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May 01, 2015

Comments

You write: "[M]aterialists who think of human beings as 'computers made of meat' have no rational explanation for consciousness, love, etc., yet they aren’t able to live as if these things don’t exist."

This, I believe, is the crux of your misunderstanding and probably Pearcey's as well. You are conflating two ideas here: 1) Consciousness (or love) exists, and 2) consciousness has an explanation.

Consciousness defies a good scientific or legal definition but it's one of those things that we like to say we "recognize when we see it"; kind of like porn. Regardless, I don't think anyone denies it exists. I certainly don't. I live as if I have consciousness. I think; I feel; I decide. These things mean to me that I am conscious. What consciousness truly means or what explains it is a totally different thing.

I have no explanation for consciousness. It appears that scientists are making progress toward understand the workings of our thoughts and feelings. There is certainly no "unified theory of consciousness". But that is all I (or you) can say.

Making ANY conclusions based on a lack of knowledge is a completely unjustified epistemology. And to attribute that process to atheists is disingenuous argumentation and a straw man. It's like you're assigned to us a reverse "God of the gaps" argument. Instead of "We don't know, therefore God" you seem to be saying "Atheists don't know, therefore no consciousness." This is just absurd.

It used to be we didn't have an explanation for how things live. We didn't know anything about anatomy or biology. But we never said "Life is an illusion because we don't have an explanation." Maybe consciousness is an illusion. But we don't know that yet. So for now, I say...

Consciousness exists AND we don't have an explanation. End of story.

Chip,

It's not simply that we don't know how to explain consciousness in materialist terms. It's that we can see a fundamental problem in even attempting to explain consciousness in materialist terms.

Furthermore, there are atheists who say consciousness is an illusion. They've come to that conclusion based on exactly what I pointed out above: it seems that if materialism is true, there just is no way to get to the type of phenomenon we call consciousness. It's not a straw-man to point that out.

> "It's not simply that we don't know how to explain consciousness in materialist terms. It's that we can see a fundamental problem in even attempting to explain consciousness in materialist terms."

This is no different than many other things and the reason is the difficulty with defining consciousness. We don't have a good handle on what it is. So how could you expect a reliable explanation?

I admit to this difficulty. But as I said, that fact that it's an unresolved problem from a materialistic point of view doesn't mean the whole concept must be denied. It just means any hypotheses must be treated as very tentative.

Can you point me to a good, Christian explanation of consciousness?

> "Furthermore, there are atheists who say consciousness is an illusion."

And there are people who identify as Christians who say Jesus was just a man and not God. So what? This just means that Pearcey and Amy Hall need to be careful with their generalizations.

> "They've come to that conclusion based on exactly what I pointed out above: it seems that if materialism is true, there just is no way to get to the type of phenomenon we call consciousness. It's not a straw-man to point that out."

There's also no way to get to objective morality either but you will find that the vast majority of atheists believe in some kind of temporal morality. Morality doesn't cease to exist because you can't fashion it from molecules in motion. It exists because we say it exists and because we put our money where our mouths are and act in ways that are (hopefully) consistent with what it means to us to be moral.

There's no reason that this approach MIGHT be an explanation of consciousness as well. Perhaps it exists because we say it exists. Because we think and create and cogitate and love and hurt and cry and hug and laugh and a million other things and we have no other way to describe this except by calling it "consciousness". And just like morality, there's no objective, cosmic consciousness, but we create it through the fact that we exist.

Going back to what I quoted from Amy's post... Here's what I'm saying: There is no contradiction between not having an explanation for consciousness and believing it exists. I've now provided an analogy in my morality example in addition to my original explanation of why I disagreed with the suggestion. My question to you is do you agree or disagree with me and why.

Regardless, I don't think anyone denies it exists. I certainly don't. I live as if I have consciousness. I think; I feel; I decide. These things mean to me that I am conscious.

Chip, you're actually illustrating the point of this post—though you're not one of those who openly says these things don't exist (I'll get to that in a minute). You experience consciousness, therefore you live with it. However, your worldview has no way to explain consciousness. That is, reasoning from your worldview, by all rights, it shouldn't be there. But here you are: "Consciousness exists AND we don't have an explanation. End of story." It just exists, end of story. That's a leap of faith.

But you don't go as far as many who have thought through all the implications of their worldview and who bite the bullet on this one. Here are some quotes from the book:

