Sunday, July 09, 2006


Daniel Morgan said:

“That was all I was wondering -- is if phil of mind contains within itself arguments convincing enough for you to admit that some persons will be moved towards materialism by those arguments, or if you think that pre-committed materialists develop arguments within the phil of mind to try to keep their worldview consistent.”

I don’t think that philosophy of mind per se moves people to materialism. Rather, it depends on what lines of evidence weigh more heavily with some people.

“Surely you agree that atheism doesn't necessitate monism?”

An atheist can be a materialist, dualist, or idealist. However, materialism is the default position for atheism in the west. Even a secular dualist would rather be a materialist.

Danny’s next series of remarks are directed at Manata, but they are of a piece with what he and I have already talked about. Indeed, he’ll later redirect this question to me.

“The laws of physics are non-rational? That's a new one to me. I've often heard theists argue that the rationality of the natural universe is evidence for God, ie the fine-tuning arguments, which depend upon the uniformity of nature (picking a specific range of cosmological constants, if they don't remain CONSTANT, is a bit idiotic, eh?).”

i) I already drew a distinction between irrational and irrationable, or unreasonable and unreasoning.

As usual, my distinction sailed right over his head, so we’re back to square one. With Danny we so often end up exactly where we began—like sailing a rubber-ducky in a bathtub.

To speak of natural laws as literally rational would be guilty of personifying the laws of nature, unless Danny is an animist!

ii) Danny also trades on an equivocation. The fine-tuning argument is not dependent on the proposition that the laws of nature are literally rational, but rather, that the laws of nature imply a rational creator. A watch is not rational, but it does imply a watchmaker who is.

“Apparently you don't think this is a valid argument? Swinburne and Craig, in their reliance upon God setting up this universe to run rationally upon laws in order to make us [humans], need you as their bodyguard.”

i) I think the fine-tuning argument is basically sound. However, I wouldn’t cast it in terms of natural law, but a providential order of second causes.

ii) Notice that Danny continues to operate with a particular version of natural law although he never bestirs himself to defend that version.

“ I am a monist due to simplicity and lack of studying the necessities of dualism. Basically, you have to start somewhere.”

This may be true in Danny’s case. However, many unbelievers subscribe to materialism because materialism, if true, would automatically knock Christian theology out of the running. If matter is all there is, then there is no God, or devil, or angels, or discarnate souls.

“You presuppose a soul/spirit…”

i) Presuppositional apologetics operates at a higher level of generality. It concerns itself with the global truth-conditions of rationality, not with specific theses like dualism.

ii) It’s possible to be a Christian materialist in one’s anthropology, viz. Lynne Baker, Kevin Corcoran, Peter van Inwagen, Donald MacKay, and Nancey Murphy.

A Christian materialist anchors the afterlife in the resurrection of the just rather than the immortality of the soul.

That’s not my own position, but to suppose that a Christian is fanatically attached to dualism because the Christian faith raises and false on this model of dualism betrays an ignorance of philosophical theology.

“So of course you're never going to listen to the arguments about the logical impossibility of immaterial substances interacting with material ones.”

i) Since this is the stock objection to dualism, it’s not as if a dualist was without a stock reply. I myself have been over this ground several times with Danny as well as Loftus and Exbeliever.

I also quoted a philosophy who made short-work of this objection:

Danny, this is how the game is played:

a) You raise an objection.

b) I acknowledge your objection and offer a reply.

c) The next move is yours. You are supposed to acknowledge my reply, and then tell me if my reply is responsive to your objection. If so, you should withdraw your objection. If not, you should explain where the flaw lies in my reply.

Why is it that you so often drop the ball in this regard?

ii) Even if dualistic interactionism were impossible, it would not be “logically” impossible.

“I would say that starting out with materialism is just philosophically simpler than starting out as a dualist…”

As I’ve already pointed out, there is frequently a trade off between a simpler ontology and a simpler theory. This has been discussed elsewhere as well. Cf.:

Danny has a habit of making sweeping claims without having acquainted himself with the relevant literature.

Of course, ignorance facilitates the ease with which one can make sweeping claims.

“Esp so long as one allows the weight of evidence to determine whether or not dualism becomes more logical (as a first principle).”

This assumes that the evidence points in a uniform or preponderant direction, as if there were no evidence for dualism.

“One good reason for this is the obvious fact of existence and necessity of one substance.”

How is the obvious fact of existence a good reason for materialism?

And wherein lies the necessity of one substance?

“From there, additional substances ought to have supporting arguments.”

This is, of course, a question-begging way of framing the issue.


  1. Steve, thorough as always. Thanks.

  2. How is the obvious fact of existence a good reason for materialism?
    That isn't what I said -- I pointed out that our very existence demands at least one substance, and from there, additional substances ought to be substantiated, which you disagree with--you think I'm being a "card sharp" again, it appears.

    The next move is yours. You are supposed to acknowledge my reply, and then tell me if my reply is responsive to your objection. If so, you should withdraw your objection. If not, you should explain where the flaw lies in my reply. Why is it that you so often drop the ball in this regard?
    Your reply is substantive, as usual, the problem is that I simply do not have the time to do the necessary reading (which you have obviously already done) to take much of this deeper than a one-exchange deal. I am trying to study a few narrow topics in greater depth, viz materialist explanations of ethics and logic, and the way that original sin would violate causation-based ethics. Anyway, I can't reply very quickly and with depth, but I haven't forgotten, and am interested enough to want the dialogue continue.

    Danny has a habit of making sweeping claims without having acquainted himself with the relevant literature.
    So which would you rather have, a ready response, or me to take a few days/weeks and devote it to these sorts of topics, as you obviously already have [probably more along the lines of years for yourself]?

    For the time, I guess you'll have to sate your voracious appetite with other poor saps.

    Of course, ignorance facilitates the ease with which one can make sweeping claims.
    And arrogance alleviates hesitation to insult others.

    It is apparently quite difficult for you (and Manata) to view these exchanges as dialogues, rather than as a sort of pissing contest.

  3. I'm bringing some comments from an old post:
    He can say that, but he can never show that. There is no presumption in favor of physicalism. To the contrary, the presumption is always in favor of mind over matter.
    First, a materialist doesn't differentiate mind from matter, right?
    Second, if I can't show your perception on a screen, it doesn't mean physicalism is unfalsifiable, simply that I don't know if that particular aspect of the mind can be rendered into an observable phenomenon. Feeling the heat on your face, and somehow conveying that as an observation to others, requires transferring it to another medium (telling them in words, or replicating the experience for them by forcing them to experience it). Experiencing our own mind (feeling the heat from it) may not be reducible to some simple physical description, but that doesn't mean it isn't correlated by these "potential graphs" I was describing which monitor brain activity.

    Third, as I just explained, you can indeed make a graph of the electrochemical potentials and correlate them to what you report that you feel. In that sense, we can "show" the physical mechanism causing you to "feel". Your feeling is itself a physical mechanism, just another step in the causal chain of biochemistry. Why should we assume, if the physical mechanism of pain is granted, that there is no physical mechanism of perception?

    We are not invoking an unknown substance. To the contrary, we are invoking something we know much better than any material substance.
    You are not explaining what properties of the immaterial confer perception, any more than you claim that a physicalist explains the properties of matter that give rise to consciousness. It's an argument from ignorance for both of us -- if neither can give a satisfactory explanation, do we each claim victory?

    In a Christian worldview, there is a mind behind the mindless laws of nature; but in a secular worldview, there is no mind behind the mindless laws of nature.
    So secularism upholds the primacy of matter over mind. Matter is primary, mind is secondary.

    I would say so, that the matter of our mind (brain) is the basic requirement for perceiving nature, and for inferring the laws of nature. Because mind = matter in the materialist worldview, this is rather circular...neither upholds "primacy" -- mind is composed of matter, but I fail to see how a basic building block is declared "primary" in the sense that you use it here (a nonphysical sense).

    It's like me declaring electrons or tachyons, as subatomic particles, as "primary over atoms". What does this mean? If matter is all there is, in what sense do you mean "primacy" here? That X is composed of something Y means Y has primacy over X?

    Moreover, determinism and rationality are two different things. For example, you can have a deterministic randomizing program, such as a computerized slot machine.
    If you know much about these algorithms, you know that they aren't perfectly random, by dint of the limitations of machine language.

    So even if we were to subscribe to a hidden variables version of quantum mechanics, which left the laws of nature deterministic from top to bottom, that would not underwrite the rationality of our cognitive faculties.
    This isn't exactly what I was saying. If you read Bell's Theorem, though, it will blow your mind, when you start to try to think about this. It blows mine.

    Aside --

    Let's ignore pure randomness for a moment, and insist that it doesn't exist, since just because something is indeterminable, (as I explained) this doesn't render it "open to any possibility" but only "open to a set S of possibilities, bounded by the laws of nature which determine the magnitude (cardinality) of S". Although picking among the members of S may be a random process, it will follow a Gaussian distribution which favors some mean value in every physical law that we know.

    In trying to relate this back to mind, it's like saying that people's IQ, or schizophrenia, or mathematical reasoning (or some other mental function) falls along a Gaussian distribution. If we know all the laws that govern the some mind M, predicting the precise datum, or pointing to the graph and saying, "M will fall here" does not necessarily follow. The reason it doesn't is nonlinear dynamics -- some systems maintain so much variability and interdependence that modeling them mathematically is rather futile.

    Back to your point --

    So you're saying that rationality isn't itself a function of physical laws? Show me rationality without them. You can't. Show me a mind which isn't underwritten by the very much deterministic laws of nature.