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November 27, 2012


Given what we know of matter's behavior, that neither Flux, nor Wave, nor Photon, nor Vacuum, nor Particle behave, at all, ever, any where, at all, as if it could even *in theory* behave as an Eternal Uncaused Cause, given what we know of *that*, Matter is testifying of something which is prior to itself. Now, this does not mean Materialism is false, it only means that the entire mass, the entire litany of every bit of data ever discovered on matter tells us that Materialism is less probable, by far (given the mass of data) than Immaterialism. The exhaustive anthology of scientific data on Wave, Particle, Flux, Vacuum, and Photon is one gigantic library which testifies *more* in favor of the Immaterial than of the Material when we are considering the origin of Every-Thing.

Matter cannot self-account. Now, if we have faith that one day it will, that is *still* less scientific than holding to Immaterialism *because* we have *actual data* (the huge mountain of all of science on Wave, Particle, Flux, Vacuum, Photon) which is behaving in the opposite direction right in front of our eyes in a measurable, verifiable, reproducible fashion.

“[Nagel:] [T]he more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes.”

This implies a calculation.

The inputs would be 'details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code'.

The output would be, of course, the probability of 'the standard historical account'.

Has Nagel done such a calculation?


So the question is: Is Nagel's fallacy above best classed as an argument from personal incredulity or general incredulity?


Quiz: Which of these are Plantiga arguing from ignorance and which are Nagel?

The probability...is vanishingly small.

[Another probability] ...while perhaps not quite as small, is nevertheless minuscule.

These two ... are very likely false.

... a bit less doubtful ...

but still ... incredible...

the probability of this happening in the time available is extremely low...

... it is especially improbable that ...

... it monumentally unlikely that...

What is the probability...? It is very small indeed.

Given..., the probability that ... would be low...

the probability that it is true... cannot be much above .5.

Worth going over once again………

We all know there is a necessary Everlasting Uncaused Cause.

We have evidence of what sort it is as well:

There is an unassailable amount of evidence as to the origin of Every-Thing material, all of it, the Any-Stuff of Any-Universe. That evidence is none other than the singular whole of all that science has given to us in the voluminous collection of evidence on the behavior of all things material whether wave or photon or particle or flux or vacuum. We have probed the universe to the Nth degree and have amassed now in our virtual library of chemistry, of physics, of cosmology and of biology a staggering and practically unsearchable assemblage of data points. In this entire ravenous throng of raw information, anywhere, there is no data, none, zero, which tells us that material stuff in any universe is testifying of any stuff called Material, anywhere, as being, ever, an Everlasting Uncaused Cause of a Material sort. Stuff just does not behave that way. Ever. None of it. Not wave. Not particle. Not flux. Not Photon. Not vacuum. All data points reveal to us the same sets of various properties ethereally manifested in different arenas and in different dimensions. Any Material Stuff of an Everlasting Uncaused Cause sort has no, none at all, empirical, logical, physical, or philosophical data points which run to its defense or which testify of its existence. None. Instead all data points run, as fast as we can collect them, in the exact opposite direction and this at an infinite speed. It is inescapably obvious that both Logic and Science have given us a startling compilation of data points which collectively amount to an expansive and exhaustive anthology of evidence inviolably insistent on the Immaterial as the unmistakable birth place of the Material.

The Material, despite the heaping tonnage of data we now have, simply cannot and does not, ever, anywhere, self-account. This silence created by the nonappearance of even one isolated material data point, even one solitary voice which cries “I exist!” out there in Any-Material in Any-Universe Any-Where is deafening. But not as deafening as the screams coming from within that heaping tonnage of data, called evidence, all of which, every bit of it, burns our ears with “Material Stuff just does not behave that way. None of it. Anywhere. Ever.” Science, Logic, and Love all testify to us that the following necessarily exists:

Immaterial Everlasting Uncaused Cause.

If we have faith that one day a Material Eternal Uncaused Cause will be found, that faith is just less scientific than holding to Immaterialism because we have actual evidence (that nearly unsearchable library of all of science on Wave, Particle, Flux, Vacuum, Photon) which is, always, running in the opposite direction, right in front of our eyes in a measurable, verifiable, reproducible fashion.

