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Atheism and the Personal Pronoun

Iron Man

The overwhelming majority of atheists today are also materialists. Ousting God implies an evacuation of all things “spiritual,” leaving behind only blind, brute, bits of matter. Whichever one arrives at first—whether materialism or atheism—is really inconsequential; one usually follows the other.

Concerning galaxies and stars, materialism seems unthreatening. After all, these are material, natural phenomena that we can understand, explain, and model according to material causes; there’s nothing supernatural about supernovas. But when atheistic-materialism trains its lens upon the human person, something quite puzzling (and frightening) occurs—human subjectivity disappears; that which makes humans human is explained away. The personal pronoun “I” is swallowed up.

Francis Crick called it “the astonishing hypothesis,” namely, that all our thoughts, dreams, imaginings, sensations, joys, and pains are entirely (and without remainder) the product of physiological processes and events occurring in the intricate folds of the brain.1 Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University, explains further: “The intuitive feeling we have that there’s an executive ‘I’ that sits in a control room of our brain scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion.”2

According to the conclusions inherent in the atheistic-materialistic premises, individual subjectivity, the personal pronoun “I,” turns out to be the illusory byproduct of trillions of crackling neurons. As Carl Sagan once put it, “I am a collection of water, calcium, and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label.” Thus, according to their own worldview, all thoroughly honest atheists and materialists must consent that they themselves, as selves, do not exist. What an odd conclusion!

While Rene Descartes built the edifice of modern philosophy on the bedrock foundation of the individual subject with his famous cogito ergo sum, I want to propose another use for the “I”: a doorstop. While atheistic materialists seek to slam the door of the universe shut, expelling all that is non-material, the fact—and I mean fact—of personal subjectivity, our ability to say “I,” acts like an intruder’s foot that gets wedged between the door and the frame, stubbornly preventing materialism from enclosing the universe within. Who or what is the “I” that declares Carl Sagan to be nothing but a collection of molecules? Does he not speak and assert this truth from a real center, a real subjective focal point? The common experience of being a subject, an “I” in the world, resists the spirit-draining power of the atheistic-materialistic worldview.

This is no incidental fact. Many apologetics projects have been launched to combat the New Atheism in the effort to show the reasonableness of Christian faith. But, before we can dialogue about faith in the Triune God whose nature and essence is union and communion, or in Jesus, who died an ignominious death for the sins of all, or in the very idea of Goodness, Truth, or Beauty itself, a critical step must be taken, one that is often overlooked. Because of the contemporary phenomenon of aggressive materialism, theists must persuasively show that there is more to this world than the mere matter to which scientists and the New Atheists want to reduce it.

In addition to the material stuff of the universe that scientists study and model so well, there is an equally real and infinitely more efficacious force at work that is intrinsically spiritual. There is a spiritual order that eludes scientific investigation or modeling. Recourse to material causes alone is insufficient to account for the universe and the human person. It must be shown that this materially-closed universe, this “nothing but” worldview, inadequately captures reality and lived-experience.

It is my firm contention that for our modern sensibilities, which prioritize the individual, there is no better starting point for this project than with personal subjectivity, with our unique ability to say meaningfully, “I...”

While the atheist-materialist may be able to reduce all being to the level of matter, void of spirituality, he is unable to explain himself away. There is an inherent contradiction built into the atheistic-materialistic worldview that can and ought to be noted. What does that look like?

Take Daniel Dennett for example. He is a philosopher of consciousness and director of the Center for Cognitive Sciences at Tufts University and a staunch proponent of the atheistic-materialistic worldview. He writes in his book, Consciousness Explained:

"Materialism: there is only one sort of stuff, namely matter—the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology—and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon."3

Dennett’s definition of materialism turns out, upon closer examination, to be a metaphysical claim regarding the ultimate nature of things. His materialism, one will notice, is not a discovery or conclusion of science but rather is a methodological presupposition that guides his science and determines what kinds of answers are acceptable. In other words, the scientific project, beginning centuries ago, was launched with an a priori limitation: to only consider and investigate material causes and to only accept material solutions. Naturally then, under this rubric, scientists like Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett himself are forced to draw the following conclusion regarding the brain, the mind, and personal subjectivity:

"The trouble with brains, it seems, is that when you look in them, you discover that there’s nobody home. No part of the brain is the thinker that does the thinking or the feeler that does the feeling...There is no longer a role for a centralized gateway, or indeed for any functional center to the brain...The brain is Headquarters, the place where the ultimate observer is, but there is no reason to believe that the brain itself has any deeper headquarters, any inner sanctum, arrival at which is the necessary or sufficient condition for conscious experience. In short, there is no observer inside the brain."4

To state their conclusion another way: there is no for whom consciousness exists; there is no “I” in the brain; there is no dative of manifestation to whom the external world is disclosed—all is sheer brute matter operating according to determined physical force laws, and consciousness happens to be an epiphenomenon of the interplay of specific materials and specific force laws. Scientists, gazing into the brain are unable to locate the thinker of the thinking, the feeler doing the feeling, and so conclude that there must not be a thinker or a feeler...or by extension, a scientist doing the science or a surgeon doing the open-brain surgery. This conclusion should rightly strike us as untenable. Why?

To whom does this thought occur: “there must be no thinker within who does the thinking”? Somebody is thinking this thought! Whose name is it that appears on the front jacket cover of Consciousness Explained, or atop any of their published journal articles, or outside their office door, or on the cover of their syllabi? Is it not their names? When they sign checks, make promises, or marry their spouse, what signs? What promises? What vows and loves?

From out this cloud of whirring, buzzing atoms, somebody acts, speaks, wills, dreams, and loves. What is the nature of this center from which all activities flow? It is obvious: this center is subjective (not in the sense of being relative, but in the sense of belonging to a subject, a person). Springing from Daniel Dennett’s irreducible “I” flow all his thoughts, theories, and books that, strangely enough, seek to prove that he does not exist. Carl Sagan’s quote is not attributed to a collection of molecules that happened to be called, by convention, “Carl Sagan.” No, his words are rightly attributed to him! The adherents of the atheistic-materialistic worldview are a living contradiction, and every time they act, speak, or write, they prove their own theory to be woefully inadequate.

For those encamped within the confines of the atheistic-materialistic universe, all that exists are mechanistic bodies—like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit; the only problem is, there is no Tony Stark inside or anywhere for that matter within the atheistic-materialistic universe.

Suits without Starks; iron without men.

A theory or worldview that eliminates the possibility of the theorist existing is a bad theory and an incomplete worldview. There may be parts of it that are true, but taken as a whole, the atheistic-materialistic thesis is inadequate and incoherent. So why will the door not close? Because in addition to the matter that comprises my body is a soul, an animating principle that organizes the matter that I am to be the matter of “me,” unique, unrepeatable me. In addition to my stuff, there is a soul, I have an “I,” that persists through time, that began at my conception, and will persist beyond my mortal life. There’s more to me than my mere meat. When I say “my brain,” I really mean my brain, not just any brain belonging to any body, but to a specific body, a somebody, namely me! And you too!

Doorstops do not do anything positive; rather, they prevent something from happening, namely the door being shut. In this case, the atheistic-materialistic worldview cannot close in on itself because the “I” gets in the way. Getting rid of God and spirituality isn’t as simple as it seems at first blush.

It cannot be maintained that the only stuff that exists is matter—the stuff of physics, biology, and chemistry—precisely because this assertion eliminates the theory-making subject. The “I” of every atheist holds the door of the universe ajar, permitting some non-material, spiritual “stuff” to sneak in. If immaterial “I’s” exist, then that begs the question: whence come the “I’s”? Perhaps God? That’s a topic for another article. I thank you!
 
 
(Image credit: Mirror)

Notes:

  1. Steven Pinker, "The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness," TIME Magazine. 19 Jan. 2007. Web. 05 Jan. 2011. . 3.
  2. Ibid., 4.
  3. Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (New York, Boston, and London: Back Bay Books, 1991), 33.
  4. Ibid., 106.
Patrick Schultz

Written by

Patrick Schultz is a fourth year seminarian in formation at St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland, OH. He is passionate about good coffee, good conversations, philosophical apologetics, masculine spirituality and walking with non-believers as friends and intellectual companions; but his greatest passion is Christ the Living Mercy and sharing the reasons for his joy. He has a zeal for evangelizing and youth ministry, and looks forward with great anticipation to receiving Holy Orders, God-willing, in May 2016.

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  • Mike

    Great piece: i will forever be grateful to my formative years spent as a cultural atheist for inoculating me against that belief; i am already joking around with my wife that when my daughter comes home from her freshman year and declares that "there's no God or gods, sorry dad" that i'll respond by telling her she's right and should follow that line of reasoning to where it lead so that she too can get that impulse out of the way early.

    • GCBill

      I never thought I'd see a Catholic encourage his child to conflate essential and accidental features (although to be fair, this piece somewhat encourages it).

      • James

        Could you offer more explanation of what you mean? I can't follow you.

        • GCBill

          Materialism may correlate strongly with atheism, but it is not essential to it. The strongest arguments against God's existence do not require it to be true. For instance, if I disbelieve in God because of evil or divine hiddenness, that doesn't tell me anything about the correct ontology other than the fact that it doesn't include God. I could, after all, still believe in mathematical Platonism, which very well might rule out materialism as a possibility.

          In my opinion, Mr. Schultz doesn't make this distinction carefully enough:

          "The overwhelming majority of atheists today are also materialists. Ousting God implies an evacuation of all things “spiritual,” leaving behind only blind, brute, bits of matter. Whichever one arrives at first—whether materialism or atheism—is really inconsequential; one usually follows the other."

          His opening paragraph does at least acknowledge that atheism and materialism are conceptually distinct by using "implies" instead of "entails." However, the rest of the piece uses the hyphenated "atheist-materialist" while presenting arguments against materialism. This leads to confusion, such as in Mike's comment where he takes his daughter's hypothetical "there's no God" to mean that she espouses some sort of materialist position (which would then be subject to the author's alleged reductio). For while some people might be atheists because of materialism, it's still true that a critique of materialism needn't entail a critique of atheism. This is a very important thing to keep in mind when dialoguing with atheists, many of whom are skeptical of God's existence for reasons unconnected to a specific ontology.

          • James

            Nice and good point. Thank you for explaining that. The author probably made the choice to speak of atheist-materialists because that will be his largest audience.

            What do you think of the piece otherwise? I thought it made some good points about the incoherency of the atheist-materialist worldview.

            Would you say the main argument is something like this:

            1. Non-material things do not exist.
            2. Our concept of "self" is a non-material thing.
            3. Therefore, our concept of "self" does not exist.

            The author was writing against that argument. Am I correct?

          • GCBill

            The article tries to leverage the apparent absurdity of that conclusion to argue against materialism, but gives very little argument for (2). In my opinion, "non-material" and "brute blind matter" don't come close to exhausting the full space of possibilities for what consciousness could be. In order for the materialist to be forced into the latter, there would have to be no downward causation, but 1) I'm not sure that's correct, and 2) no argument is given as to why I should believe it. The author assumes a maximally reductive materialism, which seriously undercuts the potency of his critique.

          • James

            By "downward causation" do you mean something "higher" in the individual directing something "lower"?

          • GCBill

            Yes. In terms of mental events, downward causation would be the patterns of brain activity we call "thoughts" influencing the underlying system components, rather than just being their product.

          • Loreen Lee

            It's at least the opposite direct to the epiphenomena movement from brain to mind, which 'they' say is by definition a one-way process. But the whole idea of creation, emanation, word made flesh is a description of the other process. Why do I always associate this idea with something external or something? Why did I look for the invisibility of mind within the air surrounding my body? Why do I have all of these embodied associations in my brain?

          • Caravelle

            In my opinion, "non-material" and "brute blind matter" don't come close to exhausting the full space of possibilities for what consciousness could be.

            For one things, brains aren't "brute blind matter". They're obviously brute sighted matter. If you consider the eyes to be part of the brain, which is pretty accurate for vertebrates.

          • Patrick Schultz

            Brains, as brains, are not sighted any more than eye balls see. persons with brains and eyes and nervous systems see, think, feel, intend, will, dream, etc. I believe you're confusing agency and mechanism. In this article, I do not intend to suggest that the material causality of the brain (or the body) is unnecessary for the felt-experience of being a subject, an "I." Rather, I am suggesting that what is necessary is not necessarily sufficient to account for the presence of felt subjectivity.

          • Caravelle

            So would you argue that all sighted animals can't see, or that some or all sighted animals have immaterial souls ?

          • Loreen Lee

            There: the geneticists study mechanism. That's what they said. Is there a limit to the predictions they make regarding the conscious thought they 'see' in the brain before it's expression. Can they see the 'whole' thought, for instance, the feeling, the thought, the relational aspects the unity within the consciousness? And yet there's the unity of Kant's apperception. So perhaps the unity is there before the conscious thought, and even perhaps before or at the same time as the observation of the neuronal correlate within the brain..

          • Papalinton

            So, you're saying that eye balls don't see because we are not some form of biological mechanism observing the laws of physics, right? What about cameras or computers? Can they see because they are only mechanisms and we need not confuse them with agency?

            If someone is confuse vis-a-vis eyes, cameras, I suggest the confusion is very much in your somewhat naive and nonsensical claim.

          • Patrick Schultz

            Neither cameras nor computers see. Eyeballs do not see because they are the organ by which seeing occurs. Persons see….with, in, and through their eyeballs.

          • Krakerjak

            Thought you may like this.

            “This life's dim windows of the soul
            Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
            And leads you to believe a lie
            When you see with, not through, the eye.”_ William Blake

          • Loreen Lee

            Those who have eyes, let them see, or something! Why to we associate seeing with intelligence and sound with what? feeling? What is the relation between truth and beauty?

          • Loreen Lee

            Well with all the metaphysical theories of even materialist cosmologists, there is obviously some sort of limit as to what we can know 'scientifically' perhaps. Is it even possible that we will somehow find the need to admit we're 'human'. Neitzsche: All too Human. Is it really the desire to be God that overcomes our ability to know, love, and serve?

          • Materialists can't believe in a self. Not even non-reductive materialists. Teleportation/replica thought experiments demonstrate this nicely.

            See my own essay for example. 4th paragraph onwards:

            http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/is-after-death-possible-if-we-are.html

          • 2 is a straw man and I have to say a rather reckless one. do I materialists think that materialists lack a belief in the self? Or that we believe in the self, believe in materialism, AND think the self is immaterial?

            We simply do not accept this premise that the self is non-material. We believe the self is material it is emergent from brains that are active. It IS those brains in activity. The experience of consciousness and the self is not immaterial it is these brains. We see no reason to accept there is something more.

          • James

            Do you think there is there something non-material in the brain? I am confused. It sounds like you are saying we experience the activity of our brains and that experience is the self. But what is the experience? A physical hub in the brain--in which case the article's points hold--or something immaterial in the brain--in which case the physical world is not all there is?

          • Loreen Lee

            Maybe the physical universe did actually begin as the nothingness that is talked about. The World of Spirit as well, as per Buddhism, and I believe the some kind of being in the World associated with Christian spirit. The ying-yang image of consciousness, reflective but also perhaps dynamic. Did Aristotle write about time. Or is it something we all 'know' but can't talk about. What is Heidegger's book 'Being and Time' all about? How do we explain the movement within our consciousness, Bergson's time as duration. What did Aristotle mean by an 'unmoved' mover. How do we find the unity within language and consciousness?

          • Vincent Herzog

            Brian, I am a Catholic and think Brandon is tracking something substantial, but I think you are right to press on this point. It will be crucial to clarifying the problem with materialism.

            Catholics believe that consciousness can be a merely physical function. For example, unlike Descartes, we believe that animals are not unfeeling machines but are conscious, yet we also believe their souls to be just as you say, the functioning of their bodies. We call these "material souls."

            One challenge Brandon might take up, to make sure the door isn't still forced closed, is to show why the phenomenon of selfhood is not accounted for by physical functioning.

            This gets tricky, because materialists are ready to bite some big bullets. They are ready, for example, to part with freedom of the will, or even any substantial notion of the will at all, even though they could never live according to the view (for example, you live and make choices just as if you had freedom, and will continue to do so), and even though moral responsibility, human dignity, self-giving love all evaporate without freedom. Materialists are ready to accept that much of what constitutes human experience is an illusion, but as long as they retain a mere observer, a point of view, they don't have to bite the bullet of no one being home and all the lights being off.

          • David Nickol

            Does belief in free will require one to believe that Person A, if somehow repeatedly put in Situation B, with no alternatives but Decision C and Decision D, would sometimes choose C and sometimes choose D? It seems to me that if a freely made choice is not, nevertheless, dependent on the sum total of who Person A is and how such a person would react in a given set of circumstances, then the decision is in some very real sense arbitrary.

            If decisions don't spring logically from the sum total of what a person is, where do they come from? How can we account for them? If two identical people at a decision point in identical parallel universes make different moral decisions (one good and one evil), what is the justification for sending the person who made the good decision to heaven and the person who made the bad decision to hell. Up until the point they made the fateful decision, they were identical. You may argue that once they made their different decisions, one became good and the other evil, but what was the motivation for the decisions if it was not the sum total of who those persons were?

          • Vincent Herzog

            Excellent, David. Thank you. Yes, we don't want Epicurus's swerve to explain freedom. And we do want character to factor in. However, it would still not get us the desired moral responsibility if the totality of a person factored in in such a way as to force the outcome, particularly if the "agent" was never really responsible for possessing the character they do. What is needed is for moral responsibility—indeed for agency at all—is for the agent to be a self-mover. Acts of self-moving need not be conditioned by the whole of the agent. Your extreme most hair follicle on your right pinky had little to do with your last post, nor did most of the neurons in your head light up. Yet it was truly you who posted it. I content that you could have refrained from posting it and still retained your identity.

          • Loreen Lee

            Moral responsibility/ Hegel's 'recognition of necessity' as logic and may I propose even as being. Jesus on the Cross being the Will of the Being of the Father. Taking responsibility for your own birth and parents, as the Buddhists preach: Their conception of Woman. Hey it's almost a Virgin Mary concept come to think of it. Or translated into Spinoza, see the necessity in everything. But some followers didn't get it right. They hadn't read Hegel. But it's bit by bit, comment box, by comment box. The possibility of some connection is 'always' there. And each one made is another unity, another 'creation' of a living conceptual truth, as in Wittgenstein, and Jesus.

          • bbrown

            This sure seems like the product one of those random word generators.

          • Loreen Lee

            Yeah! A few people have expressed concern regarding the unrelated conceptions that have been expressed in this post. These comments result from my effort to be aware of my thoughts within an interactive process with other people. This was extending the practice of meditation not only to my own consciousness, but the possible cause-effect relationship between both the 'what'? external and internal?

            It was an exhausting experience in which I lost the sense of time, even. I am still running through my mind various interpretations of the experience.

            Just coming home from having my morning coffee at the cafe, I was thinking over the relation of theses through to the possible neuronal action that was addressed on a recent post. So as well as the possibility of relating this to computers, it also raised the question of what relationship these 'diverse' associations have within the theory of
            'natural selection'.

            Well, may I suggest: if it's completely natural!!! then you have the evidence of my thought that those neurons in the brain can act quite arbitrarily. I could only wonder who it is/was possible that (and here's the irony) within a more conscious state there must be some mechanism (or power of the Holy Spirit) which filters or siphons out some of the details that are 'unconscious?', 'randon connections between the neurons?'

            If I may use the Catholic paradigm as an example: (or I could use even Freud, but actually if this was the limit of choice maybe I'll stick with my original premise.
            Changed my mind.
            In Buddhism a meditative process is used in order to become aware within the 'continuity of thought' of those (a metaphor is used here, sorry I can't be scientific) those seeds of karma. which are eliminated through the process of becoming conscious of them. So if you want to lose that anger streak, or whatever, they follow Christianity, and even Freud, that you first have to become aware of them.
            So I hope I didn't disclose too many of my 'sins' or 'neurosis'.
            Anyway, thanks for your comment. And thanks for seeing the error of my ways/thoughts in relation to another paradigm.I'm saving my comments, because I think it will give provide the material for further reflection. Thanks again.

          • Loreen Lee

            I experienced memory loss before recovering from trauma. At the beginning point I 'felt like nothing'. I am beginning to understand that the organization of body is definitely related to a person's 'self-identity'. It was for me, helpful to identify with the Buddhist consciousness of Emptiness. The conceptual interaction is definitely, as we all know, related through the body either/or both/and heaven and hell. Nothingness can even become a Fulfillment. I like Nietzsche's beyond good and evil: love. It really all depends how we 'choose': perhaps even in relation to how to interpret the concepts! Those monadic,cellular neurons and all their connections in our mind/brain. Heidegger said we have to learn how to think. I'm going to have to think about how I'm going to interpret that!

          • James

            For a Catholic, included in that "sum total" is an immaterial soul that can act in confluence with matter to make decisions for which it is accountable. Two different people are never identical because they will each have a unique immaterial soul.

          • George

            Do you think people's actions have reasons behind them?

          • Vincent Herzog

            Hi George. Yes, I do.

          • George

            What do you consider a free action then?

          • Vincent Herzog

            We could start with a necessary condition (although I'm sure we could say more): an act is free when the agent could have done the act, or done otherwise. If the act results in a deterministic way, conditioned either by the totality of the agent, or by any number of his parts, then the act is not free.

          • Caravelle

            If the act isn't conditioned by the agent or any number of his parts, does that mean the agent isn't in complete control of their choices ?

          • Vincent Herzog

            Hi Caravelle,
            I spoke only of the act being conditioned in a deterministic way. Consider the flip: if the act is determined by either all or part of the agent, the agent is not free. That is, if I as a whole simply have do to something, I am not free with respect to that behavior. If a part or parts of me make me have to do something, then I am not free with respect to that behavior.

          • George

            Sorry to reply late, but how would we know if an agent really could have done otherwise?

          • Vincent Herzog

            Hi George. We can know a few ways, but some of my favorites are the following:
            (1) By the process of deliberation. You don't deliberate to discover what you will do, but to choose what you will do. Some people will claim that the process of deliberation merely factors into the determining of the agent, but if that's so, then it would make more sense to call it the process of discovery than the process of deliberation, for "deliberation" indicates that the purpose of the process is to aid a free choice, not merely the discovery of an action.
            (2) By the existence of a moment of choice. If there isn't a moment of free choice, why is there a moment of choice at all? Why can we bring our deliberations to an end, then later decide to act? Indeed, we can deliberate and then fail to act according to our best deliberations. Why doesn't the end of deliberation itself yield the behavior? Furthermore, the experience of choice is inescapably one of choosing between viable possibilities--which brings us to the next point.
            (3) By the inability of deniers of free will to live consistently with their view. Deniers of free will will go on living as if they had it. They will go on deliberating (in the full sense of the word) and making choices, approaching each choice as if they had the full capability to choose to do or not do the given action under consideration.
            (4) By the universal acknowledgment (if not in word then at least in deed) of moral responsibility. Moral responsibility is absurd if "agents'" behaviors are necessitated, that is, if they cannot but help doing the things they do. Ought implies can.

            You and I are persons, and our experience of being persons--especially of defending our dignity as persons, as opposed to mere instruments of external forces--is strong evidence for what it is to be a person. The universal experience of persons is the experience of freedom of the will.

            So, in light of that strong evidence, what is the counter-evidence that we are not free? As far as I can see, the position of lack of free will is entailed by strict materialism, but is not itself supported by evidence. This gets back to Brandon's point. That the substantial sense of person disappears under materialism is powerful evidence against strict materialism, for the evidence of personhood is not only before all our noses, it is before and in a behind the very experience of seeking and weighing evidence in the first place. If we are what materialism says we are, science would quite literally be impossible.

          • George

            " but if that's so, then it would make more sense to call it the process of discovery than the process of deliberation, for "deliberation" indicates that the purpose of the process is to aid a free choice, not merely the discovery of an action."

            I, in fact, think discovery is indeed the better word to use. It's simply more accurate. seeing as I don't need to use your term, I don't think (1) is a successful point for free will. isn't it just sort of a restatement of non-believers not being consistent? for me it's not a problem.

            "the experience of choice is inescapably one of choosing between viable possibilities"

            yes, and we discover which of our desires was the strongest when we take a particular action out of the variety of actions we imagined.

            you're calling the behavior of free-will deniers, behavior that is only possible with free will? are you speaking for all of them, some of them? how do you know all this going on in their heads?

            still regarding point 3, I fail to see how our behavior individually and as a society should drastically change by accepting determinism. can you help me understand what you think would/should change under that?

            for example (and this also touches on point 4, moral responsibility), we would not suddenly drop incarceration as a response to violent, antisocial behavior. why would we? our desires would still be the same. we don't want to be hurt.

            "You and I are persons, and our experience of being persons--especially of defending our dignity as persons, as opposed to mere instruments of external forces--is strong evidence for what it is to be a person"

            and the persons with the experience of thinking over the proposed "free will", and judging it an incoherent non-answer, must not count in order to say it is universal.

          • Loreen Lee

            The movement within post-modern philosophy emphasis discussion and investigation into various conceptions of the Will. It was at one point, associated with Kant's Noumena - the thing in itself. The search for God is not over in this respect, but there is no up down movement as in Kantian philosophy and Christianity. They want to eliminate their will?
            Also a discussion on SN regarding whether some bacteria in the body should be considered part of the individual's self or not. Maybe they will eliminate all the diseases of the body/mind problem. There is some serious philosophical/metaphysical speculation going on within these materialistic conceptions of naturalism!!!!

          • I think you need to do more than show why materialism cannot account for the self. First you need to clarify what you mean by self and then show that it is incompatible with materialism, not just that materialism cannot account for it. That is if you want to prove it wrong. I note that I don't say the immaterial is impossible or incompatible with material, unjust see not reason to accept anything immaterial exists or that thought is fundamental.

            You are right also, I do not not subscribe to this notion of free will, though I have no issues with "will". Humans (and machines) clearly make choices. Humans clearly have intentions. There just doesn't seem to be anything other than the brain involved.

            I disagree that moral responsibility etc disappear with free will. Why would they? But it does affect how we deal with moral transgressions. I do not agree that much of human experience is an illusion. I would say that the strong feeling that we are something other than our biology is an illusion. But our thoughts experiences concepts are real, they are just material.

          • bbrown

            Humans and machines make choices in a very different sense. I think that the commonplace sense of the word 'choice' does not apply to machines. This confusion or presumption seems to underlie your thesis.

          • I don't disagree that humans and machines make choices in different ways. Machines and other machines make choices in different ways. I was just saying that I agree humans have will.

          • Loreen Lee

            There is no unity in the philosophy of Buddhism. They rejected all of the Hindu Cosmological gods, and even all of their multiverses. They wanted to sing a new song within an Ideal universe. They indeed lose their self into selves within the a 'conglomerate' Nirvana: a blissful consciousness of emptiness devoid of any materiality.

          • Hello, do you speak English??

          • no

          • Loreen Lee

            Kant's major contribution to philosophy was to establish the reality of the physical phenomenal world. His Idealism describes our spiritual shortcomings in reaching a sense of wholeness within ourselves. That's why we keep crying about the pain and suffering in this samsara of experience.

          • Papalinton

            What is a non-material thing?
            Who says our concept of 'self' is a non-material thing?

          • James

            I was just talking as an atheist who doesn't believe in immaterial things. Do you?

          • Loreen Lee

            Love it. Keep talking and I'll understand you better, I hope. I presented the theodicy argument to my communist husband and he dismissed it as the atheists, (he's only a material determinist) inability to accept the rough stuff. After all, God accepted it, so he was at least being responsible when he died on the cross. So maybe that's what the Atonement is all about - to teach us some responsibility for nature, climate change, the treatment of animals, ---- I could go on. The sins keep getting more original.

          • Man of the Hour

            Well, atheism requires something other than idealism, neutral monism, or double aspect theory. Substance dualism could work, but it's incoherent. Truly neutral monism entails that reality could be cut up completely as mental, which would stick one with a pantheistic God. The same holds true of double aspect theory. Idealism immediately entails a pantheistic God as universal mind. So materialism is the best place to go to in order to be a true atheist. It is, however, hard to maintain, as atheism is with the above ontologies. The difficulty of holding atheism with the above philosophies is the reason many atheists are materialists.

      • Mike

        Are you making fun of me ? ;)

    • Or maybe she'll become the next big New Atheist. Here's hoping for the best! ;)

      • Mike

        No the New Atheists are not a good example but if she became a joyful, humorous, witty atheist i'd be really proud of her and then gently explain to her why she's got things all backwards :).

        • You sound like a good dad.

          • Mike

            That's a very kind thing to say, thank you, sincerely.

          • Loreen Lee

            Don't worry. I got a really harsh sentence when I expressed a regret that I didn't teach my children 'religion'. I baptized them but the priest wasn't interested in that!!! Read them a bit of the Old Testament story book, turned out to be the story of the guy with the vow to God, who had to kill his daughter. Closed the book with a bang. Couldn't take the kids there at their age. Then at ten, my son announced. "Mom" There has got to be a God. The geneticists have an explanation of this as a Darwinian evolution of some kind of pattern thinking or something. No problem. We're all going to heaven.....

        • Loreen Lee

          She's be the first Feminist Voltaire! Can't you hear the irony in the garden?

        • bbrown

          Ah, how I miss the old atheists. They were well read in the classics and Great Books. You could talk to them and have wonderful conversations.

          • Mike

            and they weren't always trying to "sneak in" things like morality justice etc. They said it like it is: there is nothing but bottomless pitiless indifference if there is no God.

  • Guest

    "Remember, young man, unceasingly," Father Paissy began, without

    preface, "that the science of this world, which has become a great

    power, has, especially in the last century, analysed everything divine

    handed down to us in the holy books. After this cruel analysis the

    learned of this world have nothing left of all that was sacred of old.

    But they have only analysed the parts and overlooked the whole, and

    indeed their blindness is marvellous. Yet the whole still stands

    steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail

    against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries, is it not still a

    living, a moving power in the individual soul and in the masses of

    people? It is still as strong and living even in the souls of

    atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have

    renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still

    follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor

    the ardour of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of

    man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old. When it has

    been attempted, the result has been only grotesque. Remember this

    especially, young man, since you are being sent into the world by your

    departing elder. Maybe, remembering this great day, you will not

    forget my words, uttered from the heart for your guidance, seeing

    you are young, and the temptations of the world are great and beyond

    your strength to endure. Well, now go, my orphan."

    • Mike

      Booyah! LOL

  • GCBill

    Must ontology recapitulate philology? The words which we use can still be useful even if they don't capture the underlying reality of our experience at all.

    For instance, even if idealism turns out to be true, our disembodied minds may still communicate more effectively by describing shared sensations as a "world." There would be nothing but thought-stuff, and yet we'd still benefit from speech which seems to imply a literal falsehood. I think that should give us pause to rejecting eliminativist positions based merely on their apparent absurdity (though there might well be other good reasons to be skeptical of them).

    • Loreen Lee

      Kant's four categories: Quantity, Quality, Relationship, and the Modes.
      The quality category is the one that relates to the Aristotelian existential. Actuality, Negation, and either the logical infinity, or the developmental and thus the more focused 'limitation'. (complexity?). And these then became the basis of Hegel's phenomenological 'scientific' because temporal, LOGIC.Not all of Aristotle was forgotten, there was just a little detour to establish a little Cartesian quantitative, solipisistic, subjectivity!

  • The argument here seems to be that materialism denies the self, the "I" and is therefore absurd. It does not, it concludes that the "I"the "self" is material.

    It is correct to say that materialsim does not accept that there is an "I" IN the brain, but this is not the same as saying there is no "I" at all! We say the "I" IS the brain, there is not immaterial "I" inhabiting the brain. The self is the brain and its activity.

    I don't think it is materialists who are applying a doorstop here, rather, the author of this OP seems unable of even considering that the self, the "I", can be purely material.

    • Cristalle

      If the "I" is material, then all the things that the "I" thinks, hopes, dreams, imagines, believes, etc. -- i.e. consciousness -- are also material. This leads to some difficult issues.
      - For example, I can weigh and measure a physical object -- say, a chair. But I can't weigh or measure your IDEA of a chair. If I cut open your brain, I won't find any chairs there. How, then, can your idea of a chair be purely material?
      - Suppose you have an idea of something non-existent -- say, a unicorn. Does that then imply that unicorns are material, and therefore exist? This is rather an absurd conclusion, but the idea that consciousness is purely material would seem to imply it.
      There are many, many other problems too, but those are the first two that come to mind.

      • GCBill

        If you restrict "material" to the degree that Descartes did, then maybe (though I'm still skeptical). But I've read prominent Catholic philosophers who say that's wrong anyway.

        • Loreen Lee

          Yet some genetic scientists are still using the vocabulary of 'mechanisms' associated with Cartesian science!

      • Caravelle

        - For example, I can weigh and measure a physical object -- say, a chair. But I can't weigh or measure your IDEA of a chair. If I cut open your brain, I won't find any chairs there. How, then, can your idea of a chair be purely material?

        If you see a chair, a set of neurons in the shape of the image of that chair on the retina will activate. So that's at least one place you'll find chairs if you cut open someone's brain. That kind of one-to-one mapping is pretty nifty but is mostly a feature of visual and spatial systems; to find correlates of other kinds of concepts you need less direct methods.

        Point being, our technology and knowledge of the brain is not yet at the point where we can exactly identify the idea of a chair in anyone's brain, but everything we do know is consistent with it being in there.

        Suppose you have an idea of something non-existent -- say, a unicorn. Does that then imply that unicorns are material, and therefore exist?

        No, of course not. One should distinguish ideas of things (whether those ideas are immaterial or material patterns in the brain) from the things themselves (which are entities existing in reality). The difference between our idea of a horse and our idea of a unicorn is in the correspondence between those ideas and reality. The idea that consciousness is purely material doesn't imply that we should have only ideas that correspond to reality - after all, the point of having intelligence should be to understand the world around us and predict its behavior based on incomplete information; this involves conceptualizing not only the world as it is, but also the world as it might be. Hence the need for imagination (which, I'll note btw and IIRC, is material according to people like Dr. Feser).

        • Loreen Lee

          If it' the one to one correlation in "I am a Strange Loop" we can just treat it like music, and start to sing the Music of the Spheres. Who knows - maybe that would be the Ideal/Real state. But what about Leibniz and the simply souls of his Monads. Was he perhaps describing such a thing as a mind/brain? I'm just letting it go. No excuses. John Searle.

      • Loreen Lee

        I'll bet all the problems are already solved within the histories of philosophies and religions. We just have to put it all together.

        • Doug Shaver

          I doubt that all the problems have been solved, but I do believe most of the ones that most people argue about have been solved. There is just no agreement as to which of the proposed solutions were the right ones.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Doug for your response. Of course, the big problem that remains unsolved is how to get along 'in peace'!

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        You are right that ideas are not material. But material objects can represent and store immaterial ideas.

