Mind


Materialists will tell you they don’t believe anything other than the material world exists, but seem oblivious to the fact that propositions – such as the proposition that only the material world exists – are not material.  That means materialism is falsified the moment you think about it. Pun intended.

thinking manPhilosohpers David Bourget and David Chalmers recently surveyed 931 philosophy faculty members to determine their views on 30 different issues.  Here were some of the more interesting results:

God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%
Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.

Notice that although 72.8% of respondents are atheists, 56.4% are moral realists. This goes to show the strength of our moral intuitions. While atheists do not have a sufficient ontological grounding for objective moral values, they still believe in them nonetheless.

I was surprised that only 13.7% believe in libertarian free will. I would expect it to be much higher.  Perhaps this correlates with the high rates of physicalism.

HT: Scot McKnight

At about 33:45 into his dialogue with Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins made a remarkable statement regarding consciousness:

The thing that really baffles me about consciousness is that I can kind of see that one could program a computer to behave exactly as though it were conscious, to pass the Turing Test, and actually fool people into thinking that it was conscious, but I still have trouble believing it actually would be.  And yet I think I have to be committed to the view that it would be.

He recognizes that his worldview requires him to believe that such a computer would be conscious, and yet deep down he knows that can’t be right.  He recognizes that the computer’s experience would not be the same as our experience.  And what would that difference be?  We have a first-person awareness of ourselves while a computer would not, even if both could perform identical functions.  Dawkins realizes that consciousness cannot be reduced to function and physics, and yet his worldview requires him to maintain the otherwise ridiculous claim that a super computer should be thought to have consciousness just like us.

I like the way the agnostic moderator, Anthony Kenny, responded to Dawkins’ admission: “I think it’s rather sad that you are committed to that view.  Computers are human tools.  They can’t even add two and two together.”  Exactly.  It is rather sad that someone would confess such intellectual absurdities because they are so committed to naturalism.

Those who reject dualism (the view that man is made up of two kinds of substances: physical and immaterial) often cite the “interaction problem” as an argument against the view.  Stated simplistically, the interaction problem is to explain how an immaterial entity such as a mind/soul could causally interact with material entities.  One envisions the Hollywood movies in which a ghost is desperately trying to pick up a beverage or kiss someone to no avail.  Try as he might, he cannot connect his immaterial self to the material world to affect it in any way (unless you are Patrick Swayze!).  Many monists think the interaction problem alone is sufficient to dismiss dualism as a possibility.

Such an approach to the question seems wrongheaded, however.  One should not look at the queerness of mind-body interaction and immediately conclude that the mind cannot exist independent of the brain.  One must first evaluate the evidence for the existence of such an entity.  If there are good, independent reasons to think the mind is not an immaterial entity—but can be reduced to the brain or arise from material processes—then the interaction problem could serve as further confirmation that there is no soul.  But if there are good reasons to think the mind is an immaterial entity separate from the brain, then the interaction problem—while difficult or even impossible to explain—is insufficient to overturn the evidence that the mind is immaterial.  While we may not know how the mind interacts with the material world, we know the two entities do exist, and do interact with each other.  One need not explain how something occurs to know that it occurs.  We may forever be ignorant of how the mind and body relate to each other, but we have direct awareness and experience of the fact that they do.

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Naturalists struggle to fit consciousness into their worldview because it seems obvious that consciousness is not material in nature.  Various attempts have been made by naturalists to account for consciousness.  One of the strangest explanations is offered by philosopher Daniel Dennett.  His solution is to eliminate consciousness so that it does not require an explanation at all.  He does so by claiming that consciousness is not real, but an illusion.

Of the myriad of ways one might go about showing why Dennett’s solution does not work, I think Greg Koukl has offered the most straightforward and clearest critique.  Koukl points out that in order to recognize something as an illusion, two things are required: (1) the presence of a conscious observer who is capable of perception, and (2) the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is illusion.

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Evolutionist, Jerry Coyne, has written an article in USA Today promoting the idea that free will is an illusion.  After several paragraphs of attempting to convince his readers that they have no free will, Coyne raises the question of justice: Why punish people if they did not freely choose to do bad?  His answer: “But we should continue to mete out punishments because those are environmental factors that can influence the brains of not only the criminal himself, but of other people as well. Seeing someone put in jail, or being put in jail yourself, can change you in a way that makes it less likely you’ll behave badly in the future. Even without free will then, we can still use punishment to deter bad behavior, protect society from criminals, and figure out better ways to rehabilitate them.”  But wait, what is this talk of “should”?  That presumes some sort of rational or moral obligation, but both are impossible in Coyne’s world since we have no ability to choose, and obligations cannot be met by those who lack the ability to choose to fulfill them.  We can’t decide how we will respond to criminal behavior.  Physics determines that for us.  I may be determined to respond by refusing to punish anyone’s bad behavior or rewarding anyone’s good behavior.  It’s not within my control, nor Coyne’s.  We are just puppets on the strings of physics.

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Over at Uncommon Descent a good point has been raised about materialists (such as evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne) who deny the existence of free will and yet get angry at others for believing and doing things they (the materialists) do not agree with:

Another inconsistency of atheists who share Professor Coyne’s views on freedom is that they are nearly always angry at someone – be it the Pope or former President George W. Bush or global warming deniers. I have to say that makes absolutely no sense to me…. But please, spare me your moral outrage, your sermonizing, your finger-wagging lectures and your righteous indignation. That I cannot abide. You don’t lecture the PC on your desk when it doesn’t do what you want. If I’m just a glorified version of a desktop PC, then why lecture me?

Perhaps materialists would respond that they don’t have a choice but to get angry!  Well, perhaps we don’t have a choice but not to care that they are.

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