June 23, 2014
May 13, 2013
Philosohpers 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
April 27, 2012
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.
March 22, 2012
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.
January 12, 2012
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.
January 3, 2012
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.
April 25, 2011
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.
November 16, 2009
I am reading Antony Flew’s book, There is a God. In an appendix written by Roy Varghese, he relates what appears to be an apocryphal, but nevertheless insightful exchange between a skeptical student and his wise professor. The student asks his teacher, “How can I be sure I even exist,” to which his teacher responded, “Who’s asking?” Classic!
May 20, 2008
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Check out these videos (1, 2) of conjoined twins, Abigail and Brittany Hense. Are they one person with two heads, or two persons in one body? I think it’s clear they are two persons in one body. They have different desires and proclivities. They like different foods.
They answered the top ten questions people ask them. One of the questions was “Do you have two heads?” Their response? “No.” At first I was puzzled by their response, but it makes sense from their perspective. Each girl has to answer this question, and each girl only has one head! From our perspective, though, they appear to have two heads because they have one body.
I particularly liked how they answered the question, “How do you move your arms and legs?” Their answer: “I don’t know.” I had to laugh. I don’t know how I move mine either. I just will it, and it happens.
Each girl controls half of their joint body. Every action requires them to be in sync with each other. These girls are amazing. It goes to show how great humans are, even those who are different than the rest of us.
Post Script: These twins pose an interesting moral and legal question: can they ever get married? Would it be considered polygamy?
May 9, 2008
Journalist Denyse O’Leary co-authored a book with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard titled The Spiritual Brain. The book explores evidence for the existence of mind/soul from the field of neuroscience. One of the evidences they present is the placebo effect. The placebo effect is when people feel better because they think they are supposed to feel better. I would highly recommend the book, but in the meantime I will direct you to a short article Denyse wrote giving concrete evidence of the placebo effect in medicine. It’s very interesting.
November 12, 2007
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Beyond Death, by Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland
This book is a comprehensive examination of the afterlife. The book begins with an examination of traditional arguments for the afterlife, showing both their strengths and weaknesses. It goes on to argue for the existence of the soul, as well as explore the nature of the soul.
The centerpiece of their case rests on near-death experiences. They detail many documented cases, as well as speak of the ongoing research in this area. This section is worth the cost of the book.
They also address the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, reincarnation, and explore the nature of our existence beyond death.
The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities, by Darrel Bock
This book is an introductory look at the so-called lost Gospels some scholars claim challenge the very notion of Christian orthodoxy. The “new school” maintains that the early church held to a diverse set of beliefs, and those who call “orthodox” did not become orthodox until the third century via political maneuvering. The Missing Gospels attempts to show that the new school interpretation of Christian history is mistaken.
Bock contrasts the Gnostic materials with the Biblical and post-apostolic writings of the Fathers on four key ideas: (1) God and creation; (2) the person of Jesus as human and divine; (3) salvation; (4) the purpose of Jesus’ life and death. He concludes that the Gnostic materials present a radically different picture of Christianity than orthodoxy.
I would recommend this book for anyone interested in better familiarizing themselves with the Gnostic materials, as well as providing an answer to those who claim Gnosticism was one of a variety of original Christianities.
May 29, 2007
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Philosopher Jerry Fodor made the following remarks in his review of Galen Strawon’s Consciousness and Its Place in Nature, on why materialist explanations for consciousness (particularly Strawson’s) do not work:
So, then, if everything is made of the same sort of stuff as tables and chairs (as per monism), and if at least some of the things made of that sort of stuff are conscious (there is no doubt that we are), and if there is no way of assembling stuff that isn’t conscious that produces stuff that is (there’s no emergence), it follows that the stuff that tables, chairs and the bodies of animals (and, indeed, everything else) is made of must itself be conscious. Strawson, having wrestled his angel to a draw, stands revealed as a panpsychist: basic things (protons, for example) are loci of conscious experience. You don’t find that plausible? Well, I warned you.
Nor, having swallowed this really enormous camel, does Strawson propose to strain at the gnats. Consider, for example: he thinks (quite rightly) that there are no experiences without subjects of experience; if there’s a pain, it must be somebody or something’s pain; somebody or something must be in it. What, then, could it be that has the experiences that panpsychists attribute to ultimate things? Nothing purely material, surely, since that would just raise the hard problem all over again. So maybe something immaterial? But monism is in force; since the constituents of
tables and chairs are made of matter, so too is everything else. So, Strawson is strongly inclined to conclude, the subjects of the experiences that basic things have must be the experiences themselves. Part of the surcharge that we pay for panpsychism (not, after all, itself an immediately plausible ontology) is that we must give up on the commonsense distinction between the experience and the experiencer. At the basic level, headaches have themselves.
I find amazing the lengths to which materialists will go to avoid a non-materialistic perspective of consciousness. They would rather confess that tables and chairs experience consciousness than admit that consciousness is an immaterial phenomenon that cannot be explained in terms of philosophical naturalism, and the sciences. In light of their belief that science can explain everything without an appeal to the immaterial, they spew forth nonsense such as this.