        A simple example is a book. I think we would both agree that a book is material: paper and ink (unless you want to argue that books have souls...) Yet the way in which the ink is arranged can represent, and store immaterial ideas such as a description of a chair or a unicorn. Similarly a computer disk is material, and the material arrangement of magnetized/unmagentized molecules on its surface can represent and store immaterial information and ideas. I don't think either of us would expect to find actual chairs or unicorns if we cut open a book or computer.

        I think it is entirely possible that the brain works in a similar manner. Material neurons form physical pathways. The arrangement of these neurons can represent and store the idea of a chair, unicorn, or more.

        • That is pretty much it, but I would not say a description of a chair of or any idea is "immaterial". When we think about what an idea is, it, like the book is a pattern, an active pattern of neural activity, rather than a static pattern of ink on paper. Another example would be the code of the image of a chair encoded digitally. At some point a computer will process that code in a CPU and GPu and represent it in a visual way, we wouldn't say anything immaterial is going on. I would say it is unlikely that the computer is having a conscious experience, but I think it is similar to what ideas are in out brains. Instead id taking digital information it takes sensory information and processes it or memories and processes that, but not onto a monitor but to another part of the brain or another neural network or process, and it is this experience that we say is conscious experience. It is this experience that literally is us. I am speculating and guessing, but I think it is more reasonable than to assume there is some mystical immaterial and undetectable process going on, inferred by our feeling that reducing human experience to matter is unsatisfying.

      • You are conflating concepts or ideas, with what those ideas are about.

        Indeed yes, we can observe brains thinking and even are beginning to have some understanding into what brains are thinking about. We observe neural activity.

        We don't expect to find a chair when we observe a brain thinking the idea "chair", we expect to see neural activity, and we do.

        We have a concept of say, the Eiffel Tower, this concept is a neural image, a representation of something real. The concept is real, the tower is real. They are not the same, though there is a relationship. We have concepts of unreal things, dragons, for example. The concept of a dragon is a real, material thing. It is the neural activity in thinking about "dragon". But there is no real dragon in existence. Thinking it does not make it exist.

        That is my materialist point of view. But what does it mean for the self to be immaterial? We know it is very dependent on the brain, we have no experience of thinking without brains. We know when the bran is damaged physically it can cause entire personality changes. Eg Phinneus Gage. But if the self is fundament immaterial, all of this is secondary, but what is primary, it has no mass, no duration in space, it is undetectable except for each individual's experience of it, which is utterly mysterious to all of us.

        • Loreen Lee

          I understand the brain can also reorganize. Does the brain, and consequently the material neural connections have the ability, as Kant maintains, to have purpose? If so, how is there purpose in the universe? See Immanuel Kant, forth argument.

          • Depends what you mean by purpose. I don't things have objective or singular purposes. I would say that brains can have concepts of purposes. Even of their own purpose. But I can think of no way to verify what an objective purpose would be or why we would think anything has an objective purpose.

        • Cristalle

          Fair enough -- see my second reply to your original comment, above.

    • Loreen Lee

      The unity would be a material unity then, or everything in mind iis but a conglomerate. What would be the conclusion of the materialist? (I didn't put all the possibilities down, granted, but knowing you guys, and from music, you can calculate the possibilities better than I can.) .

      • I don't know what you mean by material unity here. The materialist point of view is that matter is fundamental. Matter doesn't seem terribly unified to me. We do not know what the nature of matter is, though particle physics has given us a great deal of information about.

        I would suggest that the immaterialist knows virtually nothing about what "immaterial" is. You can say it is thought, but if you can't point to brains, neural activity, its expression in language or matter, what do you point to?

        I say "you" but I don't presume you are not a materialist, Loreen.

        • Loreen Lee

          Maybe you know me better than I do. Constant play with ideas. My most recent play with introspection. Trying to be aware of the process of change within my mind.

        • bbrown

          We don't have to know what it is to say that it isn't likely to be true. One strong argument against the purely materialist conception of mind, choice, will, etc. is the time required for it's development along the materialist theory of random mutation and natural selection. The time since the beginning of the universe is many magnitutes too short. Ie: consciousness, which cannot be explained by materialism, is likely impossible given the time required for it's evolutionary development. It can not be explained as pure material, even given enough time.

          • Luke

            The time since the beginning of the universe is many magnitutes too short. Ie: consciousness, which cannot be explained by materialism, is likely impossible given the time required for it's evolutionary development.

            Could you provide some links to support this claim?

          • Papalinton

            bbrown, this is silly stuff, really, and quite misguided. I'm not trying to be smart, but it really does not accord with the facts, let alone the evidence that tracks a very different narrative. Consciousness can indeed be explained in material, philosophical and scientific terms. While understanding the mechanism underlying consciousness has yet to be fully explored there is little doubt that it is an epiphenomenal condition resulting from electro-chemical neural activity of brain cells. In other words the mind is what the brain does. No brain, no thoughts. No brain, no feeling. No brain, no emotions of joy, love, anger, hate, revenge, jealousy etc etc. Love, joy, beauty, pain, are all emotional and physical conditions generated by the brain through injection of various natural-occurring opioids and other neurotransmitters in the brain. No brain, no thinking.

          • How have you determined the time it takes for brains to evolve conscious ability, particularly when you also seem to think it is impossible for this to happen in the first place?

        • Loreen Lee

          That explains why the Buddhists don't believe there is 'unity'. Their Nirvana after all is described as an emptiness. There is no longer any 'individuality'. Thanks.

    • Patrick Schultz

      Brian, the argument I try to make is not that "materialism denies the self, the 'I,'" but rather that according to it's own terms, materialism cannot account for the life-as-lived human experience of being a responsible subject and a center of willful action in speech, thought, or deed. It is patently obvious that brains are necessary for consciousness and the qualia of personal subjectivity. However, what is necessary is not necessarily sufficient to account for the phenomenon of "personality." If what materialists reduce all matter to the smallest bits, and nothing in the "bits" thinks, feels, sees, dreams, wills, etc., how can you account for the thinking, feeling, seeing, dreaming, willing? Further, matter is divisible. Selves, subjects, I's, are intrinsically indivisible.

      • David Nickol

        If what materialists reduce all matter to the smallest bits, and
        nothing in the "bits" thinks, feels, sees, dreams, wills, etc., how can
        you account for the thinking, feeling, seeing, dreaming, willing?

        Individual water molecules are not wet or even liquid, but collections of them can be wet and liquid under certain conditions. It is certainly a mistake to think that for any complex construction of atoms, the properties of that construction must be properties of the subatomic particles that comprise them. A steel scalpel can be sharp, but that does not mean sharpness is a property of steel.

        Selves, subjects, I's, are intrinsically indivisible.

        What about an individual descending gradually into a severe case of Alzheimer's? It seems to me what you see is a person disintegrating bit by bit. Aren't memories part of the "I"? I saw a very moving documentary about a family in which the mother had early onset Alzheimer's. The children said things like, "She's no longer the person we knew as our mother." What about any person with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia? How do you separate out the pure "I"?

        • Caravelle

          Also, people who undergo personality changes after having brain damage.

          • David Nickol

            Not only that. One of the common warnings of a great many drugs nowadays is that they may cause suicidal thoughts. How can a drug cause a thought? Also, it is a known side effect of many anti-Parkinson's drugs that they may cause compulsive behavior, such as compulsive gambling. I read a fascinating story about a man who had never gambled in his life and became a compulsive gambler when put on a certain drug. It took a long time before anyone made the connection, but when he was removed from the drug, the irresistible urge to gamble went away. How can drugs work on the "will" if it is a spiritual faculty?

          • bbrown

            The drug does not cause a thought but alters or disinhibits pre-existing thoughts or tendenices. For the Christian theist it might be described as original sin, the tendency toward self-destruction.

          • David Nickol

            The drug does not cause a thought but alters or disinhibits pre-existing thoughts or tendenices.

            I am not quite sure how you know that. But here's a question. In the story I read about the man who became a compulsive gambler because of side effects of medication he was taking, his life was ruined. He lost his job, he lost his friends, his marriage broke up, and so on. Was he morally responsible?

            I have experienced general anesthesia a few times, and it was essentially nonexistence. What was my soul doing at that point? If a soul requires a functioning brain to be aware, what accounts for the awareness (and suffering) of souls in purgatory?

            Say two people are profoundly depressed. One does not get treatment (through no fault of his own), and commits suicide. The other gets a series of "shock treatments" and recovers a normal life. Did the first person go to hell for committing the mortal sin of suicide?

            It seems to me there is a real problem once it is admitted that physical and chemical changes in the brain may cause behavior that a person is not morally responsible for, and yet clearly it happens all the time. Where is the soul's "intellect and will" when this happens?

          • bbrown

            I don't know that for sure - it does, to me seem intuitive though. But that, as I said, is informed by my understanding of human nature. I am also a physician and I do know something about these drugs.

            Under anesthesia you are simply asleep. Nothing terribly mysterious about that - although it is not known for sure how the anesthetic gases work: it's thought to be an effect on cell membrane and ion channel conductance. What does your soul do when you are asleep? I don't know. I do not think it (whatever a soul is) leaves you. Perhaps with near-death experiences it does for a time. I am the director of our ICU and have seen many of these cases. I know they are real.

            Re. moral responsibility: that enters a new and large discussion. I do not know how the law handles this or how it could be discerned as to what was drug induced and what was not. My hunch is that moral responsibility cannot be lifted cavalierly, but that seems to be the way modern jurisprudence has trended.

            I guess that the dilemmas you present do not overly worry me. Some of the concerns are of a distinctively Catholic nature. I rest in the knowledge that God is not God if he is not maximally loving. A maximally loving and maximally just god can take care of folks who do not have moral culpability, despite what we and our justice thinks or does. And there's the added bonus of God's mercy to the undeserving.

          • Michael Murray

            Under anesthesia you are simply asleep.

            Interesting. It sure doesn't feel like that. No dreams and no feeling of time having passed. This seems to agree with that perception but no doubt you no a lot more than me.

            http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/212525.php

          • David Nickol

            Not only that. One of the common warnings of a great many drugs nowadays is that they may cause suicidal thoughts. How can a drug cause a thought? Also, it is a known side effect of many anti-Parkinson's drugs that they may cause compulsive behavior, such as compulsive gambling. I read a fascinating story about a man who had never gambled in his life and became a compulsive gambler when put on a certain drug. It took a long time before anyone made the connection, but when he was removed from the drug, the irresistible urge to gamble went away. How can drugs work on the "will" if it is a spiritual faculty?

        • Patrick Schultz

          Thank you for your comments. I think we have to be careful with your example of an Alzheimer's patient (or any like examples, such as someone who suffers a sudden head trauma, etc.). I would maintain that there is no such thing as a "pure 'I'" as you say. Such would seem to suggest a disembodied soul/subject that resides in the brain piloting the body (kind of like that little alien in the first Men in Black movie). Rather, the view I hold is much "messier" if you will, which insists on the Aristotelian notion of substantial form--with the human person, the soul and the body are wedded together, grown together, as a hylomorphic whole where the soul is the animating and organizing principle of the body. The soul forms and informs the matter of the body, including the brain, to be the sort of body it is. Along these lines, the brain and the mind are not really separable, but at the same time, they're not identical either--the mind is not the brain. I would hesitate to say the soul/mind "uses" the brain instrumentally like a pianist "uses" a piano. Rather, I'd say that the soul/the subject/person/"I" has access to and purchase on the external world with and through the brain. For this reason, pointing to examples of Alzheimer's patients or those who suffer head trauma does not disprove the immateriality of the mind; all it serves to prove is the interrelationship between the two. The form indeed is independent of the matter, yet, it also depends upon the matter to function excellently--for example, you would hardly say that "ax form" could properly inhere in styrofoam matter. In this instance, what actually deterioriates is indeed the matter of the person's brain as an organ. Neural pathways begin to disappear and the brain slowly ceases to function as it was intended to function. This however does not show that the brain IS the mind. Instead, the brain and the mind are wedded together as a hylomorphic whole, like the convex and the concave surfaces of a spoon, like the dog and its flesh, the tree and its roots.

          Msgr. Robert Sokolowksi who teaches at Catholic University of America illustrates this
          idea further utilizing an innovative analogy.
          The brain and nervous system function, he maintains, much like a
          transparent lens. When a lens works
          properly, it refracts and presents that which is beyond it, whether that is a
          newspaper or the Andromeda galaxy light years away. Unlike a television screen that creates and displays that which is seen way over "there," a lens serves as the
          physical medium through which what is seen is conveyed. When I hold up a magnifying glass at arm’s
          length, and gaze into it looking at the wall opposite me through the lens, the
          image that seems to appear in the glass is not actually in the glass like the image on a TV screen, but rather is actually out there, beyond the glass. With
          the TV screen, I behold a representation, an image of the real thing, but not
          the thing itself. But with a lens, what
          I see in the glass is not something representing the wall, but rather the wall as wall, but in a specifically
          non-physical way. The lens, then, serves
          as a physical medium through which the external world of matter-form composites
          is conveyed and known. Applying this
          analogy to the mind and the brain, we can begin to grasp the complex
          interrelation of soul and body. The
          brain and the nervous system are the physical medium through which the external
          world is accessible and knowable to the immaterial mind, not as the result of a
          secondary stage of re-presentation, but in a single, concomitant moment. The mind needs the brain for it is in
          accordance with human nature that we come to knowledge and understanding of the
          world through our physicality and the corporeality of things. This lensing analogy is also helpful in the
          negative sense, for if the lens is damaged, or misshapen, it cannot convey its
          object clearly or without distortion. So
          too when the brain is damaged, the extra-mental world of matter-form composites
          is not as easily accessible or knowable, and perhaps even opaque to the mind. In summation, it is both with and through the
          brain that the human mind achieves its full actuality.

          • Caravelle

            Such would seem to suggest a disembodied soul/subject that resides in the brain piloting the body (kind of like that little alien in the first Men in Black movie).

            It seems to me that agrees with Dennett's view; that's certainly how I interpreted his "there's nobody home" line. That when you look at all the brain does - the visual functions, the motor functions, the emotions, memory, reasoning functions, etc, you don't find all the outcomes of all of those processes being channelled to a single location to be "experienced" by some entity. You find them all working together, channelling their outputs to each other, as if they working all together were "you" instead of working for "you".

            Which makes sense, because a self is a complex thing, and, we're finding out, quite a separable thing. While you may be correct that the Alzheimer's is merely the malfunctioning brain incorrectly transmitting the immutable self to the world, like a prism decomposing white light it reveals that many different abilities and processes make up the "self". So a hypothetical immaterial self could be seen as the combination of many immaterial components and processes just like a hypothetical material self would be.

            Along these lines, the brain and the mind are not really separable, but at the same time, they're not identical either--the mind is not the brain. I would hesitate to say the soul/mind "uses" the brain instrumentally like a pianist "uses" a piano. Rather, I'd say that the soul/the subject/person/"I" has access to and purchase on the external world with and through the brain.

            I'd like to know more about the difference between the soul/mind "using" the brain and the soul/person having access to and purchase on the external world with and through the brain. For example, how would you describe the relationship between the brain and the mind's internal world ? Like when we're daydreaming, or reminiscing, or working on a mental problem, or meditating, or other such activities that don't directly involve the external world. Does the brain give the soul/person access and purchase to their own internal lives as well ? Is there some aspect of the mind you think isn't in the brain (your comment about them not being separable suggests not, but your reference to the external world afterwards confused me) ?

          • David Nickol

            Instead, the brain and the mind are wedded together as a hylomorphic whole, like the convex and the concave surfaces of a spoon, like the dog and its flesh, the tree and its roots.

            How do you reconcile your view of the soul with the Catholic teaching that the soul leaves the body at death, spends time in purgatory (and suffers there), goes to heaven to await the resurrection of the dead, and takes an active role in the "communion of saints," for example, interceding with God on behalf of the living? How can heaven be filled with spoon-like objects that convex but not concave surfaces? :P

            It would seem to me, to the feeble extent that I understand Aristotelian philosophy, that almost by definition, there is no way for a soul to exist separately from a body.

            I see that I have made the assumption that the mind is inextricably linked with the soul. In the excerpt of yours I quoted above, you speak of brain and mind, not brain and soul. But are we to assume the saints in heaven do not have minds, or intellect and will?

          • bbrown

            It seems to me that the soul is the "I" which exists independent of the body through forward eternity. However, during this brief instant of time which is life on Earth, the soul is embodied or instantiated in a body. This is how a body has consciousness, including awareness of self and of an "I", as well as all it's mysterious longings and desires that C.S. Lewis wrote so beautifully about. The soul is how we have free will and enables us to make real choices. The soul directs the actions of the body.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that the soul is the "I" which exists independent of the body through forward eternity.

            That would make a great deal of sense to me given what I was taught in Catholic school and given our day to day notions of the afterlife and saints in heaven. But it also sounds a great deal like the "ghost in the machine." I believe Catholic (or at least Thomist) philosophy specifically denies this idea. As has come up a number of times before, Aquinas said, "Abraham's soul is not, strictly speaking, Abraham." So if Abraham's soul could speak, it couldn't accurately say, "I am Abraham."

            Perhaps Ye Olde Statistician will comment here on the idea that the soul is the "I."

          • bbrown

            I don't know, I am only relating how I see it. I did not have the benefit of the teaching you have had. My Christian formation only came much later as a response to everything I knew, read, and had experienced in life.