  • Galen Strawson, a philosopher who states with great bravado, “The impossibility of free will … can be proved with complete certainty.” Yet in an interview, Strawson admits that, in practice, no one accepts his deterministic view. “To be honest, I can’t really accept it myself,” he says. “I can’t really live with this fact from day to day. Can you, really?”
  • Slingerland argues that Darwinian materialism leads logically to the conclusion that humans are robots—that our sense of having a will or self or consciousness is an illusion. Yet, he admits, it is an illusion we find impossible to shake. No one “can help acting like and at some level really feeling that he or she is free.” We are “constitutionally incapable of experiencing ourselves and other conspecifics [humans] as robots.” One section in his book is even titled “We Are Robots Designed Not to Believe That We Are Robots.”
  • Marvin Minsky of MIT. He is best known for his pithy phrase that the human brain is nothing but “a three-pound computer made of meat.” Surprisingly, however, Minsky then asks, “Does that mean we must embrace the modern scientific view and put aside the ancient myth of voluntary choice? No. We can’t do that.” Why not? Minsky goes on: “No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will; that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm.” We cannot “ever give it up. We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it’s false.”
  • Philosopher Saul Smilansky is a determinist who regards free agency as an illusion. Yet he considers it a “fortunate” illusion because it makes civilized life possible. He urges society’s elites to persuade people that they are responsible agents (though in reality they are not) in order to maintain a healthy sense of moral duty and responsibility. Otherwise they could excuse hostile behavior by saying they had no choice in the matter. Free will is a necessary fiction—“morally necessary”—to undergird the social order. Smilansky summarizes by saying, “We cannot live adequately with … a complete awareness of the absence of free will.” Thus “we ought to hold on to those central but incoherent or contradictory beliefs in the free will case.”
  • In his books, [Richard Dawkins] argues that humans are merely “survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed” by their genes. Therefore it makes no sense to hold anyone responsible for what they do. After all, he says, “When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it.” He urges an overhaul of the entire criminal justice system: “Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component?” ... Doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility?” ... “But don’t you see that as an inconsistency in your views?” the young man asked. Dawkins replied, “I sort of do, yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with, otherwise life would be intolerable.”
  • On one hand, [Albert Einstein] writes, “human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting, are not free but are as causally bound as the stars in their motions.” Yet on the other hand, he said, “I am compelled to act as if free will existed because if I want to live in a civilized society I must act responsibly.”
  • Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine—a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But, he says, “when I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.” ... Is that how he treats them, though? Of course not: “That is not how I treat them.… I interact with them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.” ... Brooks ends by saying, “I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.”
  • Addressing his fellow philosophers, [Derek Parfit] writes, “At a reflective or intellectual level, we may be convinced that some view is true; but at another level, one that engages more directly with our emotions, we may continue to think and feel as if some other view were true.” He concludes, “Many of us, I suspect, have such inconsistent beliefs about the metaphysical questions that concern us most,” such as free will, consciousness, and the self.
  • Yale philosopher Karsten Harries ventures to say many hold a “double truth” theory. They are “hard-wired” to hold certain ideas as true in terms of first-person experiences—but they hold the same ideas to be false according to science. Here’s how Harries puts it: “As intelligent agents we are compelled to believe certain things, most importantly that our will is free, that we are selves that persist through time, that there are moral truths that can be universalized, beliefs which as individuals committed to science we yet know to be false.”

It's not that any of these thinkers are basing their conclusions on a lack of knowledge, rather, it's their basic understanding of the world that led logically to these conclusions.

Those are just quotes from the chapter. I can think of other people who say consciousness is an illusion. Stephen Hawking is one example. And atheist Thomas Nagel says materialism and consciousness/mind can't both be true. (See also here.) In last week's post, I posted a link to an article saying consciousness is an illusion, as well. The idea is everywhere among materialist atheists.

Can you point me to a good, Christian explanation of consciousness?

Of course! We've been talking about it in this very series. At the foundation of a materialist worldview is matter. Matter is non-personal, and that's why the scientists and philosophers above have reached the conclusion that we are, in reality, non-personal machines who are under the illusion that we are personal. They reason this must be an illusion because our universe is nothing but matter.

At the foundation of the Christian worldview, on the other hand, is not matter, but God—a personal being. Because He's the foundation of everything, He is the source of personhood. We are rational, moral, thinking, acting beings because we were created by a rational, moral, thinking, acting being. He is the source of this.

There's also no way to get to objective morality either

Then it's starting to not look good for this worldview, eh? ;-)

It exists because we say it exists

Can you see that that statement is a leap of faith on your part? By the way, another leap of faith materialist scientists take is in acting as if our senses give us accurate information about the world. We have no reason to trust our senses if evolution is true. (You can look that one up to see what people say about that.)

You write: That is, reasoning from your worldview, by all rights, it shouldn't be there. But here you are: "Consciousness exists AND we don't have an explanation. End of story." It just exists, end of story. That's a leap of faith.

I almost didn't want to continue reading your response after this statement. But I did.

You go on to reference atheists who have concluded that consciousness is an illusion (mostly, it appears, based on philosophical reasoning and NOT on any scientific data) and therefore doesn't really exist. As I tried to explain in my response to "The Janitor", maybe that's true in a sense that is similar to that of morality, distinguishing between an objective sense of consciousness and a personal sense of consciousness. Maybe consciousness IS something to be identified and measured and we just haven't gotten there yet. Maybe not. The fact that some atheists don't see how there can be an objective consciousness doesn't make it so. But ALL of this is speculation. The bottom line is we don't know.

Furthermore, when I say "Consciousness exists and we don't have an explanation", 1) that doesn't mean we will NEVER have an explanation and 2) it's not a leap of faith; it's an observation and nothing more.

There IS something we refer to an "consciousness" (at least for the moment) and it exists in a personal sense if not an objective one and we don't know how to talk about it effectively which by itself implies that it's ill-defined.

To repeat, your original comment implied that there's a contradiction between having no rational explanation for consciousness and living as if consciousness exists. That's what I'm saying no to. It's a false conclusion. Not having an explanation does not mean it doesn't exist. Remember my comments about not having an explanation for life.

Maybe consciousness exists ONLY in a personal sense. If it turns out that consciousness doesn't exist objectively, the implications for Christian theology seem worse than those for atheistic ontology. I'm willing to accept whatever the current best science has to say about it.

I agree with you that not having an explanation doesn't mean it doesn't exist. However, I think that misses the point. I'm not saying materialism doesn't have an explanation, I'm saying materialism can't have an explanation because of the nature of what materialism entails. Personhood is not material. Consciousness is not material. Physical processes don't make choices. We understand the nature of physical objects, of cause and effect in physical processes. That is why the scientists and philosophers above have reached their conclusion—not because they don't know something, but because they do know quite a bit about material, what it is, and what it does and doesn't do. If that is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be, then that is all we are.

BUT, strangely enough, it seems like that's not all we are. How can that be? Because the starting point is wrong. Material is not all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.