November 2, 2006
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In the same vein as my post on Richard Dawkins’ comment…in Dennis Overbye’s New York Times review of What the Bleep, Down the Rabbit Hole (a documentary about quantum mechanics and [new age] religion) he explicated his take on free will given his materialist worldview: “Take free will. Everything I know about physics and neuroscience tells me it’s a myth. But I need that illusion to get out of bed in the morning. Of all the durable and necessary creations of atoms, the evolution of the illusion of the self and of free will are perhaps the most miraculous. That belief is necessary to my survival.”
That’s right. I know it’s not true, but I have to live as if it were. I feel the same way about trains. I know the train on the track is not real, but I feel forced to wait for it to pass the crossing as if it were really there! Has Overbye ever stopped to wonder why he needs the illusion of free will to get out of the bed in the morning; why it is necessary for survival? Overbye’s view is incoherent. When one’s worldview is inconsistent with their experience of reality, it is a sure sign that something is wrong with their worldview. Worldviews are snapshots of reality. If they do not help us navigate reality, maybe our snapshot is out of focus, and needs to be changed.
I thought atheists were atheists because atheism is so rational? Hardly! Atheists are atheists despite the irrationality of its implications.
November 2, 2006
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William Dembski reported on his friend’s exchange with Richard Dawkins at a D.C. bookstore, where Dawkins was promoting his new book The God Delusion. Dembski’s friend “asked Dawkins if he thought he was being inconsistent by being a determinist while taking credit for writing his book.” The exchange was recorded. The transcript reveals the bankruptcy of atheism as a worldview:
Questioner: Dr. Dawkins thank you for your comments. The thing I have appreciated most about your comments is your consistency in the things I’ve seen you written. One of the areas that I wanted to ask you about and the places where I think there is an inconsistency and I hoped you would clarify it is that in what I’ve read you seem to take a position of a strong determinist who says that what we see around us is the product of physical laws playing themselves out but on the other hand it would seem that you would do things like taking credit for writing this book and things like that. But it would seem, and this isn’t to be funny, that the consistent position would be that necessarily the authoring of this book from the initial condition of the big bang it was set that this would be the product of what we see today. I would take it that that would be the consistent position but I wanted to know what you thought about that.
Dawkins: The philosophical question of determinism is a very difficult question. It’s not one I discuss in this book, indeed in any other book that I’ve ever talked about. Now an extreme determinist, as the questioner says, might say that everything we do, everything we think, everything that we write, has been determined from the beginning of time in which case the very idea of taking credit for anything doesn’t seem to make any sense. Now I don’t actually know what I actually think about that, I haven’t taken up a position about that, it’s not part of my remit to talk about the philosophical issue of determinism. What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, “Oh well he couldn’t help doing it, he was determined by his molecules.” Maybe we should… I sometimes… Um… You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won’t start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that’s what we all ought to… Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.” I can’t bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. And so again I might take a …
Questioner: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?
Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue.
Dawkins actually recognizes that his behavior and emotions are inconsistent with his worldview, and yet he cannot help but to behave and feel the way he does. In his words he can’t bring himself to blame molecules for bad behavior. But who else is there to blame if all we are is a combination of molecules? Dawkins wants to blame a free-will agent, while denying the existence of that which is necessary for free-will agency: an immaterial soul. Atheists are incapable of living out their worldview because their worldview is not true to reality.
Tom Magnuson remarked,
Richard Dawkins is a staunch materialist who simply cannot follow his worldview to its logical conclusions. He follows his innate moral intuition, which cannot be explained by material processes, and concedes that he cannot truly live out his worldview.
Dawkins’ naturalistic determinism requires that anything like consciousness, self-awareness, and freedom must be emergent properties of matter. Humans must deal with this “reality” as best they can. The concession is huge because it means Dawkins’ scientism has no place for “humanness”.
April 5, 2006
Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason had some interesting things to say regarding illegal immigration on Monday’s blog:
One of the prominent justifications for allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. really troubles me for human rights and justice reasons.
That argument is that Americans won’t do the jobs illegal immigrants fill. But that’s an incomplete sentence: People with legal status in the U.S. won’t do these jobs, for the most part, at the wages that illegal immigrants do them. Illegal immigrants fill these jobs at below-market wages precisely because of their illegal status in the U.S., usually working outside of the labor laws. Like it or not, illegal immigrants fill an economic need to keep our overall costs to consumers down because higher costs could hurt our economy.
So essentially the justification is that we will import a permanent underclass to fill an economic us, coexisting in our society without ever fully assimilating with little or no hope of upward mobility because they are not legal. This justification seems less about immigration that means participation in the U.S. and more about a bottom-level working-poor class to serve an economic utility.
This justification is very different from the history of immigrants in our country who filled low-skill labor jobs, but who participated fully in the U.S., assimilated, and improved their socio-economic position. They not only filled an economic utility, but were primarily participants in the country because they were legal. Low-scale jobs provided a jumping off point for their advancement in our society; but illegal status prevents that kind of progress and hope that immigration has always represented in the U.S.
This sounds like it boils down to using a group of people for economic gain. I think it’s a despicable justification. In addition to the legal and security problems of illegal immigration, there is a serious moral problem of allowing a permanent underclass of human being for their economic utility. American immigration should not be about using people; it should be about welcoming them to fully participate legally in our country.
April 4, 2006
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Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason has a great article on prayer and science at http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5190 you might want to check out as well.
April 4, 2006
There have been several studies in the last decade focused on evaluating the efficacy of prayer from a scientific standpoint (see here and here for two examples). The studies I am familiar with were conducted in conjunction with medical facilities to evaluate the efficacy of prayer for the sick. The results of these studies vary. Some show a slight improvement in the control group, some show no difference, while others show a decline in health. Apart from the inconclusive nature of the results, I think such studies are misguided in principle, and tell us little, if anything about God and prayer. To understand why we need to consider the scope of science.
There are two types of causes in the world: event causes (impersonal), agent causes (personal). A series of dominoes falling would be an example of an event-cause. Why did domino Z fall? Because domino Y fell (event) onto domino Z. Why did domino Y fall? Because domino X fell on domino Y. The series of event-causes and effects goes on indefinitely. Each effect is caused by a prior physical event, which in turn was the effect of a previous physical event ad infinitum. No event in the chain can do anything other that what it does because event-causes do not decide; they merely react. Event-causes passively receive their action from a prior event, and then pass that action down a causal chain in a mechanistic, deterministic fashion.
While event-causes are instrumental-movers who passively receive and transfer action, agent-causes are first-movers who act as the absolute source of their own actions. In an agent-cause there are no necessary preconditions that necessitate any particular effect. Agents are prime movers who simply decide to cause a particular state of affairs and then act to do so. The effects produced by agents are not determined by prior events, but are freely chosen by acting on their own volition. The person who chose to knock over the first domino in the example above would be an example of an agent-cause.
Science is properly equipped to evaluate event-causes in the physical world, not agent-causes. Science can recognize the past effects of an agent-cause, but it cannot predict when or how a free-will agent will act in the future. While science is good for telling us the conditions under which water will boil, science is powerless to tell us what someone else will eat for dinner tonight, or how they will react to these words. In short, event-causes are, and agent-causes are not predictable. The efficacy of prayer is simply beyond scientific predictability. Science measures the effects of natural, law-like causes. When it comes to rational and free agents there are no materialistic, law-like causes and effects to measure with precision. In the same way science cannot predict what requests little Johnny’s mom will respond affirmatively to and which one’s she will not (because she is a personal and rational agent whose choices do not operate according to physical laws), science cannot predict which prayers a personal God will respond affirmatively to and which ones He won’t.
All attempts to make a scientific analysis of prayer are doomed to failure because prayer is not a mechanistic type of thing like physics. Prayer does not operate on a series of fixed laws. You don’t say two of this and two of that and voila…out comes X. Prayer involves an interaction between two personal agents, each possessing his own volition. For a prayer to be answered God must freely exercise His volition in such a way that He decides to act to answer our prayer. God may choose to answer the prayer, or He may choose not to answer; in the same way a teacher may choose to grant a student’s request for an extension on her paper, or choose not to.
Prayer studies err in that they treat prayer as if it were a law-like mechanism or magical incantation rather than a willing interaction between free agents. If God chooses not to respond to the prayers of those participating in the study it is concluded that prayer is not efficacious for healing. This conclusion, however, is non-sequitar. When dealing with personal agents there are a wide variety of reasons they choose to act or refrain from acting. Maybe the prayers were not answered because God did not want to heal the individuals being prayed for. Maybe the prayers were not answered because the people praying for them were praying to a false god, and the real God knew if He answered their prayers it would wrongly convince them that the god they prayed to was the true God. Maybe God did not answer the prayers because He does not like being put to the test. There are a host of possibilities, all of which preclude scientists from making any definitive judgments regarding the efficacy of prayer.
This is not to say empirical science is unable to shed any light on the issue. If no prayer ever prayed was ever answered that would be good reason to conclude that God is not concerned with our requests, we are making the wrong kind of requests, God is not powerful enough to answer our requests, or there is no God to hear such requests. If even some prayers are answered, however, and there is no natural explanation for the effect in question, that is good reason to be open to the existence of God and the efficacy of prayer. Granted, there would have to be some standards for testing these experiences to make sure they were of divine origin (were the results likely to have occurred without divine intervention, were the results statistically likely or naturally possible, etc.?) but they could be tested.
Personally, my experience has convinced me that God exists and He answers prayer. While He has chosen to answer only a small portion of my prayers, it is clear to me from those examples that God is willing to answer some prayers, including prayers for healing. Not everyone we pray for is healed, but there are those who are. I don’t need science to tell me that!