course there were many hominid creatures -- but salvation history (as we know it) is itself is rooted in Adam.

    • Great Silence

      Let's accept that for the moment. Are we then saying that these two people had the capacity to make that decision responsibly? That people who could not read or write, and possibly communicated by grunting, made a decision that impacts on all of us today? If we would not hold such people culpable of most things in a court of law, why would we be so prepared to ascribe culpability to them for something like Original Sin?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        You don't have to be literate to be culpable but you probably have to be able to use language. Adam and Eve as depicted in Genesis used language.

        • Great Silence

          That they did. They were quite literate, intelligent and even cunning. How does that tie in with the revised scenario we are dealing with in this thread? How does that answer my question?

          Andre

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The pair of hominoids were given rational souls, meaning they had reason and free will and so had what criminal law calls mental capacity.

          • Great Silence

            To have that capacity they would have to be able to distinguish between right and wrong, at the very least before we could hold them culpable of anything. The very tree that they were not to partake was exactly that - knowledge of right and wrong. Before they are the fruit they could not distinguish between right and wrong. This is where Genesis and this thread start parting ways.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think your understanding of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" is the problem. If they really could not tell good from evil then you would be right. They would not be culpable.

            However, they could understand God's command not to eat from the tree and they could understand that they should obey God.

            The word "knowledge" is more akin to 'deep experience with' as in when Adam 'knew' Eve. The tree is not really about understanding as about the life or death of the soul.

          • Great Silence

            Thanks, Kevin, that is the standard explanation. I find it utterly unconvincing, very arbitrary, and with every putative explanation more questions and improbabilities arise. And it's not just here at SN, the debate has been attempted in books, at Biologos, Christianity Today and so on.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Chapter three of Genesis, I think, is deeply mysterious and symbolic and it can be read many, many ways.

            But do you think there not was an act of disobedience?
            Do you think there was not an act of deception?
            Do you think there was not blame shifting?

          • Great Silence

            I will gladly grant you all three. But that anything, even a willful disobedience or turning away from God, could have this far-reaching consequences (however much symbolically one wishes to view it) just simply stretches belief beyond breaking point.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why could not God create a species in which there would be ontological solidarity, such that every member would be "in" its founder, as in, all of us are "in" Adam and all of us are "in" the New Adam, Jesus Christ?

            We are all in this together for real.

          • Great Silence

            Those concepts make some sense to the Christian, but other than that it is simply not a coherent and convincing argument outside the Christian worldview. Christians would not have tried so valiantly to salvage this mess had they not felt constrained to square Genesis with scientific reality. It is theological rationalization at its worst. Why should we be "in" the founder to the point that we are now the co-heirs of original sin (however you wish to define it)?

            Andre

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It should not be surprising that any world view does not make immediate sense to the holders of other world views, but they can eventually make sense, as in, any Christian can see great sense in Confucianism and Taoism, and (officially) atheistic Chinese can see a lot of merit in Thomism (which is actually going on).

            Why should we be "in" Adam as his heirs of original sin? Why is "because that is how God wants the human race to be" not a valid answer? This answer was given by St. Paul 2000 years ago, long before modern science.

          • Great Silence

            Why is the "immediate sense" now relevant. I spent years with it, days studying it. I reject it at the end, not the beginning.

            And again, being "in" Adam and that type of pretzeling are phrases that make sense to you, they no longer have any meaning to me. I suggest that the Church gets this theological mess straightened out quickly, so that it is not left up to bloggers to try and get the hay back into the horse.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is not clear to me what you mean by "theological mess."

  • Great Silence

    This topic, as discussed on the Biologos site, Dr. Feser's blog, and here at SN has done more damage to my faith than any other single book, article or debate ever. The problems arise not so much with the atheist arguments, but with the theist answers! When we are glibly told that Catholics are not at liberty to accept unconditionally the "naturalistic" theory of evolution, when I see the gymnastic feats of contortion that it requires to try to keep the lid on - my admittedly fragile faith just crumbles under the pressure. I really should stop kidding myself.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Your faith in Buddhism is being shaken?

      • Great Silence

        No, it's not the same thing.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          What is not the same thing as what?

          • Great Silence

            My Catholic faith, which I was discussing, and my Buddhist faith, which you are discussing.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm confused. How can you have faith in Buddhism and Catholicism at the same time?

          • Great Silence

            Kevin

            You are certainly confused. I was talking about my Catholic faith. You started the discussion about Buddhism. I explained that to you. Now you're confused. What is it that you were trying to say or ask? Please read your comments again, from where you asked me about my faith in Buddhism.

            Andre

          • Kevin Aldrich

            On your avatar, it says "Buddhist. Trial lawyer." Right?

          • Great Silence

            That was an amendment I made after my post here at SN, stating the difficulties I was having with my Catholic faith, and that I should stop kidding myself. I have realized that I have lost my Catholic faith, hence the amendment to my Disqus avatar. I hope that's clearer?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Clear.

            Does one really "lose" faith or does one make a decision to stop ascending?

          • Great Silence

            "Ascending" is naughty, Kevin. Am I now "descending" because I stopped trying to make sense of reality through a Christian worldview? There was, in my case, most certainly a decision to stop trying to get the square peg into the round hole, there was most certainly a decision, a refusal, to stop lying to myself, to try and rationalize what I held to be true with the dictates of my faith. Most certainly there was a "stopping", but on the "ascending" we are going to disagree. I lost my faith some time ago, and since then I was trying to hold on to it, to regain it.

            As much as I personally have no objection to discussing this with you, don't you think we are far off topic?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sorry, I meant assenting. (It is this new spell check feature I can't figure out. You type in a word then the checker changes it.) Didn't mean to be naughty or disrespectful.

          • Great Silence

            Understood. Spellcheckers are pure evil contraptions.

          • Michael

            If I might interject, Father Robert Kennedy, S.J., Roshi, is a Jesuit priest in good standing and a Zen master, so it is possible that Catholicism and some forms of Buddhism are not mutually exclusive.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It would have to be a form of Buddhism which has no content, which is what Zen is. Zen meditation, I take it, can be useful for contemplation, but Christian prayer is also meant to be an encounter between two persons.

  • Gavin Doughty

    If Thomistic philosophy takes issue with Intelligent Design, then why does it not take issue with the special creation of the human soul? ID presupposes that God's creation is inherently dynamically insufficient to evolve into new and successively complex organic forms over many, many years. Then how is the teaching that God had to "infuse" man's body with an immaterial soul not presupposing the very same thing, just in a different way?