(The book gives much more detail on all of this.)

Chip,

You're not taking into account the difference between not knowing how to explain a thing and seeing that a thing cannot be explained given a certain theory.

For analogy consider magnets. I don't have any explanation for how magnets work. But given everything I think I know about the universe, magnets don't pose any special problem with my other beliefs. That is, it's not like I have some other set of beliefs that would lead me to question the very existence of magnets. I simply lack an explanation for magnets.

No suppose I do have some set of beliefs that would lead me to believe that a thing like a magnet could not exist. In that case, I have much deeper problem than in the former case.

When you say "This is no different than many other things" I would say you're mischaracterizing our epistemic situation. There are many things we can't explain, sure, but there are not many things which flat out contradict what we would expect to find given our prior beliefs... and when we do occasionally run into such things we take it as a sign that our prior beliefs are in need of revision.

"[...]the reason is the difficulty with defining consciousness. We don't have a good handle on what it is."

I suspect that you're point here is confused because you would probably think an explanation of what consciousness is consists in explaining consciousness. In other words, once you can say what consciousness is then you'll say we have a good handle on it. But in that case it's circular to say the reason we don't have an explanation of consciousness is because we don't have a good handle on what it is (that is, an explanation of consciousness).

Here is what we do know about consciousness: It is what we are aware of when we engage in first-person introspection (I'm borrowing from Moreland's The Soul here, p. 77), it involves qualia (what it is like), intentionality (aboutness), and privateness (cf. The Soul 78-79).

Now you may think that we could have a firmer grasp on consciousness than the above, but it certainly won't be *less* than what I mention above. And the point is that given what we *do* know about consciousness this conflicts with materialism.

"But as I said, that fact that it's an unresolved problem from a materialistic point of view doesn't mean the whole concept must be denied. It just means any hypotheses must be treated as very tentative."

Again you're confusing a mere lack of explanation, as in the case of magnets or gravity, with a conflict of information as in the case of atheistic materialism and morality or consciousness.

"Can you point me to a good, Christian explanation of consciousness?"

When you ask for an explanation are you asking for some origins story about how consciousness arose, some mechanism story which gives rise to consciousness, or some characteristics of consciousness?

"And there are people who identify as Christians who say Jesus was just a man and not God."

Actually that's a bad analogy because Christianity is a historical religion that has clearly been defined, historically, as encompassing (in part) the idea that Jesus is God. So these people that you claim identify as Christian are clearly not Christian. But an atheist who claims consciousness is an illusion are still atheist. Anyway I hope you don't try to turn this into a rabbit trail on whether we can know what a true Christian is...

"There's also no way to get to objective morality either but you will find that the vast majority of atheists believe in some kind of temporal morality."

Right, and that would be another problem for atheism...

"Morality doesn't cease to exist because you can't fashion it from molecules in motion."

If all that exists are molecules in motion then yeah, it does.

"It exists because we say it exists"

If that's how things work in atheism then it really is worse than magic! If morality is what we say, that's hardly what most people (even atheists) mean when they say they believe something is right or wrong... So you're way off base here.

"There's no reason that this approach MIGHT be an explanation of consciousness as well."

That's not even an explanation of morality and as an explanation of consciousness it's far worse! You can say that a thing like morality exists because you say it exists (you'd have all sorts of problems, but you can at least say it), but you can't say consciousness exists because we say it does because you can't say anything prior to consciousness existing.

"Going back to what I quoted from Amy's post... Here's what I'm saying: There is no contradiction between not having an explanation for consciousness and believing it exists."

I think I understood you the first time. And as I said, the issue is not simply that you lack an explanation of consciousness like I lack an explanation for magnetism. The problem is that a materialist has a set of beliefs that would lead us to believe (and have lead atheists to believe) that consciousness cannot exist.

"My question to you is do you agree or disagree with me and why."

See above... But I want to mention something else. Suppose, for sake of argument, that you do *merely* lack an explanation of consciousness in the way that I lack an explanation for magnetism. In that case, does atheism still come out non-the-worse? No because we can and often do pose the question: What better explains x, A or B?

For instance Frank Turek recently had a debate with atheist Michael Shermer and the debate topic was "What better explains morality: God or science?" (Shermer was thoroughly trounced, btw).

If a theistic worldview can account for things like morality and consciousness and all atheistic worldviews have not (yet) been able to account for things like consciousness and morality then theism still comes out as a better theory to account for the world as we experience it.

So even if I'm wrong in what I'm saying about there being specific problems for a materialist account of consciousness and you're right that we just currently lack a materialist account of consciousness then it's still the case that theism provides the better explanation for reality at this point.

At the foundation of the Christian worldview, on the other hand, is not matter, but God—a personal being. Because He's the foundation of everything, He is the source of personhood. We are rational, moral, thinking, acting beings because we were created by a rational, moral, thinking, acting being. He is the source of this.

Sorry. I think my question was too nebulous. I had in mind something more tangible. Like, creationism as the alternative to evolution. "Because God" doesn't define consciousness or explain anything about it. So, we're still in the same situation in terms of understanding it. That is, your beliefs give you nothing more concrete to say about it than anyone else.

Then it's starting to not look good for this worldview, eh? ;-)

Why? Why is it necessary to have objective morality?

Can you see that ["It exists because we say it exists"] is a leap of faith on your part?

Perhaps you should define what you mean by "leap of faith". I take that phrase to mean (very roughly) that a conclusion or decision is reached without sufficient logic or evidence. In which case, no, I don't see how it's a leap of faith to say what I said.

By the way, another leap of faith materialist scientists take is in acting as if our senses give us accurate information about the world. We have no reason to trust our senses if evolution is true. (You can look that one up to see what people say about that.)

We have a winner! THIS is, in the most minimal sense, a leap of faith. (Though it's not because of evolution.) There is no proof. You are trying to reference the problem of hard solipsism for which there is no answer. That much is true. But it is absolutely ridiculous to cite this as a problem for atheists since even though there is no absolute proof of the reliability of our senses, it appears we successfully rely on them every day. If your answer to hard solipsism is some type of presuppositionalism, you have less of an answer than the anecdotal evidence of billions of humans and their senses.

Chip,

"I had in mind something more tangible. Like, creationism as the alternative to evolution. "Because God" doesn't define consciousness or explain anything about it. So, we're still in the same situation in terms of understanding it."

As I expected, you're conflating having a handle on consciousness with an explanation of consciousness. So you run into the problem I pointed out above.

You also seem to be looking for something below consciousness which gives rise to it. However in the Christian worldview that's mistaken. God, a person (a conscious agent), is the fundamental or ultimate point of reality. To seek to explain consciousness in terms of something else in that regard will be mistaken (and is part of the reason why explanations of consciousness which seek to do just that haven't been able to get off the ground). Accordingly our understanding of consciousness will not consist in knowing about some more fundamental aspects of reality, but will consist in knowing what characterizes consciousness (like qualia etc.).

"Why? Why is it necessary to have objective morality?"

I don't think Amy is saying it's necessary to have objective morality. She's just saying it's a fact that there are moral facts (objective moral truths).

In regards to your last paragraph, it's not the problem of solipsism, but the evolutionary argument against naturalism that is being referred to.

So, we're still in the same situation in terms of understanding it.

No, we're not. We're talking about having a way to understand the existence of consciousness within a worldview (the Janitor's comment was very helpful in explaining this). Having a Person as the foundation of a worldview opens up the possibility for personhood in the world. Having material as the foundation of a worldview does not.

Why is it necessary to have objective morality?

It's not necessary to have it, it's necessary to explain its existence because we apprehend that we do have it—just as we do with consciousness. (I won't go into the arguments against relativism here—I'm just trying to clarify.)

Though it's not because of evolution

It is. If we evolved in a way conducive to survival, then our senses are tuned for survival, not truth. And that means they don't necessarily provide us with truth. If our senses weren't designed to apprehend truth about reality, then we can't know that we're now apprehending reality as it is.

Re: Compatibilism,

I also don't feel like turning this into a discussion on compatibilism, but I do want to make a few observations from the chapter. For the record, I'm a compatibilist.

I thought the author collapsed some categories that should be kept distinct, although I realize it may have not been practical to get very precise here since the debate is a very deep one in philosophy. But on behalf of compatibilists (such as myself) I'll note the following:

The author defines a choice as "the ability to redirect the course of events" (note 9, p. 302 - all quotes from the Kindle edition, so the references might be off somewhat) and seems to think this runs into conflict with determinism, but I don't see that it does. For one thing, we should distinguish between types of determinism. There is physical determinism (which the author primarily has in mind) and divine determinism. Both sorts of determinism can affirm the counterfactual that if x had not occurred y would not have followed, for any given event. And agents can redirect the course of events in the sense that had the person not done such and such (e.g., thrown the ball) then the course of events would have played out differently (the window would not have broken).

Other definitions of "choice" which have been offered by libertarian philosophers are also... er, compatible with compatibilism. For instance, the libertarian philosopher Robert Kane defines a choice as the formation of an intention to do something.

While I'm in the footnotes, in footnote 11 the author says that the (classical) compatibilist understanding of free will is "not what ordinary people mean by free will" (p. 303). I don't think that's quite right. Shaun Nichols has a paper called "Folk Intuitions on Free Will" (or something very close to that) which shows that there is no consensus on this issue. When presented with some examples, people favor libertarian notions. When presented with other examples, people favor compatibilist notions. (I think Nichols had a co-author for that paper, but I don't recall the name atm.)

Since I'm a compatibilist, I wouldn't say determinism (per se) runs contrary to the experience of humans as morally responsible agents (p. 142)

I agree with the author that "The existence of free will counters that theory [that human behavior can "be explained solely by physical forces at work in our brain chemistry"] (p. 144). But not because of anything to do with determinism per se, but because physical forces alone cannot account for moral responsibility (which is what the author thinks is the significance of free will).

I think the author collapses the principle of alternative possibilities into moral responsibility (p. 147). At best, on libertarian theories, this is only a part of our moral responsibility. But not all libertarian agree that it is a part, and compatibilists certainly don't agree that it is a part.

If it turns out that consciousness doesn't exist objectively, the implications for Christian theology seem worse than those for atheistic ontology. I'm willing to accept whatever the current best science has to say about it.
So, if it turns out that the best science says that consciousness does not exist, you'll accept that.

How?

Or perhaps I should say "Who?"

If it turns out that the best science says rationally incoherent things, then it turns out that the best science isn't the best science.

Thanks, Janitor. I had the same disagreements. I've also been thinking about possible relevant distinctions between the compatibilism of a materialist like Dennett and Christian compatibilism. I haven't completely worked out my thoughts on this yet, but I'll throw it out there: It seems a significant difference to me that on a materialist view (where every action is the result of physical processes) there is no self. That seems relevant to moral responsibility. (Perhaps this relates to your second-to-last paragraph.)

For example, if I really am a self, a person, though I did not choose the sinful nature and desires of my self (and I don't think anyone really thinks he chooses his own desires and inclinations), there is still a "me" who acts according to what I desire (even under God's decree), and that is worthy of judgment. Just as I'm a sinful being and can rightly be judged as a sinner, so God is a perfectly good being who can be rightly praised for His goodness. But God didn’t choose to be good, He simply is good. That’s who He is. On the other hand, if I am nothing but physical processes, there is no self at the root of my being who is making choices, so in what sense is there any responsibility?

I'm not sure how clearly I explained that (it's the end of a Friday, after all!), and I'm not sure I know enough about Dennett's view to think carefully enough about this. But I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

"if it turns out that the best science says that consciousness does not exist" I can't imagine that science would ever say that -- obviously consciousness exists because we experience it. But even if it is proven that consciousness is an emergent phenomena based on underlying mechanistic processes, I don't see that it makes much difference in terms of whether Supernaturalism or Naturalism are ultimately right. It seems perfectly plausible that God would have implemented consciousness in a purely material substrate. In fact, if you posit something like a "spirit" that exists beyond the material level and provides the consciousness, then you have to explain and demonstrate how it connects to the physical world and sends / receives signals from it. Meanwhile, in the Resurrection God is supposed to give people bodies again -- by bother if that isn't necessary? // I should mention I'm an atheist. I just don't see the consciousness problem as particularly illuminating on questions of Supernaturalism vs Naturalism.

Though it came up in the chapter, I didn’t want to get too far afield of the main point by discussing my views on compatibilism, but if anyone wants to talk about it in the comments below, we can do that.

Oh do let's, because I'm wondering if the people like Pearcey upholding libertarian free will as a necessary truth believe that there are supernatural phenomena constantly occurring in human brains, or what.

I'm also rather annoyed by the people who say "So you think people are just bags of reacting chemicals?", "So you think love and emotion are just electrical impulses in the brain?", etc. I do think human beings are composed of chemicals; the "just" is a value judgement added by you. The Mona Lisa definitely consists of quantities of various pigments absorbed by canvas and nothing more, but no-one would claim that it is "just" that.

“In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."

"Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

That's C.S. Lewis of all people, a guy less in lockstep with your worldview as you might think.

Amy,

It's been a long time since I've read Dennett's Elbow Room, so I won't comment on his views here. But I think you're right that the problem with a materialist compatibilism is that it can't account for the self. It also can't account for moral facts. So even if it could give us all the tools of compatibilism (such as Guidance Control, a la Fischer) it still give us moral facts. Of course determinism isn't the only thing that threatens moral responsibility, so does chance. Not all materialists are determinists. Some are indeterminists and I think blind chance presents maybe an even bigger problem than determinism. I was a bit surprised Nancy Pearcey didn't explore this threat to moral responsibility.

Sai Issel,

It's correct that humans as purely physical creatures wouldn't in itself disprove theism, assuming it's coherent to have a purely physical thing that is conscious. God can make purely physical things, like rocks, if he wants to and their existence doesn't weigh as evidence against his. However the existence of dualistic creatures does present a problem for materialism... for obvious reasons.

It seems perfectly plausible that God would have implemented consciousness in a purely material substrate.

I think you mean perfectly possible? Given the problems with a materialist account of consciousness, it hardly seems plausible.

In fact, if you posit something like a "spirit" that exists beyond the material level and provides the consciousness, then you have to explain and demonstrate how it connects to the physical world and sends / receives signals from it.

You're assuming that the soul has to act through some mechanism or is mediated in some way. But why should we assume that? The soul, if it exists, exists as a simple substance and one of it's abilities is to causally interact with the body. This causal interaction is primitive, not mediated.

Meanwhile, in the Resurrection God is supposed to give people bodies again -- by bother if that isn't necessary?

It's not a bother for God to recreate our bodies at the resurrection, so it's not as though God is exerting himself in some way that requires a special explanation to be found in the necessary existence of the body. As long as you're granting God and the resurrection for the sake of argument, you might as well include the existence of angels and demons. As non-embodied persons (angels and demons), it's clear that the body is not essential to consciousness per se (not as though God's existence in itself isn't enough to make this point) and thus there is no reason to think being embodied is essential to human consciousness. However, God has created humans as dualistic creatures and he gives us a resurrection body to maintain the dualism he originally intended.

Philip,

"Oh do let's, because I'm wondering if the people like Pearcey upholding libertarian free will as a necessary truth"

Nancy Pearcey never said libertarian free will is a necessary truth. I'm sure she would agree that God could have created creatures without libertarian freedom. (Granted I only read this chapter, so maybe she said that in an earlier chapter... but I doubt it.)

"there are supernatural phenomena constantly occurring in human brains, or what."

That would depend on how you cash out supernatural/natural, I'm sure. Suppose you want to say that all natural things are physical things and, thus, if there is a soul that is the center of consciousness then it is supernatural. Fine, then there are "supernatural" things occurring in our brains all the time... Is that supposed to have some significance? Christians believe God is supernatural and God is constantly at work in the world, so we believe the supernatural is active all the time... Not sure what you think that proves.

"I do think human beings are composed of chemicals; the "just" is a value judgement added by you."

The "just" isn't intended to be a value judgement like "You're a worthless bag of chemicals". Rather, it's an ontological statement: you're nothing more than chemicals. And in that sense lots of people think the Mona Lisa is just pigment absorbed onto a canvas.

I don't think the Lewis quote is out of step with anything that's been said here (by the Christians, anyway).

P.S. How do you cool people do the block quotes? I tried it with Sai's post above but it didn't work.

Like this (I'm adding spaces between each letter so it won't be read as html):

< b l o c k q u o t e >text here< / b l o c k q u o t e >

Did somebody say 'compatibilism'?

If the human mind is only the human brain, that means every thought you think is only ionized sodium and potassium ions moving around neurons. They follow the laws of chemistry and physics in a thoroughly predictable pattern, because all the laws of physics and chemistry follow predictable patterns. This is why so many prominent atheists out there conclude that the ability humans perceive as "choice" or "will" MUST be illusory. We just don't have the neurological networks fully mapped out enough yet to completely predict those laws-of-chemistry driven patterns yet to fully put the "free will" illusion to rest.

If my own choices and thoughts are merely the product of chemicals following the laws of chemistry in predictable patterns that what am I? Me, myself can't actually exist, I'm literally a figment of my own imagination. It sounds very Buddhist, and it runs into the same fundamental problem that Buddhism runs into. In Buddhism to reach enlightenment, the understanding that You are an illusion, you must follow the eight fold path of right thinking, right action, right speaking, right working, etc. But Buddhism, in it's understanding that the world around us is an illusion inhabited by illusions can't clearly define "right", but rather relies on an understanding of morality that is common to humans (we call it a conscience).

If I am an illusion to myself, aren't my own perceptions, based on my sensory input also illusions? My mind certainly seems to think I exist. My mind generally trusts the sensory input. I do know the eye and the ear can be fooled, but generally I believe they are accurate enough to get on with. If I can't trust the first certainty, how can I trust the second? If my reliance on sensory input (materialism) is the basis by which I'm rejecting my own certainty that my Self exists, haven't I fallen into the trap Nancy Pearcy is discussing in this chapter: a logical contradiction that I must simply believe against the evidence of my own self perception. As Descartes concluded a few hundred years ago, my own self is the ONE THING I CANNOT DOUBT. Precisely because doubting myself means doubting my doubt, so what the heck am I questioning? Yet modern materialism is forcing many atheists to precisely this conclusion. (And that is actually the topic of the next chapter of the book.)

As Chip points out, this is not a universal. There are still a lot of materialists out there who argue that just as "life" is an emergent property of non-living matter that achieves a certain level of complexity that hits a near mystical level of "the whole exceeding the sum of its parts", consciousness is an emergent property of a brain that achieves a similar level of complexity. Sentience is scientifically definable, we simply don't have the science to fully map out, yet (The science-of-the-gaps argument Chip makes). Just like we don't actually know what gravity is or how it works, but we all know that it does and that it does follow mathematically describable rules. This is common in the "Singularity" thinking of trans-humanist artificial intelligence aficionados. So there are a number of atheist thinkers who won't buy into Mrs. Pearcy's line of reasoning.


P.S. Just to clarify, the Mona Lisa isn't pigment absorbed into a canvas. The Mona Lisa was painted on wood: Poplar, to be precise.

Phillip A - the CS Lewis quote nails it for me. Similarly Dumbledore in Deathly Hallows "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

Janitor - "However the existence of dualistic creatures does present a problem for materialism" - what problem? I see no evidence for "dualism". Our Consciousness is a result of complicated processes happening in this universe, happening as processes with matter and energy. We don't need to propose a dual nature for this, there doesn't need to be something outside of Nature for this. There are many other very real but also emergent conceptual phenomena like Government, Music, and so on, that are made up of many processes happening in the material world, and need no supernatural explanation. I honestly think you are limiting God a lot by your approach, and I don't believe it's a Biblical perspective to require dualism.

The soul, if it exists, exists as a simple substance and one of it's abilities is to causally interact with the body. This causal interaction is primitive, not mediated.

If there is no interaction with the body, then humans could not speak or write about their consciousness.

Also good point about non-material persons like angels and demons; but since I don't believe in them that's ok by me. (Although, what if angels and demons DID have a matter/energy implementation? Would that be a problem for God to have done things that way? After all, in Genesis the Angels walked the earth and procreate with humans.)

My question to the atheist. If consciousness is an illusion, and the body is merely chemicals and molecules, then why when the body experiences bodily harm to the point of excruciating pain tell itself that what it's feeing isn't real. We should be able to shut that down, even if that body dies as a result of the sustained injury. To tell the body that is just a figment of our imagination...this isn't real, and cut off the pain, and ultimately tell the wound to disappear. We know this this could only happen as a result of supernatural phenomenon. In essence, I have a problem with the belief that consciousness is an illusion. I'm no scientist, or a theologian. This is just an inquiry here.

Sai Issel,

"what problem?"

So you've never heard of the hard problem of consciousness?

I see no evidence for "dualism".

The common sense notion that we are dualistic creatures arises from our own introspection, that we are a unified self that persists over time and bodily changes.

In addition to our common sense awareness of ourselves, arguments have been put forth for dualism. For instance, J.P. Moreland sets forth the following sort of argument:

1. According to the law of identity, if two things are identical then whatever is true of the one thing is true of the other thing.

2.Physicalism holds that the mind is identical to the brain.

3. If physicalism is true then whatever is true of the mind is true of the brain.

4. Something is true of the mind that is not true of the brain: thoughts have no spacial extension.

5. Therefore, physicalism is not true.

(This is a summary from his book The Soul pp. 77-79).

Our Consciousness is a result of complicated processes happening in this universe, happening as processes with matter and energy.

So you require evidence that the common sense notion of ourselves as simple substances is true, but you apparently don't require evidence for the view that consciousness is a result of material processes. Strange.

But I do... Where is your evidence for this?

We don't need to propose a dual nature for this, there doesn't need to be something outside of Nature for this.

That's like me asserting that all sensations have their origins purely within myself and I don't need an outside world for this. So solipsism is true. Surely you can see that I haven't provided any sort of case for solipsism. I've just stated that solipsism is true and if solipsism is true the I don't need any outside world.

Perhaps that's why you don't recognize a hard problem of consciousness: you confuse the assertion of physicalism with the proof of physicalism.

