• About TWIM


    The Warfare Is Mental (TWIM) reflects the mental warfare of an author, screenwriter, publisher and member of the Writer's Guild of America. Family, friends, health, humor, art, music, science, faith, fun and knowledge are some of the things that are important to me.



    TWIM is the first and only theist blog listed on the Atheist Blogroll, which currently contains over 1,000 blogs. It goes without saying that I don't endorse hardly any of the views of any of them. Contact Mojoey for more information.



    Ironically, TWIM won an award for "Best Atheist / Skeptic Site" from this site. Much obliged.



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    You and your commenters are a feast of thinking — great stuff.

    -C.L. Dyck
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes.

    -faithlessgod,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl resists following through on a thought even to provide a solid opposing position, and thus stifles many conversations. It’s a shame since it seems like cl has some brain power that could be applied to the topics at hand.

    -Hermes,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [faithlessgod and Hermes] fit my definition of trolling. I didn’t take any of those attacks against you seriously, and quickly categorized them as trolls.

    -JS Allen,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] is, as many have noticed, a master of this warfare. I’ve been following him for quite some time and he’s one of the most effective Christian trolls out there. No one can completely destroy a conversation as effectively as he does, and with such masterful grace and subtly that he rarely gets banned. This isn’t a blunt-force “U R Hitler!” troll, this is the Yoda of trolling.

    -Eneasz,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This seems to imply that cl is, at least in part, disingenuous in terms of how he responds/what he claims. Is this most likely true, supported by evidence, or merely a subjective claim?

    -al friedlander,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...I wanted to get a message to you outside of the context of specific discussions on CSA. You make good, insightful contributions to that site, and since I often agree with you I'm glad there is someone else there defending my positions better than I sometimes can. However I don't think anything of value would be lost if you stopped engaging in personal combat with juvenile snipers.

    -Zeb,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thank you for your wonderful response - so reasoned in the race of [Waldvogel's] blustering.

    -Annie Laurie Gaylor
     Freedom From Religion Foundation
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thanks for a great Op-Ed.

    -Marianne Ratcliff
     VC Star
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...as atheists we need to make sure that someone like cl and any Christian readers of [An Apostate's Chapel] don’t come away with the perception that the atheists caved in or were incapable of responding. I’m sure that a lot of Christians who find cl incomprehensible at times and don’t even bother reading him themselves will come away with an assumption that cl is that sort of rare intellectual theist who can prove that gods exist. And that’s how those inane rumors about the feared xian intellectuals start…

    -bbk
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are in so over your head here, you are embarrassing yourself...
    I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level.

    -R.C. Moore
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You're doing a fine job.

    -Prof. Larry Moran
     Dept. of Biochemistry
     University of Toronto
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Phyletic change and vicariance (or, drift and selection versus population isolation), as cl points out, are much better ways of describing what are unfortunately more commonly known as micro- and macro- evolution, respectively.

    -Dan
     Biology postdoc
     Univ. of Cyprus
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl says, “The minute you call yourself a Christian or an Atheist or whatever the heck else, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted.” cl’s point couldn’t be more on. As cl points out there is an important reason for not claiming any real religious (or lack thereof) belief. It puts logical constraints on one's arguments due directly to the bias of the individual that is translating the English to mind ideas of what it means to be religious.

    -Bobaloo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Just who in the bloody hell do you think you are, you Christian piece of garbage, to come here barking out orders? You're an arrogant, condescending piece of shit. You seem to think you're an intellectual of sorts, when all you are is a Christian who's read a few books. John, everyone, this really is the limit. BR, I'm more than a little annoyed that you continue to engage him. I'm out of here. I have better things to do than to waste my time with these cretins.

    -Cipher
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me or my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you [sic] faith. I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion.

    -John Loftus
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

    -David Marshall
     re: Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl, I have to say, while I fundamentally disagree with you, you are an individual which I highly respect. I think your responses are always well thought out and your insights always well thought out and pertinently derived.
    [Y]ou have made me a stronger atheist in my regards to critical thinking and debating. I really can’t wait to hear more from you. Hell, I’d even buy you a drink, good sir. Cheers!

    -Parker
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Bottom line? Sometimes I think he's right about certain arguments, and I don't have a problem admitting that. Other times, however, I think he's wrong, and I've called him on that. But I have found he can be pretty reasonable if you (1) don't overstate your case, (2) make concessions when you have, and (3) insist he do the same.

    -Lifeguard
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I like it when [cl] makes me stop, think and question if I am making unfounded assertions or if I am being sloppy. What has been annoying me about cl of late is that he is being excruciatingly anal...

    -seantheblogonaut
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I really can't thank you enough for catching me on my error in rhetoric. I always love a good debate! And I always enjoy your posts, as well! Keep up the great writing and the excellent eye for detail!

    -BZ
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You make me smarter...

    -Mike G.
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ..thank you, cl. I discovered your blog on a random web search and saw it as an oasis amidst a vast desert of seemingly intractable theist-atheist debate.

    -Sung Jun
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    It's good to be able to discuss with people who are open and respectful, and know that disagreement does not mean disrespect... You are to be congratulated, not only for your patience, but also your ability to hold an ever-growing debate together with an impressive degree of structure.

    -Ritchie
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    My tone is derogatory... [cl is] ignorant and credulous and deserves to be mocked... In the time he's been here, he's shown a consistent pattern of antagonizing everyone he comes in contact with, monopolizing threads, derailing discussions with perpetual complaints, quibbles and demands for attention, and generally making arguments that display a lack of good faith and responsiveness... it's become intolerable. I'm not banning him, but I'm putting in place some restrictions on how often he can comment.

    -Ebonmuse
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This is no defense of the annoying cl, but what a self-righteous, prissy atheist you turned out to be, Ebonmuse. I'm disappointed in you, stealing a strategem from the theists.

    -The Exterminator
     to Ebonmuse
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I certainly didn't get any bad impression about cl, and I can't relate his comments with any of the things (Ebonmuse) said above. I actually thought it was quite interesting to have him around.

    -Juan Felipe
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Please continue to allow
    cl to post his views and make it clear that he is still welcome. And let me be clear, cl is not a lunatic.

    -Curtis
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    With one exception, you are the most coherent and intelligent theist I've seen on this site...

    -Steve Bowen
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I'm rooting for cl. I hope he perpetually manages to skirt the rules enough to do his damage, forcing rule revision after rule revision, ad nauseum. Awesome! Let's watch as Ebon, ever more frustrated, continues to struggle to figure out how to keep his precious private blog neat and tidy as cl keeps messing up his papers while one by one, readers leave due to an every increasing administrative presence. Outstanding! Well I won't go. The thought of this sounds like the most entertaining thing that probably would have ever happened on Daylight Atheism. Hot damn!

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Your visit has been something of a reality check to me. It seems that when you present rational arguments and criticisms, many commenters feel territory slipping and then work up vaporous or leaky responses. I also want to remark that your presence here has considerably moved me to try being a more careful and understanding debater...

    -Brad
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down. The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    -Peter Hurford
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am not going to waste any more time parsing your comments to decide if they've crossed the line or not... So I banned you.

    -Greta Christina
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Be rude... cl invites rudeness. Would you want an incontinent little puppy coming into your house?

    -(((Billy))) the Atheist
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Note to all my regular readers: Since An Apostate’s Chapel is a free-speech zone, I don’t censor conversations.
    As it appears that cl is a troll, please note that I will not be responding to him any longer. I ask that you refrain from doing so, as well. Please don’t feed the troll!

    -The Chaplain
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    …I can’t reconcile being a "freethinker" with banning speech. [cl's] comments are not offensive in the normal understanding of that term, and he poses absolutely no threat except perhaps to some imagined decorum. Why can’t atheists lighten up, for no-Christ’s sake?

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Is it going to distract from my meal when crazy uncle cl starts blathering out nonsense, pick his ears with a carrot or start taking his pants off? No. In fact, it might actually heighten the experience in some amusing way. So no, I don't see cl's work as damage.

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am beginning to suspect that you are a troll cl. Albeit an evolved troll, but a troll nonetheless. Perhaps we should all stop feeding the troll?

    -GaySolomon
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl is] is either a sophist or an incompetent when it comes to the english language... (sic)

    -ThatOtherGuy
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I’d say cl is pretty sharp... it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully... It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature.

    -Deacon Duncan, 3-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find (sic) some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong... cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are... an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind.

    -Deacon Duncan, 6-17-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I strongly discourage discussion of the character, abilities, motives, or personal ancestry of individual commenters, as tempting as such comments may be at times. I discourage the posting of comments that make frequent use of the pronoun “you,” as in “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are just so…”, when directed at a specific individual.

    -Deacon Duncan, 4-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I won’t be publishing your most recent comment because it’s a return to the same sort of schtick you’ve pulled here before: re-writing other people’s arguments to make yourself look misunderstood and/or unfairly accused, taking “polyvalent” positions so that when people address your points you can claim to have said something else, distorting other people’s arguments, trolling for negative reactions, and so on.

    -Deacon Duncan, 10-8-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [E]gomaniacal troll.
    You win... You’re a disingenuous sophist through and through, cl. And a friggin’ narcissist to boot! Since I’ve thoroughly and purposefully broken the Deacon’s rules of engagement, I shall consider my right to post henceforth annulled, and move on - dramatic pause, lights out.

    -jim
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He either thinks in a very weird way or he's quite the con artist.

    -mikespeir
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. Maybe some day I’ll even earn a place of honor on cl’s Blog of Infamy.

    -Eneasz
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Long time reader first time poster... I like reading what you
    have to say over at Daylight Atheism so I figured I'd pop in here.

    -Pine
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

    -KShep
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question...

    -jim
     Reason vs. Apologetics
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Motherfucker, this is an interesting blog... Quite the group of commenters.

    -John Evo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are very articulate, and I can only assume that it's a result of high intelligence; an intelligence that's interested in, and can understand, healthy debate. However, at every turn, that's not what I or others seem to get.

    -ex machina
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a troll, a liar, and a useless sack of shit. Not only that, but you're still wrong even after moving the goal posts and trying to re-write history. So, you can stop cyber stalking me now and trying to provoke me. I know what you are doing, and you are doing it so that you can whine about how I'm being irrational and mean to you and stroke your pathetic martyr complex. You're a pathetic attention whore and I've already given you too much attention. So, back the fuck off, stop following me around the intarwebs and trying to provoke me, and fuck off.

    -OMGF
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I would just like to say that, OMGF, having read the debate as a neutral observer, some of the things cl says about your style of argument are true, IMO. It is quite hasty, which means you occasionally haven't got the central point cl is trying to make...

    -John D.
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...this is a difficult question that deserves more than a kneejerk reaction, not to imply that you're kneejerking. You're the least kneejerking person I've met.

    -Quixote
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    If you’re here playing devil’s advocate, then, hey, you do a great job at it, it’s a service, keep us sharp... You’re a smart guy, but those are exactly the ones who give the worst headaches!

    -Lifeguard
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a waste of time, cl. A big fat black hole of bullshit sucking in everyone who comes into contact with you.

    -Spanish Inquisitor
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    As for all that harsh invective that's come your way, umm... I gotta say, I've seen some of the invective, but I haven't seen the behavior on your part that called for it. Maybe I've just not seen enough? I don't know... from what I've read, I can tell that you're a smart person, and whether you deserved any of that treatment or not is quite frankly immaterial to me; I just want to deal with the smart person at the eye of that storm.

    -D
     She Who Chatters
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I now think that you’re an atheist, just having fun at other atheists’ expense. If that’s the case, kudos.

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
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Mysterious Ways

[Rust Belt Philosophy has offered a critique of this post, here]

I would imagine that most anybody familiar with (a)theist discussion has encountered a believer whom–when backed into a corner about, say, the unimpressive findings of various prayer studies–resorts to the rejoinder that “God works in mysterious ways.” Personally, I don’t endorse that as a legitimate response to the unimpressive findings of various prayer studies, but that’s not what I’d like to talk about today.

I’d like to talk about the viciousness with which atheists often handle the “mysterious ways” response, then suggest that atheists are often just as guilty of the essentially the same “mysterious ways” rejoinder themselves.

A writer at AtheistNexus asks,

What does it say about the individual who utters this phrase? Is this phrase a decent answer, or is it merely a cop out to cover ignorance and intellectual laziness? If there is anything that this phrase does not do is promote an intellectual endeavor to uncover an answer or test a question. This phrase merely shows an individual’s blind dogma and laziness to actually find a real answer.

I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a pretty harsh assessment! So, how are atheists often equally guilty of this impoverished rejoinder?

Consider the classical atheist position on the brain. Arguing against the idea of an afterlife, Sam Harris implies that when you damage one part of the brain, something about the mind and subjectivity is lost, and when you damage another part, yet more is lost… on and on etc. Harris’ argument prompted me to recall a discussion I had with Ebonmuse a few years back–before he banished me from his presence–in which he said:

Let’s say we enumerate all the various regions of the brain, labeling them A through Z, and all the various aspects of consciousness, labeling them A’ through Z’… when you destroy brain region A, you remove aspect of consciousness A’. Destroy brain region B, and you remove aspect of consciousness B’, and so on. Given these facts, I conclude that when all brain regions, A through Z, are destroyed, then all aspects of consciousness, A’ through Z’, are destroyed as well.  (Ebonmuse, September 17, 2008, 7:58 pm)

Those are some fairly cemented goalposts, which means Harris’ and Ebonmuse’s claim seems legitimately falsifiable. It would seem that one would simply need an instance of brain regions A – ? destroyed while their corresponding aspects of consciousness remain intact. Right?

Yet, when one confronts materialists with undeniable instances of “this part” and “that part” destroyed or missing, while “this function” and “that function” apparently remain intact, even up to the point of individuals with 50% to 75% of their brain mass missing, many people–perhaps even some of the same atheists who ridicule believers for using the “mysterious ways” rejoinder–will respond that unlike any other organ in the human body, somehow, the brain knows how to remap itself in ways we don’t fully understand. IOW, the brain works in mysterious ways.

Is it me, or is that just a little too convenient, not to mention ironic?

I mean, how in the world can we falsify the claim that mind is entirely reducible to brain if materialists pull the neuroplasticity card every time we show an apparently intact mind with a compromised brain? Precisely how much brain damage or absence is enough to falsify the materialist’s claim?

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80 Responses

  1. cl:

    >> I mean, how in the world can we falsify the claim that mind is entirely reducible to brain if materialists pull the neuroplasticity card every time we show an apparently intact mind with a compromised brain? Precisely how much brain damage or absence is enough to falsify the materialist’s claim?
    That is a fair point. I think that there are always going to be unanswered questions in anyone’s theory, because our theories are necessarily abstractions from a very messy real world, and thus have to exclude some aspects of world, or have yet to encounter new phenomena that will then have to be incorporated into the theory, if possible.

    That being said, I think that it is unfair to compare neuroplasticity, which is a well-known and clearly demonstrated neurobiological phenomena, with divine mysteriousness. The former has been confirmed to occur in multiple scenarios, and thus it is plausible to suppose that the brain has the capacity to change itself in response to different insults by utilizing dormant or underused neurological circuits, which is the essential reason why stroke patients can regain much of their function. So, it is not that atheists are saying that it is mysterious in the sense that we have no idea what happened, but rather that it is that they are saying that they do not know the precise mechanisms by which neuroplasticity occurred to maintain or regain a person’s function.

    Compare that to the latter in which there is no comparable theory to explain why God behaves the way he allegedly does. There is no mechanism of action or theory of divine intellect to explain why he does what he does. It truly is a mystery, and if someone was serious about it, then they would not even try to explain why God does what he does, because if his decisions are based upon mysterious reasons, then we have no business even trying to guess at them, which also means that we have no business praying to him, because we have no idea if he actually does or will respond to prayers. In other words, divine mystery undermines religion altogether, if one is going to be consistent, and not just playing games.

    Getting back to the original point, there is a difference between not knowing something because it is really hard, and not knowing something, because it is impossible. The brain is an incredibly complex organ with trillions of interconnections, and thus it will take a great deal of time to understand its function, especially given the fact that it develops and changes over time, and has untapped redundant resources that are only actualized in the case of insult or injury. Sure, some of this can appear to be ad hoc and arbitrary, but it is rooted in solid empirical data as the foundation from which inferences are made. Compare that to God who is completely beyond our experience and understanding, and thus we literally have no idea about his underlying nature or basis for his decisions and actions. There is no amount of study or research into this matter that will bring definitive conclusions.

  2. “God works in mysterious ways” is a poorly articulated defense that is better stated something like, “a universe where God answers prayers in ways he finds appropriate would not look much different than a universe in which God does not answer prayer” or something like that. It doesn’t prove God does answer prayer, but it refutes the claim that studies on prayer prove God’s nonexistence (I do not use instances of answered prayer as proof of God’s existence as I suppose many believers do).

    As for the whole thing about brains, I do find it interesting when someone can function beyond what the physical make up of their brain should allow. I might have shared this post from you awhile ago but I don’t remember and it’s pretty relevant to the article you linked to.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/02/instrumentality-of-brain.html

  3. So when a believer says, “God works in mysterious ways”, what he is actually saying is something like – “we know many facts about God, nevertheless, there are still many areas of some uncertainty, which we continue to work on and hope someday soon to have a better understanding than at present”? :)

    Sounds like a false equivalency to me.

    As to your questions about YouTube….

    My channel is AncientAtheist, but there is little there you will find very interesting. I did “talking head” type videos for a couple of years, but have pulled them all.

    As to others I find interesting – there are quite a few. I suggest you start with this guy, go through his series on his own deconversion and shoot him any objections you think he didn’t consider prior to becoming an atheist.

    If you get done with that to your satisfaction and crave more, let me know.

  4. Some atheists do make the “mysterious ways” argument re: the mind. Putting neuroplasticity issues aside, look at Mysterianism. If that ain’t “mysterious ways”, what is? This does pop up again and again.

    At the same time, I think one of the problems with the reaction to the ‘mysterious ways’ claim with God is that it tries to reduce God to a force or equation. A “God will always answer prayers of type X in situation Y” concept, which just seems inappropriate. Doubly so considering the current state of fundamental physical science has quite a helping of “mysterious ways” going with it.

  5. Crude:

    >> Some atheists do make the “mysterious ways” argument re: the mind. Putting neuroplasticity issues aside, look at Mysterianism. If that ain’t “mysterious ways”, what is? This does pop up again and again.

    Mysterianism only refers to the so-called Hard Problem of consciousness, which refers to the difficulty of explaining how a first-person subjective experience can be caused by a third-person objective brain. Mysterians believe that we simply lack the cognitive and conceptual resources to answer this question. Others believe that the problem appears impossible, but that adequate conceptual resources will help to answer it.

    For example, Nicholas Humphrey makes a compelling argument that the fact that consciousness appears magical and mysterious is part of the illusion that the brain includes when it causes consciousness. He uses the example of the Penrose triangle, which appears to be an impossible shape from one perspective, but when one changes one’s perspective, the impossibility is seen to be illusory. With regards to consciousness, when we look at it from within the illusion, it all appears magical and impossible, but by shifting our perspective, we can see that the impossibility is a part of the magic show of consciousness.

    I’m not too sure if this is true, but it does seem compelling that when we go to a magic show, the appearance is of something impossible happening, and the conclusion is never that real magic has occurred. Rather, there are physical mechanisms that we cannot observe that account for the illusion. I think it is fair to say that consciousness operates according to similar rules.

  6. Mysterianism only refers to the so-called Hard Problem of consciousness, which refers to the difficulty of explaining how a first-person subjective experience can be caused by a third-person objective brain.

    And I’m simply point out that yes, some materialists and atheists do appeal to “mysterious ways”, and cited an example that drives the point home splendidly. Examples could be multiplied, but this one is most apt just for the name alone.

    For example, Nicholas Humphrey makes a compelling argument

    Does he? Funny, I must have missed the compelling part. And the argument part. Employing a metaphor to explain how one thinks a problem will ultimately kinda-sorta seem like if ever it’s resolved is not an argument. Humphrey may as well tell physicists that quantum mechanics only seems to violate local realism or be in conflict with classical mechanics, but if they look at a Penrose triangle they’ll realize that it doesn’t. I’m sure they’ll be pleased.

    I think it is fair to say that consciousness

    Funny definition of “fair”. You’re certain consciousness is physical, but you don’t know how, nor even how it can be in principle. But darnit, you’re sure that the problem is ultimately illusory.

    It’s just that right now it’s… mysterious.

  7. The 6:38 is by me, just a different account.

  8. Crude:

    >> And I’m simply point out that yes, some materialists and atheists do appeal to “mysterious ways”, and cited an example that drives the point home splendidly. Examples could be multiplied, but this one is most apt just for the name alone.

    Yes, they do, and your point is valid. However, there is a point of nuance that I was hoping to point out. The unresolved issues that appear mysterious to “materialists and atheists” are built upon a foundation of well-validated scientific truth about the mind’s relationship to the brain, for example. Yes, there are unresolved issues that are the subject of ongoing research, and that only time will tell if these questions will be answered.

    This is different from religious claims about God’s behavior, because there is no well-validated foundation that the mysteries are built upon. The truth is that we have no idea why God does what he does, because his behavior appears to be inconsistent and random, sometimes behaving benevolently and sometimes behaving tyrannically. There is no unifying principle at all to appeal to, which happens to have some unresolved issues that are the subject matter of ongoing research.

    Again, compare that state of affairs to the mysterious of consciousness, for example. We know that much of our conscious experience can be explained by virtue of neuroscience. The fact that our emotional responses seem to occur prior to rational reflection makes perfect sense given the fact that subcortical pathways are shorter and more rapid than the longer cortical pathways, which take additional time to process information. Certainly, there are unexplained issues, but there is a great deal of replicated and well-validated knowledge to point to that justifies the scientific paradigm itself. I just don’t see anything similar with regards to God’s behavior, but perhaps you can point out how they are similar.

    >> Does he? Funny, I must have missed the compelling part. And the argument part. Employing a metaphor to explain how one thinks a problem will ultimately kinda-sorta seem like if ever it’s resolved is not an argument. Humphrey may as well tell physicists that quantum mechanics only seems to violate local realism or be in conflict with classical mechanics, but if they look at a Penrose triangle they’ll realize that it doesn’t. I’m sure they’ll be pleased.

    It is not a metaphor. His example of the Penrose triangle shows that just because something appears impossible does not imply that it is, in fact, impossible. Perhaps it will turn out to be impossible, but its seeming to be so is insufficient to demonstrate this fact. And this is especially relevant to consciousness, which is ultimately about how things seem to us in our subjective awareness, and thus how things seem to be within consciousness does not imply how things are in reality. And with regards to physicists, there is objective evidence of the conflicts that you mentioned. It is not a subjective seeming at all. They are just different issues altogether.

    >> Funny definition of “fair”. You’re certain consciousness is physical, but you don’t know how, nor even how it can be in principle. But darnit, you’re sure that the problem is ultimately illusory.

    First, there is much experimental evidence to show that our subjective experience is largely illusory in the sense that what we think we experience is not necessarily entirely there in reality. Some garden variety examples include our filled-in blind spot, and our unified visual experience, which is impossible, given how our eyes move in a saccadic fashion, inevitably missing bits of visual information.

    Second, consciousness is a process, not a thing in the world. I like Searle’s comparison of consciousness with digestion. Digestion is the result of several physical processes in the gastrointestinal tract. To ask where “digestion” happens in the midst of all these physical processes just makes no sense, because digestion is just what the combination of these physical processes do. Similarly, to ask where consciousness happens in the brain makes no sense, because it is just what happens as a result of neurobiological processes.

    Why is this relevant? Because there is a mountain of evidence that the mind is intrinsically related to the brain, from brain stimulation studies, neurological injuries, insults and infections, and so on. There are aspects of our mental life that only make sense given our physical design. Yes, there are some unresolved issues, but they are not explained better by postulating a disembodied immaterial mind, and so I would prefer to trust in the fact that science has always found physical explanations for natural phenomena, and that this is the best bet to understand how the mind and consciousness works. To sit on the sidelines and complain that this is just too hard is not very productive, especially if there is no better alternative.

  9. This is different from religious claims about God’s behavior, because there is no well-validated foundation that the mysteries are built upon.

    God is, even in classical theism, conceived of as a person. You’re attempting to treat God like, say… gravity, as opposed to an agent. We can’t even reduce human agents to anything approximating an exact science at this point. Possibly ever. But we should be able to do this for God?

    What’s more, you’re conflating science with atheism and materialism. Not the same thing.

    We know that much of our conscious experience can be explained by virtue of neuroscience.

    No, we know that absolutely none of our actual conscious experience – those conscious experiences themselves – can be explained by neuroscience. We have correlations to reports and behavior. Not the same thing by a longshot as having an explanation for any conscious experience. Hell, it’s not even an explanation for having a belief, or thinking about something.

    It is not a metaphor. His example of the Penrose triangle shows that just because something appears impossible does not imply that it is, in fact, impossible.

    You say it’s not a metaphor? Okay, suit yourself. But “does not imply it is impossible”? Pull the other one. I guess the Penrose example also shows that it’s possible for circles to be squares. Because it only seems impossible for circles to be squares.

    Listen to what you just said: That something appears to be impossible does not imply – even imply! – that it is, in fact, impossible. Reflect on that for a while.

    First, there is much experimental evidence to show that our subjective experience is largely illusory in the sense that what we think we experience is not necessarily entirely there in reality.

    Yeah, largely illusory in a sense that has nothing to do with the sense we’re talking about.

    Similarly, to ask where consciousness happens in the brain makes no sense, because it is just what happens as a result of neurobiological processes.

    Good thing I didn’t ask that. And I’ll note that you’ve provided no explanation of consciousness – saying it ‘just is what happens as a result of neurobiological processes’ is not an explanation. There’s very little content there, period.

    But again, “it’s a mystery” and all that.

    and so I would prefer to trust in the fact that science has always found physical explanations for natural phenomena

    Science has managed to have its success in part by radically redefining what counts as “physical” numerous times, to the point where the definition to this day is up in the air. What’s more, “science has always found physical explanations”… except when it hasn’t.

    How would you like to buy a screwdriver? The screwdriver in question has been able to repair each and every mechanical problem, large or small, simple or complex, that it has ever been faced with. Granted, some problems it hasn’t been able to fix yet – but that’s not to say it can’t fix them. Penrose’s triangle, remember. It’s just an area for further study.

    Still, fantastic track record isn’t it? Whaddya say – 500 bucks sound fair? Remember, it’s solved every problem it’s encountered so far, except for those problems it hasn’t solved.

  10. Crude:

    >> God is, even in classical theism, conceived of as a person. You’re attempting to treat God like, say… gravity, as opposed to an agent. We can’t even reduce human agents to anything approximating an exact science at this point. Possibly ever. But we should be able to do this for God?

    That is a fair point, and I fully agree with you. My problem is with individuals who make claims about God’s behavior that they are not justified to make, such as the fact that if someone who is terminally ill prays to God for healing, then God answers all prayers. It is the absolute statements about what God will and will not do that get under my skin, and it appears that you agree with the utter inappropriateness of such activity. The fact that such statements are littered throughout the Bible does not help, and I think that this is just one example of a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Biblical account of the divine. Personally, I think that if religious figures would add caveats, much like scientists do in their research papers and conference presentations, regarding the limitations of their knowledge of God, and the possibility that they are utterly wrong, then less people would be disappointed and upset at God’s activity in the world.

    >> What’s more, you’re conflating science with atheism and materialism. Not the same thing.

    That is true.

    >> No, we know that absolutely none of our actual conscious experience – those conscious experiences themselves – can be explained by neuroscience. We have correlations to reports and behavior. Not the same thing by a longshot as having an explanation for any conscious experience. Hell, it’s not even an explanation for having a belief, or thinking about something.

    I disagree. Newton’s laws of motion explained how bodies in space and time move, and his description of gravity was largely accurate and incredibly useful. The fact that he did not explain what gravity was in and of itself did not mean that he was not explaining anything at all. He was explaining a great deal about matter in motion, even though he did not explain what matter or gravity fundamentally are. And I would say something similar about the neuroscientific account of consciousness. It explains a great deal, and I cited the example of our rapid emotional responses as one example, but cannot explain the basic fact of first-person subjective awareness generated by a third-person objective brain.

    >> You say it’s not a metaphor? Okay, suit yourself. But “does not imply it is impossible”? Pull the other one. I guess the Penrose example also shows that it’s possible for circles to be squares. Because it only seems impossible for circles to be squares.

    No, it does not, because there are clear definitions of what a circle and a square is, and they cannot be identical by definition. Furthermore, this all depends upon the context. Can two parallel lines meet? Depends on the context. If you are talking about Euclidean geometry, then no, they cannot. If you are talking about non-Euclidean geometry, then yes, they can. You can say the same thing about the square root of a negative number. It was impossible at one time, but then become possible with imaginary numbers afterwards. So, something that appears impossible in one context may be possible in another. The point of the Penrose triangle is that it appears impossible when observed from one perspective, but becomes possible when observed from another perspective. Now, it does not follow that there will always be another perspective from which a perceived impossibility will become possible, but it also does not follow that such a perspective cannot possibly exist. Only time will tell, and the effort will have to be made to make sense of things as best we can.

    Consciousness is different, because it is a phenomenal experience that is essentially of something seeming to be something to a subject. There is nothing above and beyond this subjective seeming, and it is very important to know that just because something subjective seems to be impossible does not mean that it is, in fact, impossible. For example, it seems that my visual experience is of a unified and coherent perspective, but this is just not the case, which we know on the basis of objective studies of neuroanatomy and extra-ocular movements. So, it absolutely seems that my vision is showing me one thing when it cannot possibly be doing so, and it took scientific study to demonstrate this fact. And this is relevant, because just because it seems to our conscious experience that we are utterly independent of our brains and bodies does not mean that we are, in fact, utterly independent.

    >> Listen to what you just said: That something appears to be impossible does not imply – even imply! – that it is, in fact, impossible. Reflect on that for a while.

    You are right that I misspoke. I should have said that it does not necessitate it. It certainly does imply it.

    >> Good thing I didn’t ask that. And I’ll note that you’ve provided no explanation of consciousness – saying it ‘just is what happens as a result of neurobiological processes’ is not an explanation. There’s very little content there, period.

    It has more content than the immaterial consciousness hypothesis. At least it is grounded in something that can explain some of the content of consciousness. For example, how can the immaterial consciousness hypothesis explain our subconscious, or the phenomenology of our emotions and feelings, or how we speak language, and so on? A material hypothesis may not have all the details, but at least it can say that such processes occur in the brain, which is composed of trillions of neural connections and is processing a massive amount of information outside of our awareness. What does your hypothesis say about it? And where did the immaterial mind come from? And why is it limited by a physical brain and body? Provide some content yourself.

    >> Science has managed to have its success in part by radically redefining what counts as “physical” numerous times, to the point where the definition to this day is up in the air. What’s more, “science has always found physical explanations”… except when it hasn’t.

    That is true, but so what? Has humanity’s understanding of God remained constant over time? Our understanding of anything changes as we learn more about the world, and the fact that there have been revisions does not falsify anything.

    >> How would you like to buy a screwdriver? The screwdriver in question has been able to repair each and every mechanical problem, large or small, simple or complex, that it has ever been faced with. Granted, some problems it hasn’t been able to fix yet – but that’s not to say it can’t fix them. Penrose’s triangle, remember. It’s just an area for further study.

    I would love to buy the screwdriver. At least it is capable of serving some useful purpose in repairing a large number of things. Can it repair everything? No, but I do not expect it to be able to. Is it better than any other available option? If not, then I would prefer the alternative.

    By the way, what is the alternative to science to derive truths about how the world works? What has worked better at understanding the world?

  11. @John Evo

    So when a believer says, “God works in mysterious ways”, what he is actually saying is something like – “we know many facts about God, nevertheless, there are still many areas of some uncertainty, which we continue to work on and hope someday soon to have a better understanding than at present”? Sounds like a false equivalency to me.

    Exactly, it’s a transparently false comparison. Believers invoke “mysterious ways” not to say “I don’t know how God does it,” but to say “I don’t know why God does it,” usually when “it” is something horrifically inconsistent with God’s “perfect goodness,” of which the believer is so certain.
    @cl

    Precisely how much brain damage or absence is enough to falsify the materialist’s claim?

    100%, obviously. Demonstrating a brainless mind would falsify it up nicely.
    Your example of the man with a tiny, doctor-shocking brain does not come close to establishing what you think it does, i.e., that his “mind is intact.” Per the article, he can live a “normal life,” that’s it. Who knows what he (and his life) would have been like with a whole brain?

  12. JohnnyEvo

    “So when a believer says, “God works in mysterious ways”, what he is actually saying is something like – “we know many facts about God, nevertheless, there are still many areas of some uncertainty, which we continue to work on and hope someday soon to have a better understanding than at present”? :)
    Sounds like a false equivalency to me.”

    What they are saying is that there is something unknown or mysterious about God’s actions because they cannot explain them. When they use it in an apologetic sense I think the implication is that because we often lack the ability to know why God does what he does we cannot draw conclusions about God’s character from events. I think the mysterious ways statement is a bad way of articulating that position so I understand why it seems like a false equivalence, but based on Christians I’ve heard use that phrase I think what I said is similar to what they’re trying to say. Simply that they lack the knowledge (they don’t even necessarily hope for better knowledge in the future) to make judgements about God’s character simply from observing the real world events that happen in their lifetime. Because they don’t have the knowledge to make empirical judgements about God’s motives they are mysterious.

    I concede that many Christians count the hits and ignore the misses. As in they try to draw conclusions from the events they like as reflecting God’s benevolence but refuse to draw conclusions from events they do not like. I said in my first comment that I personally try not to do that.

  13. Not a lot of time but for now I’ll take these:

    Evo,

    Thanks for the YouTube tips.

    So when a believer says, “God works in mysterious ways”, what he is actually saying is something like – “we know many facts about God, nevertheless, there are still many areas of some uncertainty, which we continue to work on and hope someday soon to have a better understanding than at present”?

    I can’t speak for believers who use the phrase, and I don’t use the phrase in any meaningful sense, so… I don’t know what believers are “actually saying” when they use the phrase. Regardless, I don’t see that you’ve established any false equivalency at all. clamat’s explanation doesn’t work. The semantic difference between “how” and “why” is irrelevant.

    clamat,

    100%, obviously.

    So, you can pull the neuroplasticity card fearlessly until literally no brain matter exists? I mean, I knew the brain was mysterious, but that’s really mysterious!

  14. @cl

    So, you can pull the neuroplasticity card fearlessly until literally no brain matter exists?

    Uh, yeah. You’re the one who wants to believe mind is immaterial. Seems to me the only way to control for material as the potential source of mind is to eliminate the material.
    You don’t dismiss the notion of neuroplasticity outright, do you? If not, I can throw your demand for percentages right back at you: If someone lost .0001 % of their brain matter without any discernable difference in behavior or functionality, presumably you wouldn’t think this demonstrates an immaterial mind? How about .001? .01? .1? 1? “Precisely how much brain damage or absence is enough to falsify the materialist claim?” What reasons do you have for advancing this precise percentage?
    Unless you can meaningfully answer your own question, I don’t see any reason to change my answer. To demonstrate an immaterial mind, you must have 100% no material.

  15. clamat,

    So, if even one brain cell exists, we should expect a functioning mind? Surely you can see why I think that’s laughable. Ha Ha! Indeed, the brain IS mysterious! It is, it really, really is!

    Seems to me the only way to control for material as the potential source of mind is to eliminate the material.

    Not when one’s claim is that certain brain areas are vital for certain functions, but hey, if you want to have your cake and eat it too, I won’t complain. Just don’t ask me to take such silliness as serious argument.

  16. @cl

    I can’t speak for believers who use the phrase, and I don’t use the phrase in any meaningful sense, so… I don’t know what believers are “actually saying” when they use the phrase.

    Do you presume to know what materialists are “actually saying” when they use the phrase?

    If you don’t know what believers are “actually saying” when they use the phrase, don’t know what materialists are “actually saying” when they use the phrase, and don’t use the phrase yourself “in any meaningful sense,” then what in the world made you think you had anything meaningful to say about the use of the phrase?!

    The semantic difference between “how” and “why” is irrelevant.

    I think we can agree that “it’s mysterious” is another way of saying “I don’t know.” And both theists and materialists say “I don’t know.” But you really think the only difference between saying, one the one hand:

    “I don’t know how Jane Doe’s brain compensated for her terrible brain trauma, because I don’t know enough about neuroplasticity”

    and, on the other:

    “I don’t know exactly why a perfectly good and loving God would allow that punk to shoot our beloved Jane in the head”

    is semantic?

    Your cry of “semantics” drives me to respond with an expression I detest, but seems entirely apt here: Handwaving.

  17. clamat,

    …what in the world made you think you had anything meaningful to say about the use of the phrase?!

    I take each at face value.

    But you really think the only difference between saying, one the one hand:

    “I don’t know how Jane Doe’s brain compensated for her terrible brain trauma, because I don’t know enough about neuroplasticity”

    and, on the other:

    “I don’t know exactly why a perfectly good and loving God would allow that punk to shoot our beloved Jane in the head”

    is semantic?

    I don’t think there’s any difference at all. That’s the whole point of the post. Both people are saying the same thing: I don’t know. Therefore, all that crap atheists talk about believers who pull the “mysterious” card goes right back to them when they pull the same card.

  18. I take each at face value.

    In other words, totally divorced from context. Yes, that would explain why you don’t think there’s any difference at all. “I don’t know” simply equals “I don’t know,” period. Convenient trick, that.

  19. There’s no “trick” at all, clamat. If you’d like to shed some enlightenment here, feel free. Else, I’m going to leave it where you left it: we should expect functioning mind even if there’s only one cell of brain matter left. If that’s NOT your position, then… perhaps you can answer the original question with a bit more precision. If not, no biggie.

  20. “What does it say about the individual who utters this phrase? Is this phrase a decent answer, or is it merely a cop out to cover ignorance and intellectual laziness?”

    Well, humans, theists and non-theists alike, will continue to be ignorant of many things. We can grow in our understanding and discovery of constituents of reality — of truths– but never to the point of omniscience.

    Though there are some general things (e.g. his eternality) that we can discern about God using reason apart from revelation, since we are not omniscient, there are things about God that we cannot know, unless he reveals it to humans. If something about God is neither revealed to us, nor discernable by reason, it is mysterious.

    Tying this back to the “God works in mysterious ways” statement — the problem is not with the statement itself, it’s with how it’s perceived. The statement itself is fine.

    It’s just, an uncomfortable statement to offer (if you’re on the offering end) and an unsatisfactory statement to receive (if you’re on the receiving end).

  21. @cl

    So, if even one brain cell exists, we should expect a functioning mind? Surely you can see why I think that’s laughable. Ha ha!

    Where did I ever suggest we should expect to see a functioning mind with only one brain cell? I wouldn’t expect that at all. Further, you didn’t ask what I would “expect”. You didn’t ask at what level of brain damage I’d be “surprised” to find a fully-functioning mind. You demanded the “precise” percentage of brain damage that would falsify the materialist theory of mind. I’ve given you a precise figure, and a good reason for it: Gotta control for material causes. If you can give me a different “precise” figure, and good reasons for it, we can discuss it. If you can’t, your dismissive laughter strikes me as nothing more than that, reflexive dismissal. (And of a strawman, at that.)

    The quote above is especially strange considering that the position “we should expect a functioning mind if only one brain cell exists” is far more consistent with your position, that mind is not brain-dependent, than it is with mine. If dualism is true, why wouldn’t we expect to see a functioning mind with only one brain cell, at least occassionally?

    No, you’re right, it’s laughable. Change the brain, change the mind. This basic principle has been well-confirmed. That we don’t know precisely how or under what precise conditions brain change effects mind change doesn’t change this fact.

    Which brings us back to the OP:

    “I don’t know precisely how the changes to Jane’s brain will effect changes to her mind” is not the same as saying “I don’t know what God’s morally sufficient reasons for allowing Jane to be shot in the head were.” “Brain change = mind change” is not assumed. It has been demonstrated and confirmed. “God had morally sufficent reasons” has not. It is assumed.

  22. clamat:

    Mm hm.

  23. @Ana
    First, hello, it is good to see you.

    If something about God is neither revealed to us, nor discernable by reason, it is mysterious.

    If something about God is neither revealed to us, nor discernable by reason, why think it is something about God?

  24. My problem is with individuals who make claims about God’s behavior that they are not justified to make, such as the fact that if someone who is terminally ill prays to God for healing, then God answers all prayers.

    Who makes the claim that ‘God answers all prayers’ in the sense of ‘If you pray for it, God will do it’? That’s a misrepresentation to say the least. I’m absolutely certain some people have flawed expectations of God (And note that treating God as a wish-granter commits the same error as someone treating God as a force, rather than an agent), but I know of no one making this move.

    And I would say something similar about the neuroscientific account of consciousness.

    You may as well say that we know quite a lot about consciousness insofar as we know about classical mechanics. In fact, that’s actually somewhat apt, since one thing we know about classical mechanics is that it was ultimately inadequate.

    You are right that I misspoke. I should have said that it does not necessitate it. It certainly does imply it.

    Great.

    It has more content than the immaterial consciousness hypothesis.

    It has zero content in the relevant sense. And that’s only made more apparent by the fact that just what is “material” anymore is itself up for grabs. You have no idea what consciousness explanation is, or how even in principle ‘the physical’ could ever result in consciousness (and qualia isn’t the only problem.) But you take your own certainty that it’s localized to the brain to somehow be an explanation?

    I say this as someone who isn’t fully persuaded by NDEs or the like: That’s weak. It’s just dressed up assertion.

    That is true, but so what?

    So it illustrates a problem with claiming that science has been successful at providing physical explanations, when it has managed this in part by fundamentally changing the definition of ‘physical’. First, often science does not even attempt to explain but merely correlate. But second and more importantly here, if you tell me you’re confident that science will explain consciousness physically, yet admit that science has been forced to change the definition of “physical” in the past, then you’re telling me little. Again, reflect on it: “Science will give a physical explanation. We may have to change the definition of physical to manage this.”

    Can it repair everything? No, but I do not expect it to be able to.

    But you did “expect science to be able to”. That was one point of the example: You cited science’s track record as a reason to expect it will succeed on this question. Why, except for all those problems it hasn’t solved, it’s solved everything so far. Yet despite the screwdriver’s track record, you don’t expect it to be able to repair everything given enough time.

    Note that I didn’t ask you to defend the idea that science is useful, even very useful, just as I didn’t ask the question ‘Is this screwdriver very useful?’

  25. Crude:

    >> You may as well say that we know quite a lot about consciousness insofar as we know about classical mechanics. In fact, that’s actually somewhat apt, since one thing we know about classical mechanics is that it was ultimately inadequate.

    That is not what I am saying. You are claiming that neuroscience is not explaining ANYTHING about consciousness, and I am saying that this is false. It does not explain everything, but it does not follow that it does not explain anything. That was the point of bringing up Newton. He never explained what gravity or matter was, but that did not stop him from describing to an incredible degree of accuracy how large bodies move and behave. That fact that his account had to be supplemented does not falsify it. I mean, if it was false, then it should be useless, but it is still very useful, but not in all domains, especially at the subatomic level.

    >> It has zero content in the relevant sense. And that’s only made more apparent by the fact that just what is “material” anymore is itself up for grabs. You have no idea what consciousness explanation is, or how even in principle ‘the physical’ could ever result in consciousness (and qualia isn’t the only problem.) But you take your own certainty that it’s localized to the brain to somehow be an explanation?

    I take it as a starting point in need of further elaboration and study. If you cannot see that neuroscience, for example, can explain a significant amount of our mental content, then I do not know what else to tell you, except that you should really study the matter more. It cannot explain the sheer fact of our first-person subjective experience, but it can explain why our experience has the contours and aspects that it does. I cited the example of why we experience our emotional reactions before our rational reflection by describing subcortical pathways in the brain having a shorter path than the cortical pathways. If you deny that this explains anything at all about our conscious experience of emotion, then I’m afraid that you are just wrong.

    >> So it illustrates a problem with claiming that science has been successful at providing physical explanations, when it has managed this in part by fundamentally changing the definition of ‘physical’.

    Right. It follows the evidence. If evidence requires a revision of “physical”, then “physical” will be revised. It is a matter of a theory that explains the most phenomena. Since all theories will be incomplete, it is inevitable that some phenomena cannot fit the theory. Does it follow that those phenomena must be given a supernatural or magical explanation, or is it better to just say that we do not have an adequate theory for them?

    >> First, often science does not even attempt to explain but merely correlate.

    Correlation is useful, and can be explanatory in a sense. Causal explanation is even better, but even a correlation to establish some kind of regularity can be very useful.

    >> But second and more importantly here, if you tell me you’re confident that science will explain consciousness physically, yet admit that science has been forced to change the definition of “physical” in the past, then you’re telling me little. Again, reflect on it: “Science will give a physical explanation. We may have to change the definition of physical to manage this.”

    I see no problem with this at all. As long as there is an adequate theory to explain the phenomena, then that is all that matters. If some terms have to be redefined along the way, then that is fine, and has often happened in the history of science, as you pointed out. But what follows from this? Since science has revised its concepts, then its concepts today hold no value, and should be disregarded and dismissed? That therefore any supernatural and magical explanation is on par with a scientific explanation? That therefore there should be no limits to any explanation at all?

    >> But you did “expect science to be able to”. That was one point of the example: You cited science’s track record as a reason to expect it will succeed on this question. Why, except for all those problems it hasn’t solved, it’s solved everything so far. Yet despite the screwdriver’s track record, you don’t expect it to be able to repair everything given enough time.

    I know that science has limits, and cannot answer every single question. However, it is the best method that we have to uncover how the world works. So, should we try to understand consciousness using scientific methods? I think so. Will it necessarily uncover the mechanisms of consciousness? No, but if we are serious about figuring this out, then we should use the best method we have.

    >> Note that I didn’t ask you to defend the idea that science is useful, even very useful, just as I didn’t ask the question ‘Is this screwdriver very useful?’

    Then what is your point? That we should not even try to understand consciousness using scientific methods?

    And I noticed that you answered NONE of my questions about how an immaterial mind explains ANYTHING at all about how our consciousness operates. Since you seem to have nothing but contempt for the limitations and lack of answers of a physicalist account of the mind, then answer the following questions:

    (1) How does an immaterial mind explain our subconscious mental life?
    (2) How does an immaterial mind explain why our emotions override our reason?
    (3) How does an immaterial mind explain our ability to reason and use language?
    (4) How does an immaterial mind explain our intentionality?
    (5) How does an immaterial mind explain our qualia?
    (6) If the mind is not caused by the brain, then where does the mind come from before the brain exists?
    (7) Why is the immaterial mind affected by damage to the brain?
    (8) Why is there even a correlation between the immaterial mind and the brain?

    Thanks.

  26. You are claiming that neuroscience is not explaining ANYTHING about consciousness, and I am saying that this is false.

    And I said it has zero to say about consciousness in the relevant sense – that much is true.

    The claim that “if it were false it should be useless” is silly. A practice can be useful yet its explanation either lacking or erroneous.

    It cannot explain the sheer fact of our first-person subjective experience, but it can explain why our experience has the contours and aspects that it does.

    It correlates. It does not “explain”, because the “sheer fact of our first-person subjective experience” is pretty damn fundamental. Do you recognize the difference between finding correlations with regards to experience, and explaining the experience even in part? Set the bar as low as you wish to get the word ‘explains’ in there, but it takes only a few moments of critical thinking to see the silliness.

    And again, go ahead and say that classical mechanics explains a lot about consciousness then. And I’ll maintain again one prime way classical mechanics really was suggestive about any hope of a “science” of consciousness.

    Right. It follows the evidence. If evidence requires a revision of “physical”, then “physical” will be revised.

    Then do you see any problem, any at all, with recognizing this and then stressing your confidence that a ‘physical’ explanation will be forthcoming? The definition of physical is fluid. What’s immaterial today could be physical tomorrow. (Indeed, that pattern popped up with contact mechanics versus newtonian, and elsewhere.)

    Does it follow that those phenomena must be given a supernatural or magical explanation, or is it better to just say that we do not have an adequate theory for them?

    Kinda pointless to ask that for a number of reasons. What makes a non-physical explanation either “magical” or “supernatural” or, amazingly enough, even non-physical? Especially when, once again, the definition of physical has been revised, and it’s entirely possible it will be revised in the future? Those words are, when employed in this manner, almost entirely derogatory without real content.

    Correlation is useful, and can be explanatory in a sense.

    Heh. In a sense. In a sense, I’m the president of the United States.

    I know that science has limits, and cannot answer every single question. However, it is the best method that we have to uncover how the world works.

    This screwdriver is the best tool we have. We should rely on it to stop the next 9.0 earthquake. Anyone who’s skeptical is a communist!

    Again: I was addressing your confidence that science will provide a physical explanation for consciousness. Replacing that with “science is a great tool, I think it’s our best shot, however weak it is” and acknowledging that “physical” has changed definition and possibly (likely?) will again rather drains that. Have faith in your screwdriver if you please, but have some sense. Or don’t, I suppose.

    Then what is your point? That we should not even try to understand consciousness using scientific methods?

    That the confidence you were putting in science and “physical” explanations to tackle this question, when examined, are alternately pretty weak or largely empty.

    And I noticed that you answered NONE of my questions about how an immaterial mind explains ANYTHING at all about how our consciousness operates.

    Didn’t say I had any. Are you pegging me for a cartesian dualist? Please – tell me where I offered up any defense of an ‘immaterial mind’, much less in that capacity. I find various proposed “solutions” interesting, from neutral monism to panpsychism to hylemorphism to idealism to elsewise. Maybe the problem is with our concept of matter, eh?

    Or I suppose you can insist we just put our faith in the mysterious ways.

  27. Crude:

    >> And I said it has zero to say about consciousness in the relevant sense – that much is true.

    Yup, it does not explain the sheer first-person experience itself being caused by the brain. That we agree upon.

    >> The claim that “if it were false it should be useless” is silly. A practice can be useful yet its explanation either lacking or erroneous.

    I am not talking about a practice, but a theory that explains how natural phenomena behave. Either it is predictive and useful, or it is not. What sense is there to say that a theory can predict events under its purvey with a high degree of accuracy, but it is false? Care to provide any examples?

    >> It correlates. It does not “explain”, because the “sheer fact of our first-person subjective experience” is pretty damn fundamental.

    Yes, and the explanation of what gravity is is pretty fundamental, too, but Newtonian mechanics worked just fine as an excellent explanation of how objects move while being affected by gravity. I doubt that anyone would agree that Newton’s three laws were just correlations between the mass of an object and the force of gravity, because the latter was not explained.

    >> Do you recognize the difference between finding correlations with regards to experience, and explaining the experience even in part? Set the bar as low as you wish to get the word ‘explains’ in there, but it takes only a few moments of critical thinking to see the silliness.

    Do you disagree that the fact that there are no cone or rod cells in the part of the retina where the optic nerve and vasculature enters and leaves the eye explains the fact that we have a blind spot in our vision? Is this just a correlation, or is this a full explanation of a conscious experience that is actually only possible with objective science?

    >> And again, go ahead and say that classical mechanics explains a lot about consciousness then. And I’ll maintain again one prime way classical mechanics really was suggestive about any hope of a “science” of consciousness.

    I’m not saying anything of the sort. I don’t know what kind of theory would explain consciousness, but whatever it is it must incorporate the fact that consciousness is caused by the brain. How that happens remains to be figured out.

    >> Then do you see any problem, any at all, with recognizing this and then stressing your confidence that a ‘physical’ explanation will be forthcoming? The definition of physical is fluid. What’s immaterial today could be physical tomorrow. (Indeed, that pattern popped up with contact mechanics versus newtonian, and elsewhere.)

    I have no problem with that. Assumptions and definitions are not rigid, and they may have to be abandoned or revised to further our understanding. One thing cannot be revised, though, and that is the fact that consciousness is caused by the brain. Whether that requires us to revise our concepts of physicality is irrelevant, as long as it preserves this causal relationship.

    >> Kinda pointless to ask that for a number of reasons. What makes a non-physical explanation either “magical” or “supernatural” or, amazingly enough, even non-physical? Especially when, once again, the definition of physical has been revised, and it’s entirely possible it will be revised in the future? Those words are, when employed in this manner, almost entirely derogatory without real content.

    Fair enough. I suppose that if you go to a magic show, and you cannot figure out the magic trick, you do not assume that there must be a physical – in whatever sense you want to take that term – explanation that you are missing. Instead, you say “Oh my God! I just saw REAL magic that violates the laws of physics! We now have to revise our understanding of everything!” I highly doubt that you do that in that case, even though you absolutely cannot figure things out.

    >> Heh. In a sense. In a sense, I’m the president of the United States.

    In what sense exactly, Barack?

    >> This screwdriver is the best tool we have. We should rely on it to stop the next 9.0 earthquake. Anyone who’s skeptical is a communist!

    We can sure try, and if it doesn’t work, then we know that it is useless in that regard. However, we should not give up on it before trying it.

    >> Again: I was addressing your confidence that science will provide a physical explanation for consciousness. Replacing that with “science is a great tool, I think it’s our best shot, however weak it is” and acknowledging that “physical” has changed definition and possibly (likely?) will again rather drains that. Have faith in your screwdriver if you please, but have some sense. Or don’t, I suppose

    I am saying that if anything can provide a physical explanation, then it is science, but it is not guaranteed that it will be able to do so. And what do you suggest we do instead? Give up, because things are difficult?

    >> That the confidence you were putting in science and “physical” explanations to tackle this question, when examined, are alternately pretty weak or largely empty.

    I suppose that if most scientists though your way, then we would not know anything, especially if the matter was especially difficult and took centuries of work to figure out. It is a good thing that you were not around Newton or Einstein, harping at their every failure. So, if you are just pessimistic about the limitations of science, then that is your right. I suppose that this ultimately comes down to temperament. I am hopeful about science’s ability to find a solution to the problem of consciousness, and you are pessimistic. That’s fine. Every field needs its naysayers, because they serve a useful limit-setting function.

    >> Didn’t say I had any. Are you pegging me for a cartesian dualist? Please – tell me where I offered up any defense of an ‘immaterial mind’, much less in that capacity. I find various proposed “solutions” interesting, from neutral monism to panpsychism to hylemorphism to idealism to elsewise. Maybe the problem is with our concept of matter, eh?

    Fair enough. I misunderstood your position, especially since you do not have one at all. And I’m sure the problem is with a number of our concepts, not just matter, and once our conceptual resources improve, then a solution may become more likely. However, those new resources can only come about by a concerted effort to think things through and acquire as much empirical data about consciousness as possible, which is essentially what scientists and philosophers have been doing. Or maybe we should just do what you recommend, and “put our faith in the mysterious ways” and give up.

  28. FYI: I haven’t read any of the conversation between Crude and dguller yet. Just wanted to let people know, lest anyone be tempted to think I’m “ignoring” anything.

    clamat,

    You said “100%,” did you not? So then, a functional mind with 99.99999% brain is not good enough to falsify your beloved theory of materialism, now, is it? This is why I asked for something more precise. If you’ve got something, cool. If not, well… no need to pound sand.

    The quote above is especially strange considering that the position “we should expect a functioning mind if only one brain cell exists” is far more consistent with your position,

    Now you’re misrepresenting my position. While I do not hold that any brain is necessary for mind in the general sense, I do hold that while embodied, human consciousness requires a brain. “Well, answer your own question then,” you might be thinking. Problem is, I’m not the one making the positive claim here: the reductionist is. The reductionist claims that certain areas are vital. Okay, then… which ones?

    “I don’t know precisely how the changes to Jane’s brain will effect changes to her mind” is not the same as saying “I don’t know what God’s morally sufficient reasons for allowing Jane to be shot in the head were.”

    How is it not? In both cases, we’re saying we don’t know. In both cases, we could theoretically know. In both cases, we have an observation that directly challenges what we would expect given each hypothesis. What’s the difference?

  29. cl:

    >> You said “100%,” did you not? So then, a functional mind with 99.99999% brain is not good enough to falsify your beloved theory of materialism, now, is it? This is why I asked for something more precise. If you’ve got something, cool. If not, well… no need to pound sand.

    I think that you are looking for a precise number where one is impossible to provide, because the matter is fundamentally indeterminate at this time. To give an example, there is a clear difference between a man who is bald and a man who is not bald. Say you start with a man with a full head of hair, and then start pulling out one hair at a time. Your question is akin to the question of what precise hair must be pulled before we can call the man bald? There just is no answer to this question, because there is a series of intermediate steps that we lack any form of classification for at this time, and thus there is no context within which this question makes any sense. It does not follow that there is no such thing as bald and not-bald, because there is an imprecise transition between them.

    Similarly, there just is no point in asking for a precise figure of the amount of brain matter loss with conscious awareness that would justify rejecting materialism. The brain consists of about 100 billion neurons with about 100 trillion synaptic connections. Given the redundancy in the brain, which is one reason why it is good that there are two hemispheres, it follows that many neural connections can be lost without a long-term and significant loss of function. Furthermore, there is a great deal of variability from individual to individual, sex to sex, age to age, and so on, which makes precision impossible for now. And the fact is that the brain often violates our assumptions about it, and is capable of ingenious solutions to problems that we would think are unsolvable.

    Perhaps a better way of formulating the question will have to await a detailed neuranatomical understanding the brain. If neural pathways are necessary and sufficient for mental function, and some neural pathways become damaged without the corresponding mental dysfunction, then the possibility of an alternative neural pathway must be ruled out. If after careful examination of the detailed neural connections of the brain it is found that there is no other possible neural pathway to explain the ongoing mental function, then that would be compelling evidence against a material mind. For example, if visual perception of the external world requires the optic nerve to send neural information to the brain, and this connection is completely severed without any redundant or alternative means of getting visual information to the brain, but someone continues to have accurate visual perceptions on a regular and repetitive basis over and above random chance, then that would be significant.

    The bottom line is that we are nowhere near that level of precision, and thus must use gross and rough concepts, and that is why clamat is emphasizing that a complete lack of brain activity and function in the presence of a functioning mind would be the only compelling form of evidence at this time that everyone would agree with. And to respond to this by citing the presence of a single neuron, or two neurons, and so on, just makes the same mistake as the baldness example. Sure, we can agree that one functional neuron with a fully functioning mind is also compelling, as well as two, and three, and four, but there will inevitable be a grey area where our intuitions fail. Best to stick with clear-cut, but rough and ready, concepts in this case.

  30. cl:

    >> While I do not hold that any brain is necessary for mind in the general sense, I do hold that while embodied, human consciousness requires a brain.

    So, you have these disembodied minds allegedly floating around experiencing the world in some mysterious way, and then – bam! – they get trapped and sucked into a brain and body via an unknown mechanism. Once trapped, they lose most, if not all, of their previous mental capacities and memories while disembodied, and start off with infantile mental capacities that subsequently develop as their prison brain develops, and then subsequent deterioration as their brain deteriorates. Then, once the brain is dead, then – bam! – they are freely floating around full of their previous mental content and experiences.

    Is this your account of consciousness? This is what I understand of your contention about a disembodied mind. Could you clarify this for me, please?

  31. @cl

    So then, a functional mind with 99.99999% brain is not good enough to falsify your beloved theory of materialism, now, is it?

    Assuming this was a typo and you meant to say “a functional mind with 99.99999% brain missing…”:
    Fine, show me a fully-functional mind with 99.99999% brain missing, and I’ll grant you dualism. I assume you have a case study to offer?
    It cuts both ways, cl. If I offer some figure less than 100%, at what point will you be required to offer any response more considered than derisive laughter and unilateral demands for greater precision? On what grounds would you base this response?
    Say I say, “okay, 95.5 percent, exactly.” Are you still justified in simply laughing at me then? Why? How about 95.4 percent? 95 percent? Surely at some point you are required to tell me why you think a certain number would falsify materialism? How about 90%? If you can’t justify a precise number that would falsify materialism (other than 100%, which surely would), why should I?
    So fine, I’ll say, oh, 95%. Show me a person who is missing 95% of his brain who still has a fully-functioning mind, and I’ll disavow materialism. [braces for reflexive laughter]
    Of course, this just begs further questions:
    First, and perhaps most significantly, what does “fully functioning mind” mean? Don’t we have to agree on that, too?
    Your example of the hydrocephalic man certainly doesn’t cut it. First, and as I noted previously, he didn’t start with 100% brain and then have half of it removed, so we can’t say anything about how having a “tiny” brain affected how his mind functions (or more accurately, might have functioned given a complete brain). Second, the article offers only one detail that relates to “mind”: He has an IQ of 75, which is “below the average score of 100 but not considered mentally retarded or disabled”. Unless your position is that “fully functioning” simply means “an IQ above mentally retarded” this example demonstrates very, very little.
    Second, what does “[x] percentage of brain damage” mean? There are many parts to the brain. How much from each part? Tell you what, I’ll agree that a fully functioning mind with 75% brain damage would falsify materialism, if that 75% includes excising 100% of the medulla, pons and cerebellum.
    Your hydrocephalic example fails here, too: From the man’s doctor “It is hard for me [to say] exactly the percentage of reduction of the brain, since we did not use software to measure its volume. But visually, it is more than a 50% to 75% reduction.” 50 to 75% was a visual estimate, not an “exact percentage.” Hmmm, why no demand for “precision” here?
    There are other questions too, of course. Most significantly, what kind of damage? The hydrocephalic’s brain was described as “reduced.” Apparently, all of the “vital parts” were present, just smaller. If your objection is to “reductionist claims that certain areas are vital,” this example doesn’t cut it.
    In sum: If you can’t answer these questions meaningfully, your initial questions:

    [H]ow in the world can we falsify the claim that mind is entirely reducible to brain if materialists pull the neuroplasticity card every time we show an apparently intact mind with a compromised brain? Precisely how much brain damage or absence is enough to falsify the materialist’s claim?

    present no meaningful challenge.

    What’s the difference?

    It’s even simpler than I realized.
    Brains are confirmed.
    God is not.
    Although phrased in terms of something “unknown,” both statements carry implied statements about what the speaker claims to know. The difference between the statements is not about what we can “theoretically know” it’s about what the speaker claims to actually know. They are knowledge claims, and very different ones. Would you evaluate all claims of “I know” at “face value”?
    The materialist claims to know (1) there are brains and (2) sometimes altering the brain affects the mind — not the strawman “always affects the mind in exaclty [x] way, every time” you’d prefer. Both of these have been confirmed repeatedly.
    The theist claims to know (3) there is a God and and (4) he is all-good. You won’t be surprised to hear that I think (3) is highly suspect. A claim to “know” (4) is utterly ridiculous, not least because a morally sufficient reason for the suffering of innocents has never been confirmed. Not once.
    When observations “challenge” what the materialist “would expect” the statement “I don’t know” corresponds to a revised implied knowledge statement.
    Example: A neurosurgeon says “I know that, if we remove this exact 1 cc of the cerebullum, the patient will no longer be able to say the word ‘blue’.” After that specific cc is removed, the patient wakes up and immediately shouts “blue!” When asked how this is possible, the doctor will say “I don’t know.” What he won’t say is “I still know that if we remove this exact 1 cc of the cerebullum, the patient will no longer be able to say the word ‘blue’.”
    The theist, on the other hand, uses “mystery” so that he does not have to revise his implied knowledge statements when presented with observations would challenge what he would expect. When a tsunami kills 10,000 people the theist still knows there is a God and still knows he is all-good.

  32. Hmm, no paragraph spacing. That’s awkward. Is there no way to edit posts?

  33. Hi clamat, good to see you too.

    When I wrote my above comment, one of the things I had in mind was the issue of suffering and evil in the world, so when I used the phrase “about God”, I didn’t just have in mind things about God’s nature, but also about things that God allows to happen (which I think would fall under the general category of his ” will “).

    In cl’s original post, he talked about the phrase “God works in mysterious ways” as something employed in discussions about prayer studies.

    However, it also comes up in discussions about suffering and evil between atheists and theists.

    For example, the question, “Why would/did God allow the Amish school shooting in 2006 that resulted in the death of five girls and injury of five others?”

    Or “Why did God allow a Tsunami to devastate Japan?”

    These are difficult questions, to which theists do not have succinct answers to.

    To my mind, the response “God works in mysterious ways” , I am not a fan of it, but not because I see it as a “wrong” answer. I just see it as something that is unsatisfactorily given and unsatisfactorily received, because humans like specific answers to unresolved things, we’re impatient that way, we want answers now, especially to questions that are emotionally burdensome.

  34. Crude:

    >> >> This screwdriver is the best tool we have. We should rely on it to stop the next 9.0 earthquake. Anyone who’s skeptical is a communist!
    We can sure try, and if it doesn’t work, then we know that it is useless in that regard. However, we should not give up on it before trying it.

    Actually, I do not like my response to this point, and reading it again, it actually appears quite stupid.

    A better response would have been to say that if the screwdriver has been shown in the past to have helped stop previous earthquakes on a reliable basis, then it should certainly be tried to stop a 9.0 earthquake coming up in the near future. However, if it has only been shown to help twist a variety of screws into holes, then it should stick to its current function.

    This is related to science, because the purpose and intent of science is to understand the world using the most methodologically rigorous and advanced methods of study. Science has been highly successful at uncovering truths about the world in the past, and so if there is a factual question about how an aspect of the world works, then I would wholeheartedly endorse using science to try to discover it. Certainly, this may not be easy or bring about quick answers, and it may take centuries to piece together all the details, but the effort should be made using this method, especially with respect to consciousness.

    There, that’s better. :)

  35. clamat,

    Surely at some point you are required to tell me why you think a certain number would falsify materialism?

    Surely I’m not, because I’m not the one making the reductionist claim, so, it’s not my responsibility to set the bar. Regardless, I think we already have examples sufficient to cast serious doubt on the reductionist account of mind/brain. Note serious doubt is not tantamount to “100% proof,” terms which many an ostensibly scientific person conflates.

    And yes, we would have to agree on all the semantics first. I acknowledge that there are differences between damage and congenital brain deformity.

    Tell you what, I’ll agree that a fully functioning mind with 75% brain damage would falsify materialism, if that 75% includes excising 100% of the medulla, pons and cerebellum.

    Okay, at least now we have the potential of getting somewhere. Why those parts as opposed to others? Can you elaborate on their primacy?

    …is utterly ridiculous, not least because a morally sufficient reason for the suffering of innocents has never been confirmed. Not once.

    This is false. The question is whether sufficient reason can exist, and in my opinion, this has been demonstrated. You can’t “confirm” a philosophical argument.

    When observations “challenge” what the materialist “would expect” the statement “I don’t know” corresponds to a revised implied knowledge statement.

    Similarly, when observations challenge what the theist would expect, “I don’t know” corresponds to a revised implied knowledge statement. They are the same caliber of response: both reflect consternation at the apparent discrepancy between reality and what the claim seems to predict. That’s undeniable.

  36. @cl

    [S]o, it’s not my responsibility to set the bar.

    So it’s my responsibility to set the bar. Fine, 100%, because that’s the only way to control for a material cause of mind. “That’s ridiculous! Haha!” doesn’t strike me as a particularly well-reasoned argument to set the bar any lower, so at 100% it remains.

    I think we already have examples sufficient to cast serious doubt on the reductionist account of mind/brain.

    Yes, I know. And you know why I think those examples don’t come close to casting serious doubt. (The “tiny brain” example is particularly unconvincing, for reasons you haven’t addressed.) So the question is whether we can agree beforehand on criteria that, if satisfied, we further agree would falsify materialism. (This likely is for another thread, but it seems fair to ask here: What would falsify dualism?)

    To this end:

    Why those parts as opposed to others? Can you elaborate on their primacy?

    It was somewhat facetious. Those parts appear to control our most basic functions. The medulla in particular, which controls autonomic functions such as heartbeat and respiration. I don’t know of any case where a person has survived without a medulla.

    But this shouldn’t matter. You seem to think “brain is brain, damage is damage, mind is mind,” and it appears no part of the brain is truly “vital” to mind because mind can remain “intact” even with “50-75% brain loss.” The medulla and pons are parts of the brain. I’m also going to insist on the hippocampus, which appears to be essential to memory. If you can remove them and other to-be-agreed-upon parts to bring the total up to “75%” (meaning what, 75% of total mass, 75% of total neuronal connections? Aiyee, more questions!) and demonstrate an “intact” mind, i.e., one that demonstrates no loss of function, I’ll concede dualism.

    Good luck!

    The question is whether sufficient reason can exist, and in my opinion, [that sufficient reason can exist] has been demonstrated. You can’t “confirm” a philosophical argument. [Emphasis mine.]

    And speaking of low bars, “logical possibility” rears its head once again!

    “Despite what appears to be grotesque evidence of depraved indifference, I still know God is good because sufficient reason for killing thousands of innocents can exist, i.e., it’s logically possible that God has a sufficient moral reason.”

    Retreat, retreat, retreat.

    “I don’t know” corresponds to a revised implied knowledge statement.

    Mere assertion. I’ve explicitly stated the revised implied knowledge statement of my hypothetical neurosurgeon. Can you do the same for your hypothetical theist?

  37. So the question is whether we can agree beforehand on criteria that, if satisfied, we further agree would falsify materialism.

    That’s exactly what I’m getting at, right there. Some goalposts that are pre-cemented. You give ’em, and I’ll try to meet ’em.

    Retreat, retreat, retreat.

    My right foot. The ability to choose sin necessarily entails free agency.

    I’ve explicitly stated the revised implied knowledge statement of my hypothetical neurosurgeon.

    Can you cut-and-paste the exact “revised implied knowledge statement” you’re talking about?

  38. @cl

    You give ‘em, and I’ll try to meet ‘em.

    Well, I still think that without any reason to consider another figure (such as the opinions of an actual brain scientist, which I am decidedly not), 100% is the only one that would “falsify” anything.

    But fine, what would convince me? I’m confident enough to stick with the cards I’ve dealt myself: 75% removed completely, including 100% medulla, pons, and hippocampus, with an “intact mind” (this last is squishy, though, could cause trouble down the road). Go for it!

    The ability to choose sin necessarily entails free agency.

    God’s morally sufficient reason for drowning a baby in a tsunami is that it chose to sin? How’s that work, exactly?

    Can you cut-and-paste the exact “revised implied knowledge statement” you’re talking about?

    I have to make one edit:

    “I know that if we remove this exact 1 cc of the cerebullum, the patient will [still] be able to say the word ‘blue’.”

    [W]hen observations challenge what the theist would expect, “I don’t know” corresponds to a revised implied knowledge statement.

    So what is it?

    I suggest:

    “I know that if a tsunami kills thousands of innocents, no good god exists.”

    I think we’ve basically exhausted this topic (or maybe I’m just exhausted of the topic), but I want to make one last point, and I’ll cede the last word to you.

    Neurologist: “We’ve seen 50% brain damage 9,999 times. Each time there was a corresponding loss of mind function. This leads us to think the mind is what the brain does. The fact that the ten-thousandth time there was no corresponding loss of mind function doesn’t mean we should ignore the other 9,999 times and conclude the mind is not what the brain does, it just forces us say ‘I don’t know’ this time.”

    This seems entirely reasonable to me. And I don’t see any double standard or hypocrisy because there’s no similar scenario on theism.

    The theist can’t say “We’ve seen 9,999 horrible disasters. Each time, God had a corresponding morally sufficient reason for allowing it. This leads us to think God is good. The fact that the ten-thousandth time we can’t identify God’s morally sufficient reason doesn’t lead me to ignore the other 9,999 times, it just makes me say ‘I don’t know this time.”

    The materialist says “I don’t know” as the exception. The theist says “I don’t know” as the rule.

    Finally, I’d like to repeat something I’ve asked before. What would falsify dualism? I’m really interested to hear your answer, and would appreciate it if/when time permits.

    Finally, finally. I’ve deduced that you’re in the Bay Area (primarily from your statements that you live in the Bay Area. Clever of me, eh?). Are you a native, or an ex-pat, like me and Luke?

  39. For what it’s worth, Rust Belt Philosophy has offered a critique of this post, here.

    clamat,

    I’m an ex-pat.

    I’m confident enough to stick with the cards I’ve dealt myself: 75% removed completely, including 100% medulla, pons, and hippocampus, with an “intact mind” (this last is squishy, though, could cause trouble down the road). Go for it!

    Actually, I think I’d rather step the game up and take your “100%” criteria. I will cite some examples of consciousness without a brain in an upcoming post.

    God’s morally sufficient reason for drowning a baby in a tsunami is that it chose to sin?

    No. I take it as an inviolable law that sin entails death and suffering, which requires phenomena that cause death and suffering.

    So what is it?

    It’s been long enough that it’s no longer clear what you mean by “revised implied knowledge statement,” but if you’d care to clarify, I’ll give my best answer.

    Neurologist: “We’ve seen 50% brain damage 9,999 times. Each time there was a corresponding loss of mind function. This leads us to think the mind is what the brain does.

    That conclusion is loose. The most we can say is that there is some degree of correlation between mind and brain, but this is just an aside. As for your larger point there:

    The theist can’t say “We’ve seen 9,999 horrible disasters. Each time, God had a corresponding morally sufficient reason for allowing it. This leads us to think God is good. The fact that the ten-thousandth time we can’t identify God’s morally sufficient reason doesn’t lead me to ignore the other 9,999 times, it just makes me say ‘I don’t know this time.”

    I’ve never felt at a loss to identify “morally sufficient reason,” or to explain the existence of death and suffering. I don’t use the “mysterious ways” rejoinder as theodicy.

    The theist says “I don’t know” as the rule.

    I am a theist, and I do not say “I don’t know” as the rule. For me, though unanswered questions remain, many questions, perhaps most, have clear, straight answers that make sense.

    What would falsify dualism? I’m really interested to hear your answer, and would appreciate it if/when time permits.

    Well, I’d start by saying that I’d be more persuaded by materialism were it not for the growing mountain of seemingly contradictory observations. As for what would falsify dualism, I’m not entirely convinced the position is falsifiable. Does this make it unscientific? It seems that’s a debate over definitions.

  40. Butting in for no particularly good reason.

    “As for what would falsify dualism, I’m not entirely convinced the position is falsifiable. Does this make it unscientific?”

    No. Not the fact that YOU are not entirely convinced. ;)

    However, if anything is in FACT unfalsifiable then yes, it would make a proposition that couldn’t be tested.

    “I will cite some examples of consciousness without a brain in an upcoming post.”

    That will be interesting.

  41. Heya Evo. Butt in any time. Truth be told, I like that you’ve taken to reading and commenting here as of late. I had wondered for a long time how it is that you and your crew could talk such long trash about me and what I write without even a modicum of authentic investigation. I now know that you’re at least listening, and I find it encouraging. Cheers to burying hatchets?

    Not the fact that YOU are not entirely convinced.

    Wrong fact. My question was in the context of falsifiability, i.e., “Does the fact that dualism is unfalsifiable [if that’s the case] make it unscientific?”

    However, if anything is in FACT unfalsifiable then yes, it would make a proposition that couldn’t be tested.

    I’m not sure that’s the case. I would say only that if anything is unfalsifiable, then it can’t be falsified. That something can’t be falsified doesn’t mean it can’t be tested [depending on how one defines tested, of course].

  42. Yeah, I know you can be a stickler for precision in language and I should have said, it can’t be scientifically tested. You might still argue the point, but I’m pretty sure most people define “falsifiable” as one of the necessary properties of anything being examined under most definitions of “scientific method”.

    Hatchet? Puh! Have I found you so annoying from time to time that I didn’t want further interaction? Yeah. Would that, then, include not stopping by to read? Yeah. Is that irrational? Maybe. Maybe not.

    I can’t speak for “my crew”. ;)

  43. Cl:

    >> Well, I’d start by saying that I’d be more persuaded by materialism were it not for the growing mountain of seemingly contradictory observations.

    And I’d be more persuaded by the heliocentric model of the galaxy, except for the fact that there is a mountain of observations of the sun moving while the earth sits still. Sure, there are good explanations for the fact that the sun only APPEARS to be moving, but I just can’t be sure about those explanations, especially since they clearly contradict my obviously correct subjective experience.

    >> As for what would falsify dualism, I’m not entirely convinced the position is falsifiable. Does this make it unscientific? It seems that’s a debate over definitions.

    Dualism is falsifiable, I think. There would have to be evidence of a mind existing independently of a physical body. We have talked about what could count as such evidence, such as minds acquiring information while brain dead that cannot be explained by chance or by their being told that information either before or after becoming brain dead. If such phenomena do not occur, then dualism is falsified, because one of its predictions just does not occur.

    Perhaps there are forms of dualism where conscious minds can exist independently of the brain and body, but exert no physical effect upon the material universe whatsoever, and that would be a form of dualism that could not be falsifiable. Of course, the burden of proof would be upon that dualist to explain the contradiction of why conscious minds appear to exert physical effects upon bodies in some contexts, but not in others, especially when they are being scientifically tested.

  44. Evo,

    Yeah, I know you can be a stickler for precision in language…

    Well, do you want to talk, or talk past each other? I prefer the former, so to me, the extra effort is worth it.

    …I’m pretty sure most people define “falsifiable” as one of the necessary properties of anything being examined under most definitions of “scientific method”.

    You’re probably right. Dualism might be unfalsifiable in the same way atheism is. You might be tempted to say, “Whaddya mean atheism isn’t falsifiable, God could show up right now!” Yes, of course, I grant that, but scientists can neither confirm nor falsify atheism, or theism for that matter.

    I can’t speak for “my crew”. ;)

    That’s encouraging. I recall a time not too long ago when that wasn’t always the case. ;)

    Have I found you so annoying from time to time that I didn’t want further interaction?

    I suppose that like beauty, annoyance is also in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I find foul-mouthed slurs and outright character assassination more annoying than persistent argumentation, but that’s just me. ;)

    Take it in a spirit of jest Evo, I got nothin’ but love for ya.

    dguller,

    If such phenomena do not occur, then dualism is falsified, because one of its predictions just does not occur.

    That’s too simplistic for me.

    Perhaps there are forms of dualism where conscious minds can exist independently of the brain and body, but exert no physical effect upon the material universe whatsoever, and that would be a form of dualism that could not be falsifiable.

    That partly describes my view: I believe that conscious minds can exist independently of brain/body, but that they *can* affect physical matter. This doesn’t mean they ALWAYS do, or that we could predict when they will, because they’re still MINDS, which don’t follow predictable laws of physics.

  45. “Dualism might be unfalsifiable in the same way atheism is. ”

    “Dualism” is a positive claim about a factual matter. “Atheism” is non-belief and, yes, you could render my non-belief as foolish very easily, as either of us could demonstrate that a non-belief in past moon landings is a foolish position, factually.

  46. I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at there…

  47. “Atheism” is non-belief

    I wonder what people who believe there is no God are called. Apparently “atheist” is the wrong word.

    Or, you know, people are BSing over this. But what are the odds of that on the internet, eh?

  48. Crude,

    Yeah, I’ve never been impressed with the whole, “Oh no, I just lack belief” schtick. To me, it seems like a wuss move made in order to avoid justifying one’s own position. Well, okay then, I’m just an a-metaphysical naturalist, I’m just denying a position, no burden of proof for me! It’s as if people don’t realize there can be a negative and positive version of the same claim.

  49. For ME, atheism is a positive position. I admit that. I have many times. You know that cl. For others, it’s much less so.

    Does that mean that the term “atheist” is the wrong one for some people? Nah. I don’t think so. Any more than a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Catholic, a Methodist, a Calvinist, is somehow wrong in saying “I’m a Christian”.

    We all gravitate towards labels which are often single words most closely describing our position, knowing that they might not be perfect when absorbed by another. Language is inexact.

    Again, personally, I feel a great certainty that no god (as I’ve ever heard it described) exists. This is a certainty I feel to the same degree that I’m certain that flying, fire-breathing dragons don’t exist. Do I have evidence of either not existing? No.

    Make of it what you will. I’d much rather discuss anyone’s personal claim of their knowledge of a god, based on the specific nature of the god that they supposedly believe in, rather than just defending a position of “no gods – anywhere – ever”. But I can’t control what others insist on talking about. Usually when my atheism comes up, all of the arguments against me tend to run away from the specific god that my antagonist worships. Suddenly, they’d rather talk about “something rather than nothing” instead of “Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead and just wants repentance and acceptance”.

  50. Usually when my atheism comes up, all of the arguments against me tend to run away from the specific god that my antagonist worships. Suddenly, they’d rather talk about “something rather than nothing” instead of “Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead and just wants repentance and acceptance”.

    It sounds more like you’re running away from anyone who makes a cumulative case for God’s existence, or who argues for the truth or even reasonableness of bare theism before moving on to revelation. And I can imagine one possible reason why: Because establishing a bare theism, even deism, is sufficient to dispense with atheism.

    You yourself say that you “feel great certainty that no god (as you’ve ever heard it described) exists”. Being mighty selective in which Gods you want to hear about being described is, well. Not exactly on the up and up.

  51. Crude:

    >> I wonder what people who believe there is no God are called. Apparently “atheist” is the wrong word.

    You have a point. “Atheist” means “someone who does not believe in God”, but you are correct that there is an ambiguity here. One can be an atheist due to the belief that God does not exist, or due to the absence of any beliefs whatsoever about God at all. The latter would occur if someone grew up in an environment that lacked any ideas about God at all, and they would properly be called “atheist”, but not in the same way that Dawkins or Hitchens are atheists, because they have been exposed to the idea, but have rejected it as false.

    >> And I can imagine one possible reason why: Because establishing a bare theism, even deism, is sufficient to dispense with atheism.

    That is absolutely true, but I think John’s point is that one must be careful about what one means by “bare theism” or “deism”. It seems that when more content is provided to the “deity” in question, such as adding the attributes and qualities that believers ascribe to God, the more suspect becomes the inferences involved. However, when “deity” is a vague Necessarily Existing Ground of All Being, then its existence can be more securely established, but it does not follow – at least to me – that this adds to the truth claims of organized religions. This is because one can be an atheist and accept that there is such a thing, especially if this Ground lacks any of the psychological features of God whatsoever, and can be conceived as some kind of an infinite pulsating generator of existence operating according to an underlying algorithm, or something.

  52. Cl:

    >> Yeah, I’ve never been impressed with the whole, “Oh no, I just lack belief” schtick. To me, it seems like a wuss move made in order to avoid justifying one’s own position.

    Well, I suppose it depends. If “belief” is taken to mean a thought that one asserts to be true, then lacking belief in God just means that one believes that the proposition that God exists is false. However, if “belief” means “a thought”, then yeah, it is a “wuss move”, because atheists obviously have thoughts about God, and thus they are committing a fallacy of equivocation when they say such things.
    >> Well, okay then, I’m just an a-metaphysical naturalist, I’m just denying a position, no burden of proof for me!

    Well, it depends upon why you reject metaphysical naturalism. Do you reject it, because the evidence and justification provided for its truth is found wanting? Do you reject it, because you have examples of phenomena that contradict metaphysical naturalism? Do you reject it, because you have an alternative theory that can explain all that metaphysical naturalism can, but also phenomena that it cannot? All of these require some kind of reasoning and evidence.

    Remember, the burden of proof idea is that whoever is making the positive claim must provide evidence. Someone who makes a negative claim has to, at the very least, compromise the claims of someone making the positive claim, but even better, provide an alternative that works better. For atheism, both are provided, i.e. arguments that the arguments for the existence of God are wanting, especially those that are taking to provide for the existence of a specific God with particular properties, and arguments that the world makes more sense without a God existing.

    >> It’s as if people don’t realize there can be a negative and positive version of the same claim.

    This doesn’t really help your position. Take your examples. There is “theism” versus “metaphysical naturalism”, which are mutually exclusive. It appears that both are making positive claims, because one says “theism is true”, and the other says “metaphysical naturalism is true”. However, what makes the two claims mutually exclusive is the existence of God, or the supernatural in general. Everything else is essentially the same, and thus is irrelevant. So, the question is who is making a positive claim here? The one who affirms the existence of God as true, or the one who rejects the existence of God as false? I think it is fairly obvious that the existence of God is the positive claim here, and thus the burden of proof is upon the affirmer of his existence, not on the denier.

  53. cl:

    >> That partly describes my view: I believe that conscious minds can exist independently of brain/body, but that they *can* affect physical matter. This doesn’t mean they ALWAYS do, or that we could predict when they will, because they’re still MINDS, which don’t follow predictable laws of physics.

    But they operate according to SOME kind of laws, right? Otherwise, they would be utterly random, a point that you appear to reject. And if they operate according to some kind of laws, then there must be some kind of regularity that can be used to predict their behavior, but certainly not with the precision of physics, for example.

  54. Crude – you said, “It sounds more like you’re running away…” etc.

    Really. Can you support that in a quote from what I said above?

  55. John Evo,

    Really. Can you support that in a quote from what I said above?

    Easily. In fact, I did right in that response. I’ll quote again:

    I’d much rather discuss anyone’s personal claim of their knowledge of a god, based on the specific nature of the god that they supposedly believe in, rather than just defending a position of “no gods – anywhere – ever”.

    But atheism is threatened by the existence of “any gods, anywhere, ever”. That bare theism the Christians are bringing up – that you complain about – is essential to the views of most of them, from Aquinas to Augustine to otherwise. But you’re not interested in those – you’re saying you don’t want to engage them.

    I think that’s more reasonably described as “running away” than a Christian starting off with an argument for bare theism when confronted with someone who denies all gods.

    dguller,

    So, the question is who is making a positive claim here? The one who affirms the existence of God as true, or the one who rejects the existence of God as false?

    “God does not exist” is a positive claim. Various atheistic or naturalistic statements about reality are positive claims, even if the statement is the denial of something existing. This doesn’t cease to be the case just because some atheists creatively interpret “atheism” so broadly that, technically, empty bottles of mountain dew and cockroaches are atheists.

    The fact that two people have a disagreement doesn’t mean that only one of them can be making a positive claim, or that only one of them has a burden of proof. It’s entirely possible, and frankly often the case, that both do.

  56. Crude – nothing in that quote indicates that I WON’T or that I DON’T engage them on that very topic! In fact, I went on to acknowledge that people will discuss what they will. I’m fine with that.

    You’re making assumptions about me that you don’t know me well enough to comment on, and that I didn’t indicate in what I said.

    Sounds kind of defensive. Maybe I hit a nerve. I don’t know….

  57. Crude – nothing in that quote indicates that I WON’T or that I DON’T engage them on that very topic!

    Actually, it does. Again: I’d much rather discuss anyone’s personal claim of their knowledge of a god, based on the specific nature of the god that they supposedly believe in, rather than just defending a position of “no gods – anywhere – ever”.

    If you think “I’d rather not engage them on those topics” and complaining about those topic choices doesn’t at least indicate that you don’t or won’t engage them or prefer not to engage them, you have a funny definition of the word “indicate”.

    You’re making assumptions about me that you don’t know me well enough to comment on, and that I didn’t indicate in what I said.

    I’m drawing reasonable, qualified conclusions based on your own statements, using your own metric. Funny – you claim to know that Christians are “running away” based on their choices of argument emphasis. But when I make some very reasonable speculation about you “running away” – using your own apparent standard, and based on you saying “I’d rather not engage these certain arguments” – you whine that I don’t know you well enough, and complain that preferring not to talk about something doesn’t at least indicate that you’d rather avoid or actually avoid talking about something.

    Don’t be afraid of tough arguments, man. Engage ’em.

  58. Crude – you are a funny, insulting little guy! First you correctly quote me, “I’d much rather discuss…” and then make your entire argument based on “I’d rather not engage these certain arguments” and call me a “whiner” for pointing out this obvious argumentative fallacy.

    So tell us all, Crude – WHERE exactly did you come up with the later “quote” of me saying I’d rather not discuss it? I’m not misreading your comment am I? You DID say – “I’d rather not engage these certain arguments” ? Quotes and all?

  59. So tell us all, Crude – WHERE exactly did you come up with the later “quote” of me saying I’d rather not discuss it? I’m not misreading your comment am I? You DID say – “I’d rather not engage these certain arguments” ? Quotes and all?

    Spare me, John. If you don’t think “I’d rather not engage these certain arguments” is not reasonably indicated from “I’d much rather discuss anyone’s personal claim of their knowledge of a god, based on the specific nature of the god that they supposedly believe in, rather than just defending a position of “no gods – anywhere – ever”.”, then explain as much.

    I quoted you twice, in italics – that quote is what I’m basing my argument on. The portion in quotation marks? No italics. If you’re at this point reduced to suggesting I’m basing my argument on a fake quote attributed to you yourself within a half day of the conversation start, then wow. You are pretty pathetic, even by atheist debater standards.

    Man up, John. No Christians have been running from you by virtue of the arguments they choose, and you yourself have indicated you’d rather avoid certain arguments from Christians. That you have to stoop to this is just speaking less and less of you.

  60. Crude:

    >> “God does not exist” is a positive claim. Various atheistic or naturalistic statements about reality are positive claims, even if the statement is the denial of something existing. This doesn’t cease to be the case just because some atheists creatively interpret “atheism” so broadly that, technically, empty bottles of mountain dew and cockroaches are atheists.

    How can “God does not exist” be a “positive claim”? A positive claim asserts that a state of affairs does occur. A negative claim asserts that a state of affairs does not occur. If “God does not exist” is a positive claim, then is “God does exist” a negative claim? Or is the distinction between “positive” and “negative” claims nonsensical and illusory? And if that is the case, then the burden of proof is always on whoever says anything? And what would that mean for discourse in general, because then someone can claim anything without support and demand that the burden is upon others to refute their claims, and if they cannot, then the claim is true?

    >> The fact that two people have a disagreement doesn’t mean that only one of them can be making a positive claim, or that only one of them has a burden of proof. It’s entirely possible, and frankly often the case, that both do.

    That is true, but if their disagreement hinges upon a single proposition, then the one affirming the proposition has the burden of proof, and the one who denies the proposition does not. In this case, “God does exist” is the proposition in question, and is making a positive claim about a state of affairs in the universe, which requires evidentiary support. After all, if the believer never made the claim to begin with, the disbeliever would have nothing to refute, which is why the burden of proof is upon the believer to demonstrate. You can’t put the cart before the horse, after all.

  61. Crude:

    >> If you think “I’d rather not engage them on those topics” and complaining about those topic choices doesn’t at least indicate that you don’t or won’t engage them or prefer not to engage them, you have a funny definition of the word “indicate”.

    That’s just silly. One can prefer not to do something that one ends up doing. Your whole debate with John assumes that if someone does prefers not to do X, then they “don’t or won’t” do X. That is just false.

  62. Crude:

    >> I think that’s more reasonably described as “running away” than a Christian starting off with an argument for bare theism when confronted with someone who denies all gods.

    But that misses John’s entire point. He would prefer to debate what specific religions believe about God rather than vague and nebulous definitions that do not necessarily capture what a religious tradition believes God’s properties must be. So, even if “bare theism” is demonstrated, then it is not clear whether this is even God to begin with. After all, some people would claim that Spinoza’s God is not really God at all, even though it may meet some criteria for “bare theism”. In other words, the more specific the claim, the better we can determine the veracity of religious claims, and something vague like “Necessarily Existing Ground of All Being” just won’t cut it, because if this is “bare theism”, then even an atheist can agree with it.

  63. dguller,

    At no point did my argument against John hinge on certainties, but on what was implied and indicated. Evidence need not be conclusive, and John supplied me with evidence – just as he took evidence from his rendition of past conversation. Pointing out “well you could possibly be wrong” means nothing to me here.

    Also, holy crap. What is with you and speaking for other people? John’s a big boy – probably zips up his jeans all by himself and everything. How about you leave him to it? Or do you feel some need to hold his hand when he has a Big Person Conversation?

    How can “God does not exist” be a “positive claim”? A positive claim asserts that a state of affairs does occur.

    A positive claim is a statement about reality. “There is no God” is a statement about reality. “God does not exist” is a statement about reality.

    Yes, a person making a claim has a burden to back up their claim, whatever it is. No, the result is not one of assuming everything to be true – since anyone making a claim has a burden, and decisive demonstrations of truth or falsity are rarely available even as it stands.

    If you don’t want any burden, don’t make any claims, period. If the effect of this on discourse is to have less people making claims, I think the world will survive. May even be a better place for it.

  64. dguller,

    But [minds] operate according to SOME kind of laws, right? Otherwise, they would be utterly random,

    No and no. Well, maybe not entirely. To some degree, minds seem to operate on the law of utility, but I suspect this isn’t the same type of “law” you have in mind, and under no circumstance do I describe intentional acts as random.

    Evo,

    Crude – you are a funny, insulting little guy!

    Oh, the irony! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Need I provide some citations, Evo?

    Crude – you said, “It sounds more like you’re running away…” etc.

    Really. Can you support that in a quote from what I said above?

    In my experience–and I have a lot of experience with you–you do tend to “run away” from arguments that strongly challenge your position. Same with your crew. By “run away,” I mean something like, “descend into name-calling and refuse to offer a reasonable counter-explanation.” You might be fooling yourself when you imply that you’d rather debate specific religious beliefs than bare theism. Just sayin’.

    Crude,

    I see their point about “prefer not to” not equaling “won’t or don’t,” but in my personal experience, you’re correct. Many times, Evo has eschewed arguments for bare theism, demanding that I tell him “which specific God” I believe in instead, and even after telling him that, he didn’t engage any of my more specific arguments. If he did and I’ve simply missed them, I trust he can provide a citation.

    Though I think we agree in spirit, I think we might differ slightly on what constitutes a positive claim. I’d say that “God does not exist” entails a positive claim–perhaps that “natural processes” can account for all known phenomena–but feel free to call me a kook! ;)

    John’s a big boy – probably zips up his jeans all by himself and everything. How about you leave him to it? Or do you feel some need to hold his hand when he has a Big Person Conversation?

    LOL! That’s a, “that was honestly funny” LOL, as opposed to a, “I think there’s something wrong with dguller” LOL.

  65. cl,

    I see their point about “prefer not to” not equaling “won’t or don’t,” but in my personal experience, you’re correct.

    Sure, I’ve granted that. Then again, “giving arguments for these or those ground-level ideas about God” does not itself equal “running away” either. But John was treating such as evidence for the proposition, and I think it’s reasonable – especially if one takes that view – to treat his stated preferences and willingness as evidence as well. Like I said with dguller, I’m not after utter certainty here – I don’t need it.

    Of course, the option is always open to deny that people who prefer certain arguments are in fact “running away”, but there you go.

    Though I think we agree in spirit, I think we might differ slightly on what constitutes a positive claim. I’d say that “God does not exist” entails a positive claim–perhaps that “natural processes” can account for all known phenomena–but feel free to call me a kook! ;)

    Well, I’m not sure of your own deeper views on this. But “God does not exist” is, I think, clearly a claim about reality, and I think it’s obvious that making a claim does entail a burden. “But proving or providing evidence God doesn’t exist is really tough, maybe impossible!” is something I’ve seen trotted out, essentially, as a reason to deny the burden – for my money it seems more like a reason to withdraw the claim.

    (I will add that I don’t think ‘natural processes can account for all known phenomena’ is what “God does not exist” reduces to, since accounting for natural processes themselves is part of the God question traditionally. Don’t even get me started on the ‘naturalism’ thing – for all my railing against ‘materialism’ as so meaningless nowadays, ‘naturalism’ has every flaw but to a greater degree.)

  66. Crude,

    “God does not exist” is, I think, clearly a claim about reality, and I think it’s obvious that making a claim does entail a burden. “But proving or providing evidence God doesn’t exist is really tough, maybe impossible!” is something I’ve seen trotted out, essentially, as a reason to deny the burden – for my money it seems more like a reason to withdraw the claim.

    Oh, I agree. Like I said, the majority of atheists I come across use this “negative claim” phrasing as a wuss-move to avoid justifying what they DO believe. I just find it odd to describe “God does not exist” as a positive claim, in and of itself. I think it necessarily entails a positive claim, and I challenge atheists on those grounds.

    I will add that I don’t think ‘natural processes can account for all known phenomena’ is what “God does not exist” reduces to

    I’m going to bet that’s because you don’t conflate “natural” with “godless,” right? My statement contained the presupposition atheists usually smuggle in when they say “natural” processes.

    Don’t even get me started on the ‘naturalism’ thing – for all my railing against ‘materialism’ as so meaningless nowadays, ‘naturalism’ has every flaw but to a greater degree.

    Yeah, don’t start. Wait for my post on how atheists and materialists have–generally speaking–also bastardized the word “natural” in the same way. Then, we can rail together! ;)

  67. Crude:

    >> A positive claim is a statement about reality. “There is no God” is a statement about reality. “God does not exist” is a statement about reality.

    And a negative claim is a statement about fantasy? You seem to imply that there is no real distinction between positive and negative claims at all.

    >> Yes, a person making a claim has a burden to back up their claim, whatever it is. No, the result is not one of assuming everything to be true – since anyone making a claim has a burden, and decisive demonstrations of truth or falsity are rarely available even as it stands.

    I think that you are partially correct here.

    You seem to imply that someone asserting X and someone asserting not-X are both equally responsible to back up their claims, and thus there is no priority whatsoever between the two claims, and only whatever claim happens to be present during a discussion. I disagree, because unless someone FIRST asserted X, there would be no-one to assert not-X, which is why those making a positive claim about a state of affairs have the primary burden of proof.

    With the example of the existence of God, believers would FIRST have to assert that God exists before unbelievers could deny God’s existence. It would make no sense at all for a believer to say, “I believe that God exists. Now prove me wrong!” That gets things exactly backwards.

    So, I agree with you that whoever makes a claim must support it, but those making positive claims have a higher burden of proof, and take precedence in the order of justification.

  68. cl:

    >> No and no. Well, maybe not entirely. To some degree, minds seem to operate on the law of utility, but I suspect this isn’t the same type of “law” you have in mind, and under no circumstance do I describe intentional acts as random.

    First, what is the “law of utility”?

    Second, under your account of free will, intentional acts are random. A random act is one that lacks a definite set of causes that are necessary and sufficient to explain the act, which is why predicting the act is impossible. Your version of free will that operates – at some point – independent of any antecedent causes (in order to be “free”) would meet this definition.

  69. The law of utility is roughly something like desirism. Under normal, healthy circumstances, people will do that which fulfills the most and/or strongest of their desires at any given time.

    Second, under your account of free will, intentional acts are random.

    I’ve already told you how this is wrong, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it here. On my view, consciousness itself is a cause. It’s fine if you don’t agree, all we need is to be able to know what the other person means with their words. Do you accept the notion that all events require prior causes? I don’t accept that notion, and I don’t classify intentional acts as random.

  70. dguller,

    All positive claims entail negative claims, and all negative claims entail positive claims, so this is nowhere near as cut-and-dry as you seem to think. Perhaps atheists should simply refrain from negative claims? After all, that’s the more confident way to go. The “thinker” who simply uses “lack belief in God” to maintain a defensive posture is a coward. I mean, you would laugh if I told you I was an “amaterialist” right? I would never dream of saying such a thing, unless it was to make a rhetorical point. Rather, I’ll tell you what I believe, because I’m somewhat confident, and not going to shirk from the burden of proof.

    With the example of the existence of God, believers would FIRST have to assert that God exists before unbelievers could deny God’s existence. It would make no sense at all for a believer to say, “I believe that God exists. Now prove me wrong!” That gets things exactly backwards.

    I’m not so sure you can carry that. Take this example: “Joe murdered Bill, now prove me wrong!” A competent DA who knows with certainty that his client has an airtight alibi would have no problem. Also, a person living on an island all alone could come to the conclusion that “no God exists” without a theist first asserting it. Inner dialog.

  71. cl:

    >> I’ve already told you how this is wrong, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it here. On my view, consciousness itself is a cause. It’s fine if you don’t agree, all we need is to be able to know what the other person means with their words. Do you accept the notion that all events require prior causes? I don’t accept that notion, and I don’t classify intentional acts as random.

    Here is where we stand. You claim that our will is uncaused, which is essentially the reason why it is free to begin with. If it is caused, then it is somehow coerced, and therefore cannot be free. So, uncaused will is a feature of your account of free will.

    Now, you define “random” as “non-intentional”, which is interesting, because it actually begs the question entirely. But leaving that aside, that would mean that any time a rock falls to the ground, according to the law of gravity, it is a random act, because there is no intention involved at all. That is unless you want to say that God’s intention is behind it, but then his intention is behind everything, and thus there is no such thing as random at all, and “random” is actually an empty concept. However, you seem to imply that it is a genuine concept, because you have given examples that you consider being random, and thus you cannot use God in such a way to protect your claim.

    And that is where we left things, i.e. in a complete muddle. I am happy to continue this discussion, because I continue to contend that your definition of “random” is not only at odds with how this word is used by people, but it actually is completely confused, and thus cannot really help your account of free will. My contention continues to be that if X lacks a determinate cause, then X is random, and an uncaused will lacks a determinate cause – because it lacks ANY cause at all – and thus is random.

    >> All positive claims entail negative claims, and all negative claims entail positive claims, so this is nowhere near as cut-and-dry as you seem to think.

    Perhaps some examples would help us clarify this matter?

    >> I’m not so sure you can carry that. Take this example: “Joe murdered Bill, now prove me wrong!” A competent DA who knows with certainty that his client has an airtight alibi would have no problem.

    Let’s flesh this out a bit.

    There is the positive claim (= “Joe murdered Bill”). Whoever brought that claim MUST provide evidence for it, which is the primary burden of proof. If they cannot, then the matter is finished, and those who make the negative claim (= “Joe did not murder Bill”) do not have to do anything. However, they can certainly bring evidence in support of the negative claim, as you rightly mentioned, which would be even stronger.

    On the other hand, if there is some evidence in support of the positive claim provided, then those making the negative claim can (a) criticize that evidence to weaken the positive claim, and/or (b) offer their own evidence for the negative claim, which might outweigh the evidence for the positive claim.

    So, there are a number of approaches that one can take to any claim, but the bottom line is that if someone making a positive claim lacks any evidence in support of it, then the conversation can justifiably end without any warrant assigned to that claim at all.

    >> Also, a person living on an island all alone could come to the conclusion that “no God exists” without a theist first asserting it. Inner dialog.

    Right, but they would have to FIRST have the thought, “there is a God” and consider the evidence for that positive claim, before the conclusion “no God exists” can even be had, because the subject of the latter only occurs when preceded by the former.

  72. dguller,

    Regarding the “free will / random” discussion: If you’re not going to take the time to QUOTE me, I’m not even going to bother. Don’t say that I said X and then expect to remember exactly what I said, such that I might compare it with your PARAPHRASE. In short, whenever possible, DON’T paraphrase me. Respect precision, please. Sorry to be so brash, but this strategy is annoying as ever.

  73. cl:

    >> If you’re not going to take the time to QUOTE me, I’m not even going to bother.

    No problem. The following are from the Galen Strawson thread on April 18, 2011 at 11:12 AM.

    You wrote: “I am saying that lack of intentionality is an essential property of randomness.” That is why I said that for you, randomness is an event that is non-intentional.

    You wrote: “If it was thrown, then, no, it wasn’t random. If it breaks off the side of a crumbling precipice, I’d say that can qualify as random.” That is why I said that you seem to agree that the concept “random” is not an empty one.

    I hope this helps.

  74. So, I said, “lack of intentionality is an essential property of randomness,” and you paraphrased me as saying, “our will is uncaused?” Interesting.

    Again: consciousness IS your “determinate cause.”

  75. cl:

    >> Again: consciousness IS your “determinate cause.”

    That is helpful, and I have a few points about it.

    First, the next question is: Does consciousness exist in the causal nexus of space-time?

    Second, another question is how consciousness, which is essentially the awareness OF something, cause our choices? We can be conscious of a tree in front of us, but our consciousness did not cause the tree. Similarly, it appears that we have a volitional mechanism that we can be conscious of, but the conscious awareness of our choice is separate from the choice itself, and thus it cannot be a determinate cause.

    Third, I thought that the whole reason why “could have done otherwise” was important to free will was precisely because it meant that an identical set of circumstances for an agent could have resulted in a different choice. Otherwise, our choices would be caused by antecedent conditions, and thus be coerced in some sense. If you now agree that our choices are caused by antecedent factors, then how could we choose otherwise in the same set of conditions unless our choice was outside the causal chain altogether?

  76. And a negative claim is a statement about fantasy? You seem to imply that there is no real distinction between positive and negative claims at all.

    None worth worrying about when it comes to whether or not there is a burden of proof. A claim is a claim, and anyone making a claim has a burden.

    With the example of the existence of God, believers would FIRST have to assert that God exists before unbelievers could deny God’s existence.

    Nonsense. First, unbelievers could make definitive statements about reality’s totality and leave God out – they’re still left with making an atheistic claim. Second, the idea that you need to be a theist to conceive of God and then deny God’s existence is silly – do I need to encounter someone who believes in unicorns before I can, for example, define a unicorn and state that no unicorns exist? Does coming up with the idea of unicorns automatically entail the person claiming “unicorns exist”?

    By your way of working things, anyone who ever imagines any entity or proposition automatically is a believer in said proposition’s truth or entity’s existence at the start. I think that’s extremely controversial at best, obviously ridiculous at worst.

    You’re trying to treat a person who has no thoughts about a given claim whatsoever as equivalent to a person who states “No X exists” or “X did not happen”, and it doesn’t work – the latter makes a claim, the former does not. The moment you make a claim, you’ve got a burden. Don’t want a burden? Don’t make claims.

  77. Crude:

    >> First, unbelievers could make definitive statements about reality’s totality and leave God out – they’re still left with making an atheistic claim.

    Here, I disagree. If I assert a claim that has certain implications, then it does not follow that I am also claiming the implications. I may be totally unaware of what those implications are, and only consider them once they come to the fore as claims themselves. In other words, until the implications themselves come to my conscious awareness, I have not claimed them, but after they do, if they have sufficient evidence to warrant their assertion, then I have now claimed them. I mean, if what you were saying is true, then with any claim I make, there are an infinite number of additional claims that I am also making, which would overwhelm my cognitive capacities. I would have to have an infinite number of thoughts in my mind at any given moment!

    >> Second, the idea that you need to be a theist to conceive of God and then deny God’s existence is silly – do I need to encounter someone who believes in unicorns before I can, for example, define a unicorn and state that no unicorns exist? Does coming up with the idea of unicorns automatically entail the person claiming “unicorns exist”?

    Here I think you are correct that my claim was too strong. I should have said that someone has to first have the idea of X before one can claim X or not-X. And given that, the burden of proof would fall on whoever made either claim, as you said earlier.

  78. I may be totally unaware of what those implications are, and only consider them once they come to the fore as claims themselves.

    And if you’re aware of those implications, then even you’d have to agree that the burden was there given what you’ve just said. That covers pretty much any atheist or naturalists in these conversations.

    And given that, the burden of proof would fall on whoever made either claim, as you said earlier.

    Well, there we go.

  79. Crude:

    >> And if you’re aware of those implications, then even you’d have to agree that the burden was there given what you’ve just said. That covers pretty much any atheist or naturalists in these conversations.

    The burden is there once the implications are brought up, but not before. Otherwise, believers would have to be busy disproving the existence of a trickster God, a manipulative God, a God named Phil, a God named Larry, a God named Joan, and on and on, because the non-existence of all of these entities follows from the traditional concept of God. It is only when someone raises the issue of whether such entities could exist that the burden of proof begins to sink its teeth in.

    >> Well, there we go.

    Hey, when you’re right, you’re right.

  80. I USUALLY DON’T GIVE ANY BOOK A 5-STAR RATING, BUT AFTER READING THE SECTION ABOUT THE WOMAN WHO MADE THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN A MATTER OF DAYS, I MADE AN EXCEPTION. BUY THIS BOOK AND READ PAGES 59 – 61 FIRST. THEN YOU WILL SEE WHAT I MEAN. I WAS ABOUT TO HAVE MY HOME AND CAR REPOSSESSED WHEN I BOUGHT 75 WAYS TO MAKE MONEY BETWEEN JOBS. IN LESS THAN A MONTH, I GOT CURRENT ON BOTH OF THOSE NOTES AND EVEN HAVE A LITTLE MONEY IN THE BANK – JUST FROM DUPLICATING WHAT THE LADY IN THIS BOOK DID. BELIEVE ME, IF I CAN DO IT, YOU CAN DO IT!

    I usually delete all spam comments, but after reading this one I laughed so hard I thought someone else might get a kick out of it, so I approved it!!

    :p cl

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