Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Does a commitment to naturalism undermine rational thought and textual meaning?

Dr. William Lane Craig had a formal debate with an atheist philosopher named Alex Rosenberg a few months back that brought up an interesting idea. Rosenberg is a strong naturalist and he suggests all kinds of counterintuitive outworkings of naturalism in his book. Dr. Craig brought up a bunch of those strange views in his debate, and I listed them out in my summary of the debate as follows:

  1. The argument from the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states implies non-physical minds (dualism), which is incompatible with naturalism
  2. The existence of meaning in language is incompatible with naturalism, Rosenberg even says that all the sentences in his own book are meaningless
  3. The existence of truth is incompatible with naturalism
  4. The argument from moral praise and blame is incompatible with naturalism
  5. Libertarian freedom (free will) is incompatible with naturalism
  6. Purpose is incompatible with naturalism
  7. The enduring concept of self is incompatible with naturalism
  8. The experience of first-person subjectivity (“I”) is incompatible with naturalism

We are concerned with #1 and #2 in this post.

Now I was visiting my parents last week in my home town and Dad and I went to church on Sunday. He wanted to listen to some weird sing-song-voiced pastor on the drive there, but I plugged in my smartphone and we listened to these three podcasts by William Lane Craig instead.

Dr. Craig was explaining in part 3 (I think) about how he went on the offensive with the 8 points. One point caught my attention. Craig said that if naturalism is true, then nothing written down is meaningful. He also wanted to know why Dr. Rosenberg would write a book if his worldview entailed that nothing written down is meaningful.

The solution has to do with Rosenberg’s denial of “intentionality”, which is the idea that something can be about something else. For example, I can think about what I had for breakfast today on the way to church (two apples and coffee) or I can think about the sermon today in my home church and how good it was. A naturalist believes that the whole universe is made up of pure matter alone, and matter cannot be about anything. So Rosenberg denies this common sense view of “intentionality” or “aboutness” because there is no room for it on his naturalistic / materialistic / physicalist view of reality.

Here is a post by Bill Valicella on Maverick Philosopher blog that answers Dad’s questions.

First, Rosenberg’s own view from his book.

A single still photograph doesn’t convey movement the way a motion picture does. Watching a sequence of slightly different photos one photo per hour, or per minute, or even one every 6 seconds won’t do it either. But looking at the right sequence of still pictures succeeding each other every one-twentieth of a second produces the illusion that the images in each still photo are moving. Increasing the rate enhances the illusion, though beyond a certain rate the illusion gets no better for creatures like us. But it’s still an illusion. There is noting to it but the succession of still pictures. That’s how movies perpetrate their illusion. The large set of still pictures is organized together in a way that produces in creatures like us the illusion that the images are moving. In creatures with different brains and eyes, ones that work faster, the trick might not work. In ones that work slower, changing the still pictures at the rate of one every hour (as in time-lapse photography) could work. But there is no movement of any of the images in any of the pictures, nor does anything move from one photo onto the next. Of course, the projector is moving, and the photons are moving, and the actors were moving. But all the movement that the movie watcher detects is in the eye of the beholder. That is why the movement is illusory.

The notion that thoughts are about stuff is illusory in roughly the same way. Think of each input/output neural circuit as a single still photo. Now, put together a huge number of input/output circuits in the right way. None of them is about anything; each is just an input/output circuit firing or not. But when they act together, they “project” the illusion that there are thoughts about stuff. They do that through the behavior and the conscious experience (if any) that they produce. (Alex Rosenberg,The Atheists’ Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.  The quotation was copied from here.)

And here is what Bill V. says about that:

Rosenberg is not saying, as an emergentist might, that the synergy of sufficiently many neural circuits gives rise to genuine object-directed thoughts.    He is saying something far worse, something literally nonsensical, namely, that the object-directed thought that thoughts are object-directed is an illusion.  The absurdity of Rosenberg’s position can be seen as follows.

  1. Either the words “The notion that thoughts are about stuff is illusory”  express a thought — the thought that there are no object-directed thoughts — or they do not.
  2. If the latter, then the words are meaningless.
  3. If the former, then the thought is either true or false.
  4. If the thought is true, then there there are no object-directed thoughts, including the one expressed by Rosenberg’s words, and so his words are once again meaningless.
  5. If the thought is false, then there are object-directed thoughts, and Rosenberg’s claim is false.

Therefore:

  • Rosenberg’s claim is either meaningless or false.  His position is self-refuting.

As for the analogy, it is perfectly hopeless, presupposing as it does genuine intrinsic intentionality.  If I am watching a movie of a man running, then I am under an illusion in that there is nothing moving on the movie screen: there is just a series of stills. But the experience I am undergoing is a perfectly good experience that exhibits genuine intrinsic intentionality: it is a visual experiencing of a man running, or to be perfectly punctilious about it: a visual experiencing AS OF a man running.  Whether or not the man depicted exists, as would be the case if the movie were a newsreel, the experience exists, and so cannot be illusory.

To understand the analogy one must understand that there are intentional experiences, experiences that take an accusative.  But if you understand that, then you ought to be able to understand that the analogy cannot be used to render intelligible how it might that it is illusory that there are intentional experiences.

What alone remains of interest here is how a seemingly intelligent fellow could adopt a position so manifestly absurd.  I suspect the answer is that he has stupefied himself  by  his blind adherence to scientistic/naturalistic ideology.

If you want to sort of double check the details, then go ahead and watch the debate or read my summary or listen to the debate audio, and then listen to Dr. Craig’s three podcasts that I linked above.

I know a lot of you are thinking right now “Hey! You cheater! That’s a presuppositional argument! You said they were bad!” Well, I didn’t say they were bad, I said that the epistemological view of presuppositionalism was bad. Presuppositional arguments are good. See below for a few posts about them. Use them all you can, but use the good scientific and historical evidence, too.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

William Lane Craig debates Alex Rosenberg: Does God Exist? Video, MP3 audio and summary

Below, please find my summary of the Craig-Rosenberg debate, which occurred on February 1st, 2013 at Purdue University.

Brian Auten has posted the MP3 audio of the debate at Apologetics 315.

The debaters

Below is the summary from tonight (February 1st, 2013).

If you like the summary below, please friend me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter.

Summary of the debate

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:

The topic: What are the arguments that make belief in God reasonable or unreasonable?
First speech: arguments for reasonableness of belief in God
Second speech: respond to arguments against reasonableness of belief in God

Eight arguments:

  1. Contingency argument: God – a transcendent, personal being – is the explanation of why a contingent universe exists.
  2. Cosmological argument: God is the cause of the beginning of the universe, which is attested by physics and cosmology.
  3. Applicability of mathematics to nature: God is the best explanation for the applicability of mathematics to nature.
  4. Fine-tuning argument: God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe to permit life.
  5. Intentionality of conscious states: God is the best explanation of the intentionality of our mental states.
  6. The moral argument: God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties.
  7. The resurrection of Jesus: God is the best explanation for the core of historical facts accepted by most ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.
  8. Religious experience: God is the best explanation of our immediate experience and knowledge of his existence.

Dr. Rosenberg’s opening speech

First argument: The fallacy of ad hominem

  • I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry
  • Dr. Craig has said all of that before in other debates
  • You didn’t need to come out on this cold night
  • Craig’s arguments have all been refuted
  • Dr. Craig just doesn’t listen
  • Dr. Craig is not interested in getting at the truth
  • Dr. Craig is just interested in scoring debate points
  • The adversarial system is the wrong approach to decide truth
  • Dr. Craig is very confident about his take of physics

Second argument: The fallacy of arguing from authority

  • 95% of members of the NAS are atheists
  • Therefore Dr. Craig cannot use science

Third argument: Effects don’t require causes

  • I am going to pretend that Craig said that “every effect requires a cause”
  • Quantum mechanics shows that some effects occur without causes
  • A particle of uranium (which is not nothing, it is something) decays without a cause
  • This uncaused effect is the same as the universe coming into being out of nothing uncaused
  • Therefore the principle of sufficient reason is false

