It doesn't merit a lot of attention, but I will mention two stupid moves that Jerry Coyne makes. Or if not stupid, then intellectually dishonest.
First, Coyne states that "We know now that the universe could have originated from 'nothing' through purely physical processes, if you see 'nothing' as the 'quantum vacuum' of empty space." By the same token, we now know that Jerry Coyne is a fool if you see 'fool' as equivalent in meaning to 'one who thinks that a substantive question can be answered by a semantic trick.'
Second, Coyne maintains that the belief that human beings have souls "flies in the face of science." In other words, the belief in question is logically inconsistent with natural science. Why? Because, "We have no evidence for souls, as biologists see our species as simply the product of naturalistic evolution from earlier species." The reasoning is this:
1. Biologists qua biologists see the human biological species as simply the product of evolution.
2. Biology uncovers no evidence of souls.
3. Biology rules out the existence of souls.
(1) is true. (2) is a very unsurprising logical consequence of (1). For biology, as a natural science, is confined to the study of the empirically accessible features of living things, including human animals. It is therefore no surprise at all that biology turns up no evidence of souls, or of consciousness or self-consciousness for that matter. By the same token, cosmology and quantum mechanics uncover no evidence that anything is alive.
The move from (2) to (3), however, is a howling non sequitur. (In plain English, (3) does not logically follow from (2), and it is obvious that it doesn't.) Biology is simply in no position to uncover any evidence of souls that there might be, and it shows a failure to grasp what it is that biology studies to think that such evidence would be accessible to biology.
To argue from (2) to (3) would be like arguing from
5. Mathematics rules out the existence of anything in nature that can be studied using complex (imaginary) numbers.
That too is a howling non sequitur: we know that alternating current theory makes essential use of complex numbers.
At the root of Coyne's foolishness is scientism, the view that the only genuine knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge. Scientism is the epistemology of naturalism, the view that reality is exhausted by the space-time system. Both are philosophical views; neither is scientific. There are powerful arguments against both.
Enough beating up of a cripple for one day. And that reminds me: Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols refers to Kant as a concept-cripple (Begriffskrueppel). What would that make Coyne? A stillborn concept-cripple?
More critique of Coyne here. The man should stick to biology. And the same goes for Dawkins.
I will first state in general why I consider the article of low quality, and then quote a large chunk of it and intersperse some comments (bolded). This is Part One. Part Two to follow if I have the time and energy, and if I can convince myself that continuing is worth my time and energy.
In the meat of his article, Pinker puts forth a number of mostly silly straw-man definitions of 'scientism' which he then has no trouble dismissing. For example, he suggests that on one understanding of scientism, it is the claim that "all current scientific hypotheses are true." Is Pinker joking? No reputable writer has ever said that or defined scientism in terms of it.
After he is done with his straw-man exercise, Pinker proffers his own definition, which, as best as I can make out, comes to the following. Scientism consists in the espousal of two ideals operative in science and which "scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life." "The first is that the world is intelligible." "The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard."
So Pinker's definition is essentially this. Scientism is the view that all of our intellectual life ought to be governed by two ideals, the ideal that the world is intelligible and the ideal that knowledge-acquisition is difficult.
Now that is a pretty sorry excuse for a definition of scientism. First of all, the intelligibility of the world is not an ideal of inquiry, but a presupposition of inquiry. Inquirers do not aim at or strive after intelligibility; they presuppose it. What they strive after is knowledge and understanding, a striving that presupposes that their subject matter is understandable, and is indeed, at least in part, understandable by us. Second, that acquiring knowledge is hard is not an ideal either; it is a fact. Third, Pinker's definition is vacuous and trivial. Apart from a few radical skeptics, who would maintain that we ought not presuppose that the world is intelligible or maintain that knowledge acquisition is easy? Even those who maintain that there are limits to what we can understand presuppose that it is intelligible that there should be such limits.
Fourth, and most importantly, Pinker's definition is just a piece of self-serving rhetoric that has nothing to do with scientism as it is actually discussed by competent scholars. What competent scholars discuss is something rather more specific than Pinker's nebulosities and pious platitudes. There are a number of different types of scientism, but the following will give you some idea of how the term is actually used by people who know what they are talking about:
Eric Voegelin, "The Origins of Scientism," Social Research, Vol. 15, No. 4 (December 1948), pp. 462-494. Voegelin speaks of
. . . the scientistic creed which is characterized by three principal dogmas: (1) the assumption that the mathematized science of natural phenomena is a model science to which all other sciences ought to conform; (2) that all realms of being are accessible to the methods of the sciences of phenomena; and (3) that all reality which is not accessible to sciences of phenomena is either irrelevant or, in the more radical form of the dogma, illusionary.
Compare Hilary Putnam, Mathematics, Matter and Method (Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. xiii (emphasis added):
. . . I regard science as an important part of man's knowledge of reality; but there is a tradition with which I would not wish to be identified, which would say that scientific knowledge is all of man's knowledge. I do not believe that ethical statements are expressions of scientific knowledge; but neither do I agree that they are not knowledge at all. The idea that the concepts of truth, falsity, explanation, and even understanding are all concepts which belong exclusively to science seems to me to be a perversion . . .
Putnam does not need the MavPhil's imprimatur and nihil obstat, but he gets them anyway, at least with respect to the above quotation. The italicized sentence is vitally important. In particular, you will be waiting a long time if you expect evolutionary biology to provide any clarification of the crucial concepts mentioned. See in particular, Putnam's "Does Evolution Explain Representation?" in Reviewing Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 1992).
Here is my characterization of scientism:
Scientism is a philosophical thesis that belongs to the sub-discipline of epistemology. It is not a thesis in science, but a thesis about science. The thesis in its strongest form is that the only genuine knowledge is scientific knowledge, the knowledge generated by the natural sciences of physics, chemistry, biology and their offshoots. The thesis in a weaker form allows some cognitive value to the social sciences, the humanities, and other subjects, but insists that natural-scientific knowledge is vastly superior and authoritative and is as it were the 'gold standard' when it comes to knowledge. On either strong or weak scientism, there is no room for first philosophy, according to which philosophy is an autonomous discipline, independent of natural science, and authoritative in respect to it. So on scientism, natural science sets the standard in matters epistemic, and philosophy’s role is at best ancillary. Not a handmaiden to theology in this day and age; a handmaiden to science.
I will now quote and comment on some of Pinker's text:
The term “scientism” is anything but clear, more of a boo-word than a label for any coherent doctrine. Sometimes it is equated with lunatic positions, such as that “science is all that matters” or that “scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems.” Sometimes it is clarified with adjectives like “simplistic,” “naïve,” and “vulgar.” The definitional vacuum allows me to replicate gay activists’ flaunting of “queer” and appropriate the pejorative for a position I am prepared to defend.
Pinker gets off to a rocky start with these straw-man definitions. Who ever defined 'scientism' as the view that "science is all that matters" or that "scientists should be entrusted to solve all problems"? Furthermore, there is no such "definitional vacuum" as Pinker alleges. The man has simply not done his homework. If he had studied the literature on the subject, he would have encountered a number of specific, precise definitions, such as the one from Voegelin above.
Scientism, in this good sense, is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called “science” are particularly wise or noble.
Who ever said it was?
On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Scientism does not mean that all current scientific hypotheses are true; most new ones are not, since the cycle of conjecture and refutation is the lifeblood of science.
Stop the straw-manning! Who would ever get it into his head to think that all current scientific hypotheses are true? And who ever maintained that this is what scientism means?
It is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities; the promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them.
Nice rhetoric, but what does it mean concretely? And to say that scientism is not imperialistic and expansionist simply flies in the face of what major proponents of it maintain. According to Edmund O. Wilson, "It may not be too much to say that sociology and the other social sciences, as well as the humanities, are the last branches of biology to be included in the Modern Synthesis." (On Human Nature, Harvard UP, 1978, p. 90; quoted in Mikael Stenmark, "What is Scientism?" Religious Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, March 1997, p. 16) If the humanities are branches of biology, then that counts as an "occupation" of the territory of the humanities by a natural science.
If the only genuine knowledge is natural-scientific knowledge, then the only genuine knowledge of the mind is via neuroscience and behavioral psychology; and if reality is all and only what is accessible to natural-scientific knowledge, then not only is phenomenological and introspective knowledge bogus, but the mind as we actually experience it is illusory. To fail to see a threat to the humanities here is to be willfully blind.
And it [scientism] is not the dogma that physical stuff is the only thing that exists. Scientists themselves are immersed in the ethereal medium of information, including the truths of mathematics, the logic of their theories, and the values that guide their enterprise. In this conception, science is of a piece with philosophy, reason, and Enlightenment humanism. It is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life.
I am afraid that Pinker hasn't thought his position through very well. I am glad to hear that he thinks that there are truths and values in addition to "physical stuff." What I'd like him to tell us is which natural science is equipped to elucidate truth, falsity, explanation, inference, normativity, rationality, understanding, and all the rest. Biology perhaps?
This is better referred to as a presupposition of scientific inquiry rather than as an ideal of such inquiry, but let's not quibble. It is certainly the case that all inquiry, scientific or not, presupposes the intelligibility of its subject-matter, not to mention the power of our minds to access at least part of this intelligibility. But pointing this out does nothing to support scientism in any nonvacuous sense.
The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves. These principles may in turn be explained by more fundamental principles, and so on. In making sense of our world, there should be few occasions in which we are forced to concede “It just is” or “It’s magic” or “Because I said so.” The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms. The processes of life, for example, used to be attributed to a mysterious élan vital; now we know they are powered by chemical and physical reactions among complex molecules.
What Pinker seem not to understand is that opponents of scientism are not opposed to natural-scientific inquiry. He continues to waste his breath against a straw man.
Demonizers of scientism often confuse intelligibility with a sin called reductionism.
An awful sentence. Let me rewrite it so that it makes some sense. Demonizers of natural science (not scientism) often make the mistake of thinking that the quest for scientific understanding, which often takes the form of reducing X to Y, is somehow mistaken. For example, these people think that if lightning is explained as an atmspheric electrical discharge, then this reductive explanation does not generate genuiine understanding. But of course it does.
But again, what does this have to do with scientism, properly and narrowly understood?
Many of our cultural institutions cultivate a philistine indifference to science.
Sad but true! But it is also true that our cultural institutions produce hordes of ill-educated scientists who know their specialties but are philistines outside of them.
The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard.
No one will deny that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. This is a fact, not an ideal. So far, Pinker has told us that scientism -- in his mouth a 'rah-rah' word as opposed to a 'boo' word -- is the view that two 'ideals should be promoted, namely, the intelligibility of nature and the fact that knowledge-acquisition is hard.
But this definition is quite empty since hardly anyone will oppose scientism so defined. Who denies that inquiry presupposes intelligibility and that knowledge-acquisition is hard?
The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief—faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty—are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge.
Now the problem is not that Pinker is saying something trivial but that he is saying something false. One source of knowledge is the testimony of experts and authorities and eye witnesses. Indeed much of what we know about the natural world is known on the basis of the say-so of experts whose authority we credit. For example, I know that there is no such thing as the luminiferous ether even though I have not replicated the Michelson-Morley experiement. How do I know it? I know it by reading it in reputable science texts. Besides, how many physicists have replicated the Michaelson-Morley experiment or the experiments or observations that confirm relativity physics? Could one do science at all if one took nothing on authority and tried to work everything out for oneself, including the advanced mathematics without which modern physics is unthinkable? Think about it. So it is simply false to say, as Pinker does, that authority is a "generator of error." Sometimes it is. But mostly it isn't.
Similarly with "conventional wisdom." Sometimes it leads us astray. But mostly it doesn't.
To understand the world, we must cultivate work-arounds for our cognitive limitations, including skepticism, open debate, formal precision, and empirical tests, often requiring feats of ingenuity. Any movement that calls itself “scientific” but fails to nurture opportunities for the falsification of its own beliefs (most obviously when it murders or imprisons the people who disagree with it) is not a scientific movement.
More platitudes! Who denies this? And what does any of this have to do with scientism?
The problem with Alvin Plantinga’s defense of theism is a simple but wholly vitiating one [Where the Conflict Really Lies, reviewed by Thomas Nagel in “A Philosopher Defends Religion,” NYR, September 27, 2012]. It is that it rests on the fallacy of informal logic known as petitio principii. Plantinga wishes to claim that we can know there is a deity because the deity has provided us with a cognitive modality, which Plantinga calls “a sensus divinitatis,” or sense of the divine, by which we detect its existence. So, we know there is a god because that god arranges matters so that we know there is a god. The circularity is perfect, and perfectly fallacious. I can claim with equal cogency that I know there are goblins in my garden because they provide me with a goblin-sensing faculty of mind…and so for anything else whatever that we would antecedently like to exist.
Plantinga assumes that everyone has a sensus divinitatis but in some of us it is faulty. The name of this fault is “rationality.”
Anthony Grayling’s charge of circularity would be right if Plantinga offered the sensus divinitatis as evidence for the existence of God, but he does not. He says merely that belief in God is knowledge if it is in fact caused by God in this way, much as perceptual belief in the external physical world is knowledge if it is in fact caused by the external world in the appropriate way. It would be just as circular to try to prove the existence of the external world by appealing to perception as it would be to try to prove the existence of God by appealing to the sensus divinitatis. But Plantinga holds that it is nevertheless reasonable to hold either type of belief in this basic way, without further proof. I assume he would deny that anyone has, or thinks he has, a basic, unmediated belief in goblins.
Clearly, Grayling is not at the level of Plantinga and Nagel. He is more of a New Atheist ideologue and polemicist than a genuine philosopher. This is shown by the sophomoric zeal with which he attempts to pin an elementary informal fallacy on Plantinga, one that "wholly vitiates" his defense of theism. It takes chutzpah and lack of respect for a formidable opponent to think one can blow him out of the water in this way. This is typical cyberpunk behavior. The punks hurl fallacy labels at each other: fallacy of composition! Hypostatization! Begging the question!
And then there is the polemical swipe Grayling takes at the end of his letter. Polemics has its place, but not in philosophy.
Andrew Ferguson writes on the the explosion of hostility toward Thomas Nagel after the publication of his 2012 book, Mind and Cosmos. Here is my overview of the book. More detailed posts on the same book are collected under the Nagel rubric.
For a non-philosopher, Ferguson's treatment is accurate. Here are a couple of interesting excerpts in which he relates the thoughts of Daniel Dennett:
Daniel Dennett took a different view. While it is true that materialism tells us a human being is nothing more than a “moist robot”—a phrase Dennett took from a Dilbert comic—we run a risk when we let this cat, or robot, out of the bag. If we repeatedly tell folks that their sense of free will or belief in objective morality is essentially an illusion, such knowledge has the potential to undermine civilization itself, Dennett believes. Civil order requires the general acceptance of personal responsibility, which is closely linked to the notion of free will. Better, said Dennett, if the public were told that “for general purposes” the self and free will and objective morality do indeed exist—that colors and sounds exist, too—“just not in the way they think.” They “exist in a special way,” which is to say, ultimately, not at all.
What amazes me is that people like Dennett fail to appreciate the utter absurdity of what they are maintaining. He obviously believes that civilization and civil order both exist and are worth preserving. This is why he thinks the sober materialist truth ought not be broadcast to hoi polloi. And yet the preservation of civilization and its order require the widespread acceptance of such illusory notions as that of moral responsibility and freedom of the will. But if these notions are illusory, then so are Dennett's value judgment that civilization is worth preserving and his factual judgment that civilization exists.
It is absurd (self-contradictory) to maintain both that civilization is valuable and that every value-judgment is illusory.
It is also absurd to urge that the truth ought to be withheld from the ignorant masses. There is no room for 'ought' in Dennett's eliminativist scheme. Nor is there any room for rational persuasion. Rational persuasion requires that there be reasons, and that people are sensitive to them. But in Dennett's world reasons must be as ultimately illusory as consciousness and free will and all the rest of Wilfrid Sellars' Manifest Image.
It is absurd to attempt to persuade rationally if reasons are illusory.
It is also absurd to put forth 'truths' on a scheme that allows no place for truth.
When all of the following are consigned to the junk heap, then the very eliminativist project consigns itself to the junk heap: consciousness, intentionality, purposiveness, qualia, truth, meaning, , moral responsibility, personhood, free will, normativity in all its varieties . . . .
It's nonsense and the various emperors of this Nonsense are naked. And yet Dennett and Co. can't see it:
“I am just appalled to see how, in spite of what I think is the progress we’ve made in the last 25 years, there’s this sort of retrograde gang,” he said, dropping his hands on the table. “They’re going back to old-fashioned armchair philosophy with relish and eagerness. It’s sickening. And they lure in other people. And their work isn’t worth anything—it’s cute and it’s clever and it’s not worth a damn.”
There was an air of amused exasperation. “Will you name names?” one of the participants prodded, joking.
“No names!” Dennett said.
The philosopher Alex Rosenberg, author of The Atheist’s Guide, leaned forward, unamused.
“And then there’s some work that is neither cute nor clever,” he said. “And it’s by Tom Nagel.”
There it was! Tom Nagel, whose Mind and Cosmos was already causing a derangement among philosophers in England and America.
Dennett sighed at the mention of the name, more in sorrow than in anger. His disgust seemed to drain from him, replaced by resignation. He looked at the table.
“Yes,” said Dennett, “there is that.”
Around the table, with the PowerPoint humming, they all seemed to heave a sad sigh—a deep, workshop sigh.
Tom, oh Tom . . . How did we lose Tom . . .
Thomas Nagel may be the most famous philosopher in the United States—a bit like being the best power forward in the Lullaby League, but still. His paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” was recognized as a classic when it was published in 1974. Today it is a staple of undergraduate philosophy classes. His books range with a light touch over ethics and politics and the philosophy of mind. His papers are admired not only for their philosophical provocations but also for their rare (among modern philosophers) simplicity and stylistic clarity, bordering sometimes on literary grace.
One aspect of contemporary scientism is the notion that great insights are to be gleaned from neuroscience about the mind and its operations. If you want my opinion, the pickin's are slim indeed and confusions are rife. This is your brain on prayer:
A test subject is injected with a dye that allows the researcher to study brain activity while the subject is deep in prayer/meditation. The red in the language center and frontal lobe areas indicates greater brain activity when the subject is praying or meditating as compared to the baseline when he is not. But when atheists "contemplate God" -- which presumably means when they think about the concept of God, a concept that they, as atheists, consider to be uninstantiated -- "Dr. Newberg did not observe any of the brain activity in the frontal lobe that he observed in religious people."
Dr. Newberg concludes that all religions create neurological experiences, and while God is unimaginable for atheists, for religious people, God is as real as the physical world. "So it helps us to understand that at least when they [religious people] are describing it to us, they are really having this kind of experience... This experience is at least neurologically real."
First of all, why do we need a complicated and expensive study to learn this? It is well-known that serious and sincere practioners of religions will typically have various experiences as a result of prayer and meditation. (Of course most prayer and meditation time is 'dry' -- but experiences eventually come.) The reality of these experiences as experiences cannot be doubted from the first-person point of view of the person who has them. There is no need to find a neural correlate in the brain to establish the reality of the experience qua experience. The experiences are real whether or not neural correlates can be isolated, and indeed whether or not there are any.
Suppose no difference in brain activity is found as between the religionists and the atheists when the former do their thing and the latter merely think about the God concept. (To call the latter "contemplating God" is an absurd misuse of terminology.) What would that show? Would it show that there is no difference between the religionists' experiences and the atheists'? Of course not. The difference is phenomenologically manifest, and, as I said, there is no need to establish the "neurological reality" of the experiences to show that they really occur.
Now I list some possible confusions into which one might fall when discussing a topic like this.
Confusion #1: Conflating the phenomenological reality of a religious experience as experienced with its so-called "neurological reality." They are obviously different as I've already explained.
Confusion #2: Conflating the religious experience with its neural correlate, the process in the brain or CNS on which the experience causally depends. Epistemically, they cannot be the same since they are known in different ways. The experience qua experience is known with certainty from the first-person point of view. The neural correlate is not. One cannot experience, from the first-person point of view, one's own brain states as brain states. Ontically, they cannot be the same either, and this for two sorts of reasons. First, the qualitative features of the experiences cannot be denied, but they also cannot be identified with anything physical. This is the qualia problem. Second, religious/mystical experiences typically exhibit that of-ness or aboutness, that directedness-to-an-object, that philosophers call intentionality. No physical states have this property.
Confusion #3: Conflating a religious entity with its concept, e.g., confusing God with the concept of God. This is why it is slovenly and confused to speak of "contemplating God" when one is merely thinking about the concept of God. The journalist and/or the neuroscientist seem to be succumbing to this confusion.
Confusion #4: Conflating an experience (an episode or act of experiencing) with its intentional object. Suppose one feels the presence of God. Then the object is God. But God is not identical to the experience. For one thing, numerically different experiences can be of the same object. The object is distinct from the act, and the act from the object. The holds even if the intentional object does not exist. Suppose St Theresa has an experience of the third person of the Trinity, but there is no such person. That doesn't affect the act-object structure of the experience. After all, the act does not lose its intentional directedness because the object does not exist.
Confusion #5: Conflating the question whether an experience 'takes an object' with the question whether the object exists.
Confusion #6: Conflating reality with reality-for. There is no harm is saying that God is real for theists, but not real for atheists if all one means is that theists believe that God is real while atheists do not. Now if one believes that p, it does not follow that p is true. Likewise, if God is real for a person it doesn't follow that God is real, period. One falls into confusion if one thinks that the reality of God for a person shows that God is real, period.
We find this confusion at the end of the video clip. "And if God only exists in our brains, that does not mean that God is not real. Our brains are where reality crystallizes for us."
This is confused nonsense. First of all God cannot exist in our brains. Could the creator of the universe be inside my skull? Second, it would also be nonsense to say that the experience of God is in our brains for the reasons give in #2 above. Third, if "God exists only in our brains" means that the experience of God is phenomenologically real for those who have it, but that the intentional object of this experience does not exist, then it DOES mean that God is not real.
Confusion #7: Conflating the real with the imaginable. We are told that "God is unimaginable for atheists." But that is true of theists as well: God, as a purely spiritual being, can be conceived but not imagined. To say that God is not real is not to say that God is unimaginable, and to say that something (a flying horse, e.g.) is imaginable is not to say that it is real.
What I am objecting to is not neuroscience, which is a wonderful subject worth pursuing to the hilt. What I am objecting is scientism, in the present case neuroscientism, the silly notion that learning more and more about a hunk of meat is going to give us real insight into the mind and is operations and is going to solve the philosophical problems in the vicinity.
What did we learn from the article cited? Nothing. We don't need complicated empirical studies to know that religious experiences are real. What the article does is sow seeds of confusion. One of the confusions the article sows is that the question of the veridicality of religious experiences can be settled by showing their "neurological reality." Neither the phenomenological nor the neurological reality of the experience qua experience entails the reality of the object of the experience.
Genuine science cannot rest on conceptual foundations that are thoroughly confused.
This is the second in a series. My overview of Thomas Nagel's new book, Mind and Cosmos, is here.
I agree with Nagel that mind is not a cosmic accident. Mind in all of its ramifications (sentience, intentionality, self-awareness, cognition, rationality, normativity in general) could not have arisen from mindless matter. To put it very roughly, and in my own way, mind had to be there already and all along in one way or another. Not an "add-on" as Nagel writes, but "a basic aspect of nature." (16)
Two ways mind could have been there already and all along are Nagel's panpsychistic way and the theistic way. My task in this entry is to understand and then evaluate Nagel's reasons for rejecting theism.
But first let's back up a step and consider the connection between mind and intelligibility. That the world is intelligible is a presupposition of all inquiry. The quest for understanding rests on the assumption that the world is understandable, and indeed by us. The most successful form of this quest is natural science. The success of the scientific quest is evidence that the presupposition holds and is not merely a presupposition we make. The scientific enterprise reveals to us an underlying intelligible order of things not open to perception alone, although of course the confirmation of scientific theories requires perception and the various instruments that extend it.
Now what explains this underlying rational order? Two possibilities. One is that nothing does: it's a brute fact. It just happens to be the case that the world is understandable by us, but it might not have been. The rational order of things underpins every explanation but itself has no explanation. The other possibility is that the rational order has an explanation, in which case it has an explanation by something distinct from it, or else is self-explanatory. On theism, the world's rational order is grounded in the divine intellect and is therefore explained by God. On what I take to be Nagel's view, the rational order is self-explanatory, a necessary feature of anything that could count as a cosmos.
Nagel views the intelligibility of the world as "itself part of the deepest explanation why things are as they are." (17). Now part of the way things are is that they are understandable by us. Given that the way things are is intelligible, it follows that the intelligibility of the world is self-explanatory or self-grounding.
"The intelligibility of the world is no accident." (17) The same is true of mind. The two go together: an intelligible world is one that is intelligible to mind, and mind is mind only if it can 'glom onto' an antecedent order of things. (This is my way of putting it, not Nagel's!) Intelligibility is necessarily mind-involving, and mind (apart from mere qualia) is necessarily an understanding of something. One could say that there is an antecedent community of nature between mind and world which allows mind to have an object to understand and the world to be understandable by mind. What I am calling the antecedent community of nature between mind and world Nagel expresses by saying that "nature is such as to give rise to conscious beings with minds; and it is such as to be comprehensible to such beings." (17)
That neither mind nor intelligibility are cosmic accidents, and that they 'go together' as just explained could be accepted by both Nagelian panpsychists and theists. So why does Nagel reject theism?
His main reason seems to be couched in the following quotations:
. . . the disadvantage of theism as an answer to the desire for comprehensive understanding is not that it offers no explanations but that it does not do so in the form of a comprehensive account of the natural order. [. . .] But it would not be the kind of understanding that explains how beings like us fit into the world. The kind of intelligibility that would still be missing is intelligibility of the natural order itself -- intelligibility from within. (25-26)
Nagel does not do a very good job of presenting his argument clearly, but the following is what I take him to be driving at.
Materialism cannot explain the origin of life from inanimate matter, the origin of consciousness from pre-conscious life, or the origin of reason in conscious beings. Nondeistic theism can explain these crucial transitions by means of divine interventions into the workings of nature. (Deism would leave the crucial transitions as brute facts and is rejectable for this reason.) To subscribe to such interventionist hypotheses, however, is to deny that there is a comprehensive natural order. Nature would not be intelligible from within itself, in its own terms. So maybe Nagel's argument could be put like this:
1. Nature is immanently intelligible: it has the source of its intelligibility entirely within itself and not from a source outside itself.
2. On theism, nature is not immanently intelligible: God is the source of nature's intelligibility. (This is because divine intervention is needed to explain the crucial transitions to life, to consciousness, and to reason, transitions which otherwise would be unintelligible.)
3. Theism suffers from a serious defect that make it reasonable to pursue a third course, panpsychism, as a way to avoid both materialism and theism.
Now I've put the matter more clearly than Nagel does, but I'd be surprised if this is not what he is arguing, at least on pp 25-26.
As for evaluation, the argument as presented is reasonable but surely not compelling. A theist needn't be worried by it. He could argue that it begs the question at the first premise. How divine interventions into the course of nature are so much as possible is of course a problem for theists, but Plantinga has an answer for that. The theist can also go on the attack and mount a critique of panpsychism, a fit topic for future posts.
There is also the question of why the cosmos exists at all. It is plausible to maintain that the cosmos is necessarily intelligible, that it wouldn't be a cosmos if it weren't. But necessary intelligibility is consistent with contingent existence. Will Nagel say that the cosmos necessarily exists? How would he ground that? Panpsychism, if tenable, will relieve us of the dualisms of matter-life, life-consciousness, mind-body. But it doesn't have the resources to explain the very existence of the cosmos.
Plantinga's latest is entitled, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Here is Nagel's review. Like everything Nagel publishes, it is well worth careful reading. The review ends as follows:
The interest of this book, especially for secular readers, is its presentation from the inside of the point of view of a philosophically subtle and scientifically informed theist—an outlook with which many of them will not be familiar. Plantinga writes clearly and accessibly, and sometimes acidly—in response to aggressive critics of religion like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate.
I say this as someone who cannot imagine believing what he believes. But even those who cannot accept the theist alternative should admit that Plantinga’s criticisms of naturalism are directed at the deepest problem with that view—how it can account for the appearance, through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry, of conscious beings like ourselves, capable of discovering those laws and understanding the universe that they govern. Defenders of naturalism have not ignored this problem, but I believe that so far, even with the aid of evolutionary theory, they have not proposed a credible solution. Perhaps theism and materialist naturalism are not the only alternatives.
I didn't finish my series of detailed posts on Plantinga's Where the Conflict Lies, but here are the ones I posted:
In the pages of Scientific American, Lawrence M. Krauss writes:
As a scientist, the fascination normally associated with the classically phrased question “why is there something rather than nothing?”, is really contained in a specific operational question. That question can be phrased as follows: How can a universe full of galaxies and stars, and planets and people, including philosophers, arise naturally from an initial condition in which none of these objects—no particles, no space, and perhaps no time—may have existed? Put more succinctly perhaps: Why is there ‘stuff’, instead of empty space? Why is there space at all? There may be other ontological questions one can imagine but I think these are the ‘miracles’ of creation that are so non-intuitive and remarkable, and they are also the ‘miracles’ that physics has provided new insights about, and spurred by amazing discoveries, has changed the playing field of our knowledge. That we can even have plausible answers to these questions is worth celebrating and sharing more broadly.
This paragraph is a perfect example of why I find Krauss exasperating. They guy seems incapable of thinking and writing clearly.
First of all, no one can have any objection to a replacement of the old Leibniz question -- Why is there something rather than nothing? See On the Ultimate Origin of Things, 1697 -- with a physically tractable question, a question of interest to cosmologists and one amenable to a physics solution. Unfortunately, in the paragraph above, Krauss provides two different replacement questions while stating, absurdly, that the second is a more succint version of the first:
K1. How can a physical universe arise from an initial condition in which there are no particles, no space and perhaps no time?
K2. Why is there 'stuff' instead of empty space?
These are obviously distinct questions. To answer the first one would have to provide an account of how the universe originated from nothing physical: no particles, no space, and "perhaps" no time. The second question would be easier to answer because it presupposes the existence of space and does not demand that empty space be itself explained.
Clearly, the questions are distinct. But Krauss conflates them. Indeed, he waffles between them, reverting to something like the first question after raising the second. To ask why there is something physical as opposed to nothing physical is quite different from asking why there is physical "stuff" as opposed to empty space.
One would think that a scientist, trained in exact modes of thought and research, would not fall into such a blatant confusion. Or if he is not confused 'in his own mind' why is he writing like a sloppy sophomore? Scientific American is not a technical journal, but it is certainly a cut or two above National Enquirer.
To make matters worse, Krauss then starts talking about the 'miracles' of creation. Talk of miracles, or even of 'miracles,' has no place in science. The point of science is to demystify the world, to give, as far as possible, a wholly naturalistic account of nature. It is a noble enterprise and ought to be pursued to the limit. But what is the point of bringing in a theological term with or without 'scare' quotes? The same goes for 'creation.' In his book he refers to the physical universe as creation. But creation implies a creator. Why the theological language? Is he trying to co-opt it? What game is he playing here? Whatever it is, it doesn't inspire confidence in anything he says.
Go back to my opening point. There can be no objection to a replacement of the Leibniz question with one or more physically tractable questions. Unfortunately, Krauss is not clearly doing this. He thinks he is answering the Leibniz question. But he waffles, and he shifts his ground, and he backtracks when caught out and criticized.
Whatever merit his book has in popularizing recent cosmology, it is otherwise worthless. The book is a miserable exercise in 'bait and switch.' From the very title (A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing), Krauss purports to be answering the old philosophical question using nothing but naturalistic means. But having baited us, he then switches and waffles and backtracks and plays semantic games.
This is the fourth in a series of posts on Plantinga's new book. They are collected under the rubric Science and Religion. In the third chapter of Where the Conflict Really Lies, Plantinga addresses questions about divine action and divine intervention in the workings of nature. A miracle is such an intervention. But aren't miracles logically impossible? Plantinga doesn't cite Earman, but I will:
. . . if a miracle is a violation of a law of nature, then whether or not the violation is due to the intervention of the Deity, a miracle is logically impossible since, whatever else a law of nature is, it is an exceptionless regularity.
According to one way of thinking, miracles are violations of laws of nature. And so one may argue:
1. A miracle is an exception to a law of nature. 2. Every law of nature is an exceptionless regularity (though not conversely). Therefore 3. A miracle is an exception to an exceptionless regularity. Therefore 4. Miracles are logically impossible.
Please note that (2) merely states that whatever a law of nature is, it is an exceptionless regularity. Thus (2) does not commit one to a regularity theory of laws according to which laws are identified with exceptionless regularities. The idea is that any theory of (deterministic) laws would include the idea that a law is an exceptionless regularity.
The above argument seems to show that if miracles are to be logically possible they cannot be understood as violations of laws of nature. To avoid the conclusion one must deny (1). How then are miracles to be understood? Plantinga supplies an answer:
Miracles are often thought to be problematic, in that God, if he were to perform a miracle, would be involved in 'breaking,' going contrary to, abrogating, suspending, a natural law. But given this conception of law, if God were to perform a miracle, it wouldn't at all involve contravening a natural law. That is because, obviously, any occasion on which God performs a miracle is an occasion when the universe is not causally closed; and the laws say nothing about what happens when the universe is not causally closed. Indeed, on this conception it isn't even possible that God break a law of nature. (pp. 82-83)
As I understand him, Plantinga is saying that a miracle is not a divine suspension of a law of nature, but a divine suspension of causal closure. Conservation and other natural laws apply to isolated or closed systems (78). God cannot intervene without 'violating' closure; but that does not amount to a violation of a law since the laws hold only for closed systems. "It is entirely possible for God to create a full-grown horse in the middle of Times Square without violating the principle of conservation of energy. That is because the systems including the horse would not be closed or isolated." (79)
Plantinga is maintaining that it is logically impossible, impossible in the very strongest sense of the term, for anyone, including God, to contravene a law of nature. But it is logically possible that God contravene causal closure. This implies that causal closure is not a law of nature.
But isn't it a proposition of physics that the physical universe is causally closed, that every cause of a physical event is a physical event and that every effect of a physical event is a physical event? No, says Plantinga. Causal closure is a "metaphysical add-on," (79) not part of physics. That's right, as far as I can see. I would add that it is the mistake of scientism to think otherwise.
Whether or or not God ever intervenes in the physical world, I do it all the time. It's called mental causation. That it occurs is a plain fact; that mental causes are not identical to physical causes is not a plain fact, but very persuasively arguable, pace Jaegwon Kim. So if a frail reed such as the Maverick Philosopher can bring about the suspension of causal closure, then God should be able to pull it off as well. (This comparison with mental causation is mine, not Plantinga's.)
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?
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.
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.
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)