There are many other very real but also emergent conceptual phenomena like Government, Music, and so on, that are made up of many processes happening in the material world, and need no supernatural explanation.

You're relying on the vagaries of the word "emergent" to obfuscate the fact that there is nothing behind it once we probe a little more. Government is the word we use to describe people who function in a certain way. So are you saying consciousness is simply the word we use to describe how the brain functions? In that case you haven't even begun to tackle the hard problem of consciousness. You've just asserted that consciousness occurs when the brain functions in a certain way.

Relying on music is actually cheating, because I suspect you're referring to the what-it-is-like aspect of music and not just to vibrations of particles. But the what-it-is-like aspect of music is in fact part of what creates the hard problem of consciousness.

I honestly think you are limiting God a lot by your approach

I fail to see how this limits God and so far all you've said is that I am limiting God without any explanation as to how. So please provide some sort of argument which shows that I'm limiting God.

I don't believe it's a Biblical perspective to require dualism.

Well I don't expect an atheist to know the Bible very well, but Paul says he knows a man who was caught up to heaven, but he isn't sure whether this happened in the body or out of the body (2 Cor. 12:2). That's just one piece of data out of a plethora that shows that the Bible assumes substance dualism.

If there is no interaction with the body, then humans could not speak or write about their consciousness.

I agree. Did you not see where I mentioned the power of the soul to interact?

Also good point about non-material persons like angels and demons; but since I don't believe in them that's ok by me.

The point was to demonstrate that being embodied is not essential to personhood.

(Although, what if angels and demons DID have a matter/energy implementation? Would that be a problem for God to have done things that way? After all, in Genesis the Angels walked the earth and procreate with humans.)

The properties of matter/energy would have to be fundamentally different than what we know them to be. I'm not sure what you think angels having physical manifestations is supposed to prove. You act as though if a person has a physical dimension it goes some way in showing the person is or can be purely physical. That's a non-sequitur.

Apparently blockquotes don't work too well for me... I'm pretty sure I got all the tags right. Ah well, you'll have to figure out on your own that some parts are quotes and some parts are not.

I assume your blockquote problem was this one:

We don't need to propose a dual nature for this, there doesn't need to be something outside of Nature for this.
The reason you had a problem there is that your opening tag was </blockquote>

Physicalism holds that the mind is identical to the brain

Not really. Neither is software identical to the computer it runs on. This argument is just hand waving. The mind can represent spacial extension that doesn't mean it's extended in space.

Well I don't expect an atheist to know the Bible very well

We'll then you must not know many because a LOT of us used to be Christians and then realized it doesn't add up. I have read the bible through at least three times and many specific chapters and books many more times.

Also, are you going to abandon your faith if someday conscious AIs are developed? I doubt you will.

Also, are you going to abandon your faith if someday conscious AIs are developed? I doubt you will.

Developed....as in created ? Why would you expect it to be necessary to abandon faith in God due to this....it'd still be top down intelligent creation rather than bottom up materialistic function.

Sai,

Not really. Neither is software identical to the computer it runs on. This argument is just hand waving.

i. Software is not identical to hardware, but it is identical to how the hardware is operating. Thus, I only need to clarify the second premise as follows: physicalism holds that brain states are identical to mental states. Of course brain states and hardware operations both have spatial extension. So the argument seems to go through as before.

The software/hardware analogy only seems to work at first pass for the same reason that the "emergence" language seems to work: it relies upon the fact that most people have a fuzzy grasp of what's actually going on (or being said). It's like showing someone a 3D picture for the first time and then telling them that this proves depth can be flat, because this 3D picture is really flat.

(Moreland presents several problems with the software/functionalist analogy in the book I mentioned, I'll try to summarize those when I have more time.)

ii. On what grounds do you call the argument "hand waving"?

The mind can represent spacial extension that doesn't mean it's extended in space.

If the mind is just the word we use to describe the brain functioning in a certain way, then thoughts would need to be spatially extended.

We'll then you must not know many because a LOT of us used to be Christians and then realized it doesn't add up.

Then what accounts for the fact that a LOT of you create poor caricatures of Christianity and the Bible I wonder?

And where is your argument from Scripture that dualism isn't required?

I have read the bible through at least three times and many specific chapters and books many more times.

Unfortunately reading doesn't in itself bestow understanding or comprehension. But anyway it's not my point to get into a debate with how well you know the Bible. I was only pointing out a well known Bible verse that runs contrary to your assertion about the Bible.

Also, are you going to abandon your faith if someday conscious AIs are developed? I doubt you will.

That question is confused. I have philosophical reasons to think AI can't develop consciousness. For instance, consciousness is what souls are. And souls are simple immaterial substances. You can't get that from making matter fit together in a certain way. The idea that AI could become conscious assumes a materialist or functionalist account of consciousness, does it not? You've not offered any evidence for that... so I have no reason to think differently.

Also, are you going to abandon your faith if someday conscious AIs are developed? I doubt you will.

Remember where I said: It's correct that humans as purely physical creatures wouldn't in itself disprove theism, assuming it's coherent to have a purely physical thing that is conscious. God can make purely physical things, like rocks, if he wants to and their existence doesn't weigh as evidence against his. However the existence of dualistic creatures does present a problem for materialism... for obvious reasons.

Also, let's keep in mind the scope and significance of your claims.

All you've said is that consciousness might be a word we use when the brain functions in a certain way. And you've offered no evidence for it. That doesn't do anything to solve the hard problem of consciousness.

Brad B,

Developed....as in created ? Why would you expect it to be necessary to abandon faith in God due to this....it'd still be top down intelligent creation rather than bottom up materialistic function...