          • Patrick Schultz

            David, you've definitely hit upon a very interesting point…one that takes us out of philosophical waters and into theological realms. The human soul, a soul that St. Thomas characterizes as an intellectual soul or "spiritual soul" is one that is properly ordered to exist with and in a body. You are right, the event of death separates body and soul, but as a believing Catholic, I would say that this was never "originally intended by God;" In other words, only in a world marked by Original Sin, a consequence of which is death, are body and soul divided. In Aristotelian-Thomisic anthropology, the soul is the organizing principle of the body, the "life-force" that animates the body, the organizes the incoming matter (food), breaks it down, and builds it up into the body. The soul "integrates" the body, maintaining its integral wholeness. This is why the body, after death, begins to "dis-integrate," that is, fall apart; in short order, a corpse ceases to look human and breaks down into the elements it was formerly comprised. However, in faith I can assert that with Jesus' redemption, I can "look forward in hope to the resurrection of the body," in which, after death, I will receive a glorified body--Christians indeed believe that heaven, in a very real yet very mysterious way, will be a bodily experience. This is what Christians mean when they profess in the "resurrection of the body." In fact, Catholics believe that already there are two people, body and soul, who are IN heaven--Jesus Christ raised from the dead and his mother Mary, who was assumed body and soul into heaven.

          • David Nickol

            Applying this analogy to the mind and the brain, we can begin to grasp the complex interrelation of soul and body.

            This is an interesting analogy, but an unnecessary one if we do not posit the existence of a spiritual soul and consequently wind up with the complication of explaining how brain and soul interact!

            I think we know with a high degree of confidence that a great deal of perception is handled by the brain, so analogizing it to a lens is problematic. For example, the famous "Is it a rabbit or a duck" illusion is an example of how the brain (not the mind) organizes perceptions.

          • Patrick Schultz

            I certainly agree with you. But, I do find it interesting with your rabbit-duck example that perhaps upon first gazing upon the image, the brain will organize the image into one or the other, but, afterwards, one can willfully intend the other. In other words (and I'll admit, I'm using these terms rather sloppily here), the mind can direct the brain's perceptions--"Right now, I'll look at the duck" and then again, "But now, I'll look at the rabbit."

        • bbrown

          "...It is certainly a mistake to think that for any complex construction of
          atoms, the properties of that construction must be properties of the
          subatomic particles that comprise them."

          Yes, but sharpness or wetness can be explained on material terms, consciousness can not. I have not exhausted the research, but as far as I know these are different categories of things.

          ".... The children said things like, "She's no longer the person we knew as our mother."

          Do you want to say that mental deterioration makes the mother a different person. Herein lies a grave danger of belief in naturalism, the consequences have not been good.

          Changes in physical properties point to the difference between the material and the metaphysical. The "I" must be other than purely physical properties in order for the concept of human dignity to have meaning.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, but sharpness or wetness can be explained on material terms, consciousness can not.

            Consciousness cannot yet be explained, but there are many things that cannot yet be explained concerning which we do not throw up our hands and declare they can never be explained.

            Consciousness is a knotty problem for both philosophers and scientists. Some believe eventually a "materialistic" explanation will be found, some (the "mysterions") believe there is a materialistic explanation but that it is beyond the grasp of human understanding, and some believe the explanation requires that there be something beyond the physical (such as a spiritual soul). The point is that at the moment, nobody really knows. So at the moment, I think an argument that claims there must be a God because consciousness cannot be explained is jumping the gun. It is, as I have said, a "God of the gaps" argument.

            I obviously cannot say with any degree of certainty at all that there will be a "physicalist"—the word seems to be preferred to "materialist" nowadays—explanation for consciousness. But I don't think anyone currently can prove that there cannot be a physicalist explanation. So it does not seem legitimate to me for apologists to posit that there cannot be a physicalist explanation for consciousness and then claim that as proof of the existence of God.

            Of course, some day there may actually be a "gap" that only God can fill. So a "God of the gaps" argument is not automatically refuted just by pointing out that it is a "God of the gaps" argument. However, such arguments depend on definitive proof that the gap is real.

          • bbrown

            David you just made many assumptions about what I said. I said nothing about a proof for God, nothing about throwing up my hands as if to imply some sort of frustrated attempt to explain difficult things, and nothing about a lack of understanding of the progress of scientific knowledge,

            I think it was from Thos. Nagel, or Alvin Plantinga that I first heard a cogent argument against a physicalist explanation of human consciousness. This has been developed by Michael Ward, Wm Craig, and many others, and it is convincing.

            Just as an addendum: when the preponderance of evidence points to the existence of God, including the argument from the existence of human consciousness, then your reply looks a lot like a classic 'scientism of the gaps' fallacy. Os Guinness speaks about this at University campuses

          • David Nickol

            . . . then your reply looks a lot like a classic 'scientism of the gaps' fallacy.

            I don't think of myself as an atheist, and consequently, it is not my intention to prove "scientism" or atheism or materialism/physicalism correct.

            As I said, a "God of the gaps" argument may at some point in the future be a convincing argument if the gap is definitively proven to exist. I think it is far too early in the study of consciousness for any one of the major points of view to be declared true. I personally haven't the vaguest idea whether consciousness (and abstract thought) can be a property of a purely physical body or whether something supra- or super-natural is required. So for me, a discussion of consciousness is not going to offer proof one way or the other about the existence of God.

            I do admit to what some might consider a bias that makes me lean toward leaving the possibility open for a scientific explanation for any phenomenon, including consciousness. But that doesn't mean I claim to know anything!

      • Why would you think materialism is trying to do that? Materialism is not an attempt to account for the phenomena of personality and so on, that would be what psychology attempts to do. materialism is the position that matter is fundamental, and a rejection that there is anything that is not matter. I say positing immaterial whatever does not get you any further insight into psychology, it just labels its failure to answer our questions on these issues as "accounted for by the immaterial aspect of the human condition". This explains and accounts for nothing.

        Yes the bits do not feel thing etc, the aggregate of bits as they change in time is what feeling and thinking is. It is like you are saying that a symphony orchestra cannot just be made up of wood, brass and human flesh etc because one violin string cannot produce Beethoven's ninth symphony.

        I can account for thinking through mental activity which appears to be entirely composed of material neural activity.

        I disagree that the self is not divisible, it seems to be entirely vulnerable to division. If you remove part of my brain I will change, my personality may utterly change. See Finneus Gage. If you remove too much I will cease to be.

        • Patrick Schultz

          I'm not sure we're using the word materialism in the same way. Let me clarify what I understand by the term.

          I take materialism to be the worldview that holds that all that exists in this closed universe is sheer matter ebbing and flowing in fields of force, unguided, lacking in value, meaning, ends, purposes, or anything of the sort. According to this worldview, the higher, observable levels of being are reducible to and explained away by the lower levels of being, all the way down ultimately to the atomic and sub-atomic levels (and, theoretically, whatever might be beyond that). So, for instance, the sociological is reducible to the psychological, the psychological to the biological, the biological to the chemical, the chemical to the molecular, the molecular to the atomic. What links these reductions together is the materialist "nothing but…." statement.

          In this piece, I wanted to draw out the serious contradiction I perceive in Dennett's version of materialism espoused by many atheists (which I take as exemplary for the position). I agree that nobody reading the screens of an MRI scan nor any brain surgeon operating on someone's head will ever "see," "locate," or "discover" a center of consciousness; the personal subject does not appear in the matter. But then to go on from there and conclude that personal subjectivity is an illusion, that it isn't real seems ludicrous to me. Dennett wrote in his book: "The trouble with brains, it seems, is that when you look in them, you discover that there’s nobody home. No part of the brain is the thinker that does the thinking or the feeler that does the feeling...There is no longer a role for a centralized gateway, or indeed for any functional center to the brain."

          When he set his fingers to the keys to type that sentence into his book, HE typed them--yes, indeed with and through and by means of his body--but in the end, the brain matter of the man is an insufficient explanation to account for that sentence, just as it would be equally insufficient to give an account of the words you are reading on your monitor by appealing only to the pixels on your screen and the electrical impulses that create them. Brain's are necessary indeed for intellection and consciousness, I am not denying that. But, the brain as organ--or even the brain as situated in a body as organ--alone is not sufficient to account for the experience of consciousness, FELT consciousness, and personal subjectivity. Your Beethoven example I believe illustrates my point. No, you're right, one string cannot produce Beethoven's V anymore than a whole pile of orchestra instruments can. PERSONS who play the instruments account for the music. The material causality of the instrument alone cannot sufficiently explain the music. You have to appeal to living persons. Brains alone cannot account for the music of human consciousness. It is not a matter of either or--either the brain alone, or, some disembodied spirit piloting the body (this form of Cartesian dualism I would patently disagree with). No, it's a both/and. Both the brain and the soul/spirit/subject/"I" are necessary together as a hylomorphic whole.

          • Michael Murray

            But, the brain as organ--or even the brain as situated in a body as organ--alone is not sufficient to account for the experience of consciousness, FELT consciousness, and personal subjectivity.

            This is the so-called hard problem of consciousness

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

            As I'm sure you know there are atheists like Dennett who think there is no hard problem of consciousness, others like Chalmers who think there is and many others who probably don't have a strong feeling either way.

          • Patrick Schultz

            Yes, you're exactly right. I am indeed alluding to Chalmers' "Easy" and "Hard" problems of consciousness. The easy problems of consciousness are those that are susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science[1]. Essentially, the easy problems—which are in fact monumentally complex in scope and wildly ambitious in aim—concern the functionality and structural mechanisms of cognition, like the “ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to stimuli...the focus of attention,” and much more [2]. In all of these cases, a clear cognitive or neurophysiological model can be employed to give an adequate account of what’s going on up there. However, the real issue in explaining consciousness is the problem of felt experience. As Chalmers puts it,
            there is a co-relative subjective element to all of our objective mental
            activities; with each and every perception of the color red, for example, there is a concomitant felt subjective experience of what it’s like to perceive the color red. In a word, “there is something it is like to be a conscious organism”[3]. I think Chalmers is correct to point out this
            perplexing quality of consciousness that is simply inextricable by recourse to material explanations and does not admit of clear and distinct answers. Why is it that when our visual or auditory systems engage in visual or auditory information processing, we have a visual or auditory experience? Why is it that when I hear “Amazing Grace,” or smell Dial soap I have an experience of these particular stimuli? His question, the hard problem,
            is this: “why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it
            should, and yet it does.”[4]

            [1] David Chalmers, “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness” in Journal of Consciousness Studies (1995), 2.

            [2] Chalmers, “Facing Up,” 2.

            [3] Ibid.,3.

            [4] Ibid., 4.

          • Michael Murray

            Right. But then the connection with atheism is weak. Believing in the hard problem of consciousness doesn't make you a theist. For example Chalmers is quoted online as saying

            Now I have to say I'm a complete atheist, I have no religious views myself and no spiritual views, except very watered down humanistic spiritual views, and consciousness is just a fact of life, it's a natural fact of life.

            Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/davidchalm479504.html#41Z5CoCoFRsrwQxe.99

            I'm really wary of arguments that end up saying "gosh how can it be like that, it just seems wrong". For centuries we believed, quite reasonably I think, that apparent design in nature was the result of a designer. We were wrong.

          • bbrown

            " For centuries we believed, quite reasonably I think, that apparent design in nature was the result of a designer. We were wrong."

            Yikes, that's dogmatic and far from universally agreed upon. The more we learn in biology and cosmology, the more the evidence is bringing folks to the design side.

          • Michael Murray

            Let me leave aside the question of evidence for a designer and rephrase the original statement

            " For centuries we believed, quite reasonably I think, that apparent design in nature was had to be the result of a designer. We were wrong."

          • bbrown

            I don't think so. I think that the design argument has only gotten better with time. What makes you think the verdict has been definitively decided?

          • Michael Murray

            That's not what I am saying. My point is that (even if there is a designer) the appearance of design doesn't necessitate one.

          • bbrown

            True, but it goes a long way as evidence. The design argument has gotten better in it's sophistication as science has progressed. What we are not seeing with science is evidence that refutes it, but rather more suggestions that there is a creative intelligence behind origins in nature.

          • I think you are using a too narrow view of materialism.

            I would not at all describe it as a worldview. It says nothing about meaning and so on. But yes, I would be okay with accepting that everything is reducible to matter. It is not so much a "nothing but" perspective, rather an "all there is" or "all there appears to be".

            Again, neither I nor materialsim denies subjective experience exists. We just say it is material. When you observe a brain you are observing subjective experience from the outside. It looks like neural activity. You don't experience the other's subjective activity, nor does it appear similar to what you experience, nor does observing the interior of a computer playing "the exorcist" resemble your experience of the exorcist, but that is what is happening. I think that is precisely what Dennet is saying, when you look for subjective experience you observe a brain thinking. He doesn't say it is an illusion or doesn't exist, he agrees it does. Of course he does, he just says it IS that active brain, as opposed to some undetected immaterial whatever.

            You insists that brain and matter is insufficient to account for a man typing a sentence, but you do not say why. I think it accounts for it very well, certainly we don't understand everything that is going on, but we know a heck of a lot about what is going on. We understand the biology pretty well, we can even go down to a quantum level and explain how this happens. What motivated the brain to do these things? We can observe and detect a number of influences about the individual that would lead him to want to write that sentence, and we know a lot about the brain and how all of these things work together to result in the man typing the sentence. Sure there are gaps in our knowledge, these gaps can be accounted for by material explanations or immaterial explanations. We have a number of hypotheses in realms from quantum mechanics to evolutionary psychology to check into. We may get results, and every result to every gap in human knowledge has been a material one so far. Or we may have immaterial answers for the first time ever, but what are the immaterial hypotheses? How and why does an immaterial cause work? What is it at all in the first place, is it detectable at all? Where do you even begin to investigate or scrutinize the immaterial cause? I would say the immaterialist is not proposing anything, rather he is saying material cannot explain this, it must be an immaterial cause which we cannot investigate.

            Your response to the symphony demonstrates this, you have appealed to nothing immaterial, rather you say humans must be involved. I agree. But humans are material. You seem to be set on this conclusion that human consciousness and creativity cannot be reduced to matter. Why not? When I say the brain and its activity is the self you simply deny it. Why? What evidence do you have of anything immaterial existing. As far as I can tell you are arguing from ignorance. You are saying that our inability to account for consciousness, self and so on implies the existence of something else. This is a textbook argument from ignorance. You have a personal intuition that there must be something else. I agree we have this intuition, I think it is responsible for much religious thinking over the centuries. But it is a conclusion based on a lack of answers, not evidence.

            Your proposed solution is even worse, you cannot describe the immaterial at all, you can just label your ignorance.

          • bbrown

            "...and every result to every gap in human knowledge has been a material one so far"

            Every "gap" that is filled with new knowledge opens up many, many more gaps in our understanding. The idea that we are just filling gaps and eventually they will all be filled and we will understand everything is a prominent atheist myth. It's the opposite, reality is infinitely complex.

            Belief in an immaterial soul is not a 'belief of the gaps'. It is based on arguments and evidences that lead to the best reasoned explanation. There are volumes written about this.

          • Luke

            Could you please offer evidence for these claims you're making?

          • I think this is a mischaracterization. This article is an attack on atheism that relies on materialism, on the basis that such a position is insufficient to explain consciousness, the self. It implies that this failure demonstrates something immaterial must exist to "account" for the self.

            I've seen nothing in the piece or the comments that shows materialism is incapable of accounting for the self, and I think I've pointed to a great deal of evidence connecting matter and the self. I think this is sufficient to conclude that the self can be accounted for under materialism.

            It could be accounted for under some kind of substance dualism or three fundamental aspects of the universe, or more. I just point out that we have no evidence of these other fundamentals, and the arguments for accepting they exist seem to always rely on failures of materialism to explain all aspects of reality. This is arguing from ignorance and I consider it fallacious.

        • bbrown

          "I can account for thinking through mental activity which appears to be entirely composed of material neural activity."

          I going to call you out on that Brian (with due respect) because we are not close to being able to do such a thing. Please back this up with sources, if you get the time.

          • Luke

            So it's your point of view that we have thoughts that in no way correspond to brain activity?

          • I don't know how to put it any plainer, the brain and its activity can account for thinking. I think we have ample evidence to show a direct connection between what we call thinking and the activity of the brain. I am not going to bother citing sources, I have consulted none. I am relying on general knowledge and my own experience.

            We could look at every FMRI scan tracking thought with conscious subjects and the identification of different thoughts with different patterns. Then there are cases like Finneus Gage where injury to the brain tracks with personality disorders. There is my own experience with alcohol and other physical stimuli that affect the way I think. All of this and tons more suggest a direct relationship between the physical brain and thought. I mean this is pretty much what we consider a thought to be, something the brain does.

            The onus is on the immaterialist to show why matter cannot fully account for thinking, since that seems to be the only argument for anything immaterial existing.

            What evidence do you have that anything immaterial exists in the first place or that it is related to thought?

      • George

        "how can you account for the thinking, feeling, seeing, dreaming, willing?"

        One can look for relationships between the observed actions and the physical activity within the physical brain. I'm assuming a position of complete ignorance here, not positing that relationships have been found for the purpose of this discussion. What do you think would be the final result of such research(assuming all the time needed to find the answer was used)?

        Let's say that I instead of looking for patterns, correlations, and relationships between the actions and the objects, I say there is something "more" to the whole subject, something beyond, and that it is immaterial. That is literally what I say to questioners. "It's immaterial". What else do you think I should say in order to produce knowledge? How will I answer the inevitable questions: "What IS the immaterial? What is happening at this point here?"

    • Cristalle

      "We say the "I" IS the brain, there is not immaterial "I" inhabiting the brain. The self is the brain and its activity."

      Fair enough, as a start: you seem to be saying that what I call "I" is simply a physical object (a collection of neural tissue) like other physical objects (rocks, trees, chairs...)
      But this only avoids the central question. How does THIS physical object (the neural tissue) possess two properties -- namely, (1) awareness of other things (the external world) and (2) self-awareness -- that other physical objects (rocks, trees, chairs) presumably do not possess?
      Which leads to a second question. When I talk about "myself", I refer to things such as my feelings, emotions, desires, and so on. I do not (unless I am currently undergoing a CAT scan!) refer to my neurons firing or my frontal lobes being active, or any such thing. If the physical brain somehow possesses self-awareness, it is not a simple self-awareness (e.g. being aware that neuron #4,822,903 just fired) but rather an *abstracted* self-awareness (being aware that I am hungry, or bored, or feeling nostalgic.) Yet all these things are, presumably, describable as particular brain states -- so why are we not directly aware of our own brain states, if the physical is all that exists?

      • Well I do not presume to be able to fully explain consciousness, but I would propose that awareness and self awareness are not due simply to the matter, but the matter and its activity, a rock doesn't think because it doesn't have a neural network that is active. Humans do, when the activity stops, so does the thinking and the self. It has awareness and self awareness because this neural network recursively reflects, it gets input from the outside, but does not just process it, it reflects on it over and over again in a network that is literally the most complex thing we have ever encountered.

        I would suggest these emotions intentions and so on are these neural firings in an incredibly complex way. Your experience is the emergent phenomena from this. I don't think it is nuts to call this emergent phenomena immaterial, but I don't see why we should. I do think it is unreasonable to then suppose this phenomena happens without the brain in activity, or that there is any part of it that is independent of this activity.

        • Cristalle

          Are you saying that consciousness is an emergent property only of neural tissue in particular? Or that it is an emergent property of "complexity" (and if so, how do you define complexity) so that rocks or trees, if arranged in a suitably complex way, could give rise to consciousness?

          • I do not think this emergent property would be restricted to neurons or biological entities. I believe it could be achieved with very complex computers.

  • This is really semantics, but I think there is nothing in materialism that necessarily precludes deities, or the supernatural. That position is best considered naturalism, but I get what the author is saying.

    • Loreen Lee

      No matter where they came from, "I" have these 'things' called 'ideas': Kant's freedom, space; immortality, time, and the World, you me and God, or some such ontological relationship.

      • I don't agree with most of that, I don't agree that I am in a relationship with any god, even if one exists. I don't know what you mean by ontological relationship.

        • Loreen Lee

          Well, it's a continual reflective process to discover for myself what these concepts me. I can learn through reflection on my thoughts, and through analysis and understanding the expression of meaning and significance through the use of words. I distinguish meaning from significance, as the former is my personal meaning, and the significance is what is common (memes) to the understanding with any community.
          So that's the difference. The kinds of meditation I attempt are like -where I find my 'evidence' . (I realize that you most probably accept this) That I would call the ontology. The thoughts have being for, even if only, as the materialists would agree are 'embodied?' within the neurons? And I allow that there is another possible level of being than the physical representation. I hold this question open because there has yet to be found the process that occurs between the time the scientists are able to identify the thought in the physical and the time it becomes conscious. This is a 'thus one relationship' that has not been explained..But as with what the psychologists use to speak of when they used such expressions as the unconscious, the subconscious, there is something in the relationship that has some sort of 'controlling' power over my thought, which like the therapy used by Freud, is capable of becoming a thought that is more conscious. It i the process that I am interested in. The results of this 'search' are perhaps sometimes apparent to others, but within the 'personal' context, there is a constant search for coherence. In one case I became aware that my use of a word could be traced back to my early education. I trust my awareness of this will produce change even in the circuity of my brain.
          I am describing than a 'god of the gaps" with respect to what is 'unknown' to me, and every being transformed within the circuity of my brain.
          The epistemological refers to the analysis that accompanies this process. They are often concurrent, but often dissociated. It would be a God-like achievement to find a unity. Is this attainable? Probably not. But even if this makes the conception of these relationships merely Ideal, a belief in God implies also, that within these infinite possibilities that there is also a Reality.
          Blake said something like: To see eternity in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower. This may seem just like a metaphor, but it becomes a metaphysical expression also, if you consider the possibilities.
          We each live in our separate universes of thoughts and experience, meaning and reference.. Our universes are indeed very different. There are dimensions in your that I could never understand. On the macro level, the multiverse theory may indeed be but a metaphysical concept,an Idealization of mathematical theory, but perhaps it is also as Real as the possibility or another way to characterize the concept of God, as some sort of dynamic unity. By the way, I'm still working on a 'relationship with "God'. I am beginning to feel it is best to be silent about this: neither the apophatic or kataphatic.explanations are any more but an attempt at intellectual ownership. As my intellect is quite limited!! I'll keep on with my attempt to understand the connections within language and within the ontology of my 'being'.

  • There are a variety of views on the mind that are compatible with atheism. In fact, I'd argue, all the popular general positions on the philosophy of mind are compatible with atheism. Not all are compatible with theism, however.

    What follows is my understanding of the common positions, based on reading a few philosophy papers and this Wikipedia article.

    MATERIALIST POSITIONS:

    Eliminative Materialism: This seems to be the view that the author is arguing against. The idea that there is no "I", no self. Some go on to argue that there's not really any such things as beliefs, desires, pain, perceptions.

    Type-Identity Physicalism: Mental states correspond to physical states 1:1. Mental states exist. I exist, you exist, beliefs exist, pain exists, and these things are identical to physical systems.

    Functionalism: Everything is physical, but all physical things should be characterized by their function, and not their composition. Minds can be associated just as well with computer circuits as with neurons.

    Emergentism: The brain is purely physical, but at certain scales is characterized by emergent properties, properties not shared by any given part of the brain, but by the brain as a whole, and properties that cannot be reduced to the parts themselves. Mental states, in this sense, are like temperature. Temperature is real, it emerges from a large group of molecules, but it is not possessed by any individual molecule. It's a physically meaningful collective property.

    Property Dualism: All substance is physical, but physical substance has two kinds of properties: physical and mental. This view is related to emergentism, but distinguished in that mental properties are not necessarily mere collective properties, but are something else entirely, something that may or may not need a collection of matter to be exibited. A version of this, panpsychism, has it that all matter has some mental properties, even if they are simply potential mental properties.

    NON-MATERIALIST POSITIONS:

    Substance Dualism: There's mind, there's body. Maybe they interact. Maybe they don't. One can't be reduced to the other. Both may be natural: there may be physical laws for physical substance and mental laws for mental substance. This position is probably not common amongst atheists, but it doesn't require anything spiritual, and definitely doesn't require God.

    Idealism: There's only mind/mental substances and no body/physical substances. Mental substance may be entirely natural, and on the face of it seems to require God just as much as physical substance.

    Neutral Monism: This is what I accept. Mind and body are actually different aspects, or dimensions, or representations (etc.) of some sort of substance that is not mental or physical. In a sense, physical and mental states are like the electrical field and magnetic field in a beam of light. Light is an electromagnetic wave, and you can talk about the electric component or the magnetic component of the field, but neither is substantially what light is. (This analogy, like all analogies, should only be taken so far.)

    tl;dr: There's no good reason that atheists can't accept any general category in the philosophy of mind that agnostics or theists accept. The reverse is not the case: theists cannot be eliminative materialists.

    • Caravelle

      What's the difference between type-identity physicalism and emergentism ?

      • The way I'd understand it is by a physics analogy (that's the way I understand most of it).

        Type-identity: A particular property is associated with this particular configuration of atoms.

        Emergentism: A particular property (e.g. temperature) is associated with a great number of configurations of atoms that have certain bulk properties (e.g., for temperature, some particular distribution function in velocity-space).

        That's the way I understand it. I welcome correction.

        • Loreen Lee

          Maybe it's even 'possible' that more than one type of process is happening! (I feel 'brilliant' and I don't know a thing!!)

        • Caravelle

          Okay, I looked these up. Eliminative materialism it seems isn't so much the idea that the self doesn't exist, as the idea that our current conceptualization of entities like the self, pain, thoughts will eventually turn out to be incorrect.

          In other words, not that pain doesn't exist, but that we're wrong about what "pain" is, how our sense of pain is generated, what its properties are, etc.

          Type-identity physicalism seems to be the idea that the same type of mental event corresponds to the same type of brain event. I guess a difference between this and Eliminative materialism would be that it assumes we can already identify types of mental events, while EM would say we're not there yet.

          I'm not at all clear on how Emergentism relates to any of this. The rub is in the idea that the overall property can or can't be predicted from the properties of its components; for example temperature is a property of the whole gas, not each molecule, but if we knew the kinetic energy of each molecule we'd be able to find the temperature. Either way, it doesn't seem to be answering the same kind of question Type-identity physicalism or Eliminative materialism are.

          • I think Eliminative Materialism goes further than just saying that we don't know what "pain", or "beliefs" or "qualia", etc. are. I think it goes on to say that some or all of these things don't exist.

            This is what the Stanford Encyclopedia entry seems to say, "that some or all of the mental states posited by common-sense do not actually exist." and "Modern versions of eliminative materialism claim that our common-sense understanding of psychological states and processes is deeply mistaken and that some or all of our ordinary notions of mental states will have no home, at any level of analysis, in a sophisticated and accurate account of the mind. In other words, it is the view that certain common-sense mental states, such as beliefs and desires, do not exist."

          • Caravelle

            I don't think this implies that our experience of having beliefs, desires or a self don't exist though. Only that those experiences don't correspond to a single, coherent "mental state" that's a useful category at one level of analysis or another.

          • Yes, I think we agree. I spent a little while trying to find the example Patricia Churchland gave to this. If I remember correctly, it was something like:

            http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/60/Grey_square_optical_illusion.PNG

            Square A and B look like they are different colors. My experience of a difference in color is real. It's an optical illusion (the colors are really the same), but it's a real experience. And it's so psychologically strong that I can't shake the perception that A and B are different colors, even when I know that they are the same color.

            Belief is like that. Patricia and Paul Churchland, at least, think that we may someday, with the help of neuroscience, discover a new way of talking about how our brains work without these folk concepts like "beliefs" and "sensations". Neuroscience, according to the Churchlands, will someday reveal that there's nothing really to these concepts. But the experience of beliefs probably won't go away once we realize that it's an illusion, anymore than my experience of two different squares of two different colors goes away once I know that the two squares have the same color.

          • for example temperature is a property of the whole gas, not each molecule, but if we knew the kinetic energy of each molecule we'd be able to find the temperature.

            Knowing only the temperature of a group of atoms, you cannot uniquely determine the underlying velocity distribution of those atoms. But knowing the velocity distributions of a group of atoms, you can determine its temperature. That's like emergentism.

            Type-identity would have it both ways, I think. Knowing the property, you know the underlying states. Knowing the underlying states, you know the property.

        • Loreen Lee

          I'm just babbling, so I'm not asking for correction. Just allowing the neurons in my mind to make connections. After all, I'm a non-thing zombie, automaton. And it surely because of the limitations within the computing system..

          Type identity: I am a Strange Loop.
          Emergentism: the neural process that come with some computer learning process or something that has the same conceptual 'blind spots' found in learning process. More change to find different connections there, I guess. Another argument that there's purpose in nature and even mind, despite the arguments of Theodicy. May the computer will also blame him for any IQ problems they might have.

    • wayne stahre

      It is NO surprise to Christians that all philosophies of the mind (POM) are compatible with atheism but NOT Christianity (what Paul calls theism). In fact, I would be shocked if Chrstianity did not restrict the POMs it is compatible with. It is also NO surprise that empirical investigations cannot find 'I'. Humans are more than physical animals. We are 'a model' of God with a body, soul, and spirit. That divinely ordained combination defies exploration by science. Atheists retreat to their philosophy that science is the litmus test of legitimacy. But, that claim is a self coronation. The inability of Science to explore spirituality is no more surprising than that science can't say what color tomorrow will be. Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Gould, Hitchens, et al must understand this as much as Wittgenstein, and Tarski did. The fact that they deny the above is routed in spiritual denial.

      • wayne, I think that's generally right. Atheism is the negation of a position about God, and therefore is not in itself a very restrictive position. Theism, especially Catholicism, will be more restrictive in its views, because it is a positive position, not a negative one.

        I, for one, am open to the possibility that there is a spiritual realm and that it is capable of being understood scientifically. I don't think there's really much evidence for this, but I'm open to the possibility.

        • Loreen Lee

          Thank goodness for Caravelle pointing out to me/or/making me aware (after all it's at least a two way process) what a big ego I had.!!
          P.S. You know about science so I guess this positive negative distinction can be translated into a more philosophically understanding vocabulary. !!!

        • bbrown

          The open mindedness is a good thing. However, to say that a spiritual realm could be understood scientifically seems misplaced. The tools of science can only adhere to a very limited domain. I believe that this domain becomes ever more constricted the more we know, whilst the realm of the spiritual grows ever greater with increasing knowledge and experience. That's how I read the evidence from science itself, especially molecular biology and cosmology.

          • The world as revealed by science has gotten bigger, not smaller. As Lawrence Krauss joked during a birthday celebration of Gary Steigman, one of the leading theorists of dark matter "Before Gary, we understood about 99% of the universe. After Gary, we now understand about 2% of the universe. Thanks a lot, Gary!"

            The universe as revealed by science keeps getting bigger and bigger. The more we know, the more we see that there is to know.

          • bbrown

            That's not how I read the evidence. When I said the 'domain of science', I mean that the deeper we we dig the more mystery is uncovered. The extent of the totality of reality seems to be ever greater than what mere science can either explain, or even investigate with it's limited (and often clumsy) methods.

            In some ways the universe shrank infinitely as a result of the scientific evidence for a beginning. It also seems there are event horizons at both ends of the scale where science cannot take us. I'm talking about real science, not wishful scenarios such as multiple universes and other such fanciful stories. .

          • It's funny how people who look at the same thing can have such different, even opposite, impressions. The observable universe that started with the big bang (no telling how big the whole thing is; we can only see a small part of it) seems much more varied, much larger and richer, than the static universe dreamt of by Newton and Laplace.

            Now, if you mean that science actually makes progress, you may have a point there. The more people study the universe, the better they understand it. Maybe the more people study spiritual things, the worse they understand them, but if so, that's hardly a virtue.

          • Loreen Lee

            That's scary!

    • Mike

      Which one is Dawkins? That's the one to avoid! :)

      • I don't know. Daniel Dennett is an Eliminative Materialist (at least, according to the Wikipedia page and this article). But I don't know if Dawkins is also, or if he would necessarily see much need in committing to any such position on the mind/body problem at this time.

      • bbrown

        Peter Singer at Princeton is another one to avoid. Have you read any of his writings? Killing unwanted babies and mentally incapacitated adults is just fine, if not a duty, based on the logic of his materialism.

  • One example of the poor reasoning employed in this article is the criticism of Dan Dennet for failing to provide a convincing argument for materialism in his definition of materialism.

  • Krakerjak

    Ousting God implies an evacuation of all things “spiritual,” leaving behind only blind, brute, bits of matter. Whichever one arrives at first—whether materialism or atheism—is really inconsequential; one usually follows the other.This is no incidental fact. Many apologetics projects have been launched to combat the New Atheism in the effort to show the reasonableness of Christian faith.

    The reference to "combat" shows that Christianity actually considers atheism and agnosticism as not only a threat but an enemy. The reference to "Ousting God" is a poor choice of words and is bound to be met with some resistance from both atheists and agnostics.....of which I am sure many atheists are in reality agnostics. It is not about ousting the concept of god, but is usually about ousting the god of Chrstianity and the god of the Old Testament. If Catholics want to ensure that agnostics become hard or "new atheists" rather than agnostic...they are going about it in the right way, considering the tone of some of the "apologetic" articles posted here.

    • bbrown

      If God exists, then using the term "ousting" seems very mild to me.

      • Krakerjak

        the term "ousting" seems very mild to me.

        The point I was trying to make was that atheists and agnostics don't absolutely reject the concept or possibility of god existing as implied in the article, though they don't believe it probable or likely that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god such as the Christian god exists for understandable reasons. I for one cannot say with any certainty that no creator of the universe exists. However I do have serious credibility issues with the Judeo-Christian concept of God.
        http://primalillusion.blogspot.ca/

  • David Nickol

    It strikes me that the apologists' approach to consciousness is to deploy a number of what are really "God of the gaps" arguments. (How can "immaterial" consciousness arise from matter? It can't! Therefore, a spiritual realm must exist. QED!) I am by no means an expert on the philosophy of consciousness, but it seems to me the OP is basically attacking "eliminative materialism," which is indeed extreme and bizarre, and there are many other approaches. (See this message from Paul Brandon Rimmer.) I am currently half-way through Mind: A Brief Introduction by John R. Searle, a "big name" in the field of philosophy of consciousness, and I am finding it very readable and—for lack of a better word—commonsensical. I would hate to have to summarize his ideas, but thankfully Searle given a TED Talk in which he does so himself. I highly recommend it no matter what side of the issue you are on.

    • Loreen Lee

      Just came to 'consciousness' of these positions by having to confront a question raised by Caravelle. However, I'm emergent, and the other one. I believe there is not necessarily a contradiction between objective scientific explanation of 'body' and personal narrative and existential factors, etc. etc of 'mind'-'soul''community' ,,,,,ad infinitum. Science has achieved the Christian Logos made Flesh. We just have to see all the different kinds of movement, from top to bottom, from up to down, its quest to overcome contradiction and find unity, perhaps. ad infinitum, preternatural., temporal, immortal. I'm expecting a lot of growth in 'self' understanding especially as that objective aspect is so 'strange' to me it could almost be metaphysical!! grin grin..

    • Doug Shaver

      Thank you for the TED link. I've read a lot of Searle's writing, and he did a great job of boiling it all down to the essential points.

      • David Nickol

        I'm glad someone watched it. I think it would be really helpful for just about everyone involved in this discussion to view it.

    • William Davis

      I believe that Jesus and Paul were materialists when it comes to the human mind. They both seemed to believe that a physical resurrection was required, thought the new body was to be "glorified". All this stuff is actually from Platonic philosophy, the world of forms and such. I think there is a greater chance that Jesus and Paul knew more than the Greek philosophers here. I think split brain syndrome disproves the soul, but everyone has to make up their own mind. If souls exist, a person with a split brain must have two souls. If the split in the corpus callosum is repaired, one of the souls disappears. Which one?

      "Gazzaniga and Sperry's split-brain research is now legendary. One of their child participants, Paul S, had a fully functional language center in both hemispheres. This allowed the researchers to question each side of the brain. When they asked the right side what their patient wanted to be when he grew up, he replied "an automobile racer." When they posed the same question to the left, however, he responded "a draftsman." Another patient pulled down his pants with the left hand and back up with the right in a continuing struggle. On a different occasion, this same patient's left hand made an attempt to strike the unsuspecting wife as the right hand grabbed the villainous limp to stop it."

      https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201211/split-brains

      Of course people in the time of Christ thought mental illness was demons, this is one of the biggest things Jesus "healed". I have found this case of what epilepsy in Mark fascinating. Mark 9

      14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. 16 He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” 19 He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy[e] to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy,[f] and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus[g] asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.”24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,[h] “I believe; help my unbelief!”25 When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26 After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28 When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”[i]

      Hopefully you are familiar with epilepsy, if so you see this is a text book case of a grand mal seizure. The seizure is often followed by a short coma. Epilepsy also usually starts to appear when a child is very young, as this passage indicates. Maybe the disciples could only affect psychosomatic disorders?

      • David Nickol

        Split-brain research is quite fascinating, and it certainly raises some tough questions for people who believe in "the soul."

        I believe that Jesus and Paul were materialists when it comes to the human mind.

        Well, my trusty Dictionary of the Bible says in the entry on Soul:

        The NT employs the Gk psychē, translated in Eng by soul; in many passages where it means the self or the person, recent translations paraphrase it. The NT use of the term is heavily dependent on the OT use and shows little or no effect of Gk philosophical concepts. The psychē is associated with life. It leaves the body at death. To seek the psychē is to seek the life. One may give, put or surrender one's psychē, and one may risk one's psychē. The psychē is sustained by food. Love of one's psychē is love of life. Paul counts his psychē as nothing as long as he fulfills his mission. [AA 20:24 Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.] The loss of psychē means simply loss of life. Only Apc exhibits an idea of the survival of the psychē in an undefined state of burial [Apc 6:9 When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God.]; the psychē of the righteous is restored to life in the millennium [Apc 20:4 Then I saw thrones; those who sat on them were entrusted with judgment. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands. They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.]. These conceptions appear in rabbinical and apocalyptic Judaism.

        (I have left out almost all the chapter/verse references because they are so difficult to type! However, when I have included the reference, I have also included the verse in brackets.)

        Mark 8:36-37 in the old Douay-Rheims version is translated

        For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

        But in the NAB it is translated

        What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?

        I would have (having received my Catholic education in the 1950s and early 1960s) interpreted "lose his own soul" as meaning "have his soul go to hell." But it would seem that that is an idea largely foreign to the New Testament. So I think you may be right (or not far wrong) in some sense to call Jesus and Paul "materialists," in that psychē to them did not mean what soul meant to Aquinas and means to those who are always referring to him on SN.

        • William Davis

          Thanks for the reply. I think the original meaning of psuche was "breath of life." The vedic hindus (Hinduism is the oldest still living religion) were the first to theorize that the essence of a living thing was immortal, but of course the Hindus believe in reincarnation, and that ALL living things have the same essence. Historians think this was an influence on the platonists, though things like this are hard to prove. Some greeks at the time of Christ were obviously Platonists, a big example is Justin Martyr, I'm not quite sure what his views on the afterlife were, however, we have lost much of his writings. When it comes to Jews, some Jews believed in the resurrection (Pharisees) and some believed in oblivion (Sadducees). I'm sure your familiar with the passage where Jesus argues with the Sadducees about how no one will be married after the resurrection (the Sadducees argue the resurrection is illogical). You are correct that I cannot "prove" my theory, but there are many lines of evidence for it. There were some Jews who thought the "soul" (they use a different word of course) went down to Sheoul (both the righteous and wicked went to Sheoul), but this view was likely a minority during Second Temple Judaism, depending on which author you read.
          I've had a few people on here insult me by saying I "present" myself as knowing everything about the Bible. I am no Bible scholar, but I did try to be very responsible with my opinion and back it up with evidence. Thanks for not being arrogant like other Catholics here :)

        • William Davis

          P.S. I'll be the first to admit I was being arrogant on the post about having a Heart of Gold, you are write about how it comes off. Sometimes maybe it is useful to fight fire with fire, sometimes it is better to turn the other cheek. Sometimes it is hard to know which one is right.

          I personally like the NRSV because it is ecumenical. Here is what Wiki says about it

          The New Revised Standard Version was translated by the Division of Christian Education (now Bible Translation and Utilization) of the National Council of Churches. The group included scholars representing Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christian groups as well as Jewish representation in the group responsible for the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament. The mandate given the committee was summarized in a dictum: “As literal as possible, as free as necessary.”[3]

          This diversity helps prevent a group from writing it's own theological views into the translation, and it does make a difference. I'm also a fan of Bart Ehrman (not that he gets everything right, but his honesty is refreshing, plus he lives in the same area of North Carolina, I'm about 30 min from UNC) and his mentor, Bruce Metzger. Bruce Metzger chaired the committee and is considered one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century.
          I ally myself with those committed to the truth, and I also stay open to change my mind. If God is about anything, He is about truth.

    • Loreen Lee

      I think he's the guy who wrote: A Plea for Excuses. (Justification???) Thanks will check this out on Google. I try to get back.

  • David Nickol

    Who understands the material world so thoroughly that he or she can say definitively that matter cannot give rise to consciousness?

    Who can say that God was incapable of creating our physical world in such a way that certain complex arrangements of matter could not give rise to consciousness? For theists, isn't this putting a limit on what an omnipotent and omniscient God can do?

    • Mike

      That's what i said to one atheist: all you really need to make God necessary not just plausible is "something" "anything" - the fact that anything at all exists is proof of something "more" existing.

      • David Nickol

        I don't really get this line of reasoning.

        • Mike

          I know ;).

      • Doug Shaver

        the fact that anything at all exists is proof of something "more" existing.

        Let's see that proof. It isn't so just because you say so.

        • Mike

          The argument from contingency - show me one thing that popped into existence by itself from real nothing.

          • "Real Nothing"? Does that concept successfully refer to reality? It might. But it might not. It's not an unreasonable notion, but neither is it demonstrable.

          • Mike

            I think everyone can grasp the concept in their mind very easily...well then again some ppl nothing nothing is a universe with the laws of physics so you can never be too sure.

          • Grasping a concept differs from demonstrating it's reality.

          • Mike

            You can't demonstrate reality you have to "believe it".

          • demonstration (not proofs) precisely in the sense of distinguishing between beliefs, which vary in degrees of justification, pragmatic cash value, epistemic virtue, etc ... concepts that entail distinctions that make a difference or not ... iow, not all beliefs are equally useful? worthy? meaningful? and some beliefs, though contradictory, even, can be equally reasonable?

          • Mike, you may find this interesting. Google "Catherine Keller" and creatio ex profundis and other key words like chaosmos, tehomic, tohu bohu

            Those concepts refer to alternate interpretations of Genesis regarding nihilo (nothing)

            For example:
            http://www.metanexus.net/book-review/review-catherine-kellers-face-deep-theology-becoming

          • Doug Shaver

            show me one thing that popped into existence by itself from real nothing.

            I can't do that, but so what? Are you saying that I should think something is impossible unless I've seen it happen myself?

          • William Davis

            For future reference quantum fluctuations show this is possible. You can probably find better links, but here is one

            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/something-from-nothing-vacuum-can-yield-flashes-of-light/

          • Doug Shaver

            I know about quantum fluctuations, but I'd like to avoid getting into an argument over the meaning of "nothing."

          • William Davis

            Lol, if you see where that went, it may me start to agree with you more.

            bbrown:
            A vacuum is not nothing, unless you are redefining "nothing" from it's usual meaning, as Krauss does.

            Me:
            I won't argue with that. But if a vacuum isn't nothing, does "nothing" even exist? Perhaps it is a human concept with no correlate in objective reality (therefore failing the correspondence test for truth).

            bbrown:
            That's a fascinating question. I'll need to go back to the philosophers and cosmologists to refresh my understanding. As a theist, my understading of a 'true nothing' is existence prior to the creation of the universe. But that's a very murky understanding, informed by theology and some science, but far from comprehensible.

            Me:
            If you think about it, it answers the "Why is there Something rather than Nothing" question very neatly. It's simple, Nothing doesn't exist, we just made that up. That makes it a "bad question".
            I'm not certain that is true, but if Occam's Razor has any merit...

            So either something can come from nothing, or nothing doesn't exist. Maybe it is just a bad question and you are exactly right...

          • Mike

            No, but if you can't conceive of it under "normal conditions" it means it's so speculative you might as well start praying to a statue.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't assume that the bounds of reality are coextensive with the bounds of my imagination. I do think, though, that what I believe should be at least loosely bounded by the evidence available to me. I don't pray, to statues or anything else, because I'm aware of no evidence for the efficacy of prayer and lots of evidence for its inefficacy.

          • Loreen Lee

            There are, as is the case with all concepts, many ways to interpret the 'meaning' of prayer. If it is related to the attempt to become more conscious of internal thought processes, I believe it could have a beneficial impact even on scientific paradigms.

          • Doug Shaver

            I assumed that the comment about the statue was referring to petitionary prayer.

          • Loreen Lee

            Hi Doug: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer,_meditation_and_contemplation_in_Christianity
            I expressed my 'opinion' on this in a conversation with William Davis.

          • Loreen Lee

            If I 'may' say this. I intuit that you are somewhat 'concerned' with possible abstract conceptions and their relation to 'personal experience'. There has been some change in interpretation for instance, as 'revealed' in the elimination of the concept of 'idols' in a renumbering of the original ten commandments. To give an example that I have considered in more depth in relation ship to both concept and experience, and the many, many possible interpretations, it is possible to consider the mystical ecstatic experience to have a relationship within an individual experience to the concept of 'the bride of Christ' at some level of conscious awareness..

          • bbrown

            No evidence for the efficacy of prayer? Doug, you may need to expand your circle a bit.

          • Luke

            How about this: No consistent evidence for the efficacy of intercessory prayer under controlled, randomly assigned conditions when the "target" of the prayers is unaware? In the cases in which the "target" of prayers is aware, optimism and/or a feeling of peace could explain the efficacy usually attributed to prayer.

          • bbrown

            Interesting comment Luke. I'd really have to see the studies. I cannot see how these could be adequately controlled. Dr. Craig Keener has long book where he documents answered prayer and miracles.

          • Luke

            Here's a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer

            Searching Google Scholar for "intercessory prayer" is another good place to start.

            Here's the abstract for one of the more cited papers: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16569567 Its results suggest that those who knew they were receiving intercessory prayer actually experienced more complications; the other groups were not significantly different (in other words, no effect of prayer found).

          • bbrown

            Thank you for the links Luke, I'll look into them.

          • bbrown

            After just a quick look at this study I have to think it is utterly meaningless. As I suspected, there is no way to adequately control the variables involved, which are legion. Having been in a University research environment, this "study" made me laugh. There are dissenting comments and editorials which are behind a paywall, so I could not access them.

          • Luke

            What are a few of the most glaring control issues you think exist from your reading of this abstract?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not counting personal anecdotes. I meant scientific evidence.

          • Loreen Lee

            Maybe that' the 'real definition' of the Holy Spirit!!!! Oh I am gifted for have such an intelligible response!!!

          • William Davis

            I accept the idea of the necessary being, though you know I reject that it is human like. To answer your question though we have actually observed matter appear from nothing in a vacuum, it's called a quantum fluctuation. Reality is much stranger than most people realize.

            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/something-from-nothing-vacuum-can-yield-flashes-of-light/

          • Mike

            Thx but your "example" is too predictable.

          • William Davis

            I don't understand what you mean by predictable. Obviously I don't expect this to change anyone's point of view (for the most part there is nothing that can do that), but matter appearing in a vacuum and disappearing demonstrates it is possible for it to happen. I think this is the informal logical fallacy of "moving the goal post."

          • bbrown

            A vacuum is not nothing, unless you are redefining "nothing" from it's usual meaning, as Krauss does.

          • William Davis

            I won't argue with that. But if a vacuum isn't nothing, does "nothing" even exist? Perhaps it is a human concept with no correlate in objective reality (therefore failing the correspondence test for truth).

          • bbrown

            That's a fascinating question. I'll need to go back to the philosophers and cosmologists to refresh my understanding. As a theist, my understading of a 'true nothing' is existence prior to the creation of the universe. But that's a very murky understanding, informed by theology and some science, but far from comprehensible.

          • William Davis

            I won't claim I know the answer either. I choose to believe in the necessary being (I like Spinoza's view the best) but I think we are in a poor position to really know the truth here. Long study of science has taught me to be very distrustful of intuition when it comes to things outside the bounds of normal experience.

          • Loreen Lee

            You'll never be a Buddha. grin grin. (Or a Descartes! or a Berkeley) grin grin. Or Kant's the 'intuition' of space and time.

          • William Davis

            I thought anyone could be a Buddha (enlightened one) with enough meditation :P I know Buddhist philosophy has helped me a great deal, so has meditation. The beauty of Buddhism is that it isn't jealous. You can be a Buddhist, and something else too. Perhaps Buddhism will slowly "infect" other religions, bringing them around to a better view of the human condition. I think science has demonstrated how accurate and effective Buddhism can be. Ideas often do have viral properties, they go to war, and some get selected out. Our brains are only big enough for so many idea :)

          • Loreen Lee

            Agreed. I'm still learning how I want to meditate. They were not too impressed by my attraction to insight based on words, for instance. (Which I understand to be the focus of Catholic saints). I learned during a recent rant rage that it's pretty difficult (for me) to attempt meditation and mindfulness (consciousness of external? intuitions) at the same time.

          • William Davis

            It is challenging, but worth the effort.
            Like you and the saints, I'm drawn to words as well, but I think it takes more to really be happy, in my experience. The inside of your mind can get to be a very stale place, it is good to go outside for a while.
            I'm also drawn to Catholic metaphysics, but "divergent" when it comes to God's "personality". The Buddhism and Catholicism are complementary in a way, at least in my weird world. I love Jesus, and I WISH he were God, but I just don't believe it, I don't see it in the world, and with the internet, we have the power (with critical thinking, there is a lot of misinformation) see the world more clearly than ever before. God can't be good and control the world at the same time, in my humble opinion.

          • Loreen Lee

            As usual I find agreement within our respective world views. I too for instance, compare Buddhism and Catholicism favorably, on the emphasis on 'compassion' over 'legality' (at least in theory regarding the possible differences between Jesus and The Church). As Nietzsche said: There was only one Christian and he died on the cross. (A bit of insufficiency in this statement - sure) But there is legality in Church law, like that understanding of the importance of law in both Islam and the quest for God- meaning- Israel.
            But the comparisons are never accurate enough. I too think I have found a new way of learning through dialogue referenced to the Internet links....

          • William Davis

            The best meditation books I've read are by John Kabat-Zinn, specifically "Wherever you Go, There you are" (shorter) and "Full Catastrophe living". He also has some good audio guided meditations. I highly recommend him. He relies more heavily on Thoreau (excellent author) than anything else in "Wherever you Go", an interesting twist.

          • Loreen Lee

            Hey - Good. And I like Thoreau. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer,_meditation_and_contemplation_in_Christianity
            It is interesting that they say to avoid New Age Meditation (from Buddhism -diluted!) and that Contemplation is the only form that involves a period of Silence.
            With respect to Buddhism, the 'intention' is so different. Rather than 'looking up' it looks down (as a form with some similarities to what would be necessary for repentance, i.e.the finding of one's weaknesses?
            There is also in Buddhism the development of a capacity for memory, also related to silencing the 'voices'. Just to think of it, such a long range memory as to recall past lives. And believe me I have had many, which I can't even recall with respect to my birth in 'this' life, let alone into any past reincarnations, a concept of course which is less personal than that of resurrection. But I also read, that long term memory has a very health relationship on all those neurons in the brain. Nor, do I desire a mystical estastic experience.

          • William Davis

            I believe we have genetic memory. One might call it instinct, but babies are born "knowing things". Perhaps this is the basis for ancestral memory. You can see I'm a materialist, but I believe in spirituality. I just think spiritual is contained in the material world, and materialism is far from simple. The more you learn about science, the more you realize how strange "material" can be. Spinoza argued that God was a single substance with infinite properties, and that the universe is contained within God. That make EVERYTHING both material AND spiritual ;)

          • Loreen Lee

            Yeah. I checked out Spinoza again a while back, and found a very intricate description of a God-to-man man to God kind of abstraction, (like that between the Credo's procession and the rise to God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You see it is possible to find very interesting correlates!) presented within an examination of modes and what not. I couldn't handle it at the time. Do want to get back to it however. Those philosophy courses simply do not cover everything!
            And with respect to Genetic Memory, I can also compare this materialist description to the Platonic remembrance with the boy learning MATH, forgot name of book.The Meno? And of course there is Do this in Remembrance of Me, perhaps more a metaphysical qualitative category. In mental health, the resolution of past suffering through learning to live through the experience within a 'broader understanding?) So many levels of thought (many so abstract) all to be related in what- infinite ways- to our personal experience..

          • Michael Murray

            Not least of the problems is understanding what "prior to" means when there is no time.

          • bbrown

            I suppose that would fit into the definition of and bring us closer to what "nothing" means, though I suspect it's a concept that no one can comprehend.

          • Loreen Lee

            Even the Buddhists insist the nothing is not nothing but Emptiness which relates to bliss, and thus I infer to some kind of consciousness.

          • William Davis

            If you think about it, it answers the "Why is there Something rather than Nothing" question very neatly. It's simple, Nothing doesn't exist, we just made that up. That makes it a "bad question".
            I'm not certain that is true, but if Occam's Razor has any merit...

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: Instead, such research could help scientists learn more about the
            mysteries of quantum entanglement, which lies at the heart of quantum
            computers—advanced machines that could in principle run more
            calculations in an instant than there are atoms in the universe.

            I couldn't help think of 'an' omniscient (being) P.S. I'm attempting to avoid that horrible 'god' word!!

    • Loreen Lee

      Right on! (Second paragraph) This will either start or end the 'argument'!!! grin grin.

      • Mike

        Oh it's starting alright! ;)

      • Harkening back to Brandon's survey of possible topics, I would like to see a post by a materialist explaining 'argument'.

        • David Nickol

          Is your question something like, "How can materialists believe in the concept argument since argument is not made of matter?"

          • No, I would like an explanation of how one argument differs from another and what is the material cause of the difference?

  • David Nickol

    I think there are problems with this kind of argument unless one takes Descartes' apparent view that nonhuman animals, lacking a spiritual soul, have to be unaware, unfeeling automata.

    • Mike

      I think they "sense" they don't feel and i think they "see" and "imagine" and "remember" but are not aware.

      • David Nickol

        So the people from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are misguided? If you nail a cat to a tree, it is like kicking a television or smashing a computer?

        • Loreen Lee

          There's going to be a big fight as to whether the laws should reflect the responsibility of humans or the consciousness, and thus legal and 'moral'???? rights of animals! And to think that the lions are beginning to lie down with the lambs! Or are we just beginning to notice these these more clearly now that we have all of those videos on the internet? . Are animals evolving?

          • Caravelle

            Are animals evolving?

            Yes :)

            Though I doubt that's what accounts for all the inter-species fellowship we're finding out about. I'm voting for the internet videos.
            (do you know one that's literally of a lion lying down with a lamb ?)

          • Loreen Lee

            Only the lion who was raised by an American family. After he was brought back to Africa he became a family lion. When they returned to find him again, the hello was delightful. He introduced them to his family, hugged them. I could, like you, give many more stories like this.

          • William Davis

            I thinking limited the human "tribe" to humans is a good moral stopping point. I have no desire to become a Hindu.

          • William Davis

            One future question we will have to answer is, if we ever succeed in creating artificial intelligence, is it right for us to enslave it or should it be endowed with individual rights. Many technologists argue against creating such things, and all we should focus on building are unthinking automatons so there is no ethical issue using them as slaves. The problem is that the dumber they are, the less useful they are. My career in software engineering for building automation is slowly marching down that road.

        • Mike

          No animals feel pain and suffer!

      • David Nickol

        I hope you don't have any pets.

        • Mike

          No i don't; but my wife wants us to get a dog!

    • Loreen Lee

      Isn't that the way some people have referred in other comments like those involving the killing of animals,as food source (because they are likely to have less 'awareness' of pain, for instance).
      In Descartes it's that continual reference to his clear and distinct ideas being related to God, resulting in scientific concepts such as 'mechanism' (still used in the field of genetics, I noted in that post) but which cannot be applied within quantum physics - true?

  • If someone denies the existence of material reality (like we all live in the Matrix), you would likely note that they do not live as if they actually believe what they claim (if they are sane), which implies they don’t really believe it.
    If someone denies the existence of immaterial reality (things like morality, justice, goodness, "the self", etc.) you will likely note that they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they are sane), which implies that they don’t really believe it.

    • David Nickol

      If someone denies the existence of immaterial reality (things like
      morality, justice, goodness, "the self", etc.) you will likely note that
      they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they
      are sane), which implies that they don’t really believe it.

      But many people believe that in a purely material world, there can be concepts like morality, justice, and so on. It does not seem to me that materialism rules out concepts. Certainly consciousness is not understood and will not be understood for a long time (if ever). But that doesn't mean one must invent the "spirit world" to explain it. That is not an explanation. As I said elsewhere, positing a spiritual soul to "explain" consciousness is an appeal to the "God of the gaps."

      By the way, exactly how does a spiritual soul reason and think abstractly?

      • Hi David,
        And for the atheist we have the "nothing" of the gaps or the "dumb luck" of the gaps. I'm not referring to concepts (ideas in the mind). I'm referring to an outside system. For example, we do not live as if the law of gravity is a product of our mind. Gravity is universal and unchangeable. What about moral absolutes? If one does not live as if moral absolutes are just a concept, that implies that that person does not really belive it. It seems, deep down, we all know immaterial absolutes exist irrespective of “concepts”, but many won’t admit it because it points to so much more.

        • Luke

          And for the atheist we have the "nothing" of the gaps or the "dumb luck" of the gaps.

          No, just things we haven't yet been able to develop adequate materialistic explanations for. Consciousness may be one of those things that's irreducibly complex; doesn't mean that consciousness is "nothing" or "dumb luck."

          we do not live as if the law of gravity is a product of our mind.

          Because it's not. The force of gravity would "exist" even if no sentient beings were there to experience it. Not so for concepts, beliefs, etc.

          It seems, deep down, we all know immaterial absolutes exist irrespective of “concepts”, but many won't admit it because it points to so much more.

          No, I don't think anything immaterial exists outside of our collective conceptualizations of them. There's nothing to "admit." I don't understand why this is difficult to grasp.

          • Hi Luke,
            Materialism can explain how, but will never explain why (the meaning). It's the wrong tool. It would be like measuring time with a yard stick. No matter how advanced the yard stick is it will never do it. In materialism the meaning of life is a "gap" which is filled essentially with "nothing" so we have "the nothing of the gaps"

            "The force of gravity would "exist" even if no sentient beings were there to experience it. Not so for concepts, beliefs, etc."
            What you stated is a "belief" so it must not be objectively true for everyone?

            Ask yourself, "is genocide wrong?" Of course not, some have a different "concept" of how the world should be. It's not right or wrong, it's just different. If you agree, you are consistent within your position and another victim of Relativism.

          • Luke

            Materialism can explain how, but will never explain why (the meaning).

            You're assuming that there has to be a "why" or "meaning" to explain. I don't think that there is. However, I think that life can still be meaningful, even if it initially arose as a result of meaningless processes.

            What you stated is a "belief" so it must not be objectively true for everyone?

            Are you getting into epistemology now? I'm suggesting that the universe and its forces existed before any signs of life on Earth existed and will continue to exist as long as the universe does, even if life weren't around. Do you disagree? Do you think that God didn't create gravity until sentient life was created to experience it?

            Ask yourself, "is genocide wrong?" Of course not

            And now you're getting into ethics / morality. Different materialist atheists have different perspectives on this, and I don't see how this topic is relevant here.

          • William Davis

            Deuteronomy 12

            16 But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. 17 You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.

            So God is a moral relativist. Good to know. You might try reading the Bible sometime.

          • William Davis

            Materialism can explain how, but will never explain why (the meaning).

            I agree with you here. Since intentionally divorces itself from what we would call "meaning" to avoid bias. This gap is where religion comes in, it is useful for providing a theory of meaning, but it clear that they all come up short as a theory of reality. There is also no evidence that the meaning is not created by anything but our own minds. This isn't a bad thing, it is an opportunity to imagine the world in unique ways. It is all subjectively real if we believe it is. Mark 11

            23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours.

            Jesus is clearly saying that the key to getting what you asked for in prayer comes down to simply believing you received it. I find it fascinating how religious people only recognized the things they pray for that come true, and ignore everything else, in the spirit of confirmation bias. One person miraculously recovers from cancer and it is a miracle, while we ignore the millions that are prayed for and die anyway.

            One other fascinating detail about belief in Mark is that Jesus's miracles would not work in his home town, because no one believed in him. Mark 6

            4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

            I can bring in more from Mark (these things are in other gospels too), but it is clear to me that the author is letting us in on the little secret that none of this was objectively real, but subjectively real. In so much as these beliefs cause us to do the right thing they are useful.

          • William Davis

            Exactly. Without Man, morality has no meaning. In a way, all social organism have their own morality. Ants are communists, dogs have their packs, even dolphins have their own social order and rules. It is clearly an abstract concept, not an absolute.

        • Doug Shaver

          If one does not live as if moral absolutes are just a concept, that implies that that person does not really belive it.

          I claim to believe that moral absolutes are just a concept. Assume I don't really believe it. How would I live differently if I did believe it?

          • That's a question for you. I don't know how you live. I suppose one would not fight for what is right, but only fight for what they want and what a world that would be.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't know how you live.

            Then you don't know the consequences anything I believe or don't believe.

        • William Davis

          Morals have never been absolute. Just look at the Bible. Genocide and sexual slavery were "moral" to the Jews. Slavery only became immoral when technology, a material thing, enslaved inanimate objects. A material change has had drastic effects on your "absolute morality". I don't think you've really thought this through.

          The ancient Sumerians claimed the gods created man to work the fields for them. God did not curse man, he cursed the ground so man had to work. St. Augustine used original sin to justify the need for slavery (most of slavery has been about working the fields). We are using technology, such as tractor and fertilizer to remove original sin. Women were cursed to have increased pain in child birth. We now have epidurals to greatly reduce the pain. Again we have used technology to remove the curse. The snakes, however, are on their own. I don't think anyone is researching a way to grow them legs ;)

          • Hi William,
            Just because it is in the Bible does not mean it was moral or that it was what God wanted or intended. The Bible must be interpreted by someone and who should that authority be? Should it be you?
            Back the topic it seems you have not thought through, about immaterial things being part of reality, like moral absolutes.
            When children play catch with a ball they can sense the existence of physical laws without knowing about physics. In the same way we can sense the existence of moral laws without knowing about metaphysics (or philosophy).
            Example:
            Children are not born racist. They will accept and play with any other children. Racism is taught. Children will sense that racism is unjust without really knowing what justice is.
            If one believes that right and wrong actually exits (outside human opinion) then that reasonably implies a "truth" or a "moral law" which reasonable implies a truth giver or a moral law giver, and what a strange notion that would be. Go where the logic leads.
            If one believes right and wrong do not exist objectively, could they not be convinced of anything? Is this what atheists teach their children? Are they not yet another helpless victim of moral relativism. Go where the logic leads.

          • William Davis

            Children are not born racist.

            I know this is false because of my own children. Even at very early ages they were demonstrating signs of racism, luckily this can be taught over. You might want to study human nature some more. We are naturally tribalistic, and skin color is an early way one distinguishes their tribe. Basing your opinions on evidence is always helpful. I still think racism is wrong, but it is certainly a built in part of human nature.

            http://www.medicaldaily.com/can-babies-be-racist-infants-show-racial-bias-over-fairness-when-choosing-playmates-277196
            http://time.com/67092/baby-racists-survival-strategy/
            http://www.livescience.com/20089-facial-racial-bias-infants.html

            The Bible must be interpreted by someone and who should that authority be? Should it be you?

            How about the author of the book in the Bible. How can a Christian be an authority on a Jewish text anyway. Why doesn't the book mean what it says? Your attempt to invoke the Fallacy of Authority is repulsive. Only evidence and logic matters in an argument.

            If one believes right and wrong do not exist objectively, could they not be convinced of anything? Is this what atheists teach their children? Are they not yet another helpless victim of moral relativism. Go where the logic leads. It leads to insanity, which means not seeing reality.

            "One study in September 2012 was unable to find a single person under 28 who believed in a god"

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

            Japan only has 2 or 3 percent Christian population. The rest are Buddhist who think God is an illusion, or non-religious. Both Japan and Germany are world leaders in technology, and low crime rates, much lower than "Christian" countries. The citizens of Japan are the longest lived in the world.

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

            The Japanese diet is not only the reason they live longer, but quite possibly affects their morality. I eat much like they do, the diet helps protect and improve the brain. They have extremely low rates of cancer and neurological disease, like Alzheimer's.

            Your point of view is clearly false, why don't you just abandon it?

          • If we go back to my original point, you are helping me to prove it.

            "If someone denies the existence of immaterial reality (things like morality, justice, goodness, "the self", etc.) you will likely note that they do not live as if they actually believed what they claim (if they are sane), which implies that they don’t really believe it."

            I've worked for a large Japanese company for over 20 years. If I said the name you would know it. I work with Japanese mangers and have been to Japan several times.

            Have a beer or two with them and you will see that they do not see right and wrong as a "concept" or opinion or something relative and they do not teach their children this. This is why they do well as a society. They recognize certain natural laws that apply to everyone.

            A natural law reasonably implies a natural law giver. You do not need to believe in God to be good, but goodness itself cannot objectively exist without God.

          • William Davis

            I believe in God, but I don't think he is anything like humans, and doesn't "care". Caring is a human concept. Morality is not like gravity because it is flexible, and evolves over time.

            Heck, God has evolved over time. The Sumerians "invented" western religion, and their gods were very human, they even had to eat and sleep (man was made to feed the gods, and they brought the flood to kill off mankind because man was making too much noise and the gods couldn't sleep). Genesis starts out with a God that walks through the garden, wrestles with Jacob, is like a jealous husband (see the book of Amos), tortures Job and kills his children because of a dare from "Satan" who is apparently friends with God (henotheism is clear in the Hebrew Bible, why would the first commandment be "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" if there were no other gods, why did Moses feel the need to compete with Egyptian gods). Christianity evolved God further to be loving and compassionate, and with Platonic philosophy, God became the God of the "omni's" the God you believe in today. Christianity also brought all Christians into the same "tribe" regardless of race. Judaism was only for those of Jewish blood, they even despised the Samaritans who were half Jews. Spinoza was the first philosopher to evolve God into being nothing like a human at all, just the single substance of the universe with infinite properties.

            You see, we find morality in all social organisms. We think ants were the first to achieve eusociality (highest level of social organization) and they are very moral creatures. They all do their job, will die for the queen, and have dominated the insect world, and we have evidence they have been around for 130 million years, and incredibly long time. A single ant is worthless, but all creatures avoid a fire ant hill, the combined effort of the individuals basically creates a super-organism that is not to be trifled with.

            The idea that man evolved in small hunter gatherer bands explains human nature extremely well. Considering outsiders as not part of the "tribe" gives humans all they need to commit atrocities. Who knows how long different tribes of humans waged war with each other until the Sumerians invented writing. So human nature is naturally "tribalistic", we deal with tribe members morally, not with outsiders. This is why racism is instinctive, but we humans are incredibly flexible and able to learn over instincts. There is a rule that selfish individuals beat altruistic (good) individuals, but altruistic groups beat selfish group. You can see this pattern over and over in history. The altruistic group creates an empire, but as a few generations pass, it devolves into selfishness, and is then overtaken by a more altruistic group. This basic idea explains so much about human nature. For the record, I thought evolution was hogwash until I studied it. Here is a good link to wikipedia on the subject:

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

          • William Davis

            P.S. When I say abandon your point of view, I mean the point of view that Christianity has some kind of monopoly on morality. If your religion helps you in life, and makes you a better person, I'm all for it, but only in as much as it achieves those goals. Thanks for at least replying and trying to defend yourself. So many do not.
            To me, the situation is pretty clear though. I try to apply critical thinking to everything, and try to be open to someone proving me wrong. If you can't tell, my view has been forged in the fires of debate, and continued study (where most people waste their lives on tv and pop culture fluff). I'm a libertarian for the most part, so to each their own. Stop condemning me to hell, and acting like Christianity is the only path to truth, and I'll be a happy camper :)

          • If you study the Catholic position, the Church does not condemn anyone to hell. Hell is this the final separation from God (final separation from goodness itself which is painful) and we only condemn ourselves. The doors of hell are locked from the inside.

            I too apply critical thinking. In fact, one could say I get paid to help find the truth. We use a specific method of analytic problem solving at work which I am also certified to teach to all our engineers in North America. When we have a product or system problem, we can't just guess and experiment. This wastes company resources. We need to show which theory is most reasonable before we spend time & money on a solution.

            You mention "proof". Many speak of proof. You may think our process at work is entirely about proof, but it is not, since we never have all the data we would like. We can’t know and see everything. We "bridge" from what we know to what we don't know. The process involves moving toward what is more reasonable and stepping away from what is less reasonable, via a method of sorting fact from opinion, relevant data from irrelevant data, tracking contradictions and tracking assumptions.

            This kind of thinking has helped me to further embrace Catholicism as a very reasonable world view via reason alone. Faith is the other side of the Catholic coin that makes it something personal.
            Take care.

          • William Davis

            The Catholic view on hell seems to vary among those I've talked to and web sites I've seen. It does seem to be continuing and improving, much more than I can say about the Protestant hell. I'll agree Catholicism seems to be a far better form of Christianity than most non-Orthodox, and I love the historical Jesus. I simply have a different view of God. I believe in Spinoza's God, I have an interesting demonstration of how modern physics agrees with Spinoza's view. This philosopher seemed to have some very deep insights into reality. Many enlightenment and democratic views we hold to be "moral" today originate with Spinoza. I'm in good company, Einstein believed in Spinoza's God, and while it has the same, ontology as atheism, it is very different to say God is the single substance in existence, i.e. the universe is IN God, than to say God does not exist. To me, this the ultimate evolution of God, and evolution that I demonstrated (you may not be satisfied with of course), and is what I believe is the truth.