When 37 trillion data points run screaming in Direction-A, and zero data points run in Direction-B, it would be wise to listen to the evidence and follow it in Direction-A. It may just lead us to more lovely truths.

Logic and Love comprise the duality of our sight by which we see Him. God gives to us these two eyes, Logic and Love, and rather than believe what our eyes are telling us, we would rather gouge out our eyes and grope about in the Dark. It is possible to traverse the ad infinitum and see, and thus know, its End, though not knowing infinitely. The Hard Stop that is that End is Love Himself.

"Materialism is the philosophy of boys."

C.S. Lewis

“[M]an has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

"This implies a calculation....Has Nagel done such a calculation? No?"

As if 'the standard historical account' is based on a calculation.

Nagel's point is that common sense tells us that the standard account is unlikely...And clearly it does tell us just that.

It may be reasonable, given a sufficiently detailed theory to jam down common sense and say. "But that's still the way it is".

But the standard account doesn't come anywhere close to that. It promises a whole lot of course, but the failure of its promise is epic.

So what we have is a theory that makes little common sense on one side of the ledger and really has nothing to offer but empty promises on the other side of the ledger.

So why abandon what common sense says?


An argument from ignorance can easily sound like common sense. You say a detailed theory can jam down common sense. I'd say it's evidence that's needed.

Let's take #2.

If you really feel that common descent defies common sense, here is what should jam it down for you: We could have found THOUSANDS of fossil and genetic defeaters for common descent by now.

But we don't.

Fossil defeaters would be things like the proverbial Precambrian rabbit. We have no such thing.

On the genetic side, certain cross-species variations could defeat common ancestry. Our version of a given gene might look nothing like the chimp's version - except where it mattered. But even amino acids that don't matter strongly tend to match up anyway - following the pattern predicted by common ancestry.

Could a designer have leave us our wealth of fossil and genetic data and yet leave us without such defeaters for common descent.

Yes, I grant that a designer COULD do that.

There are many other options open to such a designer however.

Evolution, on the other hand, absolutely and logically HAD to do it.


The ledger is so totally lopsided that we must wonder what on earth this fuss over dead bones is about. The point is completely missed: Materialism accounts for No-Thing. Not Any-Thing. Ever. It’s not just that it does-not, but it can-not. The ledger is, we may even say, not only lopsided, but empty.

The towering mountains of external evidence found in physics, biology, cosmology and chemistry, and, if one cares for such things, all the interior awareness found in the mystery of Good and the mystery of Evil, and of that Flowing River, that grandiose conclusion which Materialism testifies of but which the materialist denies, and which runs beneath a particular Tree in a particular Garden, which all men’s interior testifies of and which all the external evidence ever collected, ever, yes, every bit of our exhaustive anthologies on wave, on particle, on flux, on photon, and on vacuum affirms must find the birthplace of its eternal uncaused cause in the other and outer of the Immaterial.

All of that, all of this, every bit of this lopsided ledger so completely overshadows and so totally eclipses, ultimately, all the little bone fragments and seashells along the river’s shoreline which seem to lay lifeless and unaccounted for that we must wonder at, and pity, the one who, in front of such an ocean of life, would settle for a seashell or two, or three, or three thousand, or three million, which, at the end of the day, not only came out of that very same ocean, but, ultimately, one day, will be consumed yet again by it.

Before such an Ocean, which we are acutely aware of, but of which the naturalist seems wholly unaware, they sound to us as a child sounds as they utter their useless bit about bones, “Notice the little curve on the edge here. Look how the seashell bends up and in here, rather than down and out. How odd. Clearly your ocean must be a fairy tale. Lucky for us it all works. Yes, yes, lucky for us. What a mess.”

All these little fossil stories, when juxtaposed along side of the Ocean of the Necessary Immaterial, just don’t amount to anything. Nothing at all. They are but a seashell or two, whose very existence mandates that Immaterial Ocean and that grandiose conclusion of necessity, as everyone knows seashells come from the Ocean, and not, as some seem to believe, from particles of sand.

