Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last link of the year

This is just cool: The 7 Ships of the New Space Age. "American engineers are designing and testing more new manned spacecraft than at any other time in history. Here are 7 vehicles that will change how we work and play in space."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Heifer International

I neglected to mention this before Christmas, and for that I apologize, but I recently discovered a very interesting ministry: Heifer International. I learned of it when a relative donated something in my children's names. If you look at their gift catalog, what they do is enable people in poor countries to become independent and self-reliant. One of the primary ways they do this is by asking people to buy them animals: my kids chose to donate a flock of ducklings and a flock of chicks respectively ($20 each). The people who receive them will not only receive a consistent source of eggs for their own family, they will be able to sell eggs, breed more ducks and chickens to sell, etc. This will allow them to become financially stable. Heifer Int'l has numerous other breeding animals you can buy, or buy a part of, to give to a poor family: geese, fish, pigs, bees (freaking bees), and more, not to mention animals that produce milk, which can be used to produce cheese and butter, either for direct consumption or sale: cows, goats, sheep, camels, water buffaloes (freaking water buffaloes), some of which can also be used as plow or pack animals. Again, the point of this is that these gifts will not only provide poor people with a meal or two: it will provide them with the resources to become financially independent and stable. You want to give a gift that keeps on giving? Here it is.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Peter Geach has passed away. He was one of the great philosophers of the last 100 years. He almost made it to 100 himself. Bill Vallicella comments here and here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

When could the New Testament have been changed?

I've written before that when the Qur'an was written, it sanctioned the Bible. It wasn't for another century or two that it became impossible to ignore the contradictions between them. For example, the Qur'an says Jesus wasn't crucified. Muslims have responded to this by suggesting that the Jews and Christians changed their Bibles after the Qur'an was written, but apart from the conspiracy-theory nature of this suggestion (Jews changed the Old Testament, and Christians also changed their Old Testament in exactly the same way?) it simply doesn't work: we have hundreds of copies of the New Testament in Arabic that predate the composition of the Qur'an -- about 500 before 500 AD. All of these copies are consonant with the New Testament we have today, as well as the thousands of copies in other languages from the pre-Islamic era.

Another point to make here, one that illustrates how conspiracy-theory-ish the claim is, is that the church was so widespread at this time that it would have been logistically impossible to change all of the copies in the same manner. But since all the copies we have are consistent, if the NT was altered, the alterations must have been done to all the copies. This raises the question of at what point did the church reach this state of being too widespread for all the copies of the NT to be changed?

The answer is: very early. When Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans, he said explicitly that he had been wanting to visit the churches in Rome for many years. Romans is dated to the mid- to late-50s AD. So within about 20 years of Jesus' crucifixion, most commonly dated to 33 AD, there were Christian churches in Rome. And of course, we also know that there were churches throughout Asia Minor (Turkey), Greece, and North Africa by this point as well. If we take Rome as the furthest extent of the Gospel, it means the Church had spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean by the middle of the first century AD. In fact, Paul also tells the Romans that he planned to go to Spain to plant churches there, and there is an ancient tradition that he was successful in this before returning to Rome to eventually be martyred (1 Clement 5:6, written in the 90s AD, states that Paul had preached the Gospel to the "farthest bounds of the West" which would not have merely referred to Rome). And this only addresses the western expansion of the Church from Jerusalem, not south (think of Philip and the Ethiopian), north, and east -- there is, again, an ancient tradition that the apostle Thomas made it as far as India by 52 AD, and was martyred about 20 years later on India's east coast. The Saint Thomas Christians in India date their origin to this period.

Of course, the NT was still being written throughout the second half of the first century, but copies of the various books were made and sent to as many churches as possible. By the end of the first century, it would not have been possible to change all of the copies of the NT documents because the church was just distributed over too large of a geographical area. So if the documents were going to be altered, it had to be done before this point. It would not have been logistically possible to change all the copies of the NT in the same way after the end of the first century -- and that's being very liberal.

Moreover, the Apostolic Fathers, students of Jesus' apostles, were quoting the NT by the end of the first century, in close succession to each other. Their quotes are not only consistent with each other, they are also consistent with the NT we have today. So if anyone tried to alter the NT after the Apostolic Fathers began writing, they would have had to go through those writings and alter their quotes as well -- and again, altered all the copies of their writings in the same way. This is just ridiculously implausible. So the NT couldn't have been altered after this point.

But the flip-side of that coin is that the NT couldn't have been changed before the end of the first century, or even the early decades of the second, since before this point, Jesus' disciples and some of his apostles were still alive and could repudiate any tampering of the texts. The apostle John lived to about 100 AD, and Quadratus specifically states in the early second century that there were people still living who had been healed by Jesus. These people would have had enormous influence in the early Church simply because they knew, saw, spoke with Jesus himself. If someone tried to change the documents while they were still alive, they would have protested it, and their protestations would have won the day given their status as eye- and ear-witnesses to Jesus' ministry. So the NT couldn't plausibly have been changed before the end of first century, and it couldn't plausibly have been changed after the end of first century.

Here's another coin for you: the NT was translated from Greek into Latin and Syriac by about 150 AD. After this, these languages had different copying traditions. Yet all of the copies in these languages are totally consistent with each other. This fact by itself doesn't allow any tampering of the NT documents after 150 AD. If someone tried to alter the NT, the best they could have done (ignoring the previous points) is to alter all the copies in one of the languages, not all three. The copying of the texts in these languages were independent of each other, and yet they are all consistent, so any tampering of the original text would have had to have taken place before the translations were made by 150 AD.

But, as noted above, the Apostolic Fathers, who wrote between 90 and 160 AD, refer to and quote the NT extensively, and these quotations are all consistent with each other, with all of the earliest copies of the NT that we have, and with the NT we have today. Some of these individuals may have even survived to 170 AD when the Muratorian fragment lists the books accepted in the NT canon -- Polycarp, a student of the Apostle John, was martyred either in the mid-150s or late-160s AD, for example. And because of their authority to relay first-hand information of what Jesus' apostles had believed and taught, the Apostolic Fathers held important positions in the church. The same reason why the NT couldn't have been altered before the apostles and other eyewitnesses had died applies here as well, although the case here is weaker as the Apostolic Fathers were not themselves eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry. Thus the NT could not have been altered before about 155 AD when the Apostolic Fathers were all dead, but again, it could not have been altered after 150 AD when the NT was translated from Greek into Latin and Syriac.

Besides, any alteration of the documents recording the events of Jesus' life would have been met with a great outcry by those who were being tortured and murdered because of their belief that these documents were reliable, and in fact, were revelation from God. There is simply no feasible point in time when the NT could have been altered. Of course, this doesn't mean that the documents were correct when they were written, although the presence of the eye- and ear-witnesses to Jesus' ministry makes it plausible that they were. But that's a post for another day. Here, I'm just arguing the narrower point that the NT we have today is essentially the same as it was when it was originally written.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

God's humility

C.S. Lewis writes about the humility of God, that he would accept a convert even when the convert does not want God and would prefer anything to him. No matter the motivation -- a fear of hell, an inability to refute Christianity -- anything is good enough. He is not offended that he is our last resort.

There's another interesting element of the humility of God though. One of the most common themes in the Bible is people complaining to God about God. Bad things happen, and it seems like God just isn't there, or if he is that he doesn't care. "God, what the hell, do something," is a common biblical refrain (although not those exact words I think). This forms a part of God's revelation to humanity. When God was inspiring the Bible authors, part of the inspiration involved frustration, deep anger, and utter bewilderment at God's  inaction -- his perceived inaction, that is. So if you're feeling any of these emotions at the moment, just reflect on that fact for a while.

Monday, December 16, 2013

China Moon

Well, China has landed a probe and a rover on the Moon. It's the first thing to land on the Moon since 1976. Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a. Instapundit, wonders whether they're going to make a territorial claim for all of the sweet, precious Helium-3. He hopes it will kick start another space race. As for me, yeah, I'm feeling a little jealous. I think we should have a permanently-manned station on the Moon -- in fact, we should have had one by the mid-1970s. By now we should have had permanently-manned stations on the moons of Jupiter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


This is what Mercury looks like close up.

They've just determined that this meteorite is from Mercury. Very cool.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ted Chiang's fiction

Some of Ted Chiang's short fiction is available online. Read it and agree that he is one of the greats.

Tower of Babylon
Story of Your Life
Seventy-Two Letters
What's Expected of Us
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate
The Lifecycle of Software Objects
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling

I haven't read the last two yet. But I'm starting.......now.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gödel and mechanism

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a new entry on Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems (they also have an entry on Kurt Gödel himself). A subcategory of the article is on Gödelian arguments against mechanism, which, as is often the case, paints a somewhat bleak picture of such arguments' success. In addition to listing J.R. Lucas as a proponent of an anti-mechanist argument à la Gödel, the article also mentions mathematical physicist Roger Penrose who argued along these lines in The Emperors New Mind and Shadows of the Mind (and elsewhere). Two other philosophers the article points me to, who I was unaware had argued similarly, are John Searle in The Mystery of Consciousness and a couple of essays by Crispin Wright (along with a rebuttal by Michael Detlefsen). So I have some reading to do.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Blowing in the wind

This comic today reminds me of G.K. Chesterton's essay "The Wind and the Trees" (which I wrote about before here), where he compares the soul or spirit to the wind and the body to the trees. "The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind." The comic doesn't quite draw the same conclusion.

Friday, December 6, 2013

So cool

A private firm named Moon Express plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to the Moon in 2015 in a reconnaissance mission. Their long-term plan is to mine the Moon for rare minerals like titanium and platinum. Here's their website.

Monday, December 2, 2013

More Favorite Movie Scenes


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

...and continued

Master and Commander


Fight Club

Court Jester

...and continued

Death to Smoochy

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension

Duck Soup

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Plotting the Destinations of 4 Interstellar Probes. It'll just take another 40,000 years is all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The virtues of military history

I've complained before about how military history is not taught that much nowadays. Here's a fascinating article that makes a better case for it than I ever could.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Another glorious package came today. First and foremost it contained Brainchildren by Daniel Dennett, a collection of essays. I'm currently reading another of his collections, Brainstorms (and I didn't realize that The Intentional Stance is largely an essay collection as well). As prolific as the guy is, I don't understand why he doesn't just release such a collection every few years, he certainly publishes enough to do it. Unless some of the essays don't contain enough original material to justify it.

Speaking of essay collections, the package also had two by Willard Van Orman Quine: From a Logical Point of View and Selected Logic Papers (an earlier edition that lacks some later additions). My interest in Quine is mainly with his epistemology, but several of these essays are relevant or have interest of their own (like "Two Dogmas of Empiricism").

Then comes the sci-fi. A book I've been wanting for a long time is A Short, Sharp Shock by Kim Stanley Robinson, whose writings, as I wrote here, I have a love/hate relationship with. Then I have Gardner Dozois's 12th annual collection of short stories, The Year's Best Science Fiction. So I guess that makes another "essay" collection.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A terrible anniversary

Everyone will be focused on the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination. A few lesser people will focus instead on the fact that it's also the 50th anniversary of the death of Aldous Huxley, who wrote Brave New World -- remember Sheryl Crow's song "Run Baby Run"? "She was born in November, 1963, the day Aldous Huxley died..."

I'll pitch my tent with the even lesser people who will focus on the fact that today is also the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis's death. That's right, JFK, Aldous Huxley, and C.S. Lewis all died on November 22, 1963. Peter Kreeft even wrote a book where the three of them meet up in a kind of limbo and debate what's going to happen next (spoiler: Lewis wins). Here, I'll just point out some of my posts with the C.S. Lewis label.

First, I just completed a ridiculously long series on Lewis's argument from reason -- this argues that naturalism is self-defeating, naturalism being the view that there is no supernatural. This was actually a thesis I wrote for one of my Master's degrees. You can see part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5, part 6, and part 7. You can also read a post I wrote on how Lewis expresses the argument from reason in his Space Trilogy, and a post where I suggest that Lewis's formulation of the argument was influenced by G.K. Chesterton. Or, if you just want to read what Lewis wrote instead of what I wrote, I brought together all of his shorter statements on the argument from reason here.

Other than this argument, my main post on Lewis was a summary of his fiction for adults, i.e. not the Chronicles of Narnia (although I still haven't read The Dark Tower and Other Stories). If you want to get an idea of which Lewis book you should read if you've never tried him, read that post.

The other main post, one of the earliest ones I wrote on this blog, is a short summary of his book The Discarded Image. This is about the premodern cosmology and the many misconceptions people have of it. For example, they did think the earth was at the center of the universe, but they also thought the center was the worst possible place to be -- the least prestigious, least honorable location. Another example: they certainly thought the universe was orders of magnitude smaller than we have discovered it to be, but they were starting from an unfathomably large universe and an earth that was, for all practical purposes, infinitely small. Still another example: they were well aware that the earth is round, despite claims to the contrary. The Discarded Image is a good book to show that the alleged history of conflict between science and religion is more bluster than anything else.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry for Paraconsistent Logic. I think you probably need to embrace some form of paraconsistency if you're going to reject J.R. Lucas's Gödelian Argument against physical determinism, in order to avoid explosion. In fact, I think Douglas Hofstadter does precisely that.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

C.S. Lewis's Argument against Naturalism, part 7

Further Objections and Influences
In addition to objections made specifically against C.S. Lewis’s argument, other objections have been made to similar arguments that have relevance to it. I will now go over those I have encountered.

Computers process information, and yet are completely physical in nature. Their processing functions are entirely cause-effect rather than ground-consequent, but they still give the right answers.{1} Therefore, this shows that we need not posit something more than the physical world with its cause-effect relations in order to account for the validity of our reasoning processes.

While Lewis did not directly address this objection, he did present an argument that can be seen as relevant to it: his claim that a news broadcast cannot be reduced to the functioning of the television set. If a broadcast were entirely produced by the functioning of the set, we would not ascribe any degree of validity to it.{2} This holds true of computers as well. The reason why we ascribe validity to the functioning of a computer is precisely because there is something “behind” it; namely a programmer, an intelligent agent, who designed it. If we thought the computer’s programming was the result of some random, non-intelligent process, we would not trust its results. Even if the results turned out to be true, it would not have reached those results because they are true. As William Hasker writes,

Computers function as they do because they have been constructed by human beings endowed with rational insight. And the results of their computations are accepted because they are evaluated by rational human beings as conforming to rational norms. A computer, in other words, is merely an extension of the rationality of its designers and users; it is no more an independent source of rational thought than a television set is an independent source of news and entertainment.{3}

Appealing to computers as purely physical processors of information begs the question. The only reason they can process information is because of the human being standing behind it, who organizes it in such a way that the computer’s cause-effect processes correspond to the programmer’s ground-consequent processes. And whether that human being’s capacity to process information can be reduced to purely cause-effect physical processes is precisely the question under discussion.

Perhaps a related objection could be made at this point. The naturalist might say that the supernaturalist view of God endowing us with the capacity to reason is exactly parallel to our endowing computers with the capacity to process information. Thus, any claim that computers do not really reason applies equally to us, and so there must be something wrong with such claims. Again, Lewis makes a point that is directly applicable: “to talk thus is, in my opinion, to forget what reasoning is like. … Reasoning doesn’t ‘happen to’ us: we do it. … human thought is not God’s but God-kindled.”{4}

Self-reference as nonsensical
Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell argue in Principia Mathematica that self-reference leads to contradictions, and is therefore nonsensical.{5} If we allow it, it leads to Russell’s paradox: we can think of classes that belong to themselves; for example, the class of concepts is a concept itself. We can also think of classes that do not belong to themselves; for example, the class of blue things is not itself blue. The problem comes in when we ask this about the class of classes that do not belong to themselves. If this class belongs to itself, then it does not belong to itself; and if it does not belong to itself, then it does belong to itself. This creates a vicious circle from which there is no escape.

The only way to avoid this, Russell and Whitehead argue, is to disallow all self-reference. This would make the concepts of classes that do or do not belong to themselves incoherent, and so the paradox is avoided. They apply this to a common refutation of skepticism: a man says we cannot know anything, and a detractor then asks him whether he knows that we cannot know anything. If he does, then his statement is false, and if he does not, then it remains possible for us to know something. Yet the question, “do you know that we cannot know anything?” is self-referential, and therefore nonsensical. “Hence any significant scepticism is not open to the above form of refutation.”{6}

Now go back to Lewis’s argument: if all of our beliefs are caused by nonrational processes, this would include the belief that all of our beliefs are caused by nonrational processes. Therefore, such a belief would not be rational, and is thus self-refuting. However, according to Russell and Whitehead, such an argument is incoherent because it refers to itself.

The first problem to note here is that self-reference is unavoidable. If we say, “no proposition can be self-referential,” then this would either apply to this proposition itself, or it would not. If it does not apply to itself, then it is false, since there remains a proposition that can be self-referential; that is, the ban on self-referential propositions does not apply to it, in which case it would remain possible for that proposition to refer to itself. On the other hand, if it does apply to itself, then it refers to itself; which leads to contradiction, since the statement that propositions are not self-referential is a self-referential proposition. So the ban on self-referential statements is either false or contradictory; regardless, in either case, we end up with self-reference.

Another problem is that many self-referential statements seem perfectly coherent. Semantic paradoxes, such as “this statement is false,” can be incoherent, but this is “neither due to the fact that they arise in self-referential statements nor to the fact that the self-reference is semantic. The precise difficulty is that there are no propositions expressed in these supposed statements; there is nothing definite to which the referring terms might refer. Like a mirage, the supposed referent continually recedes.”{7} What this demonstrates is that there are different types of self-reference, and not all of them are problematic.{8} “Russell and Whitehead regard as identical in kind the self-reference of the application of formal notions to themselves, the self-reference of the semantical paradoxes, and the performative self-reference of skepticism. These are clearly different, as are the paradoxes which arise in each case.”{9}

So what of Russell’s class of all classes that do not belong to themselves? One can simply deny that such a class exists without thereby discounting all examples of self-reference. The class of all classes that do not belong to themselves is incoherent, but it does not lead to a genuine antinomy, like the liar paradox.{10} On the other hand, the skeptic who says we cannot know anything is making a performative self-referential statement. Such statements “imply certain propositions about their speaker, their audience, and so on. If the implied propositions are false, then the utterance is irrational. … There is nothing formally wrong with the circularity involved in this fallacy. The fallacy arises because the circularity makes impossible the successful achievement of the purpose of the argument.”{11} Thus, the skeptic is refuted by the detractor who says that if we cannot know anything, we cannot know that we cannot know anything: “We are always prevented from accepting total scepticism because it can be formulated only by making a tacit exception in favour of the thought we are thinking at the moment.”{12} Similarly, Lewis’s argument, that if naturalism is true, we could have no reason to think it is true, still stands.

Begging the question
Eliminative materialists argue that all mental properties, such as beliefs, can be reduced to non-intentional content, and explained in purely physical terms of the brain’s biochemistry. Moreover, the brain’s function is derived from the struggle for survival, so the pursuit of truth is irrelevant to it. Such concepts (“belief,” “truth”) amount to “folk psychology,” the popular way of thinking about our minds that is no more valid than folk religion. “Looked at from an evolutionary point of view … a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principal chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. … Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”{13}

There are, of course, many possible objections one could raise to this position -- for example, whether folk psychology constitutes a hypothesis. However, when Paul Churchland presented this thesis, one of the first questions put to him was whether this applied to his own beliefs regarding eliminative materialism.{14} This is very similar to Lewis’s argument from reason. It seems as though the eliminativists are asking us to believe that there are no beliefs. In order to be consistent, they would have to say that they are not asking us to believe their thesis, that they do not even believe it themselves, and that, at any rate, eliminative materialism is not true (or has no truth-value). But then it becomes exceedingly difficult to continue paying attention to them.

The response has been that such objections beg the question. It assumes that the tenets of folk psychology are the only way to explain how our minds work. However, if these tenets can be reduced to the physical -- which is, after all, the premise of eliminative materialism -- then there is another way to explain how our minds work. Once we have achieved a complete cognitive science, “truth” and “belief” will be replaced with “successor concepts.”{15} We may not have fully achieved it yet, but it’s coming. Thus, charging eliminative materialism with self-refutation is analogous to charging the denial of vitalism with self-refutation. After all, the anti-vitalist would not be alive to deny vitalism if he did not have a vital spirit.{16}

Many remain unconvinced. For one thing, the analogy is a poor one. The appropriate parallel would be an anti-vitalist who argues that he is not alive.{17} However, the anti-vitalist is not denying that he is alive; he just has a different conception of what “being alive” means. The eliminativist, on the other hand, does not merely have a different conception of what “having a belief” means; he is denying that we have beliefs at all. Beliefs are to be “eliminated,” they are to be evacuated of any intentional content. Insofar as he appeals to these successor concepts, the eliminativist is not merely giving a different definition of belief; he is denying it altogether.

Another problem is that these successor concepts are empty: we literally have no idea what they might entail; if this were not the case, it would be incumbent upon the eliminativist to produce them. This means, however, that the eliminative materialist cannot employ them in explaining his theory. Say the successor concept for “believe” is “believesuc.” When asked if he believes that there are no beliefs, he can respond, “No, I do not believe that there are no beliefs; however, I believesuc that there are no beliefs.” Unfortunately, as Hasker writes,

It is important to realize that this option is not available. We simply have no grasp of these successor concepts, and cannot use them to make any assertions, no matter how they are named. Indeed, we have no assurance (as Churchland’s scenario makes clear) that the roles played by the successor concepts will be even “remotely analogous” to those occupied by the concepts of our present scheme. No. The concepts involved … the only concepts available to him, are precisely the concepts of the commonsense conception renounced by eliminativism. The charge of falsehood and contradiction remains. And if a theory which admittedly contains self-contradiction and massive falsehood is not self-refuting, what more does it take?{18}

Or to put it another way, I very much doubt an eliminativist would be willing to grant to his opponent the use of terms that have no meaning in order to argue that eliminativism is false -- especially if the argument’s validity hinges on those terms.

Yet another problem is that there is no evidence that these successor concepts can ever be developed; indeed, the evidence available to us seems to indicate that they cannot.{19} The eliminativist may respond that thousands of years ago, there was insufficient evidence that the sun is the center of the solar system; so the absence of evidence today does not prove that such concepts will never be developed. However, there are two problems with this: first, simply pointing out that true things are not always accepted does not do much to advance one’s claims in the face of contrary evidence. After all, thousands of years ago there was no evidence that fire is cold, or stones fall upward, or two plus two is five either.

Second, while the available evidence did not support the heliocentric model thousands of years ago, such a model would have been completely understandable in the terms employed by geocentrists. They understood what the terms “sun,” “earth,” “center,” and “revolve” mean, and could therefore comprehend the claim that the sun is the center of the solar system, although they would have denied it. This is true of all modern science; we might have to introduce new concepts and terminology, but we would still ultimately be able to explain it to a pre-modern. The claim of the eliminativist, however, is that these successor concepts are completely beyond our imagining; again, if they were not beyond our imagining, it would be incumbent upon him to produce them.

Moreover, the appeal to a future science that would dispel all appearance of inconsistency would be available to any self-refuting statement; in which case, self-consistency would no longer be needed nor desired. In this scenario, self-refuting statements only appear to be contradictions within the limitations of the tenets of the folk psychology that we use to express ourselves. When cognitive science has advanced sufficiently so as to provide us with successor concepts for these tenets, however, the apparent inconsistencies will disappear.

What this demonstrates is that this scenario amounts to a deus ex machina: anything can be explained by it. Of course, the eliminativist might counter that our displeasure with deus ex machina solutions is just another aspect of folk psychology, and will be eliminated along with everything else when the revolution comes -- and that is precisely the point: any conceivable objection could be dismissed on the grounds that it will no longer hold once it is reduced to the successor concepts.

Finally, by denying the concept of truth, eliminativists take away the only advantage they have in their corner. Any plausibility they may have is due to naïve scientific realism, “the view that science aspires to show us the real structure of the objective world, and our best present-day science is at least roughly successful in doing this.”{20} Eliminative materialism, however, is radically inconsistent with naïve scientific realism, since it holds that the brain’s function is not to pursue truth but to enable the organism to survive long enough to produce progeny. As Churchland writes, “Truth, as currently conceived, might cease to be an aim of science.”{21} Insofar as such a realism is unacceptable to eliminativists, whatever credibility they had is lost: if naïve scientific realism is false, “why be materialists at all, let alone eliminativists?”{22}

So it seems as though the eliminative materialist is unable to escape from “the threat of cognitive suicide.”{23} Lewis’s argument still holds.

Similar arguments and influences
Arguments similar to Lewis’s have played a significant role in philosophy. As the flipside of the computer objection mentioned above, J.R. Lucas writes that his Gödelian argument against strong AI (the theory that a computer can completely duplicate the processes of the human brain) is based on the same intuition as Lewis’s argument against naturalism.{24} Kurt Gödel proved that any mathematical system must assume the truth of statements that cannot be proved within the confines of the system itself; “truth is more than provability.”{25} Yet the human mind with its reasoning processes can transcend this limitation. Therefore, the human mind is more than just a computer, and no computer system will be able to completely duplicate it.{26} This argument has amassed a huge amount of literature, both for and against it, and there are hints of it in Bishop Berkeley’s 44th Query in The Analyst: “Whether the Difference between a mere Computer and a Man of Science be not, that the one computes on Principles clearly conceived, and by Rules evidently demonstrated, whereas the other doth not.”{27}

Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalism bears a striking resemblance to Lewis’s. According to Plantinga, if naturalism were true, the likelihood that we could form valid beliefs would be either improbable or inscrutable. Obviously, science depends upon our capacities to form valid beliefs; for example, for our belief in evolution to be valid, our abilities to perceive and assess the available evidence must be reliable. Thus, either evolution is true or naturalism is true. Not both.{28} Plantinga’s argument has also created its own literature,{29} with some explicitly linking it to Lewis’s.{30} The argument from reason also bears some similarity to the Transcendental Argument for God (TAG) employed by Christian presuppositionalist theologians.{31}

In 1985, John Beversluis wrote a critique of Lewis’s entire apologetic, with one chapter which deals with the argument from reason. In 2007 he published a significantly reworked second edition. Beversluis is something of an iconoclast, having also criticized Socrates and defended his interlocutors.{32} There is a tension in his critique of the argument from reason, insofar as he approves of G.E.M. Anscombe’s critique of it, but decries the “Wittgensteinian fideists” in general.{33} However, it is uncertain whether Anscombe’s critique still carries as much weight when divorced from its Wittgensteinian framework.

Victor Reppert, in addition to commenting on the argument against eliminative materialism mentioned above,{34} has defended Lewis’s argument against the criticisms of Anscombe and Beversluis, both in his book C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea and in philosophical journals,{35} receiving criticism from Keith Parsons,{36} William Hasker,{37} and others.{38} Reppert has derived a family of arguments from Lewis, which can be summarized as follows:

1. If naturalism is true,
     a. “There is no fact of the matter as to what someone’s thought or statement is about.”
     b. “No states of the person can be either true or false.”
     c. “No event can cause another event in virtue of its propositional content.”
     d. “Logical laws either do not exist or are irrelevant to the formation of beliefs.”
     e. “There is no single metaphysically unified entity that accepts the premises, perceives the logical connection between them and draws the conclusion.”
     f. Our faculties are not “reliable indicators of the nonapparent character of the world.”
2. None of these statements is true.
3. Therefore, naturalism is not true.{39}

Conclusions and prospect
C.S. Lewis’s argument from reason has a great deal of relevance for the philosophy of mind, the contemporary status of which seems to be, largely, the attempt to explain the properties of mind in terms of naturalism. In fact, I would argue that in order for the argument from reason to be thorough today, it must address the issues of the philosophy of mind. William Hasker, for example, has done precisely this: the first chapter of his book, The Emergent Self, deals with eliminative materialism, the second with theories of supervenience, and the third presents his version of the argument from reason, employing possible worlds.{40} Other issues in the philosophy of mind, such as artificial intelligence, dualism, and mind-brain identity, will also be affected by Lewis’s argument.

In part 1 of this series, I wrote that Lewis’s argument is less ambitious than similar arguments from consciousness.{41} This is because if beliefs are determined by what is known, then they are true, epistemically justified, and hence valid, and we need not appeal to anything beyond this. However, if naturalism is true, beliefs are not determined by what is known. Even if, for the sake of argument, we granted that naturalism allows beliefs to be so determined, it does not demand it. As long as this is the case, naturalism cannot account for knowledge. In other words, in order for determinism to be compatible with knowledge, it would have to be a determinism in which every belief is caused solely by what is known.

Here's an example: if some of my beliefs may be false or unjustified, how will I decide whether a particular belief is? Any belief I draw about that belief may itself be false or unjustified, and so would require its own justification; and so on, ad infinitum. This can be applied, for example, to the claim that religious beliefs are a sort of evolutionary holdover that should be rejected now that they no longer play a role in our survival. The obvious response is, why couldn’t a similar argument be used to dismiss these beliefs about religious beliefs? What makes them immune to the same criticism? The simplest way to avoid this is to allow for all of our beliefs to be true and justified, so this scenario never arises.

But of course, this is not the world we live in. People have contradictory beliefs. When beliefs are caused by what is known, innumerable other factors play a role in their occurrence as well. Therefore, in order to be able to distinguish between beliefs determined by what is known from beliefs not so determined, it is necessary to posit a “space” where we can step back from these beliefs and assess them independently of how they occurred in the individual’s mental life. This roughly lines up with what people mean by “consciousness.” Moreover, this means that we have to posit some sort of free will. The only determinism we can accept is one in which all beliefs are solely determined by that which makes them true, because then the belief that determinism is true could be trusted. Any other kind of determinism would lead to the infinite regress problem noted above.

I have been analyzing Lewis’s argument only insofar as it relates to whether naturalism is true or false, but of course, Lewis did not leave it at that. He argued that, since naturalism cannot be true, we have to posit a supernaturalist worldview in order to account for our reasoning processes. Note that he is not presenting a false dichotomy between naturalism and supernaturalism: he discusses another possibility, namely, the sub-natural or indeterminism. However, something less that naturalism does not solve the problem. We need something more than naturalism. In order for us to have any knowledge, including scientific knowledge, we have to presuppose that there is more than just the natural world of cause-effect events. Science presupposes supernaturalism.

Thus, Lewis’s argument also has drastic repercussions for the philosophy of science. Science is usually thought to presuppose naturalism, and there is an intuitive appeal to this. We observe natural cause-effect events in a natural world, so obviously the systematic study of these natural effects must begin by trying to find their natural causes. If we allowed ourselves to explain natural effects by positing unobservable supernatural agencies, further investigation would be stultified: “the only way that any sort of science can proceed is to assume that there is no divine intervention and to see how far one can get with this assumption.”{42} The more natural causes science discovers, the less room there is for supernatural causes.

But according to the argument from reason, since our formulation of scientific hypotheses and assessment of evidence must be rational acts in order for the hypotheses and assessments to be valid, and since naturalism precludes the potential for any belief to be valid, science is incompatible with naturalism. Some might object that the intuitive appeal of the claim that science must presuppose naturalism overwhelms any abstract argument to the contrary. I would argue, however, that the argument from reason is at least as, if not more, intuitive. When one claims that the mechanical processes of nature wholly determine our beliefs, the question that immediately presents itself is, what about that belief? What about the belief that “the mechanical processes of nature wholly determine our beliefs”? It seems that the arguer is making an exception for the belief he is holding at the moment.

Lewis is sometimes accused of being hostile to science, but this is incorrect. He is hostile to scientism, the claim that science can explain everything,{43} and he sees the argument from reason as a chink in the armor of this view. He is not trying to suggest that the world science has revealed is wrong so much as that it is incomplete: “Science is a good servant but a bad master, a good method for investigating and manipulating the material world, but no method at all for deciding what to do with the knowledge and power acquired thereby.”{44} We need to supplement scientific knowledge with knowledge of a different kind, and from a different source, in order to achieve the full life.

We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element.’ The head rules the belly through the chest -- the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest -- Magnanimity -- Sentiment -- these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.{45}

Those who seek to explain everything in terms of science or physics or nature are essentially trying to remove this middle (and hence, central) element. Lewis thinks such attempts amount to “The Abolition of Man.”

It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so. They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. … It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.{46}

Probably the most significant contribution the argument from reason makes is to the relationship between science and religion. Since science is often equated with naturalism and the denial of supernaturalism, it is often seen as the antithesis of religion. However, the argument from reason resolves this tension: science does not and indeed cannot presuppose naturalism. For those who respect both science and religion, this conclusion is very encouraging. Unfortunately, some people’s interest in science seems to be due to its perceived iconoclasm. For them, building a bridge between the two would be anathema.

The argument from reason essentially pokes a hole in the façade of ontological naturalism. However, it is primarily a negative argument, arguing against a position rather than arguing for one. It does not provide any criteria on how we should proceed on a practical level. The issues it raises for the philosophy of science make this particularly evident. How can science function without presupposing naturalism? How can that which is teleological and non-mechanistic form a part of the prediction and falsification upon which science relies? How can we systematically observe that which is inherently unsystematic? These are the objections that most naturalists will pose in response to the argument from reason, and it seems to me that detailed responses are lacking.

{1} Ignoring, for the sake of argument, that computers can be programmed to give the wrong answers.
{2} C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 1st ed. (London: Bles, 1947), 50; 2nd ed. (London: Collins, Fontana Paperbacks, 1960), 43-44.
{3} William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 49, italics in original.
{4} Lewis, Miracles, 1st ed., 37; 2nd ed., 32-33.
{5} Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell, Principia Mathematica, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1927), 37-38, 60-65.
{6} Ibid., 38.
{7} Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., Germain Grisez, and Olaf Tollefsen, Free Choice: A Self-Referential Argument (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1976), 129.
{8} Ibid., 122-38.
{9} Ibid., 128.
{10} Ibid., 127-30.
{11} Ibid., 124.
{12} C.S. Lewis, “De Futilitate,” in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (1967; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 61.
{13} Patricia Smith Churchland, “Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience.” The Journal of Philosophy 84 (1987): 548-49.
{14} Paul Churchland, “Postscript: Evaluating Our Self Conception,” in Paul K. Moser and J.D. Trout (eds.) Contemporary Materialism: A Reader (London: Routledge, 1995), 170-72.
{15} William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1999), 7-8.
{16} Patricia Smith Churchland, “Is Determinism Self-refuting?” Mind 90 (1981): 99-101; idem, Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986), 397-99; Paul Churchland, “Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes,” in A Neurocomputational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), 21-22; idem, Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984), 47-48; Andrew D. Cling, “Eliminative Materialism and Self-Referential Inconsistency,” Philosophical Studies 56 (1989): 53-75; William Ramsey, “Where Does the Self-Refutation Objection Take Us?” Inquiry 33 (1990): 453-65.
{17} Lynn Rudder Baker, Saving Belief: A Critique of Physicalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), 139.
{18} Hasker, Emergent Self, 18-9, italics in original.
{19} Ibid., 13.
{20} Ibid., 15, italics in original.
{21} Paul Churchland, “The Ontological Status of Observables: In Praise of the Superempirical Virtues,” in Neurocomputational Perspective, 150.
{22} Hasker, Emergent Self, 15.
{23} Baker, Saving Belief, 134-48; Victor Reppert, “Eliminative Materialism, Cognitive Suicide, and Begging the Question,” Metaphilosophy 23 (1992): 378-92.
{24} J.R. Lucas, “The Restoration of Man,” Theology 98 (1995): 453-55.
{25} Ibid., 455.
{26} J.R. Lucas, “Minds, Machines, and Gödel,” Philosophy 36 (1961): 112-27; idem, The Freedom of the Will (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970), 115-72.
{27} George Berkeley, De Motu and The Analyst: A Modern Edition, with Introductions and Commentary, ed. and trans. Douglas M. Jesseph (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992), 218. J.R. Lucas’s Web site contains most of his contributions, as well as an extensive bibliography . Etica e Politica, an online journal, republished some of the more important essays in 2003 . Michael Harris brought the Berkeley quote to Lucas’s attention .
{28} Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), 216-37; idem, “Naturalism Defeated” (1994), online; idem, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), 227-40, 281-85.
{29} James Beilby, ed., Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2002).
{30} N.M.L. Nathan, “Naturalism and Self-Defeat: Plantinga’s Version,” Religious Studies 33 (1997): 135; Angus J.L. Menuge, “Beyond Skinnerian Creatures: A Defense of the Lewis and Plantinga Critiques of Evolutionary Naturalism,” Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 143-65.
{31} Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: P & R, 1955), 116-22, 282-88.
{32} John Beversluis, Cross-examining Socrates: A Defense of the Interlocutors in Plato’s Early Dialogues (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).
{33} John Beversluis, C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 127-34. My comments here are based on the first edition, as the second edition had yet to be published when I originally wrote this.
{34} Reppert, “Eliminative Materialism, Cognitive Suicide, and Begging the Question”; idem, “Ramsey on Eliminativism and Self-refutation,” Inquiry 34 (1991): 499-508.
{35} Victor Reppert, ““The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues,” Christian Scholar’s Review 19 (1989): 32-48; idem, “The Argument from Reason,” Philo 2 (1999): 33-45; idem, “Reply to Parsons and Lippard on the Argument from Reason,” Philo 3 (2000): 76-89; idem, “Several Formulations of the Argument from Reason,” Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 9-33; idem, “Some Supernatural Reasons Why My Critics Are Wrong: A Reply to Drange, Parsons, and Hasker,” Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 77-89.
{36} Keith Parsons, “Defending Objectivity,” Philo 2 (1999): 87-9 n. 7; idem, “Further Reflections on the Argument from Reason,” Philo 3 (2000): 90-102; idem, “Need Reasons Be Causes?” Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 63-76.
{37} William Hasker, “What About a Sensible Naturalism?” Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 53-62.
{38} Jim Lippard, “Historical but Indistinguishable Differences: Some Notes on Victor Reppert’s Paper,” Philo 2 (1999): 47-49; Theodore M. Drange, “Several Unsuccessful Formulations of the Argument from Reason: A Response to Victor Reppert,” Philosophia Christi 5 (2003): 35-52.
{39} Reppert, “Several Formulations of the Argument from Reason” 9-23; idem, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 72-85. Bibliographies of arguments similar to Lewis’s, both for and against, can be found in James Jordan, “Determinism’s Dilemma.” Review of Metaphysics 23 (1969): 48 n. 1; William Hasker, “The Transcendental Refutation of Determinism,” Southern Journal of Philosophy 11 (1973): 175 n. 3; Boyle, et al., Free Choice, 181 n. 41-42; and Ted Honderich, A Theory of Determinism, vol. 1: Mind and Brain (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), 361. In addition to the works referenced there, and thus far in the present work, I would also point to Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., Germain Grisez, and Olaf Tollefsen, “Determinism, Freedom, and Self-Referential Arguments,” Review of Metaphysics 26 (1972-73): 3-37; Robert Young, “A Sound Self-Referential Argument?” Review of Metaphysics 27 (1973-74): 112-19; Barbara Wootton, Testament for Social Science: An Essay in the Application of Scientific Method to Human Problems (London: Allen & Unwin, 1950), 92; George Trumbull Ladd, Philosophy of Mind: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Psychology (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1895), 233-34; Boyd H. Bode, “Consciousness and Psychology,” in John Dewey, et al., Creative Intelligence: Essays in the Pragmatic Attitude (1917; New York: Octagon, 1970), 253-54; James Bissett Pratt, Matter and Spirit: A Study of Mind and Body in Their Relation to the Spiritual Life (New York: MacMillan, 1922), 18-21, 156-66, 187-93; idem, “The New Materialism,” The Journal of Philosophy 19 (1922): 338; Richard Purtill, Reason to Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 43-47; Huw P. Owen, Christian Theism: A Study in Its Basic Principles (Edinburgh: Clark, 1984), 118; William Hasker, “Can Action Be Explained Mechanistically,” University of Dayton Review (1972): 53-61; A.C. Ewing, Value and Reality: The Philosophical Case for Theism (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1973), 77-78, 177-78; Jonathan Bennett, Rationality: An Essay Towards an Analysis (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), 16-17; Hans Jonas, On Faith, Reason, and Responsibility (Claremont, CA: The Institute of Antiquity and Christianity, 1981), 43; and William Desmond, “On the Betrayals of Reverence,” in Is There a Sabbath for Thought? Between Religion and Philosophy (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2005), 265, 273-75. Several of the essays in Craig and Moreland, Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (London: Routledge, 2000) are also relevant. Arthur O. Lovejoy drew similar conclusions regarding Behaviorism as Lewis did regarding Freudianism and Marxism (“The Paradox of the Thinking Behaviorist,” The Philosophical Review 31 [1922]: 135-47; idem, “Pragmatism as Interactionism,” The Journal of Philosophy 17 [1920]: 592, 630-32). Antony Flew (“The Third Maxim,” The Rationalist Annual 72 [1955]: 63) refers to C.E.M. Joad as a proponent of the argument from reason, but does not cite a specific text.
{40} Hasker, Emergent Self, 1-80.
{41} Although he does sometimes state the argument in terms of consciousness (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (1961; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), 41; idem, That Hideous Strength [1946; New York: Macmillan Paperback, 1965], 357-58).
{42} Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory (New York: Pantheon, 1992), 247.
{43} C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1943; New York: Macmillan, 1947), 86-91; Michael D. Aeschliman, The Restitution of Man: C.S. Lewis and the Case against Scientism (1983; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998).
{44} Aeschliman, Restitution of Man, 33.
{45} Lewis, Abolition of Man, 34.
{46} Ibid., 34-35; cf. idem, That Hideous Strength, 357-58.

(see also part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6)

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

David Lewis on religion

I've been wanting to read more of David Lewis, and I recently learned via his entry on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that he wrote a handful of essays on philosophy of religion, despite the fact that he didn't have a religious bone in his body. Here are links to them, courtesy of Andrew Bailey's Lewis page:

"Anselm and Actuality" (with a postscript from Lewis's Philosophical Papers, vol. 1)
"Evil for Freedom's Sake"
"Do We Believe in Penal Substitution?"
"Divine Evil"

The only one I've read so far, and only part of it at that, is "Divine Evil". Thus far I am underwhelmed and disappointed. Lewis first states his support of the logical problem of evil, something most philosophers have rejected since Plantinga wrang it through the wringer about four decades ago (contemporary arguments tend to be probabilistic arguments from evil). Then he goes on to say he won't be addressing the philosophically sophisticated concepts of God but the simple concept as held by the common religious practitioner. In other words he is self-consciously attacking a straw man. The simplistic concept of God that he addresses is that God sends people to hell for not guessing correctly as to which religion is correct, if any. But I very much doubt that even a simple-minded Christian would agree with this picture. Part of the concept of God in Judaism and Christianity -- in both the simplistic and sophisticated pictures -- is that God is just. He wouldn't send people to hell for failing to respond properly to an alternative he never really presents to them. Pascal wrote that God has given evidence which is sufficiently clear to convince those whose hearts and minds are open to him, but which is sufficiently vague so as not to compel those whose hearts and minds are closed to him. With all due respect to Lewis, I think he fell in the latter camp.

Monday, November 11, 2013


I've been preoccupied for several years, so I was unaware of Adventure Time, despite the fact that I love cartoons and Bender Bending Rodriguez does the voice for Jake. My introduction to it, however, has been disconcerting. The first character I've been made aware of is Lemongrab. Holy...what the...my gosh, put it down! Take the shot!

That would have given me nightmares as a kid. Heck, it might give me nightmares now.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This I Know

The sermon I heard this morning was good, but the sermonizer made a point I disagree with. He was pointing out that God loves us all individually, and that this is taught in the Bible. Then he brought up a children's song that my kids sing:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak, but He is strong. 
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.

The sermonator then said that this song is "biblically accurate". I leaned over to my wife and said, "No it isn't." Now, again, what he meant by this is that God cares for each individual ("Jesus loves me"), he doesn't just care for humanity as a collective or in the abstract. And that this concept is taught in the Bible ("the Bible tells me so"). I agree with both of these points. What I disagree with regarding this song is that the reason one can know Jesus loves him is because the Bible says so. That's not correct: we know it because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The second line of the song should not read "For the Bible tells me so," because that's not the reason the vast majority of Christians believe it. If it were, then each person would have to do a complete assessment of the Bible's reliability before they could really know that Jesus loves them. That's absurd. The Christian believes Jesus loves him and that the Bible is trustworthy because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

This is kind of ironic since I actually argued myself into Christianity, so if anyone can make a claim to believing Jesus loves them because the Bible says so, having investigated the reliability of the Bible and found it to be satisfactory, it would be me. And I'm certainly not prone to religious experiences, much to my detriment.

Of course, some may object that many Christians, perhaps most, don't believe because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. They believe because that's just how they were raised. Their second line should read: "For my parents told me so." On this I make no comment.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A suggestion

I have an idea to make football -- American football -- more, shall we say, interesting, and everyone I've mentioned it to likes it. My idea is that after a touchdown the team has to score the one or two point conversion from their last field position. So if someone runs it in from the 50-yard line, that's where they have to score the extra point(s) from. Since many touchdowns will be scored from a starting position so far down the field, it will not be possible to kick the ball through the uprights, so they will be forced to try for a two-point conversion. The only downside is that you'll have people deliberately running the ball out of bounds at the one-yard line rather than score in order to give them better field position and ensure a more certain extra point once they actually score a touchdown. But still, wouldn't it make the game more interesting?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

...and on the topic of Ender's Game...

Here's an interesting article on Ender's Game and Maneuver Warfare (subtitle: How the famed sci-fi novel reflects a revolution in military thinking). When I was in the Marines, we had to read a certain number of books per year, which surprises a lot of people. In order to count, the books had to come from an approved list, most of which were pretty basic biographies of people's experiences in war. I owned Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor by Bill Ross, and had read it several times (I wrote about another book by Ross here), so I submitted that. It was on the list for Colonels and above, and it gave me enough points for my entire tour of duty. Anyway, my point was that Ender's Game was on the list of approved reads because of its detailed accounts of military strategy.

There's also a boycott of the Ender's Game movie, apparently because Orson Scott Card, the author of the book, is opposed to gay marriage. Read one person's reasoning here. I have to say, I'm unimpressed by her account. She says that Card took her under his wing, and went above and beyond in helping her become an author, never expressed any political or social views to her, and didn't give any indication that he gave a fig that she is gay. But he's opposed to same sex marriage, and that means he's a bad person. I have to agree with what this guy says about her article: she thinks the fact that Card does not support gay marriage indicates homophobia, which in turn indicates hatred for gay people, which she (falsely) equates to racism and advocating violence against gays, and finally to being an inhuman monster. Of course, none of these steps follows from the previous premises, so it's just an exercise in justifying her own hatred of people who do not agree with her politics. At any rate, if I only read books and saw movies that advocated positions I agree with, I'd read and see a lot less.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Some articles

The most recent Christianity Today has some interesting articles. The first one I read was Kirsten Powers's account of her conversion to Christianity. Some parts of it are similar to my own experience (which I wrote about here), and other parts are not. For example, when she writes, "When I returned to New York a few days later, I was lost. I suddenly felt God everywhere and it was terrifying. More important, it was unwelcome. It felt like an invasion", I very strongly identify with the unwelcome and invasion part, but not with the feeling like God was everywhere. I have always had the opposite problem: I tend not to see God  anywhere, and that's part of what it means to me to say that belief in God was unwelcome and an invasion. And when she writes further that she ultimately reached a point where she "had not an iota of doubt", I have never reached that point about anything. That's one reason why I don't understand philosophers who display enormous confidence and even arrogance in strongly counterintuitive positions. I don't have that much confidence in the things that you'd have to be crazy to deny.

Then I read this interview with Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, on his most recent book on C.S. Lewis. Interesting, but I've always been more impacted by Lewis's non-fictional works like Miracles and The Abolition of Man.

Third, I read a review of the new Ender's Game film, which I need to see. I've been waiting for it for thirty years.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thought of the Day

The first moment after God banged the universe into existence was the first moment God existed. Not because God began to exist, but because moments began to exist.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Titan's lakes of methane

The Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn, has been able to see through the opaque atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan and has begun mapping it, including its numerous lakes of methane and perhaps ethane. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime, I always figured that we'd have to actually go there in person and map it manually because the atmosphere is just too thick for anything to get through. I was probably polluted by science-fiction.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thoughts on Nozick

I'm not big on political philosophy, but a recent article on Robert Nozick in the New York Times, "Questions for Free Market Moralists", prompted some righteous indignation from Keith Burgess-Jackson, who proceeds to link to other reviews of the article by Mario Rizzo, Mark D. White, and Max Borders.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis's Argument against Naturalism, part 6

In earlier posts in this series I presented C.S. Lewis’s argument from reason, G.E.M. Anscombe’s objections to it, and my response to Anscombe. In this post I’ll go over Lewis’s response to Anscombe

The Second Edition of Miracles
Lewis changed the title of the third chapter of Miracles, from “The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist” to “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism.” His revision of the argument from reason deals with several of Anscombe’s criticisms, such as his conflation of the nonrational with the irrational (which he accommodates by simply substituting the former term for the latter), and the paradigm case argument. His primary revision deals, appropriately, with Anscombe’s primary criticism: the claim that explaining a belief in terms of grounds or causes are two distinct types of explanations that are not in competition with each other.

Causes and grounds
As Lewis puts it, we use the word “because” in two different senses: to indicate a cause-effect relation (“He cried out because it hurt him”) and to indicate a ground-consequent relation (“It must have hurt him because he cried out”). The former is a dynamic connection -- his being hurt is what caused him to cry out -- while the latter is a logical one -- his crying out is our ground for believing that it hurt him.

He further emphasizes this by giving two illustrations of it: first, just as we can use the term “because” in two different senses, so we can use the word “follow” in two different senses. We can use it in a temporal sense (“B followed A”), which corresponds to the cause-effect relation; and we can use it in an eternal or logical sense (“B follows from A”), which corresponds to the ground-consequent relation. The first describes an accidental relation, while the second describes a necessary one.

The other illustration he offers is to point out that acts of thinking, i.e. inferences, are unique: they are about something other than themselves, and as such, can be either true or false. This is not true of other events, or even of other acts undertaken by a subject. Inferences, then, can be understood in two different senses: they can be seen as subjective physical, physiological, and psychological events in the brain (cause-effect), or as insights into something other than themselves (ground-consequent).

The problem comes in when we recognize that if a belief could be fully accounted for by a cause-effect relation, there would be no room left for the ground-consequent relation to play a role in reaching the belief. How could having or not having a ground-consequent relation have any bearing on the belief? It would be held regardless, because

… if causes fully account for a belief, then, since causes work inevitably, the belief would have had to arise whether it had grounds or not. … But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it?{1}

Thus, contra Anscombe, Lewis argues that these two types of explanation are in competition with each other. If the grounds of a belief have nothing to do with one’s coming to hold that belief, then the grounds are simply irrelevant. One would hold the belief whether it had grounds or not, because it has been caused.

Yet Lewis also recognizes that both relations need to apply to a belief in order for it to be valid. It needs a ground-consequent relation in order to be epistemically justified; without it the belief would not be derived from a reason, and so would not be valid. The ground-consequent category must be valid and accepted in order for inference and human knowledge to be valid and accepted. However, the belief also needs a cause-effect relation in order to take place at all; even if we ignore the principle of causality for the sake of argument, any belief that just spontaneously appeared in the mind without any cause could not make any claim to being valid, since it would not be derived from a reason.

In order to resolve this, Lewis argues that the ground-consequent relation and the cause-effect relation must coincide. They must be united into a single explanation in order for a belief to be valid. In other words, the ground of the ground-consequent relation must also be the cause of the cause-effect relation -- not merely by being the ground for it (because then every possible conclusion would be caused) but by being seen to be the ground for it. “If you distrust the sensory metaphor in seen, you may substitute apprehended or grasped or simply known. It makes little difference for all these words recall us to what thinking really is.”{2}

This “seeing to be” is essentially any truth-tracking element that connects the knowledge of something to that which is known. For Lewis, it is similar to the correspondence theory of truth: the degree to which a belief corresponds to what is known is the degree to which what is known is known. If the belief were totally explicable by something other than what is known, it does not qualify as knowledge. In the same way, “the ringing in my ears ceases to be what we mean by ‘hearing’ if it can be fully explained from causes other than a noise in the outer world -- such as, say, the tinnitus produced by a bad cold.”{3} Once we have factored the tinnitus out of the equation, whatever is left over is what qualifies as real, valid hearing. Similarly, valid knowledge is what is left over once we have factored out causes of a belief other than what is known (as a cause). Thus, any account of our reasoning capacities that does not provide for them to be connected to what is known is essentially an argument that no argument is valid, and is therefore self-refuting. It is comparable to saying, “I heard that everything we hear is produced by tinnitus.”

After this analysis, one could be forgiven for taking Lewis’s point to be that naturalism is somehow inconsistent with the correspondence theory of truth,{4} or with his account of how the ground-consequent and cause-effect relations apply simultaneously to the same belief. However, his argument is much more basic than this: naturalism is the view that everything can be accounted for by natural processes. But natural processes only provide cause-effect relations, never ground-consequent ones. This further explains Lewis’s rejection of Anscombe’s claim that more than one type of explanation can apply to the same belief: according to naturalism, naturalistic explanations are the only ones available. It is all well and good to argue that one type of explanation of a phenomenon does not rule out another, but only as long as one accepts both types of explanation. Lewis’s point is that naturalists do not. For the naturalist, natural explanations are the only ones allowed; and natural events progress according to cause-effect relations rather than ground-consequent relations. As such, naturalism cannot account for ground-consequent relations. Yet without them, no belief, including the belief that naturalism is true, could ever be epistemically justified, and could only be true by chance.

It is not enough simply to say that different “full” explanations can be given for the same event. Of course they can. … The question that is still open is the question of whether the kinds of mental explanations that must be offered in any face-saving account of rational inference are compatible with the limitations placed on causal explanations by materialism. If not, then there is a conflict between the existence of rational inference and materialism. This means that materialism refutes itself if it presents itself as a rationally inferred belief (or a belief that depends crucially on the existence of rational inference).{5}

The evolution of reason
Having reworked his argument, Lewis finds it necessary to rework his response to one of the possible objections to it: namely, that evolution can account for our reasoning processes to be (generally) valid. Those early human ancestors whose beliefs accurately corresponded to the world were those who stood a much greater chance of survival. So over time, those who reasoned more and more correctly passed on these capacities to their offspring more readily.

Leaving aside the assumption this scenario makes -- that a capacity for abstract thought would have a positive impact on an organism’s chances of surviving and producing offspring -- this requires us to believe that thoughts, before natural selection touched them, were not originally rational. They were, instead, merely subjective events, responses to stimuli. However, the relation between response and stimulus is not the same as the relation between knowledge and the truth known. An organism with a fully developed eye is not any closer to knowledge of light than an organism that merely has a light-sensitive spot. No improvement of a response to a stimulus could ever lead to genuine knowledge.

Perhaps adding more to the equation will help. In addition to a mere biological capacity, there is also experience and expectation, instruction and tradition. So our ancestors could learn from their experiences to expect things to be a certain way, and could then pass this gleaned information on to their descendants. They learned from experience that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

But expectations like this may only be fulfilled accidentally. As such, they do not connect what is known to the knowing of it; beliefs formed in this way would not be epistemically justified. Reason and inference come in precisely when we look for the nature of the connection, to see if the fulfillment of an expectation is essential to it or not. Moreover, such a scenario could not apply to logical axioms. “My belief that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another is not at all based on the fact that I have never caught them behaving otherwise. I see that it ‘must’ be so.”{6}

A third potential escape route might be to reject truth and affirm pragmatism. Reason is merely useful as aid to practice, and is not meant for speculation. But of course, naturalism is the product of speculation. It goes far beyond our experiences, both individually and collectively, to say that the universe is all that exists. Nature is an abstraction, not something presented to the senses. Naturalism is something some people infer, not something some people experience or practice. Moreover, it is a universal negative, and a universal negative is not something that can ever be experienced.

Lewis concludes his rewrite of chapter three by contrasting the naturalist with the supernaturalist. The latter is guilty of many of the same things as the former: one cannot experience supernature anymore than nature. The supernatural is also an abstraction, going beyond our sensory experiences.{7} The difference between the two is this: first, the supernaturalist is not guilty of a universal negative, like the naturalist; and second, the supernaturalist is not advocating a worldview which calls the validity of such abstractions into question.

The paradigm case argument
What of Anscombe’s (and Antony Flew’s) criticism that by erasing the distinction between valid and invalid reasoning, Lewis has emptied these concepts of meaning? That he is posing a skeptical threat argument akin to radical skeptical claims like Descartes’s evil genie or Nozick’s brains in vats? Victor Reppert argues that Lewis’s argument in the second edition of Miracles is no longer in a skeptical threat format, but a best explanation format.

Neither the first edition argument nor the second is, I believe, a pure case either of a Skeptical Threat Argument or of a Best Explanation Argument. However, the earlier edition seems to correspond more to the Skeptical Threat argument than does the second. In the first edition we have the suggestion of an argument like this: “If thoughts are produced by irrational causes, then beliefs are likely to be false. What if all beliefs were produced by irrational causes? Then we would have no knowledge. And if Naturalism is true that has to be the story. So we’d better not accept Naturalism.” In the later edition we are simply told that in order for rationality to be possible two systems of connection, the Ground-Consequent system and the Cause and Effect system, must coincide, and this is possible only if naturalism is false. Thus the revised edition corresponds more closely to the Best Explanation Argument.{8}

In other words, the version of the argument from reason in the second edition argues what is necessary for our knowledge to be valid, and then shows that naturalism cannot meet these requirements. Thus, it is not presenting the absurdity that all of our beliefs might be invalid. If this were a problem (and I have argued in the previous post that it is not) it can be, and has been, resolved by reforming the argument to meet it. Reppert concludes, “It seems to me that Anscombe’s Paradigm Case argument is ineffective against this sort of argument.”{9}

Anscombe argued that, “if a man has reasons, and they are good reasons, and they are genuinely his reasons, for thinking something -- then his thought is rational, whatever causal statements we make about him.”{10} However, the argument from reason is precisely the claim that, if naturalism is true, these conditions do not hold.

1. A man could not have reasons, because his mental processes are dictated by purely natural processes that care not a whit for logic and rationality.

2. Even if a man could have reasons, he could not have good reasons. Whatever beliefs he reached would be brought about by cause-effect relations (such as association of ideas) because naturalism precludes the ground-consequent relation. Even if the beliefs were true, they would only be accidentally true.

3. Even if there were good reasons for a man to hold a belief, they could not be his reasons. They played absolutely no role in his coming to hold that belief, and if they did not exist, he would hold the belief anyway, since the natural processes responsible for his coming to hold any given belief would be operable regardless. As such, how exactly could any good reasons that might exist for the belief be rightfully called “his”?

Anscombe’s claim that reasons are not what bring about beliefs, but “are what is elicited from someone whom we ask to explain himself”{11} seems plainly false. At least some of the time, we arrive at a belief as a result of a reason. This is what we usually think reasoning consists of. We can, of course, distinguish reasons and causes in general; but to completely disconnect reasons from the occurrence of a belief is not only wrong, it is fatal for our claims to be reasoning beings.

Any adequate account of the relation between reasons and causes must provide an account of the role that convincing plays in our cognitive economy. The idea of being convinced by something seems to imply that reasons are playing a causal role. Anscombe is attempting not merely to distinguish, but to divorce reasons-explanations from causal explanations, considering the former to be noncausal explanations. And insofar as she is divorcing these types of explanations, her critique of Lewis is faulty. If reasons cannot be part of the explanation of how we come to hold beliefs as a matter of personal history, then human rationality as we ordinarily understand it simply does not exist.{12}

That Lewis thought the argument from reason survived Anscombe’s criticism is demonstrated by his inclusion of it in his final book, published posthumously:

No Model yet devised has made a satisfactory unity between our actual experience of sensation or thought or emotion and any available account of the corporeal processes which they are held to involve. We experience, say, a chain of reasoning; thoughts, which are ‘about’ or ‘refer to’ something other than themselves, are linked together by the logical relation of grounds and consequents. Physiology resolves this into a sequence of cerebral events. But physical events, as such, cannot in any intelligible sense be said to be ‘about’ or to ‘refer to’ anything. And they must be linked to one another not as grounds and consequents but as causes and effects -- a relation so irrelevant to the logical linkage that it is just as perfectly illustrated by the sequence of a maniac’s thoughts as by the sequence of a rational man’s.{13}

Anscombe herself thought that the second version was “much less slick and avoids some of the mistakes of the earlier one; it is much more of a serious investigation. … The argument of the second edition has much to criticize in it, but it certainly does correspond more to the actual depth and difficulty of the questions being discussed. … The fact that Lewis rewrote that chapter, and rewrote it so that it now has these qualities, shows his honesty and seriousness.” She even acknowledges that how the grounds of a belief are connected to its actual occurrence remains an unresolved problem.{14}

Several years after Lewis’s death, a “rematch” of sorts was arranged by the Socratic Club, with Anscombe defending her own position, and J.R. Lucas defending Lewis’s. When the smoke cleared, the argument from reason was still standing tall.{15} And perhaps the most ironic twist in the Lewis-Anscombe debate is that Anscombe’s husband, Peter Geach, seems to have agreed with Lewis.{16}

{1} C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 2nd ed. (London: Collins, Fontana Paperbacks, 1960), 20.
{2} Ibid., 21, italics in original.
{3} Ibid., 22.
{4} Of course, according to Lewis’s argument, naturalism is inconsistent with the correspondence theory of truth. By disallowing the ground-consequent relation, naturalism disallows the connection between what is known and the knowing of it.
{5} Victor Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 68-69.
{6} Lewis, Miracles, 2nd ed., 24.
{7} However, this does not mean that the effect of a supernatural event cannot be experienced with the senses. “Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary processes of textual corruption, miraculous bread will be digested” (Lewis, Miracles, 1st ed., [London: Bles, 1947], 72; 2nd ed., 64).
{8} Victor Reppert, “The Lewis-Anscombe Controversy: A Discussion of the Issues,” Christian Scholar’s Review 19 (1989): 37 n. 21.
{9} Ibid., 39.
{10} G.E.M. Anscombe, “A Reply to Mr C.S. Lewis’s Argument that ‘Naturalism’ is Self-Refuting,” in The Collected Philosophical Papers of G.E.M. Anscombe, vol. 2: Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981), 229.
{11} Ibid.
{12} Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, 65.
{13} C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1964), 165-66. For another post-Anscombe version of the argument, see A Grief Observed (1961; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), 41.
{14} Anscombe, Collected Philosophical Papers, vol. 2, ix-x.
{15} J.R. Lucas, “The Restoration of Man,” Theology 98 (1995): 451.
{16} Peter Geach, The Virtues: The Stanton Lectures 1973-4 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977), 26-28, 48-53; Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, 45 n. 1.

(see also part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5, and part 7)

(cross-posted at Quodlibeta)