Well stated. As usual.


It's always odd that the Skeptic considers the Mind of Man pushing stuff/material around on the bench-top as evidence for stuff-ism / materialism.


PS: Trying the block-quote "thingy" so here's hoping :)

What an enjoyable thread.


The quote of Slingerland’s description of his daughter as some sort of a complex A.I. (artificial intelligence) in the OP was bizarrely revealing, particularly as it relates to the Materialist’s inescapable (and ‘un-willing’?) definition of “psychotic”.


The Janitor’s point that physical things “existing here” brings no philosophical weight against God’s existence, and, Brad B’s point about the unavoidable top-down flow of things are both intractably coherent observations. A bit of levity seems unavoidable when those two points are considered and subsequently added to the observation that, on all fronts it seems, all available data sets, semantic sets, and philosophical truth claims lead us to the unavoidable conclusion that when the Materialist speaks of Artificial Intelligence what he is actually speaking of is something more akin to zombies. The semantics in all of that bring us to what is presently a semantic equivocation – a metaphysical conflation – on the part of the Materialist as he must instill in Material all his claims of intentionality, of a Self persisting through time despite changing physical parts, of….. and of…… and so on. All of which brings us, then, to WisdomLover’s unavoidable layer: “So, if it turns out that the best science says that consciousness does not exist, you'll accept that. How? Or perhaps I should say "Who?" If it turns out that the best science says rationally incoherent things, then it turns out that the best science isn't the best science.”

(Janitor, I fixed your blockquotes in that first comment. Looks like you got it now!)

More incoherence:


The Materialist asserts, without evidence and based only on his commitment to his presuppositions, that Truth is that we are the reductionist’s A.I. at bottom, and then, without breaking stride, proceeds to tell us this about said Truth:


If you do not feel an emotional and intellectual revulsion at our status (his daughter’s status, etc.) of being said complex A.I. robots, something is “wrong” with your composition: “There may well be individuals who lack this sense, and who can quite easily and thoroughly conceive of themselves and other people in purely instrumental, mechanistic terms, but we label such people ‘psychopaths,’ and quite rightly try to identify them and put them away somewhere to protect the rest of us.”


Here we have our Cognitive Faculties informing us that those who believe in the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, are, uumm…. psychotic in their brain's makeup, that something is "wrong" with their interior computer's compositional read-outs and spread-sheets - that the brain's algorithms of truth are flawed.


Let’s extrapolate that purely evolutionary milieu for about a million years and see “where” our cognitive faculties “land”. EAAN slowly, inch by inch, benefit by benefit, off-spring by off-spring, unalterably surfaces.

I have to admit that I've never read anything by Nancy Pearcey. Lately, there have been numerous articles and posts quoting and citing her work. I just now was reading one of those that contained a link to a Youtube video where she is interviewed regarding the book being discussed in these series of blog posts. I am actually listening...somewhere in the middle of it...right now, and thought to make mention of it here in case anyone who wants to hear her might benefit from hearing these things directly from the source. I'm impressed so far, might be looking to read some of her production in the future.

Amy/The Janitor,

Been busy with other stuff and it's probably too late to effectively continue this conversation but I have a few thoughts to hopefully conclude.

1) It's become clear that an "explanation of consciousness" means different things to each of us and I'll have to clarify that in any future discussions.

2) Same with morality, but I knew that already. I deny objective morality exists. I accept that non-objective morality, or what I sometimes call "temporal morality", exists. And I think there are explanations for it that are being improved upon all the time.

3) The Turek/Shermer debate was pretty disappointing all the way around. Shermer did not communicate well at many points and Turek did his usual annoying circular questioning thing where he fails to take into account (or just ignores) the content of the response to the question he just asked.

4) I want to underline that much of what I said about the materialistic nature of consciousness was speculation. And it's speculation because we just don't know enough about it to say one way or the other. And perhaps you find your metaphysical explanations of consciousness to be consistent and satisfactory but I don't. They don't provide any information we can use, for instance, in the way that materialistic explanations of health issues lead to medicines and surgeries that mitigate or eliminate health problems.

This kind of takes of back to #1 above so since I've closed some kind of loop here I guess I'm done with this post.

Chip, knowing consciousness and personhood are real and not illusions (because we have a basis for it in a Creator who is a Person) is, of course, information we can "use"—just as believing they're not real (because we come from non-personal matter) ends up being information people use. Our view on this affects our treatment of human beings in a multitude of ways.

In fact, it affects us more than in a small way of developing a particular medicine; it affects whether or not we think the act of developing medicine itself is valuable. It affects the whole picture—the justice system, education, morality, just about everything. It's information we use and act on every day.

So, "information we can use" clearly has different meanings to us as well. I mean it, and I think you understand this, in a very practical sense as demonstrated in my medical example. You then take it and say you CAN use it but your sense is on a completely different level, that is, as motivation or purpose. You may use it that way but it is NOT what I was talking about.

In the future, I encourage you to try and at least acknowledge the difference between what we're saying and speak to my actual objections rather imply I'm wrong because of some completely unrelated reason you have in mind. I will try and do the same as I'm recognizing it more and more.

Chip, it was clear from your comment that you care about the practical effects of information. That wasn't an objection on your part, it was a statement of what you value. Because you value that, you dismissed the grounding of consciousness I gave as being irrelevant (because you didn't see a practical use for the information). I was merely trying to explain that the information is not irrelevant. Rather, it's information that effects the way we think about and do many things (including medicine). In other words, I wasn't bringing up something totally different from what you were saying, I was showing you how what I said related to what you were saying.

The truth is that "metaphysical explanations of consciousness" play out in real life actions, and that was what I was trying to communicate.

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