Fourth argument: Silicon-based life and the multiverse

  • If these constants had been different, maybe we would have other kinds of intelligent life, like silicon-based life
  • Carbon-based life is not the only kind of life, maybe you can have other kinds of life, none of which have been observed
  • There could be different kinds of life in other areas of the universe that we can’t see
  • There are things we can’t see that disprove the current physics that we can see
  • Quantum foam is evidence that a multiverse exists
  • The multiverse would solve the problem of fine-tuning

Fifth argument: The Euthyphro dilemma

  • The moral argument is refuted by Euthyphro dilemma
  • Dr. Craig is such a moron that he has never heard of the Euthyphro dilemma ever before
  • This is found in the first and simplest of Plato’s dialogs
  • Why is Dr. Craig so stupid that he has not read this simple dialog ever before?
  • Evolution explains why humans evolve arbitrary customs and conventions that vary by time and place
  • Alternative moral theories: utilitarianism, social contract, etc. that don’t require God

Sixth argument: Mormonism undermines Dr. Craig’s three minimal facts about Jesus

  • Why is Dr. Craig so stupid and ignorant to persist in pushing such an ignorant, stupid argument?
  • Mormonism is a silly religion that is not historically well founded
  • Therefore, Jesus was not buried
  • Islam is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
  • Therefore, the tomb was not found empty
  • Scientology is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
  • Therefore, the eyewitnesses didn’t have post-mortem appearances
  • Eyewitness testimony is unreliable in some cases
  • Therefore, eyewitness testimony was unreliable in this case
  • Apparitions of Mary are bizarre
  • Therefore, the majority of historians are wrong to think that the disciples saw post-mortem appearances

Seventh argument: Deductive problem of evil

  • Evil and suffering are logically incompatible with an all good, all powerful God

Eight argument: God is not just to allow evil and suffering

  • God cannot make the evils of this life right in the afterlife

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal

Dr. Rosenberg sketched the deductive argument from evil.

Dr. Rosenberg presupposes naturalism. Naturalism is a false theory of knowledge:

1. It’s too restrictive: There are truths that cannot be proved by natural science.
2. It’s self-refuting: no scientific proof for naturalism exists.

That’s why epistemological naturalism is considered false by most philosophers of science.

But more importantly than that: Epistemological naturalism does not imply metaphysical naturalism. (E.g. – W. Quine)

Dr. Rosenberg has to present arguments in favor of (metaphysical) naturalism, not just assume that (metaphysical) naturalism is true.

Dr. Craig presented eight arguments against metaphysical naturalism taken from Rosenberg’s own book:

1. The argument from the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states implies non-physical minds (dualism), which is incompatible with naturalism
2. The existence of meaning in language is incompatible with naturalism, Rosenberg even says that all the sentences in his own book are meaningless
3. The existence of truth is incompatible with naturalism
4. The argument from moral praise and blame is incompatible with naturalism
5. Libertarian freedom (free will) is incompatible with naturalism
6. Purpose is incompatible with naturalism
7. The enduring concept of self is incompatible with naturalism
8. The experience of first-person subjectivity (“I”) is incompatible with naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism is false: it is irrational and it contradicts our experience of ourselves.

And epistemological naturalism is compatible with theism.

Rebutting Dr. Rosenberg’s responses:

1. Contingency: no response

2. Cosmological: he mis-states the first premise to say every effect… when it is whatever begins to exist…, the origin of the universe was not from a vacuum, virtual particles come from a vacuum not nothing, there are interpretations of QM that are compatible with determinism. Rosenberg has to believe that the entire universe popped into being from non-being.

3. Mathematics: no response

4. Fine-tuning: the multiverse is refuted by empirical observations of the universe. Without fine-tuning, it’s not that we still have silicon to make life out of. It’s that we lose basic minimal things like chemical diversity, matter, stars, planets, etc. No life of any kind, not just no carbon-based life.

5. Intentionality: no response.

6. Moral argument: the answer to the dilemma is that you split the dilemma: God is the standard of good, and the commands flow from his unchanging moral nature. The commands are not arbitrary, and the standard is not external to God. Dr. Rosenberg is a nihilist and he cannot ground good and evil on his nihilistic view.