            I don't blame people for wanting a personal God, and I talk to God sometimes, even though I don't think he is listening (there could be part of our brain that represents "God). If God were a person, I'd want him to be Jesus or Buddha, but were great men, and great moral leaders. I love the beautiful Cathedrals of Catholicism, and I think the Gospel of Mark is a brilliant work full of truth (the other two synoptics seem to be based on Mark). I really think the historical Jesus and Paul believed in destruction of the wicked, not "hell" (based on Greek Hades). I can sympathize with that, God uses natural selection to remove the unworthy genes, so it would make sense he would remove what he doesn't want, not torture it. They also believed in a physical resurrection, though the new body was glorified. "Souls" come from vedic Hinduism originally, and made their way into Platonic philosophy. From there it was incorporated into Christianity, but it was never really a Jewish view. Pharisees like Paul, believed in the resurrections, the Sadducees did not. There was an earlier Jewish view not held by all (In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, assuming he actually wrote it, clearly believes we suffer the same fate as animals Ecclesiastes 3 19 For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity.) was that the spirit of both the righteous and the wicked went down to Sheoul, but this is still very different from Hell or Heaven. The view seemed to be largely abandoned by Second Temple Judaism.

            I respect your decision to believe Catholicism, just be aware that I do not take my decision to dismiss Christianity lightly, I had hell beaten into me as a child by Old Testament Fire and Brimstone fundamentalist Christians (something not that far from Westboro Baptist Church). It was all hell, apocalypse, and judgement. I don't doubt this has a biasing effect on me, that is why I have studied Christianity so much, to make sure I'm right before I'm send myself to hell. I'm sure this explains why I'm touchy about the subject :)

          • Michael Murray

            You should read this article by Giles Fraser a Church of England Priest

            http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/02/stephen-fry-god-christianity-evil-maniac

            who says

            Indeed, as no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas rightly insists, existence itself is a questionable predicate to use of God. For God is the story of human dreams and fears. God is the shape we try to make of our lives. God is the name of the respect we owe the planet. God is the poetry of our lives.

            Then there are apparently post-theistic Christians

            http://www.grettavosper.ca

          • William Davis

            I'll agree with that completely, in that sense I am a Christian. Nihilism is a disaster (and completely pointless, if there is no objective meaning, we really should add meaning ourselves), and the atheists who embrace it hold a flawed position in my opinion. There is a real need for more non-superstitious religion (the world we observe is mystical enough, I don't see why we need superstition). I wish more people would embrace philosophy, but stories are usually much more interesting, so the idea of the parable is a real winner.

          • Sorry for you experience as a child. I often find Fundamentalist Christians (or Bible alone types) to be unreasonable...to say the least.

          • Loreen Lee

            I disagree on particulars with respect to instance that overcoming 'insanity' in some cases may require 'seeing' the 'truth' i.e. 'fact' of a horrible experience, and is not a case of formal logic, but rather can be attributed to putting the pieces together in memory, which can involve associative thought.

          • Loreen Lee

            But there are negative aspects to technology, some of which are explored by the philosopher Heidegger, who compares such practices as the treatment of animals, such as pigs and chickens in the what? production houses, to the methods used in incarcerating Jews and gays, etc. in Nazi Germany.

          • William Davis

            "Technological progress is like an ax in the hands of pathological criminal." Albert Einstein

            This statement, of course, was after he had to escape Germany during the Nazi Regime, but I can definitely sympathize. Most things that have power are "double edged sword." Both religion and science are excellent examples. Perhaps in the future we will engineer brainless animals for food, so they feel no pain. Most of the meat I eat is fish, and they pretty low on the iq scale. My grandpa raised chickens on his farm, and I remember seeing them decapitate a chicken. The chicken would then run around for a few minutes with no head. I'm uncertain whether their primitive brains feel anything like what we would call pain, but it is a good question. I don't eat pork for health reasons, but they are a much more intelligent creature. Pig skin is used in experiments because it is almost exactly like human skin.

        • Loreen Lee

          I had a sudden insight into the problem of universals on considering the sentence: God is good.

          It was the first time that I perceived the credibility of the nominalist position. (Actually there are many) Within the abstract this would imply a universal, (as well as specific attribution- what may be the difference between Platonic forms and some Christian conceptions of God - (God is 'real).
          But as soon as you put the word within the context of empirical
          reference, the particulars do not, or cannot (will not make this distinction) always agree. This of course, is particularly applicable with reference to Theodicy.

          It also highlight the use of the concept 'as if' in Kant's practical reason, or morality, suggesting that such concepts be held within one's mind as a reference for the basis of decision, without expectation of a conformity, or indeed often the ability to live up to the conceptual universals, which in his case he presents as necessity and universality.

          I would have preferred to give this to you in Kant's words. Hopefully, though, I have presented some correspondence to his more articulate explanation.

      • Loreen Lee

        Quote: By the way, exactly how does a spiritual soul reason and think abstractly?
        Through Language????

    • William Davis

      If the human race became extinct, would things like morality, justice, and goodness disappear with "the self"? After all there would be no more selves. If so, that means these things are contained within the self, or more specifically, the human mind. Perhaps the mind itself is immaterial, but it REQUIRES the physical brain to exist. If all of this is true, then the immaterial things you speak of are products of material things. Perhaps we are all saying the same thing but in different ways.

  • Jill Campana Migone

    Outstanding.

  • >>> critical step must be taken, one that is often overlooked. Because of the contemporary phenomenon of aggressive materialism, theists must persuasively show that there is more to this world than the mere matter to which scientists and the New Atheists want to reduce it. <<<

    The only philosophical presupposition (philosophy of mind related) required as a preamble to faith involves free will, which needn't be conceived in some absolutist form but only as genuinely free enough to realize life's goods, while semiotically employing signs and symbols. The experience of self would be found among those symbols.

    The above presupposition remains compatible with many philosophies of mind, including either a cartesian dualism or a nonreductive physicalism.

    This article needlessly conflates metaphysical and theological stances.

  • thursday

    Absolutely fabulous! Always struck me as comical that the atheist/ materialist is so eager to get rid of God that they are willing to get rid of themselves in the process.

    • Doug Shaver

      I could list a few things I find comical about Christianity, but I'd be violating the site's posting restrictions.

  • Krakerjak

    Many apologetics projects have been launched to combat the New Atheism
    in the effort to show the reasonableness of Christian faith.

    Perhaps they could launch a project to address some of the concerns expressed in the following.
    http://primalillusion.blogspot.ca/

  • Loreen Lee

    Kant's synthetic a priori: I trust you all know the definition, within the context of language analysis, and with respect to the analytic distinction, as well as the a posterior definition..

    He insisted that mathematical concepts could be synthetic a priori, as well as the metaphysical categories such as that of God, or free will. Oh we could go on here!
    The analytic philosophers insisted that mathematics was analytic a priori. Kant objected, because of the factor of time (consciousness?), and that this would imply that there was no content, as in a tautological statement, and for some in the conception of God. (etc.?)
    If it is possible to accept synthesis within the structures, and concepts of thought, then I continue to agree with Kant, on the basis of recent experience, that mathematics is a synthetic rather than an analytic 'process'. The content, or change in the definition of a concept can develop through a intellectual and self-reflective process, which would include the factors of both or restructuring and remembrance both of empirical and rational content: as these concepts continue to be redefined through the reflective consciousness, empirical experience and accumulated knowledge.

    • Doug Shaver

      He insisted that mathematical concepts could be synthetic a priori

      He was mistaken.

      • Loreen Lee

        I think his point is, to oversimplify the distinction!) that there is a synthesis involved within even simple addition that occurs within the process of time.(Also a possible relationship of consciousness to time) I for instance find that this can be quite true, considering the 'time' it take me sometimes even to put two and two together.
        But I have just read on algorithms and their relation to math. So I conceded that math is (also?) analytic, but as the article I read noted with respect to computers, etc. there is some controversy regarding the 'limitations' of mathematics. Have to read more articles.

        • Doug Shaver

          I think his point is, to oversimplify the distinction!) that there is a synthesis involved within even simple addition that occurs within the process of time.

          I have not read much of Kant's work, but I did read the part where he explained why he thought mathematical concepts were synthetic a priori. It had nothing to do with processes of time. It had to do with the fact, as he perceived it, that the concept of a particular sum is not contained in the concept of either addend or of the addition operator.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Doug. When I first ran across the synthetic/analytic distinction within the synthetic a priori judgment (which was related to mathematics but primarily the justification of his Prolegomna to any Future metaphysic, the synthetics element especially was compared to the posteriori/evidential/empirical situation.which basically seemed to distinguish the qualitative from the quantitative, what is added to the subject to give the predicate more what? content? an increase in information, knowledge, expansion of an idea....what not.
            I thus never read directly any description of the relation of time to any of these contexts. One guy later just explained that this was what Kant 'said'. I have considered the possibility that I can indeed elaborate on such ideas merely 'within my own head', through relating concepts one to another, and I believe that this process can take place with respect to mathematics as well. Perhaps the best way to settle this, is to do your own particular 'thought experiment', (introspection) regarding this. Is the 2 in 1 + 1 just analytically 'there' or is there a 'process' of mind/time involved? If it is just analytically there mathematical equations , I suggest, would boil down to 'tautologies' i.e. empty equations. .
            Your comment deals with yet another approach to what was originally a much simpler presentation of the idea: just as the difference between two types of statements. (Will Google this for precision and perhaps add an edit later). Don't know addend or addition operator for instance. Will look for the original concepts.

            But on reading what one math guy said when talking about the limitations of the algorithm in computer science, he too suggested something 'else was needed'. (Regarding the big debate about intelligence -(computers vs. consciousness!!) from Searle onwards...). I'm still in the process of attempting to understand these discussions. Thanks.

          • Loreen Lee

            Pardon: quote: It had to do with the fact, as he perceived it, that the concept of a
            particular sum is not contained in the concept of either addend or of
            the addition operator.

            That is exactly correct. (just saw this again and understood your language). But his thesis has led to many conversations, like people asking 'why is this so'?

          • Doug Shaver

            But his thesis has led to many conversations, like people asking 'why is this so'?

            As a philosopher, he was very influential. He was obviously highly intelligent, and so many people figured he must have been right.

          • Loreen Lee

            Well, Kant also said that the analytic a posteriori was empty. Recent Postmodern philosophers are now citing the works of Freud and Lecan attempting to show that such states as paranoia produce analytic a posteriori statements. Sometimes these philosophers have do utter seemingly 'crazy' hypothesizes regarding the 'use of language'', in order to get to a better understanding of 'how we think'. That is certainly very 'true'. Hopefully, if these 'errors' are regarded as experiments, they will not always be considered to be simply 'wrong'.

          • Loreen Lee

            Well, Kant also thought that the analytic a posterior was 'empty. Postmodern philosophers in studying the works of Freud and Lecan have applied this term to statements reflecting such states of mind as paranoia. So, yes, despite the fact that philosophers do/can say some rather 'silly things', perhaps if these 'errors' are regarded as kinds of experimentation, as means of understanding how we think through an analysis of what we say, we will be a little more charitable in concluding that they are simply 'wrong'.
            Edit: Made second attempt at an answer because the first didn't seem to take! I'll leave it to you to discern which is the 'better statement'!! grin grin. Gee: It's on Disqus but not here.

          • Doug Shaver

            Postmodern philosophers in studying the works of Freud and Lecan have applied this term to statements reflecting such states of mind as paranoia.

            Postmodern philosophy is 99 percent crap, in my charitable judgment, and there is nothing either modern or postmodern about the 1 percent it gets right.

          • Loreen Lee

            grin grin. Yes. That is my 'general opinion' also. But Derrida's got a couple of good points: the placement of identity within difference. (Gone: Aristotle's principle of identity. Actually I would go on that all three have been challenged!) and the circular nature of language, and a few other thesis that the analytic philosophers thought were pure jumbo. Also, the rather extravagant, attacks on power of the state, histories of sexuality and institutions of incarceration for criminals and the mentally ill, etc. all of which I'm not sure are 'philosophy' per se. There's lots of 'ideology' there, and consequently it is no longer philosophy of 'substance' (in the metaphysical sense of that word!! grin grin).

          • Doug Shaver

            E.O. Wilson had this to say about postmodernists in his Consilience:

            "Nevertheless, here is a salute to the postmodernists. As today's celebrants of corybantic Romanticism, they enrich culture. They say to the rest of us: Maybe, just maybe, you are wrong. . . . We will always need the postmodernists or their rebellious equivalents. For what better way to strengthen organized knowledge than continually to defend it from hostile forces?"

  • Krakerjak

    I,” turns out to be the illusory byproduct of trillions of crackling neurons."

    The mind, consciousness, that which is "I" as is all of reality, in a state of constant flux. Not necessarily growth in human terms but simply in a constant state of change, and someday those crackling neurons will no longer be a conscious self aware "I" unless there actually is a supernatural metaphysical component to existence.

    Human Existence as Perpetual Becoming,/b>
    "I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe."

    Buckminster Fuller
    Buckminster Fuller

    "Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” -

    Buckminster Fuller
    http://www.refinethemind.com/liberation-flux-existence-becoming/

    • Loreen Lee

      Thank you Krakerjak. That article put the relationship between time and consciousness that I related to the 'abstract' terms used by Kant, within a far more comfortable down to earth context.

  • Peter

    Even though our faith tells us that there is more to our personal identity than the matter which comprises our brain, it is difficult to arrive at that conclusion through reason simply because there is no scientific evidence either way, saying that we are the product of matter or that we are not.

    Unlike cosmology which provides much supporting evidence that creation is designed, study of the brain provides no evidence that our identity exceeds the matter from which it is made, so much so that we can only rely on faith until such evidence is forthcoming.

  • Krakerjak

    In addition to my stuff, there is a soul, I have an “I,

    Scientists discover the on-off switch for human consciousness within the brain

    Researchers at George Washington University are reporting that they’ve discovered the human consciousness on-off switch, deep within the brain. When this region of
    the brain, called the claustrum, is electrically stimulated, consciousness — self-awareness, sentience, whatever you want to call it —
    appears to turn off completely.

    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/185865-scientists-discover-the-on-off-switch-for-human-consciousness-deep-within-the-brain

  • Michael Murray

    Some interesting links here about the role of the claustrum in "I".

    • Krakerjak

      Michael Murray, since you seem to be the unofficial liaison for conveying comments and links by request, from EN to SN for the EN participants who are banned on SN.Perhaps as a coutesy you could also do the same as per individual request for SN participants who are banned from EN. Such would seem to be a reasonable request, until such time as a truce or amnesty between the two sites regarding the banned becomes a reality.....as I don't think either Brandon or Andrew is open to the idea of amnesty at present.

      • Michael Murray

        Except that the raison d'être of the two sites is quite different. EN is mostly responding to SN. So over there links are being constantly being made to SN and people are going to read it. But if you have something you want me to link to I am willing to consider it. Subject to me seeing in it of course. No promises.

  • Krakerjak

    Attention @ Michael Murray, since you seem to be the unofficial liaison for
    conveying comments and links by request, from EN to SN for the EN
    participants who are banned on SN.Perhaps as a coutesy you could also do
    the same as per individual request for SN participants who are banned
    from EN. Such would seem to be a reasonable request, until such time as
    a truce or amnesty between the two sites regarding the banned becomes a
    reality.....as I don't think either Brandon or Andrew is open to the
    idea of amnesty at present.

  • Matthew Newlyn

    But what about "emergence" ... the idea that wholes can be more than the sums of their parts? An oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom, each taken alone, has very different properties from water. Put the two together to form a water molecule, then get many water molecules together, and you have a new substance with properties that the "component parts" simply do not have. I can't make an ice sculpture with one hydrogen atom. But with the right number of water molecules and a freezing temperature (and artistic skill) I can make something bold and new.

    What if consciousness arises in a similar way from component parts?

  • I agree with this article. But it won't persuade materialists.

  • fine article, but one point to clarify: not all atheists/agnostics have a materialistic view of mind. See Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos" and Michael Lockwood's "Mind, Brain and the Quantum". So, one would say that a belief in mind as a purely material phenomenon is not a necessary condition for atheism/agnosticism although it may be sufficient. (I don't know of any theists who propound a material view of mind.)

  • Man of the Hour

    Material as cogently defined is fully comprised of or reducible to mind independent stuff. Now, off the bat, we know something for which this isn't true- namely experience. Experiences depend on minds to exist. No configuration of mind independent stuff actually is experience. This is why Daniel Dennett had to deny the existence of qualia. So since experiences rely on minds, experiences are immaterial. If we deny dualism, then whatever is immaterial must interact only with immaterial things, so the physical universe is also immaterial. So either neutral monism or idealism of some sort would have to be true. This makes sense. A world that can generate experiences has to be of the same fundamental nature as experience, otherwise we're back to some kind of dualism. So we could have a scenario in which existence carves itself out relationally into subject and object, or in which subjects are also objects, or subjects contain objects, but we can't have objects without subjects magically generating subjects from a complete lack of subjectivity when put together. That would be ex nihilo creation of subjectivity. Subjects, however, are perfectly capable of generating experiences and objects, as we do with our thoughts and dreams.

  • Doug Shaver

    Thus, according to their own worldview, all thoroughly honest atheists and materialists must consent that they themselves, as selves, do not exist. What an odd conclusion!

    What an odd non sequitur.