Alain de Botton's proposal to enshrine atheistic and this-worldly values has raised the hackles of Richard Dawkins on the ground that "the money was being misspent and that a temple of atheism was a contradiction in terms." If I were an an atheist, I would support, or at least not oppose, de Botton's idea. It is the negativism of the Dawkins Gang that turns many away from the New Atheism, a virulent example being A. C. Grayling's rant against religion as child abuse.
The following post draws mainly upon Robert Oakes, "Does Traditional Theism Entail Pantheism?" American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 1 (January 1983), pp. 105-112. Reprinted in Tom Morris, ed. The Concept of God (Oxford U. Press, 1987).
The question arises: Does my construal of creatio ex nihilo in terms of creatio ex Deo commit me to pantheism? If so, how does that comport with my avowed onto-theological personalism? I will try toshow that my construal does not commit me to pantheism, or at least not to the pantheism that Oakes seems to embrace.
The logically first question concerns just what pantheism is and is not. I’ll begin with what it is not.
A. Pantheism worth discussing is not the view that God (G) is identical to the physical universe (U). For that would amount to saying that God does not exist. Whether or not God exists, the divine nature excludes the possibility of God’s being a system of physical objects. The reduction of G to U thus amounts to the elimination of G. Therefore, the use of ‘God’ to refer to U is simply an egregious misuse of the term ‘God,’ a misuse on a par with Tillich’s misuse of ‘God’ to refer to one’s ultimate concern.
B. What of the opposite reduction of U to G? This is also a type of pantheism not worth discussing: it implies that God exists but the physical universe does not. For it is self-evident that the physical universe cannot exist unless it is in some sense distinct from G. After all, G is immutable whereas U is mutable; hence, by what McTaggart calls the Discernibility of the Diverse (the logical contrapositive of the Indiscernibility of Identicals), U cannot be identical to G if both exist.
C. If pantheism is to be worth discussing, it must somehow allow for a difference of some kind between God and the cosmos. It must steer a middle course between a strict identity of G and U and a type of difference that would render them ‘indifferent’ to each other, i.e., a type of radical difference that would allow the possibility of U existing without G existing. A viable pantheism must therefore avoid three positions: (1) God is world-identical; (2) The world is God-identical; (3) God and the world are externally related in the sense that either could exist without the other.
One way to satisfy these requirements is by saying, Spinozistically, that created entities are modes of God, or as Oakes says, "aspects or modifications" of God. (p. 106 et passim) For if x is a mode (aspect, modification) of y, then x is not identical to y, y is not identical to x, and x and y are not merely externally related.
It is important to realize that classical theism must also satisfy the requirements, (1)-(3). In particular, classical theism must deny that U can exist without G. For it is a central tenet of classical theism that God is not merely a cause of the inception of the universe, but a cause of its continuance as well. God is not merely a deistic 'starter-upper,' but a moment by moment conserver. How exactly creatio originans and creatio continuans fit together involves problems that cannot be discussed in this post. (Cf. William F. Vallicella (2002), The Creation–Conservation Dilemma and Presentist Four-Dimensionalism, Religious Studies 38 (2):187-200.) But there can be no doubt that for classical theism as it is found in Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Berkeley and others, creation in the full sense involves both notions, both originating creation and continuing creation.
Now given the fact just mentioned, how are we to distinguish classical theism (CT) from pantheism in the (C)-sense, the only sense in play here? Does (CT) perhaps entail pantheism? (To say that p entails q is to say that, necessarily, if p is true, then q is true. Equivalently, it is to say that it is impossible that p be true, and q false.)
You will notice that the doctrine of conservation ‘shortens’ the ‘ontological distance’ between creator and creatures. It implies that at each moment divine activity is required to keep the creature from lapsing into nonbeing. The point is not merely that God as a contingent matter of fact conserves creatures moment by moment, but that creatures are necessarily such that they are conserved moment by moment by divine activity. This suggests that the very being of creatures is their being-conserved moment by moment, which in turn gives rise to the following worry: How then can creatures retain any ontological independence?
Drawing on Oakes, the following Argument from Conservation can be mounted for the thesis that classical theism entails pantheism (but of course not pantheism in the absurd (A) or (B) senses). (The argument is in Oakes, but the reconstruction is mine.)
1. Every contingent being is necessarily such that it is existentially dependent on God at each moment of its existence.
2. If anything X is necessarily such that it is dependent on something Y at each moment of its existence, then X is a mode (aspect, modification) of Y.
3. Every contingent being is a mode (aspect, modification) of God, which amounts to pantheism.
The validity (formal correctness) of this argument is not in question, and premise (1) merely states the conservation doctrine, an essential subdoctrine of classical theism. So the soundness of the argument rides on premise (2).
Premise (2) fits some cases very well. A wrinkle in a carpet satisfies both the antecedent and the consequent of (2). Same holds for the dance and the dancer. Suppose Little Eva is doing the Locomotion ("C’mon baby, do the Lo-co-mo-shun . . ..) There is the dance-type and its various actual and possible tokens. Little Eva’s gyrations at time t constitute one of these tokens such that the token in question could not possibly exist except as an aspect or modification of Little Eva at t. Similarly for felt pleasures and felt pains. The esse of a pain just is its percipi: a pain cannot exist except as perceived. Pains and the like are therefore plausibly construed as aspects or modifications of perceivers. Finally, it is plausibly maintained that a particular thinking, believing, imagining, is an aspect or modification of a thinker or a believer or an imaginer.
But now consider an object imagined as opposed to the act of imagining it. I mean an object that does not exist apart from its being imagined, a purely intentional object. (A rich vein of gold at the base of Weaver’s Needle; a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater.) Said object does not exist on its own, but only as the accusative of an act (or acts) of imagining. Now while it makes sense to say that the act (the occurrent episode) of imagining is an aspect or modification of an imaginer, it does not make much sense to say this of the intentional object (the accusative) of the act. Indeed, we cannot even say that the intentional object is an aspect or modification of the act trained upon it. Why not?
Note that if x is an aspect or modification of y, then x cannot exist without y, but y can exist without x. (A carpet wrinkle cannot exist without the carpet of which it is the wrinkle, but the carpet can surely exist without that, or any, wrinkle.) By contrast, if x is the intentional object of act y, then x cannot exist without y, AND y cannot exist without x. An imagining cannot exist except as the imagining of a definite object, and that object, qua intentional object, cannot exist without the act. I conclude from this difference that the intentional object cannot be an aspect or modification of the act. It is not a property of the act, but its object or intentum. A fortiori, it cannot be an aspect or modification of the subject of the act, the imaginer in the case of an act of imagining.
We therefore have a class of counterexamples to premise (2) above. The Argument from Conservation therefore fails, and classical theism does not collapse into pantheism – or at least not for the reason that Oakes provided in the article under discussion.
So far, then, I cannot see that I am committed to pantheism in any of the three senses lately distinguished by my construal of creatio ex nihilo as creatio ex Deo.
1. God is an absolute, or rather the absolute. That is a non-negotiable starting point for both of us. To uphold the divine absoluteness, however, it is necessary to think of God as ontologically simple, as devoid of metaphysical complexity and composition. For if God is absolute, then he cannot depend on anything else for his existence or nature. It follows that God cannot be an instance of his attributes but must be them; nor can he be an existent among existents: he must be his existence and existence itself. Indeed, God as absolute must be ipsum esse subsistens, self-subsisting Existence. These are hard sayings and sharp heads, Plantinga being one of them, find them incoherent. For details and a bit of a response to Plantinga, I refer you to my Stanford Encyclopedia article. Note also that an absolute cannot be lacking anything or in need of developing itself: it is, eternally, all that it can be. This implies that there is no act/potency distinction in God, no unrealized powers or potentialities. In the classical phrase, God is actus purus, pure act, wholly actual. Dolezal puts it very well when he writes, "The consideration of God as ipsum esse subsistens and actus purus is crucial for any confession of God's absolute existence." (214)
2. But to uphold the divine absoluteness, it is also necessary that God be libertarianly free in his production of creatures. For suppose there is something in the divine nature that necessitates God's creation. Then God would depend on the world to be himself and to be fully actual. He would need what is other than himself to actualize himself. This entanglement with the relative would compromise the divine absoluteness. God would need the world as much as the world needs God. Each would require the other to be what it is. (210)
3. So God must be both simple and free to be absolute. But it is very difficult to understand how a simple being could be free in the unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense. If God is simple, then he is pure act in which case he is devoid of unrealized powers, potentialities or possibilities. To act freely, however is to act in such a way that one (unconditionally) could have done otherwise, which implies unrealized possibilities. Now Dolezal's view if I have understood him -- and he can correct me in the ComBox if I am wrong -- is that it is not only difficult to reconcile simplicity and freedom, but impossible for us, at least in our present state. "Though we discover strong reasons for confessing both simplicity and freedom in God, we cannot form an isomorphically adequate notion of how this is the case." (210) In footnote 55 on the same page, Dolezal brings up wave-particle duality: light behaves both like a particle and like a wave. We have good reason to believe that it is both despite the difficulty or impossibility of understanding how it could be both. On the basis of the quotation and the footnote I hope that Dolezal will forgive me for pinning the label 'mysterian' on him, at least with respect to the simplicity-freedom problem which is only one subproblem within the the divine simplicity constellation.
4. I grant that if we have good reason to believe that p is true, and good reason to believe that q is true, then we have good reason to believe that p and q are logically consistent (with each other) despite an absence of understanding as to how they could be mutually consistent. What is actual is possible whether or not one can render intelligible how it is possible. To give an example of my own, motion is actual, hence possible, despite my inability in the teeth of Zenonian considerations to understand how it is possible. Many similar examples could be given.
And so a mysterian move suggests itself: We are justified in maintaining both that God is simple and that God is free despite the fact that after protracted effort we cannot make logical sense of this conjunction. The fact that the conjunction -- God is simple & God is free -- appears to us, and perhaps even necessarily appears to us, given irremediable cognitive limitations on our part, to be or rather entail an explicit logical contradiction is not a good reason to reject the conjunction. The mysterian is not a dialetheist: he does not claim that there are true contradictions. Like the rest of us, the mysterian eschews them like the plague. His point is rather that a proposition's non-episodic and chronic seeming to be a contradiction does not suffice for its rejection. For it may well be that certain truths are inaccesible to us due to our mental limitations and defects, and that among these truths are some that appear to us only in the guise of contradictions, and must so appear.
Of course, Dolezal's mysterian move cannot be reasonably made unless the extant attempts (by Barry Miller, Eleonore Stump, Brian Davies, et al.) to reconcile simplicity and freedom are failures. Since I agree with Dolezal that they are, I grant him this.
5. So what are some possible questions/reservations?
First, if a (conjunctive) proposition's seeming, after careful and repeated scrutiny, to be or entail an explicit logical contradiction is not sufficient evidence of its being a contradiction, what would be? To put it another way, my inability to explain how it could be true both that p and that q does seem to be pretty good evidence that p and q are not both true. Now I said above that the actual is possible whether or not I can explain how it's possible. Granted, but if I cannot explain the how, doubt is cast on the actuality.
How adjudicate between these opposing lines of argument: A: Because X is actual, X is possible, whether or not anyone can explain how it is possible! B: Because no one can explain how it is possible, it is not possible, and therefore not actual!
Second, if all extant attempts to reconcile simplicity and freedom fail, it does not follow that there isn't a solution right over the horizon. How can a mysterian rule out the possibiity of a future solution? The mysterian seems committed to saying that it is impossible (at least in this life) that there be a solution. How can he be sure of this?
Third, if a proposition appears under careful scrutiny to be or entail a contradiction, then is there even a proposition before the mind? If you require for my salvation that I believe that God is one and God is three, what exactly are you demanding that I believe? Before I can affirm a proposition as true I must understand it, but how can I affirm as true a proposition that appears necessarily false? Such a 'proposition' is arguably not a proposition at all. (This requires development, of course . . . Richard Cartwright's Trinity paper will help you see what I am getting at.))
In an e-mail Michael Sudduth asked me what I thought of panentheism. I suspect my position, as developed in A Paradigm Theory of Existence and various articles, points in a panentheistic direction. For when I think about the relation of the One and the Many, I think of the Many as 'in' the One in a manner analogous to the way an intentional object is 'in' the mind. The manifold of contingent beings is 'in' the divine One. The present post will sketch a way panentheism might be teased out of classical theism.
Classical theists hold that God created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing. This phrase of course carries a privative, not a positive, sense: it means not out of something as opposed to out of something called ‘nothing.’ This much is crystal clear. Less clear is how creation ex nihilo (CEN), comports, if it does comport, with the following principle:
ENN: Ex nihilo nihit fit. Nothing comes from nothing.
The latter principle seems intuitively obvious. It is not a truth of formal logic -- since its negation is not self-contradictory -- but it does appear to be a truth of metaphysics, indeed, a necessary truth of metaphysics. But if (ENN) is true, how can (CEN) be true? How can God create out of nothing if nothing can come from nothing?
It would be unavailing to say that God, being omnipotent, can do anything, including making something come out of nothing. For omnipotence, rightly understood, does not imply that God can do anything, but that God can do anything that any possible agent could possibly do. But there are limits on what is possible. For one thing, logic limits possibility, and so limits divine power: not even God can make a contradiction true. There are also extra-logical limits on divine power: God cannot restore a virgin. There are past events which possess a necessitas per accidens that puts them beyond the reach of the divine will. Nor can God violate (ENN), given that it is necessarily true. God is subject to necessary truths. Some may see a problem with that, but I don’t. Necessary truths, like all truths, are accusatives of the divine intellect and so cannot exist unless the divine intellect exists. The divine intellect limits the divine will.
So the problem remains: How can God create the world out of nothing if nothing can come from nothing? How can we reconcile (CEN) with (ENN)?
One response to the problem is to say that (CEN), properly understood, states that God creates out of nothing distinct from himself. Thus he does not operate upon any pre-given matter, nor does he bestow existence on pre-given essences, nor create out of pre-given possibles. But if God creates out of nothing distinct from himself, this formulation allows that, in some sense, God creates ex Deo, out of himself. Creating the world out of himself, God creates the world out of nothing distinct from himself. In this way, (CEN) and (ENN) are rendered compatible.
In sum, ‘Creatio ex nihilo’ is ambiguous. It could mean that God creates out of nothing, period, in which case (CEN) collides with (ENN), or that God creates out of nothing ultimately distinct from himself. My proposal is that the Latin phrase be construed in the second of these ways. So construed, it has the sense of ‘creatio ex Deo.’
But what exactly does it mean to say that God creates out of God? A critic once rather uncharitably took me to mean precisely what I do not mean, namely, that God creates out of God in a way that implies that the product of the creative operation (creation in the sense of created entities) is identical to its operator (God) and its operand (God). That would amount to an absurd pantheism in which all distinctions are obliterated, a veritable "night in which all cows are black," to borrow a phrase from Hegel.
When I say that God creates ex Deo what I mean is that God operates on entities that are not external to God in the sense of having existence whether or not God exists. I build a rock cairn to mark the trail by piling up otherwise scattered rocks. These rocks exist whether or not I do. My creation of the cairn is therefore neither out of nothing nor out of me but out of materials external to me. If God created in that way he would not be God as classically conceived, but a Platonic demiurge. So I say that God creates out of ‘materials’ internal to him in the sense that their existence depends on God’s existence and are therefore in this precise sense internal to him. (I hope it is self-evident that materials need not be made out of matter.) In this sense, God creates ex Deo rather than out of materials that are provided from without. It should be obvious that God, a candidate for the status of an absolute, cannot have anything ‘outside him.’
To flesh this out a bit, suppose properties are concepts in the divine mind. Then properties are necessary beings in that they exist in all metaphysically possible worlds just as God does. The difference, however, is that properties have their necessity from another, namely God, while God has his necessity from himself. (This distinction is in Aquinas.) Inother words, properties, though they are necessary beings, depend for their existence on God. Suppose that properties are the ‘materials’ or ontological constituents out of which concrete contingent individuals – thick particulars in Armstrong’s parlance – are constructed. (This diverges somewhat from what I say in PTE, but no matter: it is a simplification for didactic purposes.) We can then say that the existence of contingent individual C is just the unity or contingent togetherness of C’s ontological constituents. C exists iff C’s constituents are unified. Creating is then unifying. (We have a model for this unifying in our own unification of a sensory manifold in the unity of one consciousness.) Since the constituents are necessary beings, they are uncreated. But since their necessity derives from God, they are not independent of God.
In this sense, God creates out of himself: he creates out of materials that are internal to his own mental life. It is ANALOGOUS to the way we create objects of imagination. (I am not saying that God creates the world by imagining it.) When I construct an object in imagination, I operate upon materials that I myself provide. Thus I create a purple right triangle by combining the concept of being purple with the concept of being a right triangle. I can go on to create a purple cone by rotating the triangle though 360 degrees on the y-axis. The object imagined is wholly dependent on me the imaginer: if I leave off imagining it, it ceases to exist. I am the cause of its beginning to exist as well as the cause of its continuing to exist moment by moment. But the object imagined, as my intentional object, is other than me just as the creature is other than God. The creature is other than God while being wholly dependent on God just as the object imagined is other than me while being wholly dependent on me.
A critic thinks that "The notion of total dependence, dependence in every respect, entails identity, and therefore no dependence at all. If a is dependent on b in all respects, then a ‘collapses’ into b, taking dependency, and difference, with it." So if the creature is dependent on God both for its existence and for its nature, the creature collapses into God. And of course we can’t have that. It is obvious that the manifest plurality of the world, the difference of things from one another and from God, must be maintained. We cannot allow a pantheism according to which God just is the world, nor one on which God swallows up the plural world and its plurality with it.
The principle lately quoted is refuted by every intentional object qua intentional object. The object imagined is totally dependent in its existence on my acts of imagining. After all, I excogitated it: in plain Anglo-Saxon, I thought it up, or out. This excogitatum, to give it a name, is wholly dependent on my cogitationes and on the ego ‘behind’ these cogitationes if there is an ego ‘behind’ them. (Compare Sartre’s critique of Husserl on this score in the former’s Transcendence of the Ego.) But this dependence is entirely consistent with the excogitatum’s being distinct both from me qua ego, and from the intentional acts or cogitationes emanating from the ego and directed upon the excogitatum. To press some Husserlian jargon into service, the object imagined ist kein reeller Inhalt, it is not "really contained" in the act. The object imagined is neither immanent in the act, nor utterly transcendent of the act: it is a transcendence in immanence. It is ‘constituted’ as a transcendence in immanence.
The quoted principle may also be refuted by more mundane examples, examples that I would not use to explain the relation between creator and creature. Consider a wrinkle W in a carpet C. W is distinct from C. This is proven by the fact that they differ property-wise: the wrinkle is located in the Northeast corner of the carpet, but the carpet is not located in the Northeast corner of the carpet. (The principle here is the Indiscernibility of Identicals.) But W is wholly (totally) dependent on C. A wrinkle in a carpet cannot exist without a carpet; indeed, it cannot exist apart from the very carpet of which it is the wrinkle. Thus W cannot ‘migrate’ from carpet C to carpet D. Not only is W dependent for its existence on C, but W is dependent on C for its nature (whatness, quiddity). For W just is a certain modification of the carpet, and the whole truth about W can be told in C-terms. So W is totally dependent on C.
So dependence in both essence and existence does not entail identity.
Somehow the reality of the Many must be upheld. The plural world is no illusion. If Advaita Vedanta maintains that it is an illusion, then it is false. On the other hand, the plural world is continuously dependent for its existence on the One. Making sense of this relation is not easy, and I don't doubt that my analogy to the relation of finite mind and its intentional objects limps in various ways.
The real problem, of course, is not that Obama lacks gravitas, but that he is utterly clueless and incompetent when it comes to the the problems facing the nation, the chief of which is the debt crisis.
If this Daily Mail story is to be believed, a 17 year old English girl has subsisted on little more than McDonald's chicken nuggets and fries for the past 15 years. "The factory worker – who says she has never tasted fresh fruit or vegetables – had to be taken to hospital earlier this week when she collapsed after struggling to breathe."
Stories like these are used by nanny-staters to justify ever more government intrusion. But the more the government intrudes, the less self-reliant and childish the people become -- which justifies even more intrusion. Or as Dennis Prager likes to say, "The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen." To which I add, "The bigger the government, the more to fight over." So if you want a politics increasingly polarized and embittered, agitate for more government control and less individual liberty.
A major problem with Scholasticism is the innate desire that all men have to participate directly and ontologically in their God. We all want that real connection. Sudduth explains, “I pondered this experience for several minutes, while at the same time continuing to experience a most blissful serenity and feeling of oneness with God”.
The fact is Van Tilism and Scholasticism, its Grandfather, can never give man real and ontological connection because like the fools they were, they tried to take the Ultimate Principle of Plotinus and the Pagans and somehow get a Christian worldview out of it with their theory of Absolute Divine Simplicity. This leaves only a pagan ecstatic trance state for Christian men to seek in their attempts to connect to their creator. Thus Sudduth, was in my opinion, simply following his monad back to its Pagan source. He is being consistent. Sudduth says, “I had gone so far in my Christian faith, but it was now necessary for me to relate to God as Lord Krishna.” Notice he doesn’t say, “through Lord Krishna” but “as” Lord Krishna. In Plotinus’ construction hierarchies of being emanated from the One which represent levels of composition , and at each hierarchy was an intermediary. In different versions of this metaphysical construction, the gods are intermediaries on this chain of being. As one move up the chain of being one becomes ontologically identified with the intermediary. Sudduth says, “Since this time I have experienced Krishna’s presence in the air, mountains, ocean, trees, cows, and equally within myself. I experience Him in the outer and inner worlds, and my heart is regularly filled with serenity and bliss.” You see on his view, God is in the state of mind not the proposition.
In conclusion, I commend Sudduth for his logical consistency. When will the rest of the Scholastic Reformed have the courage to do the same? My Scholastic reader, Sudduth is taking Absolute Divine Simplicity to its logical end. I have two options for you.
1. Follow Sudduth
2. Leave Scholastic Neoplatonism for Gordon Clark’s Scripturalism: An absolute Triad: Three ontologically distinct persons; three distinct complex-non-simple eternal divine minds who find their hypostatic origin in the person of the Father.
I'd love to comment, but I have a dentist appointment. Man does not live by bread alone, but without bread and the properly maintained tools of mastication, no philosophy gets done, leastways, not here below.
Afternoon Update: I now have time to hazard some brief and off-the-cuff bloggity-blog commentary.
Earlier in the post, the author writes, "Once someone believes that truth and God cannot be found in a proposition, but in a psychological state, truth by definition becomes something subjective and arbitrary." The full flavor of this no doubt escapes me since I haven't read Van Til or Gordon Clark. Not that surprising given my background, which is Roman Catholic, though as 'Maverick Philosopher' suggests, I aim to follow the arguments where they lead, roaming over the intellectual landscape bare of a brand, and free of institutional tie-downs and dogmatic ballast. The lack of the latter may cause my vessel to capsize, but it's a risk I knowingly run.
But speaking for myself, and not for Sudduth, though I expect he will agree with me, I do not understand how anyone could think that the ultimate truth or God (who is arguably the ultimate truth) could be found in a proposition or a body of propositions. Doctrine surely cannot be of paramount importance in religion. That is a bare assertion, so far, and on this occasion I cannot do much to support it. But I should think that doctrine is but a "necessary makeshift" (to borrow a phrase from F. H. Bradley) to help us in our "Ascent to the Absolute" (to borrow the title of a book by my teacher J. N. Findlay). The name-dropping gives me away and indicates that I nail my colors to the mast of experience in religion over doctrine. (Practice is also important, but that's a separate topic.)
Thoughts lead to thoughts and more thoughts and never beyond the circle of thoughts. But I should like to experience the THINKER behind the thoughts, which thinker can no doubt be thought about but can never be reduced to a thought or proposition. Philosophy operates on the discursive plane, cannot do otherwise, and so is limited, which is why we need religion which in my view, and perhaps in Sudduths', is completed in mystical experience.
The path to the ultimate subject that cannot be objectified, but is both transcendentally and ontologically the condition of all objectivity, is an inner path. I needn't leave my own tradition and make the journey to the East to find support. I find it in Augustine: Noli foras ire, in te ipsum redi. In interiore homine habitat veritas . "Do not wander far and wide but return into yourself. The truth resides in man's interiority." The way to God is through the self. The way is not by way of propositions or thoughts or doctrines, and certainly not by fighting over doctrines or condemning the other guy to hell for holding a different doctrine, or a doctrine that plays down the importance of doctrine.
The ultimate truth is not propositional truth, which is merely representational, nor the ontic true of things represented, but the ontological truth of God. (This tripartition can be found in both Heidegger and in Thomas.) Now if I find God, but not "in a proposition," but by experience (in fitful glimpses as if through a glass darkly here below, in the visio beata yonder) does it follow that that I have merely realized "an arbitrary and subjective psychological state"? That is a false alternative. Not that I wish to deny that some mystical experiences are nonveridical and misleading. Humans are subject to deception and self-deception in all areas of life.
There is also the matter of the divine simplicity. Here I will just baldly state that a God worthy of worship must be an absolute, and that no decent absolute can be anything other than ontologically simple. For more, I refer you to my Stanford Encylopedia article and the divine simplicity category of this weblog.
This is hotly contested, of course. Athens and Jerusalem are in tension, and you can see that my ties to Athens -- and to Benares! -- are strong and unbreakable. There are deep, deep issues here. I am not a master of them; they master me. One issue has to do with the role of reason and the power of reason. While confessing reason's infirmity, as I have on many occasions in these pages, I must also admit that it is a god-like faculty in us and part of what the imago Dei must consist in -- and this despite what I have said about the discursive path being non-ultimate.
I grant that the Fall has (not just had) noetic consequences: our reason is weaker than it would be in a prelapsarian state. But we need it to protect us from blind dogmatism, fundamentalism and the forms of idolatry and superstition that reside within religion herself such as bibliolatry and ecclesiolatry.
We should not paper over the deep tensions within Christianity but live them in the hope that an honest confrontation with them will lead to deeper insight.
And a little Christian charity can't be a bad idea either, especially towards such 'apostates' as Michael Sudduth.
In the course of studying Plantinga's new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, I have encountered some surprisingly hostile web materials directed against Plantinga. Some of this stuff is too scurrilous to refer to, and I won't. Coyne's rants against Plantinga are somewhat milder but still unseemly for someone in the academic world. Alvin Plantinga: Sophisticated Theologian? appears to be Coyne's latest outburst.
That Coyne is muddled in his thinking about free will has already been demonstrated here and here. This post will showcase a sophomoric blunder he makes with respect to the concept of a necessary being. Coyne writes:
No theologian in the world is going to convince me that it’s impossible for God to fail to exist because he’s a “necessary being.” Science has shown that he’s not “necessary” for anything we know about the universe.
Given the silly blunders and nonsensical assertions Coyne makes in his free will piece, I am not surprised that the man fails to grasp a very simple point. To say that X is a necessary being is not to say that X is necessary for something. Could he really not understand this? If X is necessary for Y, it does not follow that X is necessary simpliciter. Sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, but the existence of sunlight is logically contingent. And if X is a necessary being, it doesn't follow that X is necessary for anything. If Plantinga's God exists, then he exists necessarily and does so even in possible worlds in which nothing distinct from God exists, worlds in which he is not necessary for anything.
What about Coyne's second sentence in the above quotation? Pure scientistic bluster. One thing we know about the universe is that it exists. Has science shown that God is not necessary for an explanation of the universe's existence. Of course not. How could it show any such thing? Or will Coyne make an absurd Kraussian move?
Nothing could count as God that did not have the property of aseity, or in plain Anglo-Saxon, from-itself-ness. The concept of God is the concept of something that by its very nature cannot be dependent on anything else for its nature or existence, and this holds whether or not anything in reality instantiates the concept. This is equivalent to the assertion that God exists necessarily if he exists at all. But if everything that exists exists contingently, as philosophers of an empiricist bent are likely to maintain, then we have the makings of an ontological disproof of God. In a 1948 Mindarticle, J. N. Findlay gave essentially the following argument:
a. God cannot be thought of as existing contingently. b. Everything that exists can only be thought of as existing contingently. Therefore c. God does not exist.
This ontological disproof of God turns Anselm on his head while retaining the Anselmian insight that God is “that than which no greater can be conceived.” Precisely because God is maximally great, supremely perfect, id quo maius cogitari non nequit, he cannot exist. For if everything that exists exists contingently, then nothing exists necessarily. Necessary existence, however, is a divine perfection. Ergo, God does not exist.
The trouble with Findlay’s 1948 argument, an argument which the older and wiser Findlay renounced, is that premise (b) is by no means obviously true, even if we replace ‘everything’ with ‘every concrete thing.’ Indeed, I believe that (b) is demonstrably false. But the argument for this belongs elsewhere.
In the context of a reply to a "nasty attack on [Alvin] Plantinga by Jerry Coyne that cannot go unanswered," James Barham explains why he is an atheist:
The other reason I balk [at accepting a theism like that of Plantinga's] is that I can’t help suspecting there is a category mistake involved in talking about the “necessity” of the existence of any real thing, even a ground of being. When we speak of the ground of being’s existing “necessarily,” perhaps we are conflating the nomological sense of “necessity”—in the earth’s gravitational field an unsupported object necessarily accelerates at 32 feet per second squared—with the logical sense of the word—if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then necessarily Socrates is mortal.
Many experience intellectual discomfort at the thought of a being that is, as Barham says, real (as opposed, presumably, to ideal or abstract) but yet exists of broadly logical (metaphysical) necessity. To discuss this with clarity I suggest we drop 'real' and use 'concrete' instead. So our question is whether it is coherent to suppose that there exists a concrete being that necessarily exists, where the necessity in question is broadly logical. The question is not whether it is true, but whether it is thinkable without broadly logical contradiction, and without 'category mistake.' But what does 'concrete' mean? It does not mean 'material' or 'physical.' Obviously, no material being could be a necessary being. (Exercise for the reader: prove it!) Here are a couple of definitions:
D1. X is concrete =df X is causally active or passive. D2. X is abstract =df X is causally inert, i.e., not concrete.
The terms of the concrete-abstract distinction are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive: everything is one or the other, and nothing is both. And the same goes for the physical-nonphysical distinction. The distinctions are not equivalent, however: they 'cut perpendicular' to each other. There are (or at least it is coherent to suppose that there could be) nonphysical concreta. Whether there are physical abstracta is a nice question I will set aside for now.
Plantinga's God, if he exists, is concrete, wholly immaterial, and necessarily existent. Obviously, one cannot imagine such a being. (A point of difference with Russell's celestial teapot, by the way.) But I find Plantinga's God to be conceivable without contradiction or confusion or conflation or category mistake. Barham thinks otherwise, suggesting that the notion of a necessarily existent concretum trades on a confusion of nomological necessity with logical necessity. I find no such confusion, but I do find a confusion in Barham's thinking.
First of all, there is a genuine distinction between nomological necessity and logical necessity. Barham's sentence about an unsupported object in Earth's gravitational field is nomologically necessary, but logically contingent. It is the latter because there is no logical contradiction in the supposition that a body in Earth's gravitational field accelerate at a rate other than 32 ft/sec2. The laws of nature could have been other than what they are. But what does this have to do with the possibility of the coherence of the notion of a concrete individual that exists in all broadly logically possible worlds if it exists in one such world? Nothing that I can see. Barham points, in effect, to a legitimate difference between:
1. Necessarily, an unsupported object in Earth's gravitation falls at the rate of 32ft/sec2 and 2. Necessarily, if all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal.
The difference is in type of modality. In (1) the modality is nomological while in (2) it is logical. Both cases are cases of de dicto modality: the modal operator operates upon a dictum or proposition. But when we speak of God as a necessary being, we are not speaking of the necessary truth of a proposition, whether the necessity be nomological or logical. We are speaking of the necessary existence of a 'thing,' a res. Accordingly, the modality is de re. So I am wondering whether Barham is succumbing to de dicto-de re confusion. Of course, there is the proposition
3. Necessarily, God exists
where the necessity in question is broadly logical. The truth-maker of this proposition, however, is God himself, a necessarily existent concrete individual.
My point, then , is that there is no logical mistake involved in the concept of God as necessary being, no confusion, no category mistake. Even if the concept fails of instantiation, the concept itself is epistemically in the clear.
Barham will no doubt continue to be an atheist. But he ought to drop the above accusation of category mistake. He can do better. He could argue that all modality is de dicto. Or that all necessity is linguistic/conventional in origin. Or he could give J. N. Findlay's 1948 ontological disproof, which I will feature in my next post.
Before I posted Michael Sudduth's open letter on Saturday, site traffic for the month was averaging between 1600-1900 page views per day; yesterday, however, saw a surge -- the Sudduth surge to give it a name -- up to 2880, and now, at high noon Tuesday, I'm at 2200. Meanwhile, the industrious Mr. Lull (cybernaut extraordinaire, etc. etc.) has supplied me with two further links on the topic.
2. Suppose A and B are mutually incompatible but individually possible courses of action, and I am deliberating as to whether I should do A or B. (Should I continue with this blogging business, or give it up?) Deliberating, I have the sense that it is up to me what happens. I have the sense that it is not the case that events prior to my birth, together with the laws of nature, necessitate that I do what I end up doing. Seriously deliberating, I presuppose the falsity of determinism. For if I were thoroughly and truly convinced of the truth of determinism it would be psychologically impossible for me to deliberate. (Compare: were I thoroughly and truly convinced of the truth of naturalism it would be psychologically impossible for me to pray or engage in any spiritual practice the successful outcome of which requires the falsity of naturalism.)
3. Determinism is the thesis that, given the actual past, and the actual laws of nature, there is only one possible future. When I seriously deliberate, however, my deliberation behavior manifests the belief that there is more than one possible future, and that it is up to me which of these possible futures becomes actual. There is the possible future in which I hike tomorrow morning and blog in the afternoon and the equipossible future in which I blog tomorrow morning and hike in the afternoon. And which becomes actual depends on me.
One may be tempted to say that the indisputable fact of deliberation proves the reality of free will.
4. But then someone objects: "The sense that it is up to you what happens is illusory; it merely seems to you that you are the ultimate source of your actions. In reality your every action is determined by events before your birth." The objector is not denying the fact of deliberation; he is denying that the fact of deliberation entails the reality of free will. He is claiming that the fact of deliberation is logically consistent with the nonexistence of free will.
5. To evaluate this objection, we need to ask what is meant by 'illusory' in this context. Clearly, the word is not being used in an ordinary way. Ordinary illusions can be seen through and overcome. Hiking at twilight I jump back from a tree root I mis-take for a snake. In cases of perceptual illusion like this, one can replace illusory perceptions with veridical ones. Something similar is true of other illusions such as those of romantic love and the sorts of illusions that leftists cherish and imagine as in the eponymous John Lennon ditty. In cases like these, further perception, more careful thinking, keener observation, 'due diligence' and the like lead to the supplanting of the illusory with the veridical.
But if free will is an illusion, it is not an illusion that can be cast off or seen through no matter what I do. I must deliberate from time to time, and I cannot help but believe, whenever I deliberate, that the outcome is at least in part 'up to me.' Indeed, it is inconceivable that I should disembarrass myself of this 'illusion.' One can become disillusioned about many things but not about the 'illusion' of free will. For it is integral to my being an agent, and being an agent is part and parcel of being a human being. To get free of the 'illusion' of free will, I would have to learn to interpret myself as a deterministic system whose behavior I merely observe but do not control. I would have to learn how to cede control and simply let things happen. But this is precisely what I cannot do.
It would be nice if one could 'switch off' one's free agency. Sophie's choice was agonizing because she knew that it was up to her which child would remain with her and which would be taken away by the Nazi SS officer. Now which is more certain: that she knows that she is a free agent responsible for her choices, or that she knows that she is a wholly deterministic system and that the sense of free agency and moral responsibility are but illusions? The answer ought to be obvious: the former is more certain . One is directly aware of one's free agency, while it is only by shaky abstract reasoning that one comes to the view that free will is an illusion.
We are not free to be free agents or not. It is an essential attribute of our humanity. Thus we are "condemned to be free" in a famous phrase of Jean-Paul Sartre. The sound core of the Sartrean exaggeration is that being free is constitutive of being human. No doubt I can try to view myself as a mere deterministic system pushed around by external forces, but that is a mode of self-deception, a mode of what Sartre calls mauvaise-foi, bad faith. Determinism is "an endless well of excuses" as I seem to recall Sartre saying somewhere. Being free is constitutive of being human.
6. Or is it only the (false) belief that one is free that is constitutive of being human? Perhaps the fact of deliberation proves merely that one must view oneself as free when in reality we are not free. Why couldn't it be the case that we all go through life with the irremovable false belief that some of what happens is up to us when in reality nothing is up to us?
My considered opinion is that this ultimately does not make any sense. It makes as little sense as the notion that consciousness is an illusion. Consciousness cannot be an illusion for the simple reason that it is a presupposition of the distinction between reality and illusion. An illusion is an illusion to consciousness, so that if there is no consciousness there are no illusions either. There simply is no (nonverbal) distinction between the illusion of consciousness and consciousness. Similarly for the difference between the illusion of being a free agent and the reality of being a free agent. It is difficult to see any (nonverbal) difference.
Connected with this is the impossibility of existentially appropriating the supposed truth of determinism. Suppose determinism is true. Can I live this truth, apply it to my life, make it my own? Can I existentially appropriate it? Not at all. To live is to be an agent, and to be an agent is to be a free agent. To live and be human is not merely to manifest a belief, but an all-pervasive ground-conviction, of the falsity of determinism. Determinism cannot be practically or existentially appropriated. It remains practically meaningless, a theory whose plausibility requires a third-person objective view of the self. But the self is precisely subjective in its innermost being and insofar forth, free and unobjectifiable.
If you look at the self from a third person point of view, then determinism has some plausibility, for then you are considering the self as just another object among objects, just another phenomenon among phenomena subject to the laws of nature. But the third person point of view presupposes the first person point of view, and it is the latter from which we live. We are objects in the world, but we live as subjects for whom there is a world, a world upon which we act and must act. Subjectivity is irreducible and ineliminable.
We are left with a huge problem that no philosopher has ever solved, namely, the integration of the first-person and third-person points of view. How do they cohere? No philosopher has explained this. What can be seen with clarity, however, is that subjectivity is irreducible and ineliminable and that no solution can be had by denying that we are irreducibly conscious and irreducibly free. One cannot integrate the points of view by denying the first of them.
All indications are that the problem is simply insoluble and we ought to be intellectually honest enough to face the fact. It is no solution at all, and indeed a shabby evasion, to write off the first-person point of view as illusory.
For commentary on the passing scene, Victor Davis Hanson is hard to beat. Here is his latest. Bill Keezer deserves thanks for keeping me apprised of what flows from Hanson's pen. Hanson on Ron Paul:
For someone so savvy about the nature of the disaffected, why did Dr. Paul believe that in the South he could go on rants about U.S. foreign policy that centered around American culpability? Of course, South Carolinians would be receptive to arguments that U.S. expense abroad earned only ingratitude or was counter-productive; but when Paul suggests that we earned hostility on 9/11 by our foreign policy, did he not expect to be widely repudiated? (e.g., So the country that saved Muslims in Kuwait, fed them in Somalia, helped them against the Russians, and bombed a European Christian country to keep them alive in Bosnia and Kosovo had a worse record on Islam than China and Russia, who were not attacked on 9/11?)
Paul has an eerie ability to win over almost anyone on matters of debt and financial insolvency, and lose them in a nano-second when he turns to foreign policy, where he loses clarity and conflates American gullibility with American culpability. A conservative might think it is unwise right now to attack Iran, but he does not wish to be told to look at the situation through the creepy Iranian regime’s eyes.
Hanson on Obama:
What a strange fellow: damning the 1% only to hire three-in-a-row multimillionaire “fat-cat” ex-Wall-streeters as his chiefs-of-staff, while he lives a life indistinguishable from those he caricatures. Obama brags of killing bin Laden, without the slightest concession that he employed protocols to do it that he once smeared, or that he got the troops home for Christmas, without a peep that he followed the Bush-Petraeus plan and not his own that once called for complete flight by March 2008. Poor conservatives: should they praise him for get-real flip-flops or damn him for his hypocrisy and the damage he once did as a critic of what kept us safe? He is a figure right out Aristophanes, a polypgramon scoundrel, a demagogic genius, who can bomb Libya without congressional authority, claim it was not military action — and all the while keep the Michael Moore left silent if not proud of their guy’s duplicity, while begging the right to dare argue that Libya is not better off without the nightmare of Gaddafi.
The man's brilliant and penetrating. (Those are distinct attributes. And of ocurse I'm talking about Hanson.)
The indefatigable Dave Lull, argonaut nonpareil of cyberspace, friend and facilitator of many a blogger, pointed me this morning to Triablogue where there is some commentary here and here of a mainly churlish sort on the recent conversion of Michael Sudduth. Comments like those encountered there reinforce me in my view that comboxes are often better kept closed, except that our old friend Tony Flood did surface there and made a decent comment. (I wouldn't be surprised if it was the industrious Lull who hipped Flood to the Triablogue posts.)
In any case, reading Flood's comment put me in mind of his main site and I wondered what was happening over there. Well, it looks like old Tony himself has made a doxastic shift too, one back to his origins:
I have returned to the Christian orthodoxy from which (this may come as a surprise to some of you) my thinking strayed. Those fields did not yield what they seemed to promise. The harvest of my intellectual discontent is still on display here, but henceforth new content will reflect my new-old interests.
My current priority is situate myself mentally within Christian orthodoxy, a matter that I do not think has been settled for me. I believe myself to be a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic communion within the Catholic Church, from whose fold I do not exclude Eastern Orthodox and Reformed Christians.
The distinguished members of Tony's Gallery of Heroes are now under quarantine.
Inasmuch as mature religion is more quest than conclusions, a truth lost on the New Atheists and their cyberpunk auxiliary legions, belief change is to be expected and is often a sign of a vital and sincere seeking for a truth which is hard for us in our present predicament to discern. So my hat is off to Mike and Tony as the one swims the Ganges while the other refreshes himself in the Tiber.
Addendum 1/23: Logging on this morning, I found three messages from Dave Lull and one from Tony Flood. Lull apprises me of a second comment by Flood at Triablogue, a comment even better than the first, one that I have just now read, and mostly agree with.
There's not much downside to abandoning the notion of free will. It's impossible, anyway, to act as though we don't have it: you'll pretend to choose your New Year's resolutions, and the laws of physics will determine whether you keep them. And there are two upsides. The first is realizing the great wonder and mystery of our evolved brains, and contemplating the notion that things like consciousness, free choice, and even the idea of "me" are but convincing illusions fashioned by natural selection. Further, by losing free will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance — of the genes we're bequeathed and the environments we encounter. With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.
This, Coyne's concluding paragraph, has it all: scientism, incoherence, and liberal victimology.
1. Coyne realizes that we cannot deliberate, choose, and act without the belief in free will. He realizes that one cannot, say, choose to eat less in the coming year without believing (even if falsely) that one is freely choosing, without believing that the choice is 'up to oneself.' But then Coyne immediately confuses this unavoidable false believing with pretending to choose. He seems to think that if my choice is determined and not free (in the libertarian sense explained in the earlier post), then it is not a genuine choice, but a pretend choice. But that is not the case. A choice is genuine whether or not it is determined.
People deliberate and choose. Bicycles don't. That's part of the pre-analytic data. It is also part of the pre-analytic data that people sometimes pretend to deliberate and pretend to choose. It is a grotesque confusion on Coyne's part to think that if one is determined to choose then one's choice is not genuine but pretend. (Note also that if determinism is true, then one's pretending to choose is also determined without prejudice to its being a real case of pretending to choose.)
Coyne is making a mistake similar to the one he made at the beginning of the piece. There he implied that if a choice is not free then it is not a choice. But a choice is a choice whether free or determined. Coyne was confusing the question, Are there choices? with the question, Are there free choices? He now thinks that if a choice is determined, then it not a real, but a merely pretend, choice. That is doubly confused. Just as a pretend choice can be free, a real choice can be determined.
2. We are then told that consciousness, free choice, and the idea of the self are "illusions fashioned by natural selection." This is nonsense pure and simple.
First of all, consciousness cannot be an illusion. Consciousness cannot be an illusion for the simple reason that it is a presupposition of the distinction between reality and illusion. An illusion is an illusion to consciousness, so that if there is no consciousness there are no illusions either. There simply is no (nonverbal) distinction between the illusion of consciousness and consciousness. If one is under the illusion that one is conscious, then one is conscious, really conscious, and therefore not under any illusion about the matter.
The thesis that consciousness is an illusion is self-refuting. If I merely seem to be conscious, but am not conscious, then I am conscious. And if I do not merely seem to be conscious, but am conscious, then (of course) I am conscious. Therefore, necessarily, if I seem to be conscious, then I am conscious. Here we bite on granite, and "our spade is turned" -- to mix Nimzovich and Wittgenstein metaphors. Or in the words of a German proverb, Soviel Schein, soviel Sein.
Consciousness, in this regard, is analogous to truth. If you try to say something about truth, you presuppose truth. For if you try to say something about truth, presumably you are trying to say something true about truth. So if you say that truth is an illusion, and that there are no truths, then you are saying that in truth there are no truths -- which is self-refuting. If, on the other hand, you are simply making noises or perhaps aiming to say something false, the we ignore you for those reasons.
3. I don't believe that one can show in the same clean 'knock-down' way that free will is not an illusion. That consciousness is an illusion is a plainly incoherent idea; the incoherence of the notion that free will is an illusion is harder to uncover. But suppose we ask, "In which sense of 'illusion' is free will an illusion?" It is nothing like a correctable perceptual illusion of the sort we are subject to on a daily basis. The 'illusion' of free will, if illusion it be, cannot be thrown off. I cannot function as an agent without taking myself to be free, and I cannot cease being an agent short of suicide. Echoing Sartre, I am condemned to agency and to that extent "condemned to be free." Even a mad-dog quietist who decided to renounce all action, would be deciding to renounce all action and thereby demonstrating willy-nilly the ineradicable reality of his agency. An 'illusion' that it constutive of my very being an agent is no illusion in any worthwile sense of the term.
It's a bit like an Advaitin (an adherent of Advaita Vedanta) telling me that the multiple world of our ordinary sense experience is an illusion. "OK, but what does that mean? When we are at the shooting range, you are going to take care not to be down range when the shooting starts, right? Why, if the world of multiplicity, the world of shotguns and shells and targets and tender human bodies is an illusion? Why would it matter? Obviously, you are playing fast and loose with 'illusion' and don't really believe that this gun and your head are illusions.)
One cannot distinguish (except verbally) the mere appearance of consciousness and the reality of consciousness. Similarly, I suggest that one cannot distinguish between the 'illusion' of free will and its reality. This thesis of course requires much more development and support! But hey, this is a blog, just an online notebook!
Those who claim that free will is an illusion are simply playing fast and loose with the word 'illusion.' There are not using it in an ordinary way, in the sort of way that gives it its ordinary 'bite'; they are using it in some extended way that drains it of meaning. It is a kind of bullshitting that scientists often fall into when they are spouting scientism in the popular books they scribble to turn a buck. Doing science is hard; writing bad philosopohy is easy. By the way, that is why we need philosophy. We need it to expose all the pseudo-philsophy abroad in the world.
We need philosophy to bury its undertakers lest there be all those rotting corpses laying about.
4. Finally, Coyne tells us we are all "victims of circumstance." But I've had enough of this guy for one day. I shouldn't be wasting so much time on him.
Both passed on this last week Otis at 90, James at 73. Johnny Otis' signature number is of course "Willy and the Hand Jive." In this curious clip, we are first treated to a late '50 car commercial which should stir up memories in Los Angelenos of a certain age and then to a performance by Otis and his band with the hand jive itself illustrated by a trio of meaty mamas. I always thought that Otis was a very light-skinned black man. But in real life he rejoiced under the name Veliotes and was pure Greek.
The New Year has brought me quite a lot of surprising e-mail, but the following missive wins the surprise prize. (Since Dr. Sudduth has sent his open letter to numerous correspondents, and has posted it on his Facebook page, I feel entitled to post it here in its entirety without his explicit permission.) Comments later, perhaps. A fascinating document.
Daniel Dennett is a compatibilist: he holds that determinism and free will are logically compatible. (Compare Dennett's position to Coyne's hard determinism and free will illusionism.) On p. 134 of Freedom Evolves (Penguin, 2003), Dennett considers the following incompatibilist argument. It will be interesting to see how he responds to it.
1. If determinism is true, whether I Go or Stay is completely fixed by the laws of nature and events in the distant past. 2. It is not up to me what the laws of nature are, or what happened in the distant past.
3. Therefore, whether I Go or Stay is completely fixed by circumstances that are not up to me.
4. If an action of mine is not up to me, it is not free (in the morally important sense).
5. Therefore, my action of Going or Staying is not free.
Dennett considers the above argument to be fallacious: "it commits the same error as the fallacious argument about the impossibility of mammals." (135) The 'mammals argument' is given on p. 126 and goes like this (I have altered the numbering to prevent confusion):
6. Every mammal has a mammal for a mother. 7. If there have been any mammals at all, there have been only a finite number of mammals.
8. But if there has been even one mammal, then by (6), there have been an infinity of mammals, which contradicts (7), so there can't have been any mammals. It's a contradiction in terms.
The two arguments, says Dennett, "commit the same error." He continues:
Events in the distant past were indeed not "up to me," but my choice now to Go or Stay is up to me because its "parents" -- some events in the recent past, such as the choices I have recently made -- were up to me (because their parents were up to me), and so on, not to infinity, but far enough back to give my self enough spread in space and time so that there is a me for my decisions to be up to! The reality of a moral me is no more put in doubt by the incompatibilist argument than is the reality of mammals. (135-136)
It is clear that the 'mammals argument' goes wrong since we know that there are mammals. There are mammals even though there is no Prime Mammal nor an infinite regress of mammals. Gradual evolutionary changes from reptiles through intermediary therapsids led eventually to mammals. Thus mammals evolved from non-mammals. Dennett wants to say the same about events that are 'up to me.' Events before my birth were not up to me, but some events now are up to me since they are the causal descendants of acts that were up to me. Dennett seems to be saying that events that are up to a person, and thus free in a sense to support attributions of moral responsibility, have gradually evolved from events that were not up to a person, and hence were unfree. Freedom evolves from unfreedom.
This is a creative suggestion, but what exactly is wrong with the above consequence argument? I see what is wrong with the 'mammals argument': (6) is false. But which premise of the incompatibilist argument is false? The premises are plausible and there is no error in logic. If the error is the same as the one in the 'mammals argument,' as Dennett say, what exactly is this error? Presumably, the error is the failure to realize that the property of being up to me is an emergent property. So is Dennett rejecting premise (1)?
But the truth of (1) is merely a consequence of the definition of 'determinism.' Since Dennett does not reject determinism, it is quite unclear to me what exactly is wrong with the incompatibilist argument. The analogy between the two arguments is murky, and I fail to see what exactly is wrong with the incompatibilist argument. Which premise is to be rejected? Which inference is invalid? Talk of freedom evolving is too vague to be helpful. Or am I being too kind? The notion that freedom evolves from unfreedom is perhaps better described as inconceivable, as inconceivable as mind emerging from "incogitative Matter" in Locke's memorable phrase.
Hawking is a brilliant man, but he's not an expert in what's going on in philosophy, evidently. Over the past thirty years the philosophy of physics has become seamlessly integrated with the foundations of physics work done by actual physicists, so the situation is actually the exact opposite of what he describes. I think he just doesn't know what he's talking about. I mean there's no reason why he should. Why should he spend a lot of time reading the philosophy of physics? I'm sure it's very difficult for him to do. But I think he's just . . . uninformed.
This became evident to me in October of 2010 when I sat down to study Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design. I soon discovered it was rubbish. Here are my notes on Chapter One. After studying Chapter Two I decide the trash-to-treasure ratio was so unfavorable as not to justify further discussion. I mean, it's work writing these posts!
This Atlantic piece is well worth attention. It is free of sort of nonsense I have criticized in Krauss and Coyne and Hawking and others.
Suppose an author exercises due diligence in the researching and writing of a nonfiction book. He has good reason to believe that all of the statements he makes in the book are true. But he is also well aware of human fallibility and that he is no exception to the rule. And so, aware of his fallibility, he has good reason to believe that it is not the case that all of the statements he makes in the book are true. He makes mention of this in the book's preface. Hence 'paradox of the preface.' Thus:
1. It is rational for the author to believe that each statement in his book is true. (Because he has exercised due diligence.) 2. It is rational for the author to believe that some statement in his book is not true. (Because to err is human.) Therefore 3. It is rational for the author to believe that (each statement in his book is true & some statement in his book is not true.) Therefore 4. There are cases in which it is rational for a person to believe statements of the form (p & ~p).
"What the paradox shows is that we need to give up the claim that it is always irrational to believe statements that are mutually inconsistent." (Michael Clark, Paradoxes From A to Z, Routledge 2002, p. 144) Is that what the paradox shows? I doubt it. The paradox cannot arise unless the following schema is valid:
a. It is rational for S to believe that p. b. It is rational for S to believe that ~p. Ergo c. It is rational for S to believe that (p & ~p).
It is not clear that the schema is valid. Rational believability, unlike truth, is a relative property. What it is rational to believe is relative to background knowledge among other things. Relative to the author's knowledge that he exercised due diligence in the researching and writing of his book, it is rational for him to believe that every statement in the book is true. But relative to considerations of human fallibility, it is rational for him to believe that it is not the case that every statement in his book is true. So what (a) and (b) above really amount to is the following where 'BK' abbreviates 'background knowledge':
a*. It is rational for S to believe relative to BK1 that p. b*. It is rational for S to believe relative to BK2 that ~p.
From these two premises one cannot arrive at the desired conclusion. So my solution to the paradox is to reject the inference from (1) and (2) to (3).
"But doesn't the author's background knowledge (BK) include both the truth that he exercised due diligence and the truth that human beings are fallible?" Well suppose it does. Then how could it be rational for him to believe that every statement in the book is true? It is rational for him to believe that every statement is true only if he leaves out of consideration that people are fallible. Relative to his total background knowledge, it is not rational for him to believe that every statement in his book is true.
In this way I avoid Clark's draconian conclusion that it is sometimes rational to believe statements that are mutually inconsistent.
To answer the title question we need to know what we mean by 'explain' and how it differs from 'explain away.'
1. An obvious point to start with is that only that which exists, or that which is the case, can be explained. One who explains the phenomenon of the tides in terms of the gravitational effect of the moon presupposes that the phenomenon of the tides is a genuine phenomenon. One cannot explain the nonexistent for the simple reason that it is not there to be explained. One cannot explain why unicorns run faster that gazelles for the simple reason that there is no such explanandum. So if consciousness is to be explained, it must exist.
2. A second point, equal in obviousness unto the first, is that a decent explanation cannot issue in the elimination of the explanandum, that which is to be explained. You cannot explain beliefs and desires by saying that there are no beliefs and desires. A successful explanation cannot be eliminativist. It cannot 'explain away' the explanandum. To explain is not to explain away.
3. Summing up (1) and (2): the very project of explanation presupposes the existence of the explanandum, and success in explanation cannot result in the elimination of the explanandum.
4. Daniel Dennett points out that there can be no explanation without a certain 'leaving out': "Leaving something out is not a feature of failed explanations, but of successful explanations." (Consciousness Explained, 1991, p. 454.) Thus if I explain lightning as an atmospheric electrical discharge, I leave out the appearing of the lightning to lay bare its reality. That lightning appears in such-and-such a way is irrelevant: I want to know what it is in reality, what it is in nature apart from any observer. The scientist aims to get beyond the phenomenology to the underlying reality.
5. It follows that if consciousness is to be explained, it must be reduced to, or identified with, something else that is observer-independent. Dennett puts this by saying that "Only a theory that explained conscious events in terms of unconscious events could explain consciousness at all." (454) For example, if your explanation of pain in terms of C-fibers and Delta A-fibers (or whatever) still contains the unreduced term 'pain,' then no satisfactory explanation has been achieved. There cannot be a "magic moment" in the explanation when a "miracle occurs" and unconscious events become conscious. (455)
6. Now if a successful explanation must explain conscious events in terms of unconscious events, then I hope I will be forgiven for concluding that consciousness CANNOT be explained. For, as I made clear in #2 above, a successful explanation cannot issue in the elimination of that which is to be explained. In the case of the lightning, there is a reduction but not an elimination: lightning is reduced to its observer-independent reality as electrical discharge.
Now suppose you try the same operation with the sensory qualia experienced when one observes lightning: the FLASH, the JAGGED LINE in the sky, followed by the CLAP of thunder, etc. You try to separate the subjective appearance from the observer-independent reality. But then you notice something: reality and appearance of a sensory quale coincide. Esse est percipi. The being of the quale is identical to its appearing. This is what John Searle means when he speaks of the "first person ontology" of mental data.
7. It follows from #6 that if one were to explain the conscious event in terms of unconscious events as Dennett recommends, the explanation would fail: it would violate the strictures laid down in #2 above. The upshot would be an elimination of the datum to be explained rather than an explanation of it. To reiterate the obvious, a successful explanation cannot consign the explanandum to oblivion. It must explain it, not explain it away.
8. I conclude that consciousness cannot be explained, given Dennett's demand that a successful explanation of consciousness must be in terms of unconscious events. What he wants is a reduction to the physical. He wants that because he is convinced that only the physical exists. But in the case of consciousness, such a reduction must needs be an elimination.
9. To my claim that consciousness cannot be explained, Dennett has a response: "But why should consciousness be the only thing that cannot be explained? Solids and liquids and gases can be explained in terms of things that are not solids, and liquids, and gases. . . . The illusion that consciousness is the exception comes about, I suspect, because of a failure to understand this general feature of successful explanation." (455)
Dennett's reasoning here is astonishingly weak because blatantly question-begging. He is arguing:
A. It is a general feature of all successful explanations that F items be explained in terms of non-F items B. Conscious items can be explained Ergo C. Conscious items can be explained in terms of nonconscious items.
(B) cannot be asserted given what I said in #6 and #7. I run the argument in reverse, arguing from the negation of (C) to the negation of (B): conscious items such as pains are irreducible.
10. Recall from #4 that Dennett said that successful explanations must leave something out. But in the case of a conscious item like a pain, what is left out when we explain it is precisely what we needed to explain! For what is left out is precisely the sensory quale, the felt pain, the Feiglian "raw feel,' the Nagelian "what it is like."
11. Amazingly, on p. 455 he retracts what he said on the previous page about successful explanations having to leave something out. He now writes:
Thinking, mistakenly, that the explanation leaves something out, we think to save what otherwise would be lost by putting it back into the observer as a quale -- or some other "intrinsically" wonderful property. The psyche becomes the protective skirt under which all those beloved kittens can hide. There may be motives for thinking that consciousness cannot be explained, but, I hope I have shown, there are good reasons for thinking it can. (455)
Do you see how Dennett is contradicting himself? On p. 454 he states that a successful explanation must leave something out, which seems plausible enough. Then he half-realizes that this spells trouble for his explanation of consciousness -- since what is left out when we explain consciousness in unconscious terms is precisely the explanandum, consciousness itself! So he backpedals and implies that nothing has been left out, and suggests that someone who affirms the irreducibility of qualia is like a lady who hides her 'kwalia kitties' under her skirt where no mean neuroscientist dare stick his nose.
The whole passage is a tissue of confusion wrapped in a rhetorical trick. And that is the way his big book ends: on a contradictory note. A big fat load of scientistic sophistry.
12. To sum up. A successful explanation cannot eliminate the explanandum. That is nonnegotiable. So if we agree with Dennett that a successful explanation must leave something out, namely, our epistemic access to what is to be explained, then we ought to conclude that consciousness cannot be explained.
Perhaps you've chosen to read this essay after scanning other articles on this website. Or, if you're in a hotel, maybe you've decided what to order for breakfast, or what clothes you'll wear today.
You haven't. You may feel like you've made choices, but in reality your decision to read this piece, and whether to have eggs or pancakes, was determined long before you were aware of it — perhaps even before you woke up today. . . . And those New Year's resolutions you made? You had no choice about making them, and you'll have no choice about whether you keep them.
Suppose you have chosen to read Coyne's essay and have decided on scrambled eggs for breakfast. Well then, you have made a choice and a decision and it is nonsense for Coyne to claim that you haven't just done those things. It is also nonsense to claim that you had no choice concerning your New Year's resolutions. It is a plain fact that one chooses, decides, and deliberates. What is debatable, however, is whether one freely chooses, decides, deliberates. Coyne gets off to a rocky start by conflating these two questions:
1. Do human beings ever choose, decide, deliberate? 2. Do human beings ever freely choose, decide, deliberate?
Only the second can be debated reasonably, and this, to be charitable, is the question Coyne is posing. His answer is that we never freely choose, decide, deliberate. His thesis is that "free will is a complete illusion."
Suppose you ordered the scrambled eggs. No one held a gun to your head: your choice was uncoerced and in that sense free. So you made a choice and you made a free (uncoerced) choice. But there is another sense of 'free' and it is the one with which Coyne is operating:
3. Do human beings ever freely choose, etc. in the sense that they could have done otherwise even if all the antecedent conditions up to the point of the choice, etc. were the same?
Call this the libertararian sense of 'free' and distinguish it from the compatibilist sense of the word. To refine Coyne's thesis, he is claiming that libertarian freedom of the will is an illusion. Why should we believe this? Coyne says that there are "two lines of evidence."
Although Coyne uses the word 'evidence' and postures as if empirical science is going to step in, do some real work, and finally solve a problem that philosophers in their armchairs merely endlessly gas off about, the first "line of evidence" he provides is just a stock deterministic argument that could have been given in the 18th century. Determinism is the thesis that the actual past together with the actual laws of nature render only one present nomologically possible. Determinism has two consequences: it deprives the agent of alternative future possibilities, and it insures that the agent is not the ultimate source of any action. For if determinism is true, the agent himself is nothing other than an effect of causes that stretch back before his birth, so that no part of the agent can be an ultimate origin of action. Hence when you chose the scrambled eggs you could not have done otherwise given the actual past: you could not have chosen oat meal instead. You made a choice all right; it is just that it wasn't a libertarianly-free choice.
There 's nothing new here. We are just complex physical systems, and determinism is true. So everything that happens in our bodies and brains is necessitated, and libertarian freedom of will cannot exist. Hence our sense that we are libertarianly free is an illusion.
That's a nice philosophical argument that makes no appeal to empirical facts. Amazing how so many of these scientistic science types with their contempt for philosophy cannot help doing philosophy (while disingenuously denying that that is what they are doing) and simply trotting out old philosophical arguments all the while displaying their ignorance as to their origin and how to present them rigorously.
The argument is only as good as its premises. Even if we assume determinism, it is scarcely obvious that we are just complex physical systems: "Memories, for example, are nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells. Everything that you think, say, or do, must come down to molecules and physics."
Really? I am now enjoying a memory of hippy-trippy Pam from the summer of '69. So my memory state is identical to a brain state. But that is arguably nonsense: the one exhibits intentionality ,the other doesn't, and so by the Indiscernibility of Identicals, they cannot be identical. No materialist has ever given a satisfactory account of intentionality.
So the first argument is rather less than compelling despite Coyne's scientistic posturing: "And what they're [neuroscientists] finding supports the idea that free will is a complete illusion."
The other "line of evidence" is from neurobiology:
Recent experiments involving brain scans show that when a subject "decides" to push a button on the left or right side of a computer, the choice can be predicted by brain activity at least seven seconds before the subject is consciously aware of having made it. [. . .] "Decisions" made like that aren't conscious ones. And if our choices are unconscious, with some determined well before the moment we think we've made them, then we don't have free will in any meaningful sense.
This argument is hardly compelling. For one thing, it appears to confuse predictability with unfreedom. Suppose I am able to predict accurately how Peter will behave in a range of situations. It doesn't follow that he does not act freely (in the libertarian sense) in those situations. On the basis of my knowledge of his character and habits, I predict that Peter will smoke a cigarette within an hour. That is a prediction about the future of the actual world. Suppose he does smoke a cigarette within an hour. My correct prediction does not entail that could not have done otherwise than smoke a cigarette within an hour. It does not entail that there is no possible world in which he refrains from smoking a cigarette within an hour.
So if, on the basis of unconscious brain activity, it is predicted that the subject will make a conscious decision, and he does, that does not entail that the decision was not free. Furthermore, why should 'decision' be used to cover the whole seven second brain process? If 'decision' is used to refer to the conscious pressing of the button, then no part of the decision is unconscious, and Coyne's argument collapses. What scientistic types don't seem to understand is that empirical science is not purely empirical. It cannot proceed without conceptual decisions that are a priori.
If Coyne thinks that contemporary neuroscience has proven that there is no libertarian freedom of the will, then he is delusional: he is passing off dubious philosophy as if it were incontrovertible science while hiding the fact from himself.
In the sequel I will will adress the question whether libertarian free will could be an illusion. Does that so much as make sense?
W. V. O. Quine's famous collection of essays is named after this song. "From a logical point of view always marry a woman uglier than you." Jimmy Soul extends the thought, ripping off some of the lyrics of the calypso tune.
Theology cannot serve to explain the appearances of nature to us. In general it is not a correct use of reason to posit God as the ground of everything whose explanation is not evident to us. On the contrary, we must first gain insight into the laws of nature if we are to know and explain its operations. In general it is no use of reason and no explanation to say that something is due to God's omnipotence. This is lazy reason. . . .
As Kant remarks in a footnote to A 689 = B 717 of the Critique of Pure Reason, ignava ratio was the name given to a "sophistical argument" of the "ancient dialecticians," the so-called Lazy Argument.
Diligent reason attempts to account for all natural phenomena in natural terms. The role of God is accordingly attenuated. He becomes at most a sustaining cause of the existence of nature, but not a cause of anything that occurs within nature. See my earlier discussion of divine concurrence. The squeeze is on, and it is no surprise that Schopenhauer squeezes God right out of the picture by rejecting the very notion of causation of existence, as I explain in Schopenhauer on the Cosmological Argument.
This is relevant to my series on Plantinga's new book. The crucial question is whether there is any room for divine guidance of the evolutionary process.
This is the third in a series on Plantinga's new book. Here is the first, and here is the second. These posts are collected under the rubric Science and Religion besides being classified under other heads. This third post will examine just one argument of Dawkins' and Plantinga's response to it, pp. 26-28. Here is Plantinga in Chapter One of Where the Conflict Really Lies quoting from Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker, p. 141. (The ellipses are Plantinga's; the emphasis is Dawkins'; I have added a sentence from Dawkins that Plantinga did not quote; and I should note that Plantinga gives the wrong page reference. The passage is on 141, not 140.)
Organized complexity is the thing we are having difficulty in explaining. Once we are allowed simply to postulate organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating engine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of yet more organized complexity. . . . But of course any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein replicating machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself. .... To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like "God was always there", and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say "DNA was always there", or "Life was always there", and be done with it. (1986, p. 141)
Dawkins seems to me to be arguing as follows.
1. What is needed is an explanation of organized complexity as such. 2. God is an instance of organized complexity. 3. If God is invoked as that whose existence and operation explains organized complexity as such, then the explanation is manifestly circular: the explanandum has been imported into the explanans. 4. Circular explanations are worthless: they explain nothing. Therefore 5. To posit God as cosmic designer fails as an explanation of organized complexity as such.
The argument on my reconstruction is unexceptionable, but how is it relevant? if the task is to explain organized complexity as such, this cannot be done via an instance of it. No doubt. But the argument misses the point. The point is not to explain organized complexity as such, or even the organized complexity of all actual or possible life, but to explain the organized complexity of terrestrial life. More precisely, the point is to show that this cannot be done by invoking God in one's explanation. Obviously the argument as reconstructed does not succeed in showing that.
Note that there is no mention of any facts of biology in the above argument. Now Plantinga doesn't say the following, but I will: the argument is purely a priori. It is a proof, from concepts alone and without recourse to empirical facts, that an explanation of organized complexity as such cannot be had if the explanans mentions an instance of organized complexity. How then, Plantinga asks, does the (empirical) evidence of evolution reveal a world without design? (p. 27)
Now suppose we substitute the following proposition for (1):
1* What is needed is an explanation of the organized complexity of terrestrial life.
But if we plug (1*) into the original argument, and modify (3) accordingly, then (3) is false and the argument is unsound. If we are not trying to explain organized complexity in general, but only the organized complexity of terrestrial life, then there is nothing fallacious about invoking an explainer that is an instance of organized complexity.
The Dawkins passage suggests another sort of argument, oft-heard: If there is a supernatural designer, what explains his existence? If you say that God always existed, then you may as well say that life always existed.
This puerile argument is based on a failure to understand that explanations, of necessity, must come to an end.
Why did that tree in my backyard die? Because subterranean beetles attacked its roots. If the explanation is correct, it is correct whether or not I can explain how the subterranean beetles got into the soil, or which other beetles were their parents, and grandparents, etc. Explanations come to an end, and an explanation of a given phenomenon in terms of its proximate cause can be perfectly adequate even in the absence of explanations of other events in the explanandum's causal ancestry.
It is the puerile atheist who demands to know what caused God. As Plantinga remarks, "Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God." (p. 28) I would add that this is obvious if God is an necessary being: such a being is in no need of explanation. But it holds also if God is a contingent being. For again, not everything can be explained.
But if God was "always there" as Dawkins puts it, why not say that life was "always there"? Because life wasn't always there!
Ultimately, the theist explains everything in terms of the divine mind. Since explanations must come to an end, the theist has no explanation of the existence or complexity of the divine mind. But, as Plantinga remarks, p. 28, the materalist or physicalist is in the same position. He cannot explain everything. He "doesn't have an explanation of the existence of elementary particles or, more generally, contingent physical or material beings . . . ." (28) I would also ask whether the materialist can explain why there are natural laws at all, why the universe is intelligible in terms of them, and why there are these laws and constants rather than some other possible set.
There is one point that ought to be conceded to Dawkins, however. It certainly would be a "lazy way out" to invoke divine intervention in cases where a naturalistic explanation is at hand.
This is the second in a series on Alvin Plantinga's latest book. The first post, on the preface, provides bibliographical details and an overview of Plantinga's project. In this post I will merely set forth what Plantinga understands by Christian belief and what he understands by evolution and where he sees real conflict between the two. Things will heat up a bit in my third post wherein I will come to grips with Plantinga's critique of Richard Dawkins. There is a lot of good material that I won't mention, in particular, the discussion on pp. 4-5 on the narrow and broad construals of imago Dei.
A. Plantinga proposes that we take Christian belief "to be defined or circumscribed by the rough intersection of the great Christian creeds: the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed . . ." but not in a manner to exclude particular creeds. (p. 8) The "rough intersection" of all of this is ably presented in C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.
B. As for evolution, Plantinga distinguishes six theses (pp. 8-10):
1. Ancient Earth Thesis: The earth is "perhaps some 4.5 billion years old." 2. Progress Thesis: "life has progressed from relatively simple to relatively complex forms . . . ." 3. Descent with Modification Thesis: "The enormous diversity of the contemporary living world has come about by way of off-spring differing, ordinarily in small and subtle ways, from their parents." 4. Common Ancestry Thesis: "life originated at only one place on earth, all subsequent life being related by descent to those original living creatures . . . ." 5. Darwinism: "there is a naturalistic mechanism driving this process of descent with modification: the most popular candidate is natural selection operating on random genetic mutation . . . ." 6. Naturalistic Origins Thesis: "life itself developed from non-living matter without any special creative activity of God but just by virtue of processes described by the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry. . . ."
Plantinga uses 'evolution' to refer to the first four theses, and 'Darwinism' to refer to "the mechanism allegedly underlying evolution." He adds that "the sixth thesis thesis "isn't really part of the theory of evolution."
Now where is there real conflict wth Christian belief? That God created man in his image is an absolutely nonnegotiable element of Christian belief. But on Plantinga's account it does not conflict with any of (1)-(4) or with all of them taken together. Nor does it conflict with Darwinism, the fifth thesis, "the view that the diversity of life has come to be by way of natural selection winnowing random genetic mutation. God could have caused the the right mutations to arise at the right time . . . and in this way he could have seen to it that there come to be creatures of the kinds he intends." (p. 11)
This will of course sound crazy to a naturalist. Every naturalist is an atheist (though not conversely), and most atheists consider the notion that there is a purely spiritual, providential being superintending and directing the goings-on of the physical universe to be risible, a childish fantasy on the order ot the Tooth Fairy, and as such simply beneath serious discussion. But in point of strict logic, there is nothing inconsistent in one's maintaining all of (1)-(5) and the proposition that evolution is divinely guided.
But how could random genetic mutations be caused by God? Doesn't 'random' imply 'uncaused'? No. Plantinga quotes biologist Ernst Mayr, and philosopher of biology Elliot Sober. The following is from a credible source I found:
Mutations can be beneficial, neutral, or harmful for the organism, but mutations do not "try" to supply what the organism "needs." Factors in the environment may influence the rate of mutation but are not generally thought to influence the direction of mutation. For example, exposure to harmful chemicals may increase the mutation rate, but will not cause more mutations that make the organism resistant to those chemicals. In this respect, mutations are random — whether a particular mutation happens or not is unrelated to how useful that mutation would be. [Be sure to click on internal link.]
If mutations are random in this precise sense, that does not rule out their being caused.
Real conflict between Christian belief and evolution first arises with respect to the sixth thesis, the Naturalistic Origins Thesis. Here is the source of the incompatibility according to Plantinga. If the sixth thesis is true, then Christian belief is false.
A question. Suppose all six theses are true. Could not one still be a theist who holds that man is made in the divine image? If the sixth thesis is true, then God does not intervene in the workings of nature. He does not cause or prevent genetic mutations; he does not preserve certain populations from perils, etc. He creates the universe ex nihilo and sustains it in existence moment by moment 'vertically' so to speak, but he does not interfere 'horizontally.' He does not insert himself, so to speak, into any unfolding causal chains. As primary cause alone, he has nothing to do with natural, 'secondary,' causation. Accordingly, man as an animal has a purely naturalistic origin. But of course imago Dei has nothing to do with man as an animal . . . . Just a question, to be put on the back burner for now while we continue to examine how Plantinga's overall argument unfolds.
Classical human reason, defined in terms of common sense notions following from our own myopic experience of reality is not sufficient to discern the workings of the Universe. If time begins at the big bang, then we will have to re-explore what we mean by causality, just as the fact that electrons can be in two places at the same time doing two different things at the same time as long as we are not measuring them is completely nonsensical, but true, and has required rethinking what we mean by particles. Similar arguments by the way imply that we often need to rethink what we actually mean by 'nothing', from empty space, to the absence of space itself.
Perhaps this passage that I just dug up answers or helps to answer the question I posed yesterday: How can someone so intelligent spout such nonsense as I quoted Krauss as spouting? Answer: he's a mysterian! We have discussed mysterianism before in these pages in connection with the theologian James Anderson and in connection with the materialist philosopher of mind Colin McGinn. With Krauss (and others of course) we find the mysterian move being made in the precincts of physics. Marvellously manifold are the moves of mysterians!
Yesterday I quoted Krauss as saying, "Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur." I commented:
This is just nonsense. Whatever the laws of physics are, they are not nothing. So if the laws of physics require that something arise from nothing, then the laws of physics require that something arise without there being laws of physics. [. . .]
So you've got this situation in which nothing at all exists, and then something comes into existence because the physical laws (which don't exist) "require" it.
This implies an explicit logical contradiction: the laws of physics both do and do not exist. They do exist because they govern the transition from nothing to something. They do not exist because they are included in the nothing from which something arises.
Completely nonsensical (in the sense of being logically contradictory) but true nonetheless!
Now this is either a mysterian position or a dialetheist position. The dialetheist holds that, in reality, there are some true contradictions. The mysterian does not hold this; he holds that there are, in reality, no true contradictions, but some propositions no matter how carefully we consider them appear to us as contradictory, or perhaps must appear to us as contradictory given our irremediable cognitive limitations.
This raises all sorts of interesting questions. Here is one: One task of science is to render the world intelligible to us (understandable by us). But if natural science in one of its branches issues in propositions that are unintelligible (either because they are intrinsically contradictory or such that they appear or even must appear as contradictory to us), then how can one call this science?
Forgive me for being naive, but I would have thought that science, genuine science, cannot contain propositions that are nonsensical! And would it not be more reasonable to take the apparent nonsensicality that crops up in the more far-out branches as a sign that something has gone wrong somewhere?
Sam Harris poses the following question to physicist Lawrence M. Krauss:
One of the most common justifications for religious faith is the idea that the universe must have had a creator. You’ve just written a book alleging that a universe can arise from “nothing.” What do you mean by “nothing” and how fully does your thesis contradict a belief in a Creator God?
The answer Krauss gives is such an awful mess of verbiage that I will not quote a big load of it, but I will quote some of it. The reader can read the whole thing if he cares to.
1. The "long-held theological claim" that out of nothing nothing comes is "spurious." This is because "modern science . . . has changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing.' " We now know that " ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy."
Wow! Modern science has completely changed our conceptions of something and nothing! That is something! Something and nothing are physical concepts? You mean, like mass and momentum? Please tell me more!
2. "The old idea that nothing might involve empty space, devoid of mass or energy, or anything material, for example, has now been replaced by a boiling bubbling brew of virtual particles, popping in and out of existence in a time so short that we cannot detect them directly. I then go on to explain how other versions of 'nothing'—beyond merely empty space—including the absence of space itself, and even the absence of physical laws, can morph into “something.” Indeed, in modern parlance, “nothing” is most often unstable. Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur."
There is no point in quoting any more of this stuff since it is obviously gibberish. What is not obvious, and indeed what is most puzzling, is why anyone who is supposedly intelligent would spout such patent nonsense. Or is he joking? Pulling our leg? Trying to sound 'far out' to sell books? It surely sounds like a weird joke to hear that nothing boils and bubbles and 'morphs' and is unstable with particles popping in and out of existence. If a virtual particle popped out of existence would it be even more nothing than the nothing that it was a part of?
If I tell you that I met nobody on my hike this morning, it would be a bad joke were you to inquire, "And how is Nobody doing these days?" 'Nobody' is not the name of a person or the name of anything else. If you are confused by 'I met nobody on my hike,' then I will translate it for you: 'It is not the case that I met somebody on my hike.' The same goes for 'nothing.' It is not a name for something.
The point, of course, is that nothing is precisely nothing and not a weird something or even a non-weird something. Krauss is not stupid, and he is presumably not joking. So he is using 'nothing' in some special way. He and his colleagues are free to do that. He and they are free to stipulate a new meaning for an old word. But then he is not using it in the sense in which it figures in the old principle, ex nihilo nihil fit, 'out of nothing nothing comes.' Whether true or false, the meaning of the principle is clear: if there were nothing at all, nothing could have come into being. This obviously cannot be refuted by shifting the sense of 'nothing' so that it refers to a bubbling, boiling soup of virtual particles.
The strong scent of intellectual dishonesty is wafting up to my nostrils from this bubbling, boiling cauldron of Unsinn.
If I make a tasty hamburger out of a lump of raw meat, have I made something out of nothing? Sure, in a sense: I have made something tasty out of nothing tasty. In a sense, I have made something out of nothing! But one would have to have hamburger for brains if one that ought that that refuted ex nihilo nihil fit.
"Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur." This is just nonsense. Whatever the laws of physics are, they are not nothing. So if the laws of physics require that something arise from nothing, then the laws of physics require that something arise without there being laws of physics.
Not only is the quoted sentence nonsense, it contradicts the rest of what Krauss says in quotation #2 above. For he says that there is a sense of 'nothing' which implies the absence of physical laws. So we are supposed to accept that physical laws require the emergence of something out of nothing even if there are no physical laws?
So you've got this situation in which nothing at all exists, and then something comes into existence because the physical laws (which don't exist) "require" it. Bullshit! Sophistry for the purpose of exploiting rubes to make a quick pop science buck.
Hitchens is a case worth studying. He is more interesting than Dawkins because evidently more psychologically complex and humanly engaging. If we Catholics are right about God and humanity, why was he so wrong? Or, put another way, what can we learn from his attitude about how to understand our own religious claims and about how our lives reflect them? Hitchens pointed to the record of evil associated with Christianity and with Catholicism in particular. It is glib to reply that humanism has its own tale of terrors, and problematic if we also claim that religious adherence brings transforming grace. If I were to take up Hitchens’s campaign against religion it would be to ask again and again: “Where is your grace and your holiness?”
This challenge has particular force against those who downplay human sinfulness and the extent of depravity. Not until we have taken seriously the idea that the effects of sin and ongoing sinfulness corrupt the soul will we be in a position to fashion an effective counter to the charges Hitchens brought against Catholicism and Christianity more generally. It will not be to say that we are better than he claimed. Rather, we need to explain effectively our failings and those of all humanity in terms of a shared supernatural identity. To which we might add, adapting a saying of Wilde’s, whose style of wit Hitchens sometimes echoed: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking to heaven in hope of salvation.”
First, I don't find it at all glib to point out the horrors of atheistic humanism which in the 20th century alone are greater than those inflicted over 20 centuries of Christianity. The purpose of pointing that out is to underscore the fact that it is not religion as religion that is the source of the horrors, but dogmatic adherence to a worldview, whether religious or anti-religious, that permits the suppression and murder of opponents. Bigotry and hate have their source in the human heart, not in religion or in humanism. Certain forms of religion and humanism may give carte blanche to the exercise of murderous impulsees, but the animating cesspool and prime mover ansd applier of doctrines is and remains the human heart. It is a fundamental mistake of leftists to seek the source of evil in something external such as religion or capitalism when its source is in a mind made dark by a foul human heart.
But I wholly agree with Haldane that religious people need to explain why their beliefs and practices are so ineffective in transforming their character. We all know people whose fervent religiosity has made scarcely a dent in their fundamental nastiness. Why does religion contribute so little to the amelioration of people? Twenty centuries of Christianity and even more centuries of Buddhism and we are still tearing each other apart, body and soul. As for glib remarks, Chesterton's takes the cake: "Christianity hasn't failed; it's never been tried." (Or something like that; I quote from memory. If you have the exact quotation in its context with references, e-mail me.) If it hasn't been tried by now, it will never be tried.
Of course, one can argue that the religious would have been worse without religion and I don't doubt that that is true. And not only are the religious better than they would have been without it, the irreligious are also better than they would have been without it. For religion supplies the morality that civilizes and humanizes, a morality that permeates the social atmosphere and affects even those who reject the metaphysical underpinnings. Unfortunately, Western civilization now appears to be running on empty, on the fumes of the Judeo-Christian-Athenian tradition, and one fears what happens when they too evaporate. A good question for the New Atheists: once your suppression of religion is complete, what will you put in its place? How will you inculcate morality, and what morality will you inculcate?
Although Haldane does not mention the Fall by name, he alludes to it. The explanation for religious inefficacy anent moral transformation has to involve the notion that man is a fallen being. Although the religious are not much better than the irreligious, they at least appreciate their fallen condition. They at least know they are in the gutter, and knowing this, are inclined to do something about it.
Addendum: My thanks to several readers who have quickly responded with the correct G. K. Chesterton quotation. It is at the end of the following paragraph:
Of course, I mean that Catholicism was not tried; plenty of Catholics were tried, and found guilty. My point is that the world did not tire of the church's ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the church failed it was largely through the churchmen. But at the same time hostile elements had certainly begun to end it long before it could have done its work. In the nature of things it needed a common scheme of life and thought in Europe. Yet the mediaeval system began to be broken to pieces intellectually, long before it showed the slightest hint of falling to pieces morally. The huge early heresies, like the Albigenses, had not the faintest excuse in moral superiority. And it is actually true that the Reformation began to tear Europe apart before the Catholic Church had had time to pull it together. The Prussians, for instance, were not converted to Christianity at all until quite close to the Reformation. The poor creatures hardly had time to become Catholics before they were told to become Protestants. This explains a great deal of their subsequent conduct. But I have only taken this as the first and most evident case of the general truth: that the great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived (which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough. Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
It is from What 's Wrong with the World, Part I, Chapter 5. I am now inclined to say, having seen the context, that my calling the quotation glib was itself somewhat glib.
It is just astonishing what one can dig up on YouTube. Aficionado that I am of the legends, lies, and lore of the Superstition Wilderness, I had never heard this hokey tune before, though I well remember Walter Brennan from '50s TV. Great pictures, though, of my beloved stomping grounds. More pictures here.
I now have Alvin Plantinga's new book in my hands. Here are some notes on the preface. Since I agree with almost everything in the preface, the following batch of notes will be interpretive but not critical. Words and phrases enclosed in double quotation marks are Plantinga's ipsissima verba.
1. Plantinga is concerned with the relations among monotheistic religion, natural science, and naturalism. His main thesis is that there is "superficial conflict but deep concord" between natural science and monotheistic religion but "superficial concord but deep conflict" between science and naturalism.
2. The great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) affirm the existence of "such a person as God." Naturalism is a worldview that entails the nonexistence of such a person. "Naturalism is stronger than atheism." (p. ix) Naturalism entails atheism, but atheism does not entail naturalism. One can be an atheist without being a naturalist. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart is an example. (My example, not Plantinga's.) But one cannot be a naturalist without being an atheist. This is perhaps obvious, which is why Plantinga doesn't explain it. Roughly, a naturalist holds that the whole of reality (or perhaps only the whole of concrete reality) is exhausted by the space-time system and its contents. No one who holds this can hold that there is such a person as God, God being a purely spiritual agent.
To put it my own way, theistic religion and naturalism could not both be true, but they could both be false. This makes them logical contraries, not contradictories. Their being the former suffices to put them in real conflict. For many of us this is what the ultimate worldview choice comes down to.
3. Plantinga rightly points out that while naturalism is not a religion, it is a worldview that is like a religion. So it can be properly called a quasi-religion. (p. x) This is because it plays many of the same roles that a religion plays. It provides answers to the Big Questions: Does God exist? Can we survive our bodily deaths? How should we live?
I would add that there are religious worldviews and anti-religious worldviews, but that natural science is not a worldview. Science is not in the business of supplying worldview needs: needs for meaning, purpose, guidance, norms and values. Science cannot put religion out of business, as I argue here, though perhaps in some ways that Plantinga would not endorse.
4. Given that naturalism is a quasi-religion, there is a sense in which there is a genuine science vs. religion conflict, namely, a conflict between science and the quasi-religion, naturalism. Very clever!
5. Plantinga's claim that "there is no serious conflict between science and religion" puts him at odds with what I call the Dawkins Gang and what Plantinga calls the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Plantinga, who never fails us when it comes to wit and style, suggests that the atheism of these four "is adolescent rebellion carried on by other means" (p. xi) that doesn't rise to the level of the the old atheism of Bertrand Russell and John Mackie. "We may perhaps hope that the new atheism is but a temporary blemish on the face of serious conversation in this crucial area." That is indeed the hope of all right-thinking and serious people, whether theists or atheists.
6. Plantinga fully appreciates that modern natural science is a magnficent thing, "the most striking and impressive intellectual phenomenon of the last half millenium." (p. xi) This has led some to the mistake of thinking that science is the ultimate court of appeal when it comes to the fixation of belief. But this can't be right for two reasons. First, science gives us no help in the areas where we most need enlightenment: religion, politics, and morals, for example. (p. xii) There are worldview needs, after all, and science cannot supply them. "Second, science contradicts itself, both over time and at the same time." (p. xii) Indeed it does. But no one, least of all Plantinga, takes that as an argument against science as open-ended inquiry. A question to ruminate on: Should not religion also be thought of as open-ended and subject to correction?
7. I would say that if there is demonstrable conflict between a religious belief and a well-established finding of current natural science, then the religious belief must give way. Plantinga commits himself to something rather less ringing: if there were such a conflict, then "initially, at least, it would cast doubt on those religious beliefs inconsistent with current science."(p. xii). But he doesn't think there is any conflict between "Christian belief and science, while there is conflict between naturalism and science."
8. One apparent conflict is between evolution and religion, another between miracles and science. Plantinga will argue that these conflicts are merely apparent. Theistic religion does not conflict with evolution but with a "philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific theory of evolution: the claim that it is undirected . . . ." (p. xii) As for miracles, Plantinga says he will show that they do not violate the causal closure of the physical domain and the various conservation laws that govern it. "Any system in which a divine miracle occurs . . . would not be causally closed; hence such a system is not addressed by those laws." (p. xiii) That sounds a bit fishy, but we shall have to see how Plantinga develops the argument.
9. As for the "deep concord" between theistic thinking and science, it is rooted in the imago Dei. If God has created us in his image, then he has created us with the power to understand ourselves and our world. This implies that he he has created us and our world "in such a way that there is a match between our cognitive powers and the world." (p. xiv) I would put it like this: both the intelligibility of the world and our intelligence have a common ground in God. This common ground or source secures both the objectivity of truth and the possibility of our knowing some of it, and thereby the possibility of successful science.
10. But when it comes to naturalism and science, there is "deep and serious conflict." Naturalism entails materialism about the human mind. It entails that we are just complex physical systems. If so, then Plantinga will argue that "it is improbable, given naturalism and evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable." If this can be shown, then the conjunction of naturalism and evolution is not rationally acceptable. "Hence naturalism and evolution are in serious conflict: one can't rationally accept them both." (p. xiv)
(For David Brightly, whom I hope either to convince or argue to a standoff.)
Suppose God creates ex nihilo a bunch of Tinker Toy pieces at time t suitable for assembly into various (toy) artifacts such as a house and a fort. A unique classical mereological sum -- call it 'TTS' -- comes into existence 'automatically' at the instant of the creation ex nihilo of the TT pieces. (God doesn't have to do anything in addition to creating the TT pieces to bring TTS into existence.) Suppose further that God at t assembles the TT pieces (adding nothing and subtracting nothing) into a house. Call this object 'TTH.' So far we have: the pieces, their sum, and the house. Now suppose that at t* (later than t) God annihilates all of the TT pieces. This of course annihilates TTS and TTH. During the interval from t to t* God maintains TTH in existence.
I set up the problem this way so as to exclude 'historical' and nonmodal considerations and thus to make the challenge tougher for my side. Note that TTH and TTS are spatially coincident, temporally coincident, and such that every nonmodal property of the one is also a nonmodal property of the other. Thus they have the same size, the same shape, the same weight, etc. Surely the pressure is on to say that TTH = TTS? Surely my opponents will come at me with their battle-cry, 'No difference without a difference-maker!' There is no constituent of TTH that is not also a constituent of TTS. So what could distinguish them?
Here is an argument that TTH and TTS are not identical:
1. NecId: If x = y, then necessarily, x = y.
2. If it is possible that ~(x = y), then ~(x = y). (From 1 by Contraposition)
3. If it is possible that TTS is not TTH, then TTS is not TTH. (From 2, by Universal Instantiation)
4. It is possible that TTS is not TTH. (God might have assembled the parts into a fort instead of a house or might have left them unassembled.)
5. TTS is not TTH. (From 3, 4 by Modus Ponens)
If you are inclined to reject the argument, you must tell me which premise you reject. Will it be (1)? Or will it be (4)?
Dale Tuggy was kind enough yesterday to drive all the way from Tucson to my place in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. He came on short notice and late in the day but we managed to pack in more than six hours of nonstop conversation on a wide range of philosophical and theological topics. He was still going strong when, two hours after my bedtime, I had to send him on his way.
Talk got on to mysterianism, of course, and his ongoing debate with James Anderson. Dale made a distinction that I hadn't considered, namely, one between belief and acceptance. My tendency up to now has been to identify believing that p with accepting that p. Up to now I thought I should make a four-fold distinction: Accept, Reject, Suspend, Withhold.
I repaid Dale for his gift of the belief vs. acceptance distinction by pointing out the distinction (or putative distinction) between supension and withholding which I borrow from Benson Mates:
Benson Mates, The Skeptic Way, Oxford UP, 1996, p. 5: ". . . the characteristic attitude of the Pyrrhonists is one of aporia, of being at a a loss, puzzled, stumped, stymied." Aporia is not doubt. Doubt implies understanding, but aporia is a lack of understanding. The modern skeptic may doubt, but not the ancient skeptic.
Connected with this is a distinction between epoché as the withholding of assent and suspension of judgment. One can withhold assent from an assertion without granting that it makes sense; but if one suspends judgment then one has a clear propositional sense before one's mind which one neither affirms nor denies. See Mates, p. 32. A good distinction! Add it to the list.
So, strictly speaking, aporia is not doubt and epoché is not suspension of judgment. Close but not the same.
Yesterday I said that there are some decent liberals. Having listened to a good chunk of a three-hour C-SPAN 2 interview with Chris Hedges this morning, I would say he is a good example of one. On some issues he agrees with conservatives, pornography being one of them. Both liberals and libertarians have to lot to answer for on this score. That the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment could be so tortured as to justify pornography shows their lack of common sense and basic moral sense. This is made worse by the absurd interpretation they put upon the Establishment Clause of the same amendment which they take as sanctioning the complete expulsion of religion from the public square when it is religion that delivers in popular form the morality the absence of which allows the spread of soul-destroying pornography. Hedges has the sense, uncommon on the Left, to understand that the spread of this rot is a major factor in our decline as a nation.
The Victims of Pornography is a an excerpt from his latest book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. (What a great title!)
And another thing. If liberals care about women, how can they defend pornography? Apparently they care only up to the point where it would cost them some agreement with conservatives who they hate more than they love women. Similarly, liberals are all for women, so long as they are not conservative women, as witness the unspeakably vicious attacks on Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. Ed Schultz, prime-time scumbag, the other night was mocking Michelle Bachmann and gloating over her withdrawal from the presidential race. If he had an ounce of decency he would have praised her for being in the arena and participating courageously in the grueling process while respectfully disagreeing with her positions. But respect and decency are what you cannot expect from leftist scum of his ilk. You think my calling him a scumbag is too harsh? Then read this.
A tip of the New Year's hat to the proprietor of American Digest for his link to my recent post on the paradoxes of illegal immigration. Via his site I came to the Powerline post, A Week's Worth of Self-Defense. For repelling a home invasion, and separating soul from body in a manner most efficient, there is nothing quite like a shot gun loaded with double aught buck shot.
Speaking of home invasions, there was one in Mesa, Arizona recently. The invader shot to death a young mother who was alone except for her infant and her grandfather. A reporter described it as a "home invasion gone badly."
As opposed to what, a home invasion that went well? And what would that be, one in which there was only a rape, and terrorization of the occupants of the house, and property damage, and the stealing of property?
One more reason to oppose liberals is that they have a casual attitude towards criminal behavior, an attitude betrayed by the sort of egregious and widespread misuse of language just cited.
There are some decent liberals. But there is something in contemporary liberalism/leftism that inclines their adherents to viciousness far in excess of what one finds among conservatives. There are too many examples to list. Here is the latest.
Philosophers hate a contradiction, but love a paradox. There are paradoxes everywhere, in the precincts of the most abstruse as well as in the precincts of the prosaic. Here are eight paradoxes of illegal immigration suggested to me by Victor Davis Hanson. The titles and formulations are my own. For good measure, I add a ninth, of my own invention.
The Paradox of Profiling. Racial profiling is supposed to be verboten. And yet it is employed by American border guards when they nab and deport thousands of illegal border crossers. Otherwise, how could they pick out illegals from citizens who are merely in the vicinity of the border? How can what is permissible near the border be impermissible far from it in, say, Phoenix? At what distance does permissibility transmogrify into impermissibility? If a border patrolman may profile why may not a highway patrolman? Is legal permissibility within a state indexed to spatiotemporal position and variable with variations in the latter?
The Paradox of Encroachment. The Federal government sues the state of Arizona for upholding Federal immigration law on the ground that it is an encroachment upon Federal jurisdiction. But sanctuary cities flout Federal law by not allowing the enforcement of Federal immigration statutes. Clearly, impeding the enforcement of Federal laws is far worse than duplicating and perhaps interfering with Federal law enforcement efforts. And yet the Feds go after Arizona while ignoring sanctuary cities. Paradoxical, eh?
The Paradox of Blaming the Benefactor. Millions flee Mexico for the U.S. because of the desirability of living and working here and the undesirability of living in a crime-ridden, corrupt, and impoverished country. So what does Mexican president Felipe Calderon do? Why, he criticizes the U.S. even though the U.S. provides to his citizens what he and his government cannot! And what do many Mexicans do? They wave the Mexican flag in a country whose laws they violate and from whose toleration they benefit.
The Paradox of Differential Sovereignty and Variable Border Violability. Apparently, some states are more sovereign than others. The U.S., for some reason, is less sovereign than Mexico, which is highly intolerant of invaders from Central America. Paradoxically, the violability of a border is a function of the countries between which the border falls.
The Paradox of Los Locos Gringos. The gringos are crazy, and racist xenophobes to boot, inasmuch as 70% of them demand border security and support AZ SB 1070. Why then do so many Mexicans want to live among the crazy gringos?
The Paradox of Supporting While Stiffing the Working Stiff. Liberals have traditionally been for the working man. But by being soft on illegal immigration they help drive down the hourly wages of the working poor north of the Rio Grande. (As I have said in other posts, there are liberal arguments against illegal immigration, and here are the makings of one.)
The Paradox of Penalizing the Legal while Tolerating the Illegal. Legal immigrants face hurdles and long waits while illegals are tolerated. But liberals are supposed to be big on fairness. How fair is this?
The Paradox of Subsidizing a Country Whose Citizens Violate our Laws. "America extends housing, food and education subsidies to illegal aliens in need. But Mexico receives more than $20 billion in American remittances a year -- its second-highest source of foreign exchange, and almost all of it from its own nationals living in the United States." So the U.S. takes care of illegal aliens from a failed state while subsidizing that state, making it more dependent, and less likely to clean up its act.
The Paradox of the Reconquista. Some Hispanics claim that the Southwest and California were 'stolen' from Mexico by the gringos. Well, suppose that this vast chunk of real estate had not been 'stolen' and now belonged to Mexico. Then it would be as screwed up as the rest of Mexico: as economically indigent, as politically corrupt, as crime-ridden, as drug-infested. Illegal immigrants from southern Mexico would then, in that counterfactual scenario, have farther to travel to get to the U.S., and there would be less of the U.S. for their use and enjoyment. The U.S. would be able to take in fewer of them. They would be worse off. So if Mexico were to re-conquer the lands 'stolen' from it, then it would make itself worse off than it is now. Gaining territory it would lose ground -- if I may put paradoxically the Paradox of the Reconquista.
Yesterday I wrote, "And yet if particular a reduces to particular b, then a is nothing other than b, and is therefore identical to b." This was part of an argument that reduction collapses into elimination. A reader objects: "I am not sure that this is an accurate definition of reduction."
He gives an argument having to do with material composition. I'll put the argument in my own way, so as to strengthen it and make it even more of a challenge for me.
1. Whether or not minds are physically reducible, physical reductionism is surely true of some things, statues for example. A statue is reducible to the matter that composes it, a hunk of bronze, say. No one is a statue-hunk dualist. It is not as if there are two things in the same place, the statue and the hunk of bronze. Nor is anyone an eliminativist when it comes to statues.There are such things, but what they are is just hunks of matter. We avoid both dualism and eliminativism by adopting reductionism.
2. But surely the matter of the statue might have been configured or worked in some other way to make a different statue or a non-statue. Before the sculptor went to work on it, the hunk of bronze was just a hunk, and after it became a statue it could have reverted back to being a mere hunk if it were melted down.
3. The statue and the hunk differ property-wise: the hunk, but not the statue, has the property of existing at times at which the statue does not exist. And at every time at which both hunk and statue exist, the hunk, but not the statue, has the modal property of being possibly such as to be a non-statue.
4. By the indiscernibility of Identicals, statue and hunk are not identical.
5. The statue is reducible to its constituent matter but not identical to it. (By 1, 4)
6. It is not the case that if particular a reduces to particular b, then a is identical to b.
This is an impressive argument, but I don't see that it shows that one can have reduction without identity of the reduced to the reducer. I take the argument as further evidence of the incoherence of the notion of the reduction of one particular to another. The first premise, though plausible, is not obviously true. What's more, it seems inconsistent with the second premise. I have argued many times before that in cases like these, statue and lump, fist and hand, brick house and bricks, the thing and its matter differ property-wise and so cannot be identical. They are both temporally and modally discernible. If fist and hand cannot be numerically identical, then they must be numerically distinct. When I take my hand and make a fist of it, the hand does not cease to exist, but something new comes into existence, a fist. Hand and fist, as long as both exist, are two numerically different things occupying exactly the same spatiotemporal position. Admittedly, that sounds strange. Nevertheless, I claim here is just as much reason to be a hand-fist dualist as there is to be a fist-to-hand reductionist.
One could also be an eliminativist. Amazingly, Peter van Inwagen -- no slouch of a philosopher; you don't get a chair if you slouch -- is an eliminativist about artifacts such as the house built by the Wise Pig. See here.
Perhaps I can drive the reductionist onto the horns of a dilemma. Either fist and hand are identical or they are not. They cannot be identical because they differ property-wise. If two things are not numerically identical, however, then they are numerically different. But if fist and hand are numerically different, then the fist does not reduce to the hand.
So I persist in my view that reduction is an incoherent notion. There is no viable via media between dualism and eliminativism.
I've been studying Jaegwon Kim's Physicalism, or Something Near Enough (Princeton UP, 2005). Here are some notes and questions.
1. It's clear that mental causation must be saved. If Kim is right that nonreductive physicalism is not viable, then by his lights our only hope of saving mental causation is via "physical reductionism." (159). It is of course easy to see how such reductionism, if true, would save mental causation. Surely my desire for a beer together with my belief that there is beer in the reefer are part of the etiology of my getting out of my chair and heading to the kitchen. If beliefs and desires are physical states, then there is no in-principle difficulty in understanding the etiology of my behavior. Reductionism insures the physical efficacy of the mental. What was a thorny problem on dualist approaches is no problem at all for the physical reductionist.
2. At this point some of us are going to wonder whether reductionism collapses into eliminativism. I tend to think that it does. Kim of course must disagree. His project is to find safe passage between nonreductive physicalism and eliminativism. But first I want to concede something to Kim.
3. Kim rightly points out (160) that we cannot assume that the mental cannot be physical in virtue of the very meaning of 'mental.' We cannot assume that 'mental' means 'nonphysical.' The following argument is not compelling and begs the question against the physicalist:
Beliefs and desires are mental Whatever is mental is nonphysical Ergo Beliefs and desires are not physical.
The physicalist finds nothing incoherent in the notion that what is mental could also be physical. So he will either reject the second premise, or, if he accepts it, deny the first and maintain that beliefs and desires are not mental in the sense in which his opponents think they are. It seems clear, then, that one cannot mount a merely semantic argument against the physicalist based on a preconceived meaning of 'mental.'
4. Is my present state of consciousness real and yet reducible to a pattern of electrical activity in a network of neurons? Can we secure reduction without elimination? Reductionist: there are Fs but what they are are Gs. Eliminativist: There are no Fs. There at least appears to be a difference in these two sorts of claims. Kim claims that "There is an honest difference between elimination and conservative reduction." (160) Phlogiston got eliminated; temperature and heat got reduced. Witches got eliminated; the gene got reduced. The reductionist thinks he can secure or "conserve" the reality of the Fs while reducing them to the Gs. In the present case, the physical reductionist in the philosophy of mind thinks that he can maintain both that mental states are real and that they reduce to physical states.
5. Let's note two obvious logical points. The first is that identity is a symmetrical relation. The second is that reduction is asymmetrical. Thus,
I. Necessarily, for any x, y, if x = y, then y = x. R. Necessarily, for any x, y, if x reduces to y, then it is not the case that y reduces to x.
It is clear, then, that identity and reduction are not the same relation. And yet if particular a reduces to particular b, then a is nothing other than b, and is therefore identical to b. If you think about it, reduction is a strange and perhaps incoherent notion. For if a reduces to b, a is identical to b, but, since reduction is asymmetrical, b is not identical to a! Reduction is asymmetrical identity. Amd that smacks of radical incoherence. This is what inclines me to say that reduction collapses into elimination. For if a reduces to b, and is therefore identical to b, while b is not identical to a, then it follows that there simply is no a. And so if my present mental state reduces to a pattern of electrical activity in a network of neurons, then my mental state does not exist; all that exists is the electrical activity.
6. Kim wants to have it both ways at once. He wants mental states to be both real and reducible. He wants to avoid both eliminativism and dualism. My claim is that it is impossible to have it both ways. Kim thinks that reduction somehow "conserves" that which is reduced. But how could it? If my desire for a beer is nothing other than a brain state, then then it is a purely physical state and everything mental about it has vanished. If 'two' things are identical, then there is only one thing, and if you insist that that one thing is physical, then it cannot also be mental.
7. My present thinking about a dog is intrinsically intentional, intrinsically object-directed. But no physical state is intrinsically object-directed. So, by the Indiscernibility of Identicals, my present thinking about a dog simply cannot be identical to any brain state, and so cannot reduce to any brain state. Kim of course thinks that intentional properties are functionalizable. I have already argued against that view here. Whatever causal role my thinking about a dog plays in terms of behavioral inputs and outputs, causal role occupancy cannot be make makes my thinking intentional. For it is intentional intrinsically, not in virtue of causal relations.
8. Kim speaks of the functional reducibility of intentional/cognitive properties. But surely it is not properties that need reducing but particular meetal acts. Properties are not conscious of anything. Nor are causal roles. It is the realizers of the roles that are bearers of intentionality, and it simply makes no sense to think of these as purely physical.
9. Once one starts down the reductive road there is no stopping short of eliminativism. The latter, however, is surely a reductio ad absurdum of physicalism as I explain in this post on Rosenberg's eliminativism.