If we may paraphrase WL,

“[Materialism] promises a whole lot of course, but the failure of its promise is epic. So what we have is a theory that [accounts for No-Thing] on one side of the ledger and really has nothing to offer but empty promises on the other side of the ledger.”


First, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Second, let us grant as true every single claim evolutionists make about how human and animal bodies came to be. Let us further gloss over the enormous gaps in this 'explanation' of how human and animal bodies came to be (and there are enormous gaps, chasms really, many of which seem to be insuperable). That does not move us one hairsbreadth closer to an explanation of the mental phenomena that motivated Nagel's argument in the first place.

Speaking more broadly, none of what you say is a calculation that renders the standard theory (reductive materialism) probable.

There is no such calculation. There's nothing even close. What's more there are significant areas of thought where it is difficult to see how reductive materialism can even get started. Or, more accurately, where it's pretty easy to see that reductive materialism is DOA.

As such, the antecedent judgment of common sense stands: The standard picture (reductive materialism) is very unlikely to be true.

BTW, the fact that the standard picture is unlikely, by itself, is not to say that any non-standard picture will be idealistic, let alone theistic, or even that any non-standard picture is likely to be idealistic.

I endorse Nagel's argument here. I also happen to think that any non-theistic or non-idealistic picture of reality is not only unlikely, but certain to be false. But the latter view is not because of Nagel's argument. It is for reasons like those that scblhrm hinted at above.

But Nagel accepts the argument from common sense that I advanced in his name, and he's an atheist who doesn't consider theism very likely, nor, as far as I can tell, is he an idealist.

What his argument tries to show is much less ambitious. He's arguing that the rational default is that materialism, as given by the standard picture as it is today (and not as it vainly promises), is very unlikely.

I just started studying Mind and Cosmos, so I can't speak with authority, but I suspect that as I get further into it, that "unlikely" may morph into "impossible".


The whole project of trying to tie abiogenesis, evolution, consciousness, and why we have reliable cognition (!?) together makes no sense. Scientists working in these areas work on them one at a time. (Actually, I've never heard of any science working on the last.)

No matter how often it is claimed, materialism is not ONLY an available universal philosophical presupposition. It is also a CONCLUSION we can reach in one subject area at a time: We have a natural process explaining X, so X needs no agent to explain it.

(No matter how often it is claimed, assuming materialism does not lock in a materialist conclusion. I point you to mathematics - where a proof of P often begins with the assumption of NOT P.

But, Nagel's book is a fact on the ground - so here we are discussing all these things together. Sigh.

WL, since you seemed to give a little on common descent (of bodies!), lets look at #3, consciousness.

Actually, there is a similar calculation for consciousness...

Just as a Precambrian rabbit would count heavily against evolution, so too would a brainless rabbit be a defeater for the idea that the mind is something the brain does. (And, it would have no bearing on abiogenesis!)

If minds are something brains do (brain processes), then animals absolutely MUST HAVE brains that are, in some sense (complexity, say), proportional to the complexity of the behavior.

If dualism is true, then no animal needs a brain.

A dualistic explanation of minds can be brainless.

Yet animals do have brains.

Just as one Precambrian bunny would be a defeater for evolution, one brainless bunny (exhibiting complex behavior) would be a defeater for the idea that minds are something brains do.

Hm. An aside: As an immaterialist do you think you can be a dualist?


I'm not sure what you on about in the beginning of your comments Ron.

Please note that I'm not giving in on anything about the descent of bodies. I'm granting it for the sake of argument (all the while noting that it is a huge grant). The point is that in doing so you haven't moved an inch toward reductive materialism.

The absence of brainless rabbits, BTW, doesn't move you any further either.

A brainless rabbit is a defeater for this claim: It is not possible to have complex activity in an animal without a correspondingly complex brain in that animal.

This claim is quite different from any claim that expresses a relation between mind and body...including reductive materialism.