7. Resurrection: The Gospels are early eyewitness testimony. Mormonism and Islam have nothing to do with the minimal set of historical facts about Jesus agreed to by the majority of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum, general statements against eyewitnesses do not refute the specific eyewitness testimony in this case.

8. Religious experience: No response.

Dr. Rosenberg’s first rebuttal

I wrote a book and you should buy it, because it got me invited to this debate. Let me repeat the title a few times for you. Please buy it.

Dr. Craig is right, there are multiple interpretations of QM, not just the one I presented, including deterministic ones.

All the disturbing implications of naturalism that Dr. Craig stated follow from metaphysical naturalism, and metaphysical naturalism is true. (Note: he equates science with metaphysical naturalism)

Science proves that metaphysical naturalism is true, but I won’t say what specific scientific tests prove my philosophical assumption of metaphysical naturalism.

I’ll pretend that the Big Bang (science) doesn’t disprove naturalism, like Dr. Craig said. Again. (covers ears) La la la, there is no Big Bang.

We didn’t come here to debate epistemological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.

Let me explain the problem of intentionality since I’m so smart and no one knows what it means.

There are many answers to this problem of intentionality.

My answer is that most scientists are naturalists, therefore naturalism is true, regardless of the argument from intentionality of mental states.

That’s how I would respond to one of the eight problems with naturalism that Dr. Craig raised. I won’t answer the other seven problems.

It is an argument from ignorance to argue that the applicability of mathematics to the universe requires a designer, because there are non-Euclidean geometries. Craig’s argument, which he gets from people like respected physicists like Eugene Wigner, is bizarre. It is bizarre, therefore I refute Eugene Wigner and all the other scholars who make that argument. It is bizarre! Bizarre!

Deductive problem of evil: there is no response to this argument, certainly not Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense. The deductive argument from evil has not been entirely abandoned at all! It’s not like arch-atheist J.L. Mackie himself admits that the deductive problem of evil doesn’t lead to a logical inconsistency between evil and God.

Dr. Craig has to tell me why God allows evil or God doesn’t exist.

It is offensive that Dr. Craig cannot tell me why God allows every evil and suffering that occurs.

He literally said this: “I will become a Christian if Dr. Craig can tell me why God allowed EVERY EVIL THAT OCCURRED IN THE LAST 3.5 BILLION YEARS”

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal

We are not in a position to know why God allows specific instances of evil and suffering.

God cannot force people to freely do anything – freedom is not compatible with determinism. Freedom is a good, but freedom opens up the possibility of moral evil. You cannot have the good of free will without allowing people to choose to do morally evil things.

God can permit evil and suffering in order to bring more people into a relationship with him.

The atheist has to show that God could allow less evil and achieve more knowledge of God in order to say there is too much evil.

The purpose of life is not happiness, but knowledge of God.

Dr. Craig quotes agnostic Paul Draper (Purdue) and Peter Van Inwagen (Notre Dame) to state that the deductive problem of evil is dead because of free will and morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil.

1. Contingency: no response.

2. Cosmological: QM does not apply, because the universe came from nothing, not a vacuum, and QM only works in a vacuum.

3. Mathematics: He mentions alternatives like non-Euclidean geometry, but we have to explain the structure of THIS universe.

4. Fine-tuning: ???

5. Intentional states: intentional mental states proves that minds exist, which fits with theism better than it fits with atheism.

6. Moral argument: You need God to ground morality, and Dr. Rosenberg believes in morality. He needs God to ground objective moral values and duties.

7. Historical argument: He has to respond to the minimal facts supported by the consensus of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.

8. The problems of naturalism: He says that you can’t have science without naturalism, but you can have science with EPISTEMOLOGICAL NATURALISM, and theists accept science and methodological naturalism. We don’t accept METAPHYSCIAL NATURALISM because of the eight problems Craig presented, like intentionality, first-person, persistence of self, etc. You can believe in both science and theism, by embracing epistemological naturalism, while rejecting methaphysical naturalism.

Dr. Rosenberg’s second rebuttal

Dr. Craig hasn’t answered many of my points, I won’t say which ones though.

Debates don’t work as a way of deciding what’s true, so we should overturn the entire criminal justice system.

The principle of sufficient reason is false because it is disconfirmed by quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics (vacuum and virtual particles that exist for a short time) is similar to the origin of the universe (nothing and entire universe and 14 billion years).

We know that alpha particles come into being without cause all the time from a quantum vacuum for a tiny sub-second duration before going out of existence, so we can say that the entire physical universe came into being for 14 billion years from absolute nothing which is not a quantum vacuum.

Peter Van Inwagen is the best metaphysician working today, and he says that my deductive argument from evil is not decisive, it’s not a successful argument. (Why is he undermining his own problem of evil argument????!)

Dr. Craig invoked Plantinga’s free will defense to the deductive POE. Freedom allows us to do evil. God could have given us free will without evil and suffering. I won’t show how, but I’ll just assert it, because debates are such a bad forum for supplying evidence for my speculative assertions.

If you answer the question 3 + 5 as being 8, then you don’t have free will – you are biologically determined if you answer 8, because everyone answers 8, and that means everyone is biologically determined with no free will.

Why can’t God give us free will and then prevent us from making a free choice?

No scholars date the gospels earlier than 60-70 AD, especially not atheists like James Crossley who dates Mark to 40 AD. Therefore Jesus’ burial isn’t historical, like the majority of scholars across the broad spectrum of scholarship agree it is.

The original New Testament documents were written in Aramaic.

All New Testament scholars are orthodox Christians, like atheist Robert Funk for example.

Dr. Craig’s concluding speech

In order to sustain the deductive argument from evil, Dr. Rosenberg must show that God could create a world of free creatures with less evil.

Principle of Sufficient Reason: not using the general principle of sufficient reason, but a more modest version of this states that contingent things should have an explanation for their existence. And we know that the universe is a contingent.

The New Testament was not written in Aramaic, they were written in Greek. Dr. Rosenberg is wrong there too.

(Dr. Craig spends the rest of his concluding speech giving his testimony and urging people to investigate the New testament).

Dr. Rosenberg’s concluding speech

Some long-dead French guy named Laplace said that he has no need of that (God) hypothesis. He did not know about any of Dr. Craig’s arguments made in this debate tonight when he said that, though.

There is no need to explain how the universe began or how the universe is finely-tuned if you just assume metaphysical naturalism on faith.

The Easter Bunny, therefore atheism.

Most scientists are atheists, therefore atheism.

You can do a lot of science without God, just don’t look at the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, or the other parts of science that Craig mentioned, as well as the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability argument, and so on.

You can be a Christian, but good Christians should not use arguments and evidence.

Good Christians should be irrational and ignorant. Bad Christians look for arguments and evidence from science and history.

Good Christians should embrace the absurd. Bad Christians want to search for truth and use logic and evidence.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Greg Ganssle explains the problems of evil and suffering

I found these three videos on Apologetics 315. They are each about 5 minutes long.

Here’s the first one:

Description:

Part 1 of a trilogy. Greg lays out a classic argument that God does not exist, called ‘The Problem of Evil’. He distinguishes two versions of that argument, which are sometimes called ‘the deductive’ and ‘the evidential’ version. He goes into some details on the deductive version.

And the second one:

Description:

Part 2 of a trilogy. Here, Greg gives a response to the deductive version of the Problem of Evil on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. In thinking about this response, we need to think about whether God can make contradictions true, and whether God can have good reasons for allowing bad things to happen.

And the third one:

Description:

Part 3 of a trilogy. Greg considers the evidential version of the Problem of Evil, and gives a response on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. This involves considering whether God might have a good reason to allow bad things to happen.

This is very practical and you won’t find a shorter introduction to the problem of evil than these videos. When things go wrong as they sometimes will in your life it’s very important to understand that we shouldn’t be surprised by suffering and evil.

Probably the most important thing to understand about evil and suffering is that God is not our cosmic butler. It’s not his job to provide happiness for his human pets. You would never get the idea from the Bible that God is interested in making people feel happy, especially if they ignore him and his moral laws. Everything God does with people is meant to make them know him better and serve him better, and many things that happen to us that don’t make us happy, but they do give us the opportunity to either grow towards God or away from him.

If the story of Jesus tells us anything, it tells us that you can be morally perfect and still get whammed while you learn how to be obedient to God. Being good is no guarantee of happiness. Doing God’s will is no guarantee of happiness. There just is no guarantee of happiness, no matter how righteous you are. But what there is for us is a promise that God works through evil and suffering in order to make those who respond to his leading as much like his Son Jesus as they can be. And that has to be enough for us. We have to learn how to trust God through suffering. Knowing the logic of the problems of evil and suffering can help us to develop that trust.

See the links below for more.

Related posts

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why doesn’t God give us more evidence of his existence?

Have you ever heard someone say that if God existed, he would give us more evidence? This is called the “hiddenness of God” argument. It’s also known as the argument from “rational non-belief”.

Basically the argument is something like this:

  1. God is all powerful
  2. God is all loving
  3. God wants all people to know about him
  4. Some people don’t know about him
  5. Therefore, there is no God.

You may hear have heard this argument before, when talking to atheists, or in debates, like in William Lane Craig’s debate with Theodore Drange, (audio, video).

Basically, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

What reason could God have for remaining hidden?

Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden.

His paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him. God places a higher value on people having the free will to respond to him, and if he shows too much of himself he takes away their free choice to respond to him, because once he is too overt about his existence, people will just feel obligated to belief in him in order to avoid being punished.

But believing in God just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants for us. If it is too obvious to us that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and behave morally out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might try to get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us and draw us to him. But I do think that we are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. In order to derive a contradiction, God MUST NOT have any possible reason to remain hidden. If he has a reason for remaining hidden that is consistent with his goodness, then the argument will not go through.

When Murray offers a possible reason for God to remain hidden in order to allow people to freely respond to him, then the argument is defeated. God wants people to respond to him freely so that there is a genuine love relationship – not coercion by overt threat of damnation. To rescue the argument, the atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free choice of his creatures to reject him.

More of Michael Murray’s work

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here. The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Michael Murray’s papers are really fun to read, because he uses hilarious examples. I should mention that I disagree with his view that God’s work of introducing biological information in living creatures has to be front-loaded.

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Is there any evidence of God’s existence?

Yes, just watch this lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig. It contains 5 reasons why God exists and 3 reasons why it matters.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Does a commitment to naturalism undermine rational thought and textual meaning?

Dr. William Lane Craig had a formal debate with an atheist philosopher named Alex Rosenberg a few months back that brought up an interesting idea. Rosenberg is a strong naturalist and he suggests all kinds of counterintuitive outworkings of naturalism in his book. Dr. Craig brought up a bunch of those strange views in his debate, and I listed them out in my summary of the debate as follows:

  1. The argument from the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states implies non-physical minds (dualism), which is incompatible with naturalism
  2. The existence of meaning in language is incompatible with naturalism, Rosenberg even says that all the sentences in his own book are meaningless
  3. The existence of truth is incompatible with naturalism
  4. The argument from moral praise and blame is incompatible with naturalism
  5. Libertarian freedom (free will) is incompatible with naturalism
  6. Purpose is incompatible with naturalism
  7. The enduring concept of self is incompatible with naturalism
  8. The experience of first-person subjectivity (“I”) is incompatible with naturalism

We are concerned with #1 and #2 in this post.

Now I was visiting my parents last week in my home town and Dad and I went to church on Sunday. He wanted to listen to some weird sing-song-voiced pastor on the drive there, but I plugged in my smartphone and we listened to these three podcasts by William Lane Craig instead.

Dr. Craig was explaining in part 3 (I think) about how he went on the offensive with the 8 points, and Dad asked me why Dr. Rosenberg wrote that if naturalism is true, then nothing written down is meaningful. He also wanted to know why Dr. Rosenberg would write a book if his worldview entailed that nothing written down is meaningful.

The solution has to do with Rosenberg’s denial of “intentionality”, which is the idea that something can be about something else. For example, I can think about what I had for breakfast today on the way to church (two apples and coffee) or I can think about the sermon today in my home church and how good it was. A naturalist believes that the whole universe is made up of pure matter alone, and matter cannot be about anything. So Rosenberg denies this common sense view of “intentionality” or “aboutness” because there is no room for it on his naturalistic / materialistic / physicalist view of reality.

Here is a post by Bill Valicella on Maverick Philosopher blog that answers Dad’s questions.

First, Rosenberg’s own view from his book.

A single still photograph doesn’t convey movement the way a motion picture does. Watching a sequence of slightly different photos one photo per hour, or per minute, or even one every 6 seconds won’t do it either. But looking at the right sequence of still pictures succeeding each other every one-twentieth of a second produces the illusion that the images in each still photo are moving. Increasing the rate enhances the illusion, though beyond a certain rate the illusion gets no better for creatures like us. But it’s still an illusion. There is noting to it but the succession of still pictures. That’s how movies perpetrate their illusion. The large set of still pictures is organized together in a way that produces in creatures like us the illusion that the images are moving. In creatures with different brains and eyes, ones that work faster, the trick might not work. In ones that work slower, changing the still pictures at the rate of one every hour (as in time-lapse photography) could work. But there is no movement of any of the images in any of the pictures, nor does anything move from one photo onto the next. Of course, the projector is moving, and the photons are moving, and the actors were moving. But all the movement that the movie watcher detects is in the eye of the beholder. That is why the movement is illusory.

The notion that thoughts are about stuff is illusory in roughly the same way. Think of each input/output neural circuit as a single still photo. Now, put together a huge number of input/output circuits in the right way. None of them is about anything; each is just an input/output circuit firing or not. But when they act together, they “project” the illusion that there are thoughts about stuff. They do that through the behavior and the conscious experience (if any) that they produce. (Alex Rosenberg,The Atheists’ Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.  The quotation was copied from here.)

And here is what Bill says about that:

Rosenberg is not saying, as an emergentist might, that the synergy of sufficiently many neural circuits gives rise to genuine object-directed thoughts.    He is saying something far worse, something literally nonsensical, namely, that the object-directed thought that thoughts are object-directed is an illusion.  The absurdity of Rosenberg’s position can be seen as follows.

  1. Either the words “The notion that thoughts are about stuff is illusory”  express a thought — the thought that there are no object-directed thoughts — or they do not.
  2. If the latter, then the words are meaningless.
  3. If the former, then the thought is either true or false.
  4. If the thought is true, then there there are no object-directed thoughts, including the one expressed by Rosenberg’s words, and so his words are once again meaningless.
  5. If the thought is false, then there are object-directed thoughts, and Rosenberg’s claim is false.

Therefore:

  • Rosenberg’s claim is either meaningless or false.  His position is self-refuting.

As for the analogy, it is perfectly hopeless, presupposing as it does genuine intrinsic intentionality.  If I am watching a movie of a man running, then I am under an illusion in that there is nothing moving on the movie screen: there is just a series of stills. But the experience I am undergoing is a perfectly good experience that exhibits genuine intrinsic intentionality: it is a visual experiencing of a man running, or to be perfectly punctilious about it: a visual experiencing AS OF a man running.  Whether or not the man depicted exists, as would be the case if the movie were a newsreel, the experience exists, and so cannot be illusory.

To understand the analogy one must understand that there are intentional experiences, experiences that take an accusative.  But if you understand that, then you ought to be able to understand that the analogy cannot be used to render intelligible how it might that it is illusory that there are intentional experiences.

What alone remains of interest here is how a seemingly intelligent fellow could adopt a position so manifestly absurd.  I suspect the answer is that he has stupefied himself  by  his blind adherence to scientistic/naturalistic ideology.

If you want to sort of double check the details, then go ahead and watch the debate or read my summary or listen to the debate audio, and then listen to Dr. Craig’s three podcasts that I linked above.

I know a lot of you are thinking right now “Hey! You cheater! That’s a presuppositional argument! You said they were bad!” Well, I didn’t say they were bad, I said that the epistemological view of presuppositionalism was bad. Presuppositional arguments are good. See below for a few posts about them. Use them all you can, but use the good scientific and historical evidence, too.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 3,954,733 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,742 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,742 other followers

%d bloggers like this: