Friday, July 29, 2005

Gone to OxBridge

I'm headed to OxBridge tomorrow and will be giving my paper, "Defending the Dangerous Idea: An Update on the Argument from Reason," on Monday. I don't expect to be able to do any blogging when I am gone, but I should be able to give you a full report upon my return.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Argument from the Psychological Relevance of Logical (and mathematical) Laws

IV. Argument from the Psychological Relevance of Logical Laws
My fourth argument concerned the role of logical laws in mental causation. In order for mental causation to be what we ordinarily suppose it to be, it is not only necessary that mental states be causally efficacious in virtue of their content, it is also necessary that the laws of logic be relevant to the production of the conclusion. That is, if we conclude “Socrates is mortal” from “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man, then no only must we understand the meanings of those expressions, and these meanings must play a central role in the performance of these inferences, but what Lewis call the ground-and-consequent relationship between the propositions must also play a central role in these rational inferences. We must know that the argument is structured in such a way that in arguments of that form the conclusion always follows from the premises. We do not simply know something that is the case at one moment in time, but we know something that must be true in all moments of time, in every possible world. But how could a physical brain, which stands in physical relations to other objects and whose activities are determined, insofar as they are determined at all, by the laws of physics and not the laws of logic, come to know, not merely that something was true, but could not fail to be true regardless of whatever else is true in the world.
We can certainly imagine, for example, a possible world in which the laws of physics are different from the way they are in the actual world. We can imagine, for example, that instead of living in a universe in which dead people tend to stay dead, we find them rising out of their graves on a regular basis on the third day after they are buried. But we cannot imagine a world in which, once we know which cat and which mat, it can possibly be the case that the cat is both on the mat and not on the mat. Now can we imagine there being a world in which 2 + 2 is really 5 and not 4? I think not.
It is one thing to suggest that brains might be able to “track” states of affairs in the physical world. It is another thing to suggest that a physical system can be aware, not only that something is the case, but that it must be the case; that not only it is the case but that it could not fail to be the case. Brain states stand in physical relations to the rest of the world, and are related to that world through cause and effect, responding to changes in the world around us. How can these brain states be knowings of what must be true in all possible worlds?
Consider the difficulty of going from what is to what ought to be in ethics. Many philosophers have agreed that you can pile up the physical truths, and all other descriptive truths from chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology, as high as you like about, say, the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and you could never, by any examination of these, come to the conclusion that these acts we really morally wrong (as opposed to being merely widely disapproved of and criminalized by the legal system). Even the atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie argued that if there were truths of moral necessity, these truths, and our ability to know those truths, are do not fit well into the naturalistic world-view, and if they existed, they would support a theistic world-view. Mackie could and did, of course, deny moral objectivity, but my claim is that objective logical truths present an even more serious problem for naturalism, because the naturalist cannot simply say they don’t exist on pain of undermining the very natural science on which his world-view rests.
Arguing that such knowledge is trivial because it merely constitutes the “relations of ideas” and does not tell anything about the world outside our minds seems to me to be an inadequate response. If, for example, the laws of logic are about the relations of ideas, then not only are they about ideas that I have thought already, but also they are true of thoughts I haven’t even had yet. If contradictions can’t be true because this is how my ideas relate to one another, and it is a contingent fact that my ideas relate to one another in this way, then it is impossible to say that they won’t relate differently tomorrow.
Carrier responds somewhat differently. He says:
For logical laws are just like physical laws, because physical laws describe the way the universe works, and logical laws describe the way reason works—or, to avoid begging the question, logical laws describe the way a truth-finding machine works, in the very same way that the laws of aerodynamics describe the way a flying-machine works, or the laws of ballistics describe the way guns shoot their targets. The only difference between logical laws and physical laws is that the fact that physical laws describe physics and logical laws describe logic. But that is a difference both trivial and obvious.
What this amounts to, it seems to me, is a denial of the absolute necessity of logic. If the laws of logic just tell us how truth-finding machines work, then if the world were different a truth-finding machine would work differently. I would insist on a critical distinction between the truths of mathematics, which are true regardless of whether anybody thinks them or not, and laws governing how either a person or a computer ought to perform computations. I would ask “What is it about reality that makes one set of computations correct and another set of computations incorrect?”
William Vallicella provides an argument against the claim that the laws of logic are empirical generalizations:
1. The laws of logic are empirical generalizations. (Assumption for reductio).
2. Empirical generalizations, if true, are merely contingently true. (By definition of ‘empirical generalization’: empirical generalizations record what happens to be the case, but might have not been the case.)
3. The laws of logic, if true, are merely contingently true. (1 and 2)
4. If proposition p is contingently true, then it is possible the p be false. (True by definition)
5. The laws of logic, if true, are possibly false. (From 3 and 4)
6. LNC is possibly false: there are logically possible worlds in which p & ~p is true.
7. But (6) is absurd (self-contradictory): it amounts to saying that it is logically possible that the very criterion of logical possibility, namely LNC, be false. Therefore 1 is false, and its contradictory, the clam that the laws of logic are not empirical generalizations, is true.
Logic, I maintain, picks out features of reality that must exist in any possible world. We know, and have insight into these realities, and this is what permits us to think. A naturalistic view of the universe, according to which there is nothing in existence that is not in a particular time and a particular place, is hard-pressed to reconcile their theory of the world with the idea that we as humans can access not only what is, but also what must be.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Lippard on Original vs. Derived Intentionality

Victor: Suppose human beings build a robot that is capable of responding to verbal commands and building internal representations of its environment through cameras and by moving around and manipulating its environment.You would say that its internal representations of objects in its environment have only derived intentionality which comes from human intentionality. Now suppose all human beings cease to exist, while the robot continues to function. The robot is then discovered by some other intelligent alien species with original intentionality. That species learns how the robot works, and infers that it has internal representations which correspond to objects in its environment. What would you say about those internal representations during the time when there are no humans and before the aliens discover it? If the derived intentionality is only from the human intentionality, would you say that there is no representation going on anymore? Or does the derived intentionality survive the extinction of humans?Likewise, what would you say about the representations after the aliens discover it?Do they cause representation to begin anew?On my view, it doesn't matter how the causal structures which cause covariance of the internal structures of the robot in correspondence with objects in its environment originate, that is all there is to representation, and the robot has representations which refer regardless of who else exists. How would you describe these situations?-- Jim Lippard

Jim: My concept of original intentionality requires that it be the intentionality of some conscious thinking subject to whom the objects are represented. We can attribute an as-if intentionality to systems where there is this kind of covariation between inner states and objects in the world, but unless is it recognized by the thinking subject, it is merely as-if intentionality and nor original intentionality.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Argument from Mental Causation

I. The Argument from Mental Causation
The third of my arguments is the Argument from Mental Causation. If naturalism is true, even if there are propositional states like beliefs, then these states have to be epiphenomenal, without a causal role. Now careful reflection on rational inference, if we think about it, commits us to the idea that one mental event causes another mental event in virtue of its propositional content.
Now if events are caused in accordance with physical law, they cause one another in virtue of being a particular type of event. A ball breaks a window in virtue of being the weight, density, and shape that it is in relation to the physical structure of the window. Even if it is the baseball that Luis Gonzalez hit against Mariano Rivera that won the 2001 World Series, its being that ball has nothing to do with whether or not it can break the window now.
So let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, causes the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts. If anything not in space and time makes these thoughts the thoughts that they are, and if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions. Only that property of the brain can be relevant to what the brain does, according to a naturalistic account of causation.
What this means is that those forms of substance materialism that accept property dualism invariably render the “mental” properties epiphenomenal. If the physical properties are sufficient to produce the physical effect, then the mental properties are irrelevant unless they are really physical properties “writ large,” so to speak. And mental states that are epiphenomenal cannot really participate in rational inference.
Carrier’s account of mental causation clearly presupposes a reductive, rather than a nonreductive materialism. He writes:
Every meaningful proposition is the content or output of a virtual model (or rather: actual propositions, of actual models; potential propositions, of potential models). Propositions are formulated in a language as an aid to computation, but when they are not formulated, they merely define the content of a nonlinguistic computation of a virtual model. In either case, a brain computes degrees of confidence in any given proposition, by running its corresponding virtual model and comparing it and its output with observational data, or the output of other computations. Thus, when I say I "accept" Proposition A this means that my brain computes a high level of confidence that Virtual Model A corresponds to a system in the real world (or another system in our own or another's brain, as the case may be); while if I "reject" A, then I have a high level of confidence that A does not so correspond; but if I "suspend judgment," then I have a low level of confidence either way. By simply defining "proposition" as I have here, Proposition 3 follows necessarily from Propositions 1 and 2. Therefore naturalism can account for this as well.
But I see a serious problem with this whole concept. In order for the content of the mental state to be relevant to the production of a rational inference, it seems to me that everyone who believes that Socrates is mortal would have to be in the same type of brain state as everyone else who believes that Socrates is mortal. Is this plausible?
But more than that, here again we find Carrier explaining one kind of mental activity in terms of another mental activity and then explaining it “naturalistically” by saying “the brain” does it. My argument is, first and foremost, that something exists whose activities are to be fundamentally explained in intentional and teleological terms. Whether we call it a brain, a part of the brain, a soul, a banana, or a bowling ball is not essential to my argument; if the fundamental explanations are intentional, then I have established all that I am trying to establish.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The argument from Truth

Carrier’s account of truth is indeed a correspondence theory of truth. He writes:
From an analysis of data a brain computes varying degrees of confidence that a virtual model does or does not correspond to a real system. If there is such a correspondence, then having confidence in this is a true belief, while having confidence that there isn't such a correspondence would then be a false belief. If there is no such correspondence between the virtual model and reality, then having confidence that there is such a correspondence is a false belief, but having confidence that there isn't such a correspondence would be a true belief. Thus, Proposition 2 only requires the existence of correspondence and confidence, both of which can and do exist on naturalism.

But there is a problem with this whole idea. If truth is a relationship between someone’s belief that something is so and the reality that it is so, then what that means “there is at least one reptile” would not have been a truth during the Jurassic period, unless there was someone in existence during the Jurassic period who had confidence that his or her thought corresponded to the truth “there is at least one reptile.” (I owe this point to Bill Vallicella). And unless there is something like a God, we do not know of anything alive during that time that had confidence in the representation, “There is at least one reptile alive now.”

Because of this, a naturalist may be inclined to accept the idea what can be true or false are not states of the person but propositions. These propositions could exist timelessly, but not exist in anyone’s mind. If that were the case then the proposition “There is at least one reptile alive during the Jurassic period” would be a truth that would exist at that time, because it would be true at all times.

This account of propositions is hard to square with some versions of naturalism, according to which everything that exists exists at some place and time in particular. But if we waive this requirement, there are still difficulties. In particular the argument from reason based on mental causation maintains that naturalism cannot explain how one thought can cause another thought in virtue of its content. On this view, how would it be possible for our thought to be related to the truth that our thoughts are about, if our thoughts are completely products of the spatio-temporal-physical world, but the truth of our thought does not exist in any particular place or time. The physical, is supposed to be causally closed according to naturalism, and as such nothing outside the physical, whether eternal propositions, or nonphysical souls, can affect what goes on in the physical world. Because of this, I regard this move to non-spatial propositions as the acceptance of a poisoned pawn, the taking of which will make the next argument, the argument from mental causation, impossible to answer.

Menuge on Carrier

Angus Menuge offers this in response to Carrier on intentionality.

My reply is: Cognitive science has not discovered but rather has assumed that the brain is a computer, because it is the most advanced, bastract mechanism available for comparison. It is entirely possible that the analogy breaks down in important areas, just as the Newtonian picture of the universe as a clockwork mechanism failed to account for important phenomena, e.g. quantum phenomena. The problem with defining intentiionality as an assignment could not be more severe: assignment is an intentional activity! Furthermore if this assignment is a decision, then while it does seem to be something that an intterpreter of a computer can do, I see no reason to suppose that the computer does it. Computer's match patterns "syntactically" to use Searle's jargon, with no grasp of their meaning. What Carrier describes is perhaps a computer model of intentionality, but it no more has intentionality than a computer simulation of a tornado is a tornadao, or has updrafts, etc. Over and over again, identifying a correlate of X is claimed to be explaining X. I might just as well argue that the urn's being smashed, or my having a head-ache while smashing it explains my smashing it.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Methodological Naturalism

Here's the Wikipedia definition: "Methodological naturalism (MN) is the operational ground rule that, within natural science enquiry, one can only use natural explanations - i.e. one's explanations must not make reference to the existence of supernatural forces and entities. Note that methodological naturalism does not hold that such entities or forces do not exist, but merely that one cannot use them within a scientific explanation. Methodological naturalism is often considered to be an implied working rule of all scientific research and logically entails neither philisophical naturalism nor atheism, though some would argue that it implies such a connection."

I suppose we are going to need some clarifications of the terms "natural"and "supernatural."
The point about Lewontin's quote has to do with my question as to whether this is supposed to be an absolute principle or not, and whether the prinicple defines science or not. Some initial commitment to methodological naturalism seems to me to make perfect sense as part of science commitment to something like Ockham's Razor. But some people MN is an absolute and that it is definitive of science. Lewontin is an example, and plenty of people have argued that ID is a pseudoscience merely from its apparent supernaturalist commitments. I have a problem with that. Apart from that, I would just note that Dembski's The Design Revolution was written to answer a lot of the standard objections to ID. I'm not an ID expert and am a poor person to defend them on a lot of issues. Maybe others can do better.

On the other hand we do have, in ordinary life, situations where we have to decide whether there was design or not, and shouldn't we be using those principles in the investigation of nature. If I am playing cards, and one person gets 3 royal flushes in a row, I probably should have gone home a long time ago, because now I'm going to have to go home in my underwear. Even if the acceptance of design requires something on the order of the supernatural, I believe that there is some point at which enough is enough.

I remember one time I read a paper by old housemate and atheist philosopher Keith Parsons. It involved a strong commitment to methodological naturalism in the case of miracles. I told him, "This seems to imply that if I were God I couldn't persuade you no matter how many miracles I performed." And he said "No. If the stars the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Turn or Burn: This Means You Parsons," I'd turn. But I've read others who say they would not turn!

If by the "fact" of evolution you mean the gradual emergence of species, that's hard to doubt, I'll grant. Lots of scientists have thought that there is design in the universe, though they have often been shy about making it part of science. Can this conviction be made scientific?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

An exchange with Ahab on ID

Ahab wrote: Just respond to the question I asked in my original post:Given a choice between saying that a supernatural being causes lung cancer in people that smoke or finding and explaining the physical processes that link smoking to lung cancer, where do you want this scientific funding to go? Which methodology do you honestly think is going to be most effective in understanding how lung cancer is caused and helping to prevent and cure it?

VR: Well, I happen to think it was a physical process, so I would certainly look for a physical process, but does that mean I have to maintain my physicalism even if the evidence points the other way? You have to look really hard for physical causes before concluding that there are none. In one sense I am all in favor of methodological naturalism, as a defeasible heuristic. I don't think we should write it an infinite blank check, and say that nothing could disconfirm my belief that this or that event has a natural cause.But if it turns out to be true that God did bring about the correlation between smoking and cancer, then I would want a science that could, in principle tell me that this is so.

At least ID can come up with a reason why God might want bacteria to have flagella; it plays an important role in the development of future species. There is a teleological account that makes at least some sense; given that God wants complex creatures to develop, the BF is a good idea.

Ahab: Given what has already been learned from evolutionary theory, there is very good evidence to suppose that the bacterial flegellum is a result of those some processes. And, given what we already know about the laws of physics, you'd need some very strong evidence to abandon the assumption that any physical effect does not have a prior physical history.

VR: If this were correct, then neither Big Bang cosmology nor quantum-mechanical indeterminism would have ever gotten off the ground, because in both cases we are taking events in nature and saying that they do not have determining physical causes. If we were really locked into physicalistic determinism, then both Big Bang theory and QM would be thrown out as pseudoscience.

Ahab: When archeologists study artefacts that were intelligently designed they are able to approximate how these artifacts were made because the designers were very much like us. Often they will recreate one possible way to make a particular artefact. They can also figure out for what purpose the designers made these artifacts. Again, because they already have a very good idea of who these designers are. All of this information about the artifact is filtered through MN. ID'er's often insist there is no way to know who this intelligent designer of the bacterial flagellum is. If not, how can we know the purpose behind the design? Was this intelligent designer(s) simply playing a practical joke by making something that could be taken to resemble an outboard motor?

VR: Again, I really do think that the design theorist needs to come up with an account of why this development fits somebody's purposes. I'm not too sure that that wouldn't be too hard to do here, however.

Ahab: A theistic explanation is fine within the realm of theology and people's faith systems. I've never claimed or argued here that theists shouldn't be allowed and even encouraged to use their faith to help them understand this world. But those kind of explanations are not scientific. Science doesn't deal with trying to prove or disprove the existence of God or of any of the particular theological claims any particular faith may have. That is why any scientist (whether the is an atheists, theists or agnostics) can adhere in good conscience to the scientific theory of evolution.

VR: Of course they can be evolutionists. I accept an ancient earth, the gradual appearance of species, and common descent myself. (As does Behe). But I do see design behind the process, and I have always wondered, is there a scientific way to detect that design, or does that always have to be an extrascientific belief that may or may not be reasonable to hold?

Ahab: The last part of your sentence can be understood in a couple of different ways... (The sentence was that many first-rate scientists have been Christians) However, if you mean that they should take one of their cherished theological doctrines and try to get other scientists to accept it, I couldn't disagree more. You keep hand-wringing over how science is going to be ruined by not accepting your AfR. If you inject supernturalistic based explanations that rely on your particular belief of what God wants into science, you will see science ruined so quickly it will make you dizzy.

VR: Which cherished doctrine? If you mean six-day creation or something like that, then ID theorists have said over and over and over again that they are not out to defend that kind of position. Whatever motivations design theorists have in mind, at the end of the day the evidence has to support their position. You don't have to screen them out at the entrance to science; they will leave quietly as the weight of the evidence stacks up against them, if it does stack up against them.

Ahab: And after all, if God is willing to create a world in which there is so much evil, why couldn't He create one in which natural selection directs the random variations that result from things like mutations of DNA? If you are able to swallow evil why do you spit out natural selection? Do you really think natural selection is a worse problem for theodicy than evil?

VR: I would be the last person to deny natural selection. I don't think all ID theorists want to deny evolution in toto. I sure as heck don't. The question for me is whether there is any way to detect design along the way. I spent most of my life calling myself a theistic evolutionist. But I don't think you have to make methodological naturalism an absolute, the way Lewontin does in his review of Sagan. And I don't think it's necessary to conflate ID with creationism, when ID theorists say over and over that they are not creationists. And I don't think it's necessary to attack the intellectual credentials and motives of everyone who has doubts about Darwin. ID theorists are asking serious, important questions, that the culture as a whole is asking. They do not deserve the kind of arrogant dismissal with which they are all too often greeted.
As for public school education, all I would ask is that educators not be dogmatic either way. Last I heard, science education was about letting people make up their own minds based on the evidence. Why teach evolution in a brainwashing way? I don't think we are anywhere near getting to the bottom of the issues posed by intelligent design.

A defense of the correspondence theory of truth

I. The Argument from Truth
A second argument I provided was the argument from truth. In presenting this argument I
I was admittedly rather sketchy, pointing out that the Churchlands, operating from a very strong form of naturalism, had drawn the conclusion that the idea of truth should be eliminated and superseded by some more scientifically adequate concepts. Of course I did not provide much of any argument for why naturalism has these implications, and so I can hardly be said to have provide the adequacy of the argument from truth in my book.
Let us reflect for a moment on truth as an epistemic summum bonum or supreme good. It seems to me that the scientific enterprise, at least as classically understood, is based on a desire first and foremost to know the truth, and only secondly to manipulate and control the world. We are told, for example, that no matter how comforting it is to have religious beliefs, if those beliefs are not based on good evidence that they are true, then they ought to be abandoned.
But this raises some questions about what this property of truth is, that we should abandon beliefs that we may find comforting for the sake of truth. Here it seems that many “deflationary” accounts of truth are going to fail to capture why we care about truth so much. In William Hasker’s generally friendly response to me in Philosophia Christi he asks
And now consider truth: why should the naturalist find it problematic? That snow is white is true just in case snow is white; what would motivate (let alone force) a naturalist to reject this?
Here Hasker is adverting to a Tarskian disquotational theory of truth; truth is a matter of taking quotation marks of sentences. But truth has to have more to it than this if it is to carry the weight of being the supreme epistemic value. Timothy Erdel takes Quine to task for, at one point, saying that he rejected religion and politics in favor of the pursuit of truth, but then he defines truth in this disquotational way. As he says:
If truth is no more than Quine generally claims when he is describing or explaining truth (as opposed to when he is appealing to it as the grounding motive more his life’s work), namely, the removing of quotation marks from the names of sentences, then one senses some fairly significant equivocation in his use of the term, “truth.” Presumably one does not cast aside all claims from religion and politics to pursue philosophy as a vocation solely to facilitate the removing of quotes from names of sentences…
So to make the sort of thing we ought epistemically to pursue, even at personal cost, truth
must be something more than mere disquotation. But what can it be? I think that only the correspondence theory is the only one that adequately underwrites the intuition that many of us share that truth is the supreme epistemic good.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

J P Moreland on Jaegwon Kim

J. P Moreland, author of Scaling the Secular City (Baker, 1988) and other apologetic works, raises some questions about Jaegwon Kim's most recent work:

Have you readKim's recent book Physicalism Close Enough (or something like that). Hetries to save mental causation for doxastic states by functionallyreducing them to brain states. I have never understood this move. Relations seem to be such that depending on the sort of relation inquestion, only certain relata can instantiate it (larger than for sizedobjects, brighter than for colored ones, etc.). Now physical states donot stand in logical relations to other physical states (they stand incausal ones). But mental states do, so the latter cannot be reduced tothe former. It will do no good to say that, strictly speaking, it ispropositions, not mental states, that stand in logical relations becauseif propositions do not enter into thoughts, then logical relations arejust irrelevant to actual processes of human thinking. In my view,propositions are certain kinds of properties, namely structuralintentional properties that the mind exemplifies. So a particular thoughtlike a particular instance of red in an apple, is the instantion of aproposition (redness) by the mind (apple). Propositions are in minds byway of an "in" of exemplification, and the essence of a property-instanceis constituted by the universal that composes it. In this way, mentalstates literally stand in logical relations like color-instances can standin the brighter-than relation in virtue of the universal (the proposition) instantiated by the mind and constituting the essential property of theindividual thought which turns out to be a property-instance. I don't know how brain states can stand in logical relations to each other. JP

Any reactions to this would be most welcome.

A response to Ahab

Ahab wrote: What you are advocating here is that people should practice science in accordance with their preconceived religious views. To apply this to your smoking example above: Theistic scientists can attribute the effects of smoking on lung cancer to the act of some omnipotent being. They don't need to understand the physical mechanism to explain the cancer casuing process. God with His omnipotent powers simply chooses to smite a large numbre of smokers with cancer. And He probably does this because he wants to discourage people from doing something evil like smoking. While atheistic scientists will have to struggle with trying to find the mechanism by which smoking causes cancer. Which method do you think is going to be of value to our knowledge of the causes and cures of lung cancer?I really don't get why you have so much trouble understanding that ID theory as a pseudo-science??? It is just a way to reintroduce pre-scientific explanations into science. You don't have to worry aboout being able to explain how something works, simply attribute it to a divine, omnipotent being - at least if you are a theistic scientist.

1) I have never seen way to demarcate the difference between science and pseudoscience, and am strongly inclined to suggest that there is none. Old joke: What is the difference between science and pseudoscience? Science is funded.

2) There is nothing preventing a theistic scientist from attributing something to a physical process if there is good evidence to suppose that there was one. But a theistic explanation makes sense to me, at least, if given my prior probabilities about God, it is more likely than not that God should want it to happen. When we are forming expectations, we operate in the context of discovery. People can discover ideas about the natural world in their dreams. But then they have to make predictions about what they expect to find true if their theories are correct, and this is the context of justification. If nature confirms their expectations, then their thesis is confirmed, theistic or atheistic. If nature fails to confirm their expectations, then their theory is disconfimed. Many first-class scientists were orthodox Christians, and they didn't always separate their religion from science.

3) Bayesian theory expectations are formed based on prior probabilities, which are confirmed or disconfirmed by experience. But there is no method I know of for assessing prior probabilities. Thus if there is a report that, say, the Virgin Mary has been speaking to young people in, say, Africa, Roman Catholic will want it checked out, but will certainly be prepared to think it's for real if good evidence emerges and it's tough to explain away. A Protestant, who thinks that there's a God and the Mary is Christ's mother, but doesn't expect Mary to be talking to people, will require a higher standard of evidence. An atheist should be the toughest of all to persuade. And the evidence may turn out to be such that Catholics are reasonable in thinking that this is for real, while Protestants and atheists are reasonable in being skeptical. For more discussion on this see

4) If methodological naturalism is the rule, and it turned out that the bacterial flagellum did come into being as the result of divine creation, then science could never discover that, and would have to say, even though it was false, that there had to be some evolutionary process somehow that produced it, even though there really was none, and God actually did it. This is, to me, a troubling result, that some events should be scientifically invisible if they occurred.

Menuge replies to Carr II

Carr writes: Menuge wrote 'What's puzzling about the passage below is how we can specifiy what the information that is being transmitted is without talking about its meaning.'But a CSI detecting machine can, according to Menuge,pattern match the specification of the information without knowing about the meaning of the specification.Is *specified* information something that cannot be detected by naturalistic methods, or can only human beings detect specified information (as only agents can understand the meaning of the specification)?

Menuge replies:

Well, here's an example: a mindless computer program might be programmed withcertain information that in fact contains CSI, such as, to use Dembski's example, a long sequence of prime numbers. Now suppose that in the Search forExtra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, a radio signal is detected from deep space that consists of a large sequence of these prime numbers. Theprogram could match the received sequence with a subsection of the sequence ofprimes in its database, and also determine if the sequence was long enough to be"complex" (in the sense that it is too unlikely to have been generated by chance). It seems to me, so long as "detect" is used in a minimalistic way (athermometer detects the temperature in this sense), there is no reason to denythat the program detects CSI.  The machine can detect (reliably register /signal) this CSI even though there is no reason to suppose it knows what a primenumber is, or why the sequence it received consitutes CSI. The way I see it, detection does not require understanding, and the detection of CSI that has a meaning does not require that the detecting device can access the meaning. This is rather like the way a voice-activated computer can be programmed to obey thespoken words "Open Word" without knowing what it means to open the program. So it seems that, at least in some cases (I'm not sure in all, because some information is not so easy to represent computationally: there might be problems raised by Turing's halting problem or Godel's incompleteness theorem, where a human can detect CSI that is not computationally tractable---but this is endlessly debated), CSI can be detected by naturalistic methods. However, just as there is distinction between non-conceptual seeing (seeing red) and conceptual seeing (seeing red as danger), it seems to me that the program thatdetects CSI is not, like the scientist, seeing it as CSI, because it lacks the relevant concepts.. Angus

Doug Groothuis's blog

Doug Groothuis, a Christian philosopher from Denver Seminary, has started a blog, The Constructive Curmudgeon. Welcome to the "sphere," Doug! His first entry is a review of Frankfurt's "On Bullshit." It reminds me of a teacher I TA'd for once, who, while grading a pile of student tests, said that he should get a "Bullshit" rubber stamp to put on student papers.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Menuge responds to Carr

Steven Carr asks:

Is Dembski's formulation of Complex Specified Information intended to be a nauralistic method of detecting CSI without any need to consider of the 'meaning' of any such information?

Menuge replies:

A good question. It seems to me that contemporary biology assumes that genes contain assembly instructions for proteins, and so information in at least the sense that a computer program contains information that (conditional on certain input) sepcifies the output. It does seem implausible to say that they only contain this information in the eye of an interpretive beholder--the instructions seem to objectively specify the configuration of the end product. It seems to me, therefore, that there is teleology right there in the instructions--they do, objectively point to an end product, and this is typically denied only because teleology is banished in principle from nature by an unduly restrictive definition of "nature." The fact that the intructions aren't trying to make proteins and do not have intentional states is not a convincing reason to deny a more primnitive sort of teleology. In this way, design need not always be thought of as supernatural: design can be something present within nature, so long as nature is rich enough for teleology.

The difficult question here is the status of the "specification" (independent pattern). A skeptic might say that the specification, e.g. a coherent body plan, or a functional specification of an irreducibly complex system is somehow subjective. I would disagree. Design specifications may be abstract, but science discovers that geometrical and mathematical relations obtain in nature all of the time and they are abstract. So the fact that specifications are "abstracta" not "concreta" (to use Dennett's distinction) does not seem to be a convincing reason to deny that they are objective. For example, scientists who have studied the bacterial flagellum (whether Darwinists or not) find it hard to deny that it objectively meets the design specifications of a miniaturized outboard motor. Likewise, biomimetics works because some natural systems happen to implement engineering principles in striklingly efficient ways, sometimes outperforming unaided human ingenuity. Ruse may say that design is only serving as a useful metaphor, but if a metaphor is that systematically useful, isn't it worth considering whether it is more than a metaphor (the "If it looks like a duck; quacks like a duck, then just what reason is there to deny it is a duck?" principle).

In all this, it does seem that meaning in any rich sense is not presupposed in our description of the system. One could in principle build a machine that could detect CSI by pattern matching, although only a human scientist with intentional states could understand the information detected.


Menuge's Dennett Denied

This is the link to Menuge's paper, "Dennett Denied."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Defending the Dangerous Idea II

My problem has to do with Carrier's use of terms. He uses terms such as belief, confidence, etc. to account for intentionality, yet when I think of belief I think of a belief that something is true, and when I think of confidence I think of it as confidence that something his true. Now Carrier's account of intentionality seems to be that when you have attention to an objects (this, he says, is well understood by brain science) and we also have motivational confidence, we are confident that the map of that object in our mind is accurate, then we have intentionality.

My objection to this is that in order for confidence to play the role it needs to play in Carrier's account of intentionality that confidence has to be a confidence that I have an accurate map, but confidence that P is true is a propositional attitude, which presupposes intentionality. In other words, Carrier, like Dretske, is trying to bake an intentional cake with physical yeast and flour. But when the ingredients are examined closely, we find that some intentional ingredients have been smuggled in through the back door.

It's my hypothesis that this is going to happen every time you try to bake an intentional cake with physical yeast and flour.

Let science decide?

In response to Ed Babinski:

Ed: There is a sense in which I maintain that it would be a violation of naturalism to say that an atom can be affected by higher level configurations, since the physical level is, according to my defintion of naturalism, the physical is causally closed. On the other hand, certainly certain cells will be more likely to exist in virtue of the fact that they are part of a system that exhibits fitness to survive, and my argument is not about that. What I think doesn't work is a gradualist bridge between the nonintentional and the intentional. Add up the nonintentional all you want, and the information cannot entail anything about what intentional state exists.

Don't jump to the end of the argument. Lewis thought, for instance, that the mind was divinely illuminated, but his argument, by his own admission, is consistent with Absolute Idealism and Pantheism. He himself accepted a theistic account, but the AFRs, strictly speaking, don't prove that theism is the only answer. These essays are by an Absolute Idealist, Daniel Hutto.

When I hear people say "Let science figure it out, I often wonder if the relevant conception of science would ever permit us to find out that dualism is true if it is in fact true. According to many forms of methodogical naturalism; the very forms of methodological naturalism that are used to argue that ID is pseudoscientific, if dualism were true we would never know that scientifically, because science ceases to be science once it appeals to that kind of entity. "Our commitment to materialism," says Lewontin, "is absolute." So saying "Let science decide" ends up being a "heads I win, tails you lose game." If the analysis of the brain gives is an adequate account of intentionality, hurray for naturalism. If it fails to produce an adequate account of intentionality, it can take out a promissory note. What could possibly falsify a materialist account of the mind?

Menuge on Dretske II

Dogtown, on his new blog Dretske forum, quotes Dretske as saying:

"It rests on a confusion, the confusion of information with meaning. Once this distinction is clearly understood, one is free to think about information(though not meaning) as an objective commodity, something whose generation, transmission, and reception do not require or in any way presuppose interpretiveprocesses."

Angus Menuge responds:

Victor,This is an interesting passage. Darwinists and naturalists cannot deny the existence of information, since the information in cellular communication systems and developmental programs is crucial to understanding how they work.But they have to treat informational signals as like a swarm of fish, some of which can be caught by the nets of artificial selection and used to make useful responses to the environment.What's puzzling about the passage below is how we can specifiy what the information that is being transmitted is without talking about its meaning. Some, like Dennis Stampe, argue that a trees rings do objectively containinformation about the age of the tree (i.e. it is not in the eye of the interpretive beholder). One could follow Grice by saying that is what the rings "naturally mean" as natural signs, or meanN, even though the tree has no beliefs and regardless of whether or not anyone else has beliefs about the tree's age. In this sense certain kinds of clouds meanN rain and mouse droppings mean mice.So it is quite true that you can talk of information without bringing in beliefs and interpretive agents, but is still seems like some sort of account of meaning is required, enough that we can say that the tree rings meanN that the tree is 100 years old. This seems inevitable given that we talk of "the information that..." which seems to be a content clause of some kind although not a propositional attitude like "believes that...."

Saturday, July 02, 2005

What do you do about skeptics?

This is in response to the Carrier post that precedes it. Back in graduate school, the reigning idea was that the problem of skepticism was overrated and that the enterprise of refuting the skeptic was pretty much misguided. At least that was the prevailing attitude of the "naturalistic epistemology" that was popular at that time. My epistemology teacher, Fred Schmitt, used to like to refer to foundationalism and skepticism as "The Bobbsey Twins," that foundationalism attempts to provide a response to skepticism and so takes skepticism seriously in a way that perhaps it should not. I think there are three strategies in response to the threat of skepticism. The problem of skepticism arises classically by 1) the discovery that knowledge requires justified belief 2) attempting to justify beliefs by arguments, 3)noticing that arguments themselves have premises that have to be justified and 4) realizing that you need justification for the justification, and then justification for the justification for the justification, and then justification for the justification for the justification for the justification... and I'm going to disappoint Fred for wimping out here, but I think you get my drift.

It was Descartes, with what I have been calling the Satan Test, who wanted to put all beliefs up to the severest possible tests to see if any of them were justified. But even if, as I have argued he succeed with the existence of a self that thinks, in order to avoid a pretty severe skepticism he had to dumb down the Satan Test. At least that's how I see it.

Descartes' Evil Demon has been replaced by the modern Brain in the Vat, but the problem remains the same. How do we refute the skeptic about, say, rational inference? So long as I feel required, for the sake of my epistemic life, to refute the claim that we are brains in vats, it looks awfully difficult to answer the person who asks me to prove that I am not a brain in a vat. And no, theism won't do the trick here. That's why I do not recommend attacking naturalism on the grounds that we theists can refute the skeptic but the atheist cannot. That's what I call a skeptical threat argument. Whatever I appeal to as my justification for why I am not a brain in a vat, the skeptic is going to attribute to the masterful neuroscientific understanding of the vatkeepers.

It seems to me that two strategies are effective in responding to the skeptic. One is outright dismissal, and the straightforward denial that we need to refute the skeptic. The burden of proof should not be on me for denying that we are brains in vats, the burden should be on the skeptic to prove that we are brains in vats.

But secondly, it can be pointed out that the skeptic's position is self-refuting. If someone says that there are no rational inferences, it doesn't bother me much as a mere statement, but if the skeptic is trying to argue for it, then the skeptic is contradicting himself. Moreover, as Hilary Rodham Putnam pointed out, on a plausible causal theory of reference, the words in the statement "We are brains in vats" are meaningful in virtue of the causal relations between the words and their objects, in other words, if the words "brains" and "vats" stand in an ordinary causal relationship to brains and vats. If they don't, which would have to be true if we WERE brains in vats, then the words don't mean anything. In other words, the BIV hypothesis is meaningful only if it is false.

Now it seems to me that both of these strategies is available to the advocate of AFR. The attempt to argue empirically against the skeptic, which Carrier thinks is somehow undermined by accepting AFR, seems to have serious problems as a strategy against the skeptic anyway, since whatever empricial evidence is provided can be explained in terms of the omnipotent power of either the evil demon or the vatkeepers, depending of what mythos you are using to get the skeptical argument going.