“It is also a CONCLUSION we can reach in one subject area at a time: We have a natural process explaining X, so X needs no agent to explain it”

When we explain our seashell *in terms of* the sandy beach in which it sits, yet find that those same *terms* actually do fail to account for, and never can account for, the Ocean from whence *both* the seashell and the sandy beach have come from, then one has explained nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, one is almost certainly wrong about any terms which are embedded in calculations of sandy beaches.


What I'm on about - from an other angle:

Nagel and Plantinga are laymen with regard to two things (at least): the history of life on earth and how the brain works.*

Each has his hammer (Plantinga is an apologist. Nagel has his what-it's-like-to-be thing going.) and these subjects look like nails to them.

Like Lawrence S. Myers, but with a much better sense of how to make a living, they claim that their pet ideas are important and right even if those that work in the relevant fields aren't interested.

(Do you find it tragic that certain ideas can share and tarnish what should be the good name of academia? Me too!)


The absence of brainless rabbits, BTW, doesn't move you any further either.

But I was already in motion! I had a model.

My model said: The mind is something the brain does.

My model predicted: There will be no brainless bunnies.

So, a brainless bunny could have stopped me.

But I looked, and lo, there were no brainless bunnies.

And, consequently, there was much rejoicing!


*Perhaps we are all laymen with regard to how the brain works. That does not justify making stuff up in your armchair and letting it go at that. Armchairs are for things like concept analysis and term definition.

But what can you find out about the world with armchair-analyzed concepts and armchair-defined terms ALONE?

What can a bucket or real sand from our sandy beach tell us about seashells when both the sandy beach and its seashells come from a necessary ocean?

Depending on what you mean by "predict", the absence of brainless bunnies is either not predicted by any model or it is predicted by all models.

The absence of brainless bunnies is a totem for the fact that mental events are always found in conjunction with neurological events.

I would say that this conjunction of events is not so much a prediction as it is the fact that any and every model is supposed to explain.

Various reductive models, such as "The mind is what the brain does [sic]", attempt to carry out this explanation by claiming that the two types of events always occur together because mind and brain are at some level identical. And if we just look at it from the right perspective, that identity becomes evident.

I think, for example, "The mind is what the brain does" means that there are certain purely physical behaviors of the brain that are identical to what we also call mental behaviors. And if we just find the right perspective, that identity will become apparent.

A good example of how reduction works is the reduction of magnetic to electrical forces. The magnetic forces created by a current in a wire simply are electrostatic forces if you put yourself in the right inertial reference frame. (I think, if I recall correctly, that that is the inertial reference frame of the moving electron.)

What is uniquely predicted by reductive theories is that there is some perspective change that reveals the reduction.

And that is precisely what is woefully absent in every theory that attempts a reduction of mind to body. Trying, for example to focus in on mental behaviors and repeating the formula "The mind is what the brain does" does absolutely nothing (except irritate the listeners with bad grammar). It certainly does nothing to provide a perspective change that will allow a mental behavior to be seen as, really, a physical behavior of the brain.

And the idea that it would do so seem clearly to be a category error of the first water like saying George Washington is the Fibonacci sequence.

It's not so much that it appears to be a difficult challenge for materialists. It's more that it appears to be a fool's errand.

BTW, on the whole laymen vs. expert riff, I don't think that there is an expert in a neurological field who will claim to have found the change of perspective that will allow the mind-body reduction to proceed. Thus far, all we have is empty promises.

No, the only people who make claims like that are hacks like Dan Dennett. Sorry for the harsh characterization, but what can you say when someone claims to 'explain' consciousness through the expedient of denying the existence of qualia: the very thing that needs to be explained. He's essentially claimed to have solved the mind-body problem through the simple expedient of ignoring it....not serious.

And if expertise is a big deal, why assume that only expertise in neurological matters counts? Wouldn't you also need some level of expertise in mental matters to say that the reduction actually works?

When it comes to experts in mental matters, I suspect you are looking for psychologists, or philosophers of Mind. In the latter case...people exactly like Thomas Nagel or Alvin Plantinga.

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