Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reading Rosenberg, Part II

We saw in part I of this series that Alex Rosenberg’s new book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality is less about atheism than it is about scientism, the view that science alone gives us knowledge of reality.  This is so in two respects.  First, Rosenberg’s atheism is just one implication among others of his scientism, and the aim of the book is to spell out what else follows from scientism, rather than to say much in defense of atheism.  Second, that it follows from his scientism is thus the only argument Rosenberg really gives for atheism.  Thus, most of what he has to say ultimately rests on his scientism.  If he has no good arguments for scientism, then he has no good arguments either for atheism or for most of the other, more bizarre, conclusions he defends in the book.

So, does Rosenberg have any good arguments for scientism?  He does not.  In fact, he has only one argument for it, and it is quite awful.
 
What is scientism?

Before we look at the argument, let’s consider how Rosenberg characterizes scientism:

“Scientism”… is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when “complete,” what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today. (pp. 6-7)

As I’ve noted elsewhere (e.g. here, here, and here), the trouble with the claim that science is the only reliable source of knowledge is that it is either self-defeating or trivial -- self-defeating if we narrowly construe what counts as “science” (since scientism is itself a metaphysical and epistemological theory and not a view that physics, chemistry, or any other particular science has established) and trivial if we construe “science” broadly (since in that case philosophy, and in particular metaphysics and epistemology, count as “sciences” no less than physics, chemistry, and the like do).  Rosenberg certainly avoids the second horn of this dilemma.  For his construal of what counts as “science” is very narrow indeed:

If we’re going to be scientistic, then we have to attain our view of reality from what physics tells us about it.  Actually, we’ll have to do more than that: we’ll have to embrace physics as the whole truth about reality. (p. 20)

To be sure, he does not deny that chemistry, biology, and neuroscience also give us knowledge.  But that is only because he thinks they are reducible to physics: “The physical facts fix all the facts.  [This] means that the physical facts constitute or determine or bring about all the rest of the facts.” (p. 26)

Now some naturalists will demur at this point, preferring a “non-reductive physicalism,” or “emergentism,” or some other such doctrine to Rosenberg’s radical reductionism.  As a number of chemists and philosophers of chemistry have argued in recent years, it is at the very least debatable whether even chemistry is really reducible to physics.  (For a useful overview of the literature, see chapter 5 of J. van Brakel’s book Philosophy of Chemistry.  Also useful is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the philosophy of chemistry.)  Reductionism in biology is even more obviously open to challenge.  And of course, whether consciousness and human thought and action can be accounted for in physicalist terms is notoriously controversial even among naturalists themselves -- Fodor, McGinn, Searle, Nagel, Levine, Strawson, and Chalmers are just some of the prominent naturalistic philosophers of mind who have been critical of existing attempts by their fellow naturalists to explain the mind in purely materialistic terms.

Now I sympathize with such arguments, but I don’t think they establish an alternative form of naturalism.  For what they show, I would argue, is that higher-level features of material reality are no less real than the lower-level features, that the lower-level features are not somehow ontologically privileged.  And in that way they show (even if only inchoately, and even if their proponents often do not realize it) that something like an Aristotelian, holistic conception of material substances is correct after all.  Talk of “emergence,” “non-reductive physicalism,” and the like fudges this, because it insinuates that the lower-level features described by physics are still somehow more fundamental than the higher-level ones, even though the higher-level ones are acknowledged to be irreducible.  The latter, it is implied, somehow have to “emerge” from the former.  Such views are bound to sound obscurantist precisely because they amount to an unstable halfway position between reductionistic naturalism of the Rosenberg variety and traditional Aristotelian anti-reductionism.

I would say, then, that one has either to go the whole hog for Rosenberg-style reductionism or chuck out the whole naturalistic framework altogether (along with “emergence” and other such half-measures) and return to a full-blown Aristotelian metaphysics of material substances.  To that extent I think Rosenberg is right to hold that if someone is committed to scientism, then he should hold that “the physical facts fix all the facts.”  (Obviously some will dispute this conditional, but since it constitutes a point of agreement between Rosenberg and me, I won’t pursue it further here.)

If Rosenberg avoids the one horn of the dilemma, though, he thrusts himself headlong onto the other.  For how exactly has scientism been established by physics, chemistry, biology, or even neuroscience (if we allow for the sake of argument that neuroscience is reducible to physics)?  Does scientism make predictions that have been rigorously confirmed?  Is there something like a Michelson-Morley experiment that scientism makes sense of in a way no rival theory does?  To ask such questions is to answer them.  The fact is that neuroscience hasn’t come close even to discovering exactly what it is that goes on in the brain when scientists form hypotheses, construct theories, make predictive inferences, develop experimental tests, write up their results, submit them for peer review, etc.  That is to say, neuroscience hasn’t even explained the practice of science itself in purely neuroscientific categories, much less shown that no other practices can yield genuine knowledge.  Scientism remains what it has always been -- a purely metaphysical speculation and not an empirical theory at all, much less a confirmed empirical theory.

No doubt we will be treated at this point to some hand-waving to the effect that even if neuroscience has not “yet” fully explained scientific practice, neither has it turned up any evidence that there are sources of knowledge other than science.  But whether neuroscience is the only genuine source of knowledge about how we come to have knowledge is itself part of what is at issue in the dispute between scientism and its critics.  Hence, to argue “We have no neuroscientific evidence that there is any genuine source of knowledge other than science, therefore there are no grounds at all for believing that there are any such alternative sources” would simply be to beg the question.

Rosenberg’s Gem

All of this might seem moot if Rosenberg had a really powerful argument in favor of scientism.  But he does not.  David Stove once gave the ironic label “the Gem” to a Berkeleyan argument for idealism he regarded as especially bad.  Rosenberg’s argument for scientism gives Berkeley a run for his money, for it is a real Gem.  He states it several times in the book:

The technological success of physics is by itself enough to convince anyone with anxiety about scientism that if physics isn’t “finished,” it certainly has the broad outlines of reality well understood. (p. 23)

And it’s not just the correctness of the predictions and the reliability of technology that requires us to place our confidence in physics’ description of reality.  Because physics’ predictions are so accurate, the methods that produced the description must be equally reliable.  Otherwise, our technological powers would be a miracle.  We have the best of reasons to believe that the methods of physics -- combining controlled experiment and careful observation with mainly mathematical requirements on the shape theories can take -- are the right ones for acquiring all knowledge.  Carving out some area of “inquiry” or “belief” as exempt from exploration by the methods of physics is special pleading or self-deception.  (p. 24)

The phenomenal accuracy of its prediction, the unimaginable power of its technological application, and the breathtaking extent and detail of its explanations are powerful reasons to believe that physics is the whole truth about reality. (p. 25)

Rosenberg’s argument, then, is essentially this:

1. The predictive power and technological applications of physics are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.

2. Therefore what physics reveals to us is all that is real.

How bad is this argument?  About as bad as this one:

1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

2. Therefore what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is all that is real.

Metal detectors are keyed to those aspects of the natural world susceptible of detection via electromagnetic means (or whatever).  But however well they perform this task -- indeed, even if they succeeded on every single occasion they were deployed -- it simply wouldn’t follow for a moment that there are no aspects of the natural world other than the ones they are sensitive to.  Similarly, what physics does -- and there is no doubt that it does it brilliantly -- is to capture those aspects of the natural world susceptible of the mathematical modeling that makes precise prediction and technological application possible.  But here too, it simply doesn’t follow for a moment that there are no other aspects of the natural world. 

Those who reject Rosenberg’s scientism, then, are not guilty of “special pleading or self-deception,” Rosenberg’s condescending bluster notwithstanding.  Rather, they are (unlike Rosenberg) simply capable of recognizing a brazen non sequitur when they see it.  Unfortunately, condescending bluster is all Rosenberg ever offers in addition to his favorite non sequitur.  Here’s some more of it:

“Scientism” is the pejorative label given to our positive view by those who really want to have their theistic cake and dine at the table of science’s bounties, too.  Opponents of scientism would never charge their cardiologists or auto mechanics or software engineers with “scientism” when their health, travel plans, or Web surfing are in danger.  But just try subjecting their nonscientific mores and norms, their music or metaphysics, their literary theories or politics to scientific scrutiny.  The immediate response of outraged humane letters is “scientism.” (p. 6)

According to Rosenberg, then, unless you agree that science is the only genuine source of knowledge, you cannot consistently believe that it gives us any genuine knowledge.  This is about as plausible as saying that unless you think metal detectors alone can detect physical objects, then you cannot consistently believe that they detect any physical objects at all.  Perhaps someone who thinks that metal detectors give us exhaustive knowledge of the world could write up a Metallicist’s Guide to Reality and “argue” as follows:

“Metallicism” is the pejorative label given to our positive view by those who really want to have their stone, water, wood, and plastic cakes and dine at the table of metallic bounties, too.  Opponents of metallicism would never charge their metal detector-owning friends with “metallicism” when they need help finding lost car keys or loose change in the sofa.  But just try subjecting their nonmetallic mores and norms, their music or metaphysics, their literary theories or politics to metallurgical scrutiny.  The immediate response of outraged humane letters is “metallicism.”

Of course, “metallicism” is preposterous.  But so is Rosenberg’s scientism.

Those beholden to scientism are bound to protest that the analogy is no good, on the grounds that metal detectors detect only part of reality while physics detects the whole of it.  But such a reply would simply beg the question once again, for whether physics really does describe the whole of reality is precisely what is at issue.

I am being hard on Rosenberg, and he deserves it for putting forward such transparently bad arguments, and with such arrogance.  But it is only fair to note that he is hardly alone in the delusion that his Gem is some kind of knockdown argument for scientism.  One hears this stupid non sequitur over and over and over again when arguing with New Atheist types.  It is implicit every time some Internet Infidel asks triumphantly: “Where are the predictive successes and technological applications of philosophy or theology?”  This is about as impressive as our fictional “metallicist” smugly demanding: “Where are the metal-detecting successes of gardening, cooking, and painting?” -- and then high-fiving his fellow metallicists when we are unable to offer any examples, thinking that he has established that plants, food, works of art, and indeed anything non-metallic are all non-existent.  For why on earth should we believe that only methods capable of detecting metals give us genuine access to reality?  And why on earth should we believe that if something is real, then it must be susceptible of the mathematically precise prediction and technological application characteristic of physics?  I submit that there is no answer to this question that doesn’t beg the question.

As always, earlier generations of skeptics were wiser than the intellectually backward Dawkins generation.  For instance, Bertrand Russell was well aware that, far from giving us an exhaustive picture of reality, physics in fact gives us is very nearly the opposite, and is unintelligible unless there is more to reality than what it reveals to us:

It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information that theoretical physics has to give.  It lays down certain fundamental equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events, while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of the events that have the structure.  We only know the intrinsic character of events when they happen to us.  Nothing whatever in theoretical physics enables us to say anything about the intrinsic character of events elsewhere.  They may be just like the events that happen to us, or they may be totally different in strictly unimaginable ways.  All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes.  But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to—as to this, physics is silent. (My Philosophical Development, p. 13)

Moreover, physics’ tremendous success at prediction and technological application is precisely the result of its deliberate neglect of any aspect of reality that does not fit its mathematically-oriented methods.  Early modern thinkers like Bacon and Descartes sought to reorient science in a practical, this-worldly, technological direction.  Mathematics facilitated this; aspects of the world that couldn’t be mathematically modeled were a distraction.  Hence they were relegated to the status of mere “secondary qualities,” or treated as features that are the proper study of metaphysics rather than physics.  That was less a metaphysical discovery, though, than a methodological stipulation.  If you set out to study only those aspects of reality that might be rigorously predictable and controllable, then you are bound to find that those are the only ones you discover.  But it is preposterous to pretend that you have thereby shown that there are no other aspects of reality, just as it would be preposterous for the “metallicist” to pretend that his exclusive focus on those objects that might be detected electromagnetically shows that there are no non-metals.  (See The Last Superstition for more detailed discussion of this theme.)

What Rosenberg and others beholden to scientism have done, then, is simply to confuse method with metaphysics (an occupational hazard of post-Galilean science and post-Cartesian philosophy, as E. A. Burtt warned in his classic book The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science).  The fallacious blurring of epistemology and metaphysics is, of course, also a feature of many idealist arguments, which is why Stove thought they merited our scorn.  All the more appropriately, then, might we label Rosenberg’s argument a “Gem.”

Scientism versus teleology

Among the features of the world physics deliberately ignores for its purposes are those that involve final causality.  As Rosenberg writes:

Ever since physics hit its stride with Newton, it has excluded purposes, goals, ends, or designs in nature.  It firmly bans all explanations that are teleological(p. 40)

As the words “exclusion” and “ban” indicate, though, this is, yet again, merely a methodological stipulation.  By itself it tells us nothing at all about whether teleology is real.  Again, if the designer of a metal detector says “For purposes of metal detection, let’s ignore every feature of the objects we’re after except their electromagnetic properties,” then he is naturally going to pay no attention to whether this or that object is a coin, or a key, or a thumbtack, or even whether it is made of iron as opposed to nickel.  But it obviously does not follow that the only real properties of the objects the metal detector finds are their electromagnetic properties, and that we should be eliminativists about coins, keys, thumbtacks, iron, and nickel.  Similarly, since teleological features cannot be modeled mathematically, the early moderns – thinkers who, following Bacon and Descartes, wanted to turn science in a practical, this-worldly direction and thus toward a focus on prediction and control – decided to ignore them.  But (as it cannot be repeated too frequently) it simply doesn’t follow that such features do not exist.

Rosenberg no doubt thinks an appeal to Ockham’s razor justifies such an inference.  He writes: 

Since Newton 350 years ago, [physics] has always succeeded in providing a nonteleological theory to deal with each of the new explanatory and experimental challenges it has faced.  That track record is tremendously strong evidence for concluding that its still-unsolved problems will submit to nonteleological theories. (p. 40)

The implication is that since physics hasn’t ever needed to postulate final causes, we can infer with confidence that it will not need to do so in the future; and if it does not need to do so, the principle of parsimony should lead us to conclude that final causes don’t exist.  

But there are several problems with such an argument.  For one thing, Rosenberg’s main reason for denying the existence of teleology, plans, purposes, designs, intentionality, and the like at the biological level and even at the level of the human mind, is that physics has ruled teleology and cognate notions out of science altogether.  But in that case an appeal to Ockham’s razor of the sort just considered would lead Rosenberg into a “No True Scotsman” fallacy.  He will be saying, in effect: Physics can explain everything that exists without appealing to teleology.  So, by Ockham’s razor, teleology must not be a real feature of the world.  Of course, biological functions, human thought and action, and the like cannot be understood except in teleological terms.  But that just shows that they must not really exist, because teleology doesn’t exist, because physics can explain everything that exists without it!

Another problem is that something like teleology is necessary to explain the facts that physics describes, at least if we regard any of them as embodying genuine causal relations.  That is, in any event, the view of a number of contemporary philosophers of science and metaphysicians – George Molnar, C. B. Martin, John Heil, and other “new essentialist” writers – who have no theological ax to grind, but who regard dispositions as “directed at” their manifestations and thus as exhibiting what Molnar calls a kind of “physical intentionality.”  This is (as historian of philosophy Walter Ott has noted) essentially a return to an Aristotelian-Scholastic understanding of final causality as a precondition of the intelligibility of efficient causality.  Unless we suppose that an efficient cause A inherently “points” beyond itself to its typical effect (or range of effects) B as toward an end or goal, we have no way of making sense of why it is that A reliably does in fact generate B rather than C, D, or no effect at all.

Rosenberg doesn’t see the possibility of such a view because he has only the crudest conception of teleology -- he evidently thinks that a teleological explanation is one that simply postulates that “God designed it that way.”  No one familiar with the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions would make such a mistake, though someone who supposes that teleology and natural theology stand or fall with Paley-style “design arguments” is likely to.  (As I have noted before, Rosenberg’s knowledge of natural theology seems to derive mostly from whatever was in the anthology his undergrad PHIL 101 teacher was using.)  

Rosenberg also supposes that the second law of thermodynamics is incompatible with the existence of teleology.  For “the second law tells us that the universe is headed to complete disorder” (in particular, heat death) and “no purpose or goal can be secured permanently under such circumstances” (p. 41).  But the existence of teleology doesn’t require that an end or goal be realized permanently.  And insofar as the second law of thermodynamics describes causal regularities -- and in particular a tendency toward disorder -- it would itself be an instance of teleology, not a counterexample to it.

(The subject of teleology is one I have devoted much attention to elsewhere , e.g. in chapter 6 of The Last Superstition, chapter 2 of Aquinas, and in a great many blog posts on the dispute between Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and “Intelligent Design” theory.  I won’t repeat myself here -- interested readers are directed to these sources.)

So, Rosenberg has no good arguments for scientism, and thus no good arguments either for atheism or for the other, more bizarre conclusions he derives from scientism.  As we will see in the remaining posts in this series, some of those conclusions are in any event incoherent, and thus constitute a reductio ad absurdum of the premises that lead to them.  

Before turning to these conclusions, though, it will be worthwhile examining Rosenberg’s brief attempt to counter kalam-style arguments for God as the cause of the Big Bang, with some alternative cosmological speculations of his own.  We’ll do so in the next post in this series.

[Addendum: A reader calls attention to this critique of Rosenberg by Timothy Williamson, which dovetails with some of the points made above.  A key line: “Those most confident of being undogmatic and possessing the scientific spirit may thereby become all the less able to detect dogmatism and failures of the scientific spirit in themselves.”]

798 comments:

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Brandon said...

Ever since physics hit its stride with Newton, it has excluded purposes, goals, ends, or designs in nature. It firmly bans all explanations that are teleological…

I find this rather interesting, since it's historically false: least action principles were originally taken by physicists to be examples of teleology in physics -- and not just examples but obvious examples -- and nobody had any problem with them for all that. And Maupertuis is very definitely post-Newton. If there was any 'ban' on explanations that are thought teleological, it seems to have been very poorly enforced, to the benefit of science -- for while most people don't classify them as teleological any more, least action is hardly a minor part of physics, and there was a period of time once when a pretty hefty slate of physicists took it to be teleological. It's a good thing they weren't so big on such a 'ban'.

I also find it odd to make Newton the cut-off point even taking teleology to be synonymous with design, since it's Newton's taste for design arguments that made them so popular in the first place; and there was in particular that really big design argument based on solar system stability that no one had any good alternative to, and lots of Newtonian physicists happily accepted, for decades between Newton and Laplace. The whole claim is just backprojection in defiance of actual historical evidence.

Philip Cartwright said...

It seems to me that one of the problems with saying that a) only what science describes is real, and b) all science is reducible to physics is that rather more drops out of the account of reality than adherents of Scientism would care to admit. People, for example. And all other physical objects.

After all, given a collection of sub-atomic particles interacting according to certain laws, what right have we - based only on those laws - to say "these particles over here constitute a human being"? Surely that is a distinction WE have made and not one contained in the physical description itself? As such, it's just a convenient fiction on our part - a kind of fairy-story we tell to help make sense of things.

Tom Esteban said...

Fantastic post Dr.Feser.

I wonder if you have read Barry Stroud's fine book "The Quest for Reality: Subjectivism and the Metaphysics of Colour"? The entire book (which, for the record, I found immensely difficult to study) is essentially a refutation of scientism (at least, the first half of the book does this job).

Here is what I find to be the most succinct explanation that Stroud gives - though again, reading the whole book will do the quote more justice:

"By restricting ourselves to the physical facts alone, we would not even be able to acknowledge such facts of perception and belief. But they must be acknowledged by any who is going to explain them. They are the facts which on this strategy [scientism] are to be given an unmasking explanation that exposes the contents of our beliefs as not accurately representing the independant world. That is what is supposed to reveal that the world is a purely physical world and that nothing in it as it is independantly of us is coloured." page 78.

In essence, Stroud says that in order to explain away non-physical things we need to acknowledge them in such a way that explaining them away would contradict the very project we are setting out to do. As Stroud puts it, "by restricting ourselves exclusively to the language of physical sciences, the explananda we wish to account for would not even be part of the only world we accept" (Ibid).

The book is fascinating for many reasons, but I found it's subtle exposing of scientism to be the best part about it.

zfbzfdb said...

Science puts everything in a consistent order but is ghastly silent about everything that really matters to us: beauty, color, taste, pain or delight, origins, God & eternity
-Erwin Schrodinger

grodrigues said...

@Brandon:

Least action principles are the most fundamental of all the main principles in physics. It is a standard lecture or exercise in Classical Mechanics to derive the Euler-Lagrange equations for a classical system from a variational principle. The other fundamental equations also fall to this method of attack.

Variational principles are, undeniably, a striking example of teleology in physics. Just alter Aristotle's language a little bit to adapt to modern fashions and voila, you got the whole teleology thingy staring right at you in the face.

Thomas said...

Excellent, Dr. Feser! The way you argued that (narrow) scientism is self-refuting and every argument for it is question-begging, was brilliant.

Untenured said...

“Scientism”… is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when “complete,” what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today. (pp. 6-7)

But on what grounds does he claim that finished science will not be "surprisingly" different from current science? How does he know what future physics will look like based on current physics? What makes us so darn lucky that we, unlike every past generation, are immune to the possibility of a scientific paradigm shift?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser just opened up a can of whoop-ass.

DNW said...

In accord with my habit of asking superficial questions and making already made observations before I have completely read the essay and the responses, allow me to do it one more time before I forget what it was that occurred to me.

If the individual self (I assume he means more than psychological continuity) is, as Rosenberg seems to indicate in another essay, an illusion, and a radical scientistic physical reductionism is the true description of reality:

Who or what is, or remains as, the knower; and what does it mean to say that something is known?

What is the project of science? Unconscious, unknowing, Physics acting upon itself?

What can it mean to have an illusion, in Rosenberg's reality?

Chuck said...

How does one assess teleology? I don't see any way to do it outside of preferred cultural speculation.

The divide articulated well here seems to illustrate the demarcation problem.

Science can only judge those things we hold constant. I struggle to see how metaphysics or teleological inferences can be held constant.

That said, I trust conclusions from a method that has a mechanism for internal judgment towards consistency, therefore I'd defer to the products of scientism as real knowledge and the products of philosophy and metaphysics as opinion.

monk68 said...

DNW,

Something like that is what CS Lewis had in mind when developing his argument against naturalism from thought. So too, Plantinga, according to his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). Such arguments, in one way or another, are arguments against ontological paradigms which vitiate the very notion of concepts such as "reason", "reasonable", "cognition", "mind", as we know and use them in human language.

These arguments also bear some relation to broader responses to mid 20th century logical positivism and modern scientism. Any proposition whereby one attempts to restrict the scope of human knowledge to some narrow domain, necessarily involves a temporary step "outside" that domain in order to get the birds-eye-view needed to see the broader epistemic landscape so as to formulate the restrictive proposition in the first place. In short, one is sneaking a quick glance from beyond the limits of the proposed knowledge boundary in order to assert knowledge of the boundary itself: a knowledge claim derived from a venue which the knowledge claim itself declares as "off-limits" to human knowledge.

I don't know how many times I have seen naturalists simply brush such arguments aside as somehow non-applicable to their epistemic and ontic positions, or as having been surely dealt with by someone, somewhere at sometime. In fact, the first several dismissive waives-of-the hand that I encountered when raising such objections left me somewhat embarrassed because I thought to myself: "there must be something embarrassingly simpleminded or obviously wrong with such arguments against naturalism, else why the flippancy toward such objections by highly educated naturalists?"

That was many years ago. I have yet to encounter a serious response from eliminative naturalists regarding these concerns. I have now come to believe that such a posture is little else than a good poker bluff. The arguments are good. They work. They establish that forms of naturalism whose ontology intrinsically eliminate any meaningful or recognizable concepts of reason, mind, cognition, etc; are indeed self defeating. Of course, such arguments leave positive accounts concerning how epistemology and ontology really do fit together undeveloped; nor do such arguments establish theism: but to recognize popular and widely embraced forms of naturalism as inherently self-defeating is a great philosophical time-saver. All one can do is call the naturalist’s bluff and culturally expose the canard for the bad philosophy that it is.

monk68 said...

Unless, of course, one is willing to admit the implications of an eliminative naturalism for cognitive discourse. In which case, such a person should do the right thing and remain silent. Publishing books and delivering lectures does not become the mindless.

BenYachov said...

Chuck is here people. The collective Atheist IQ has risen another few hundred points despite the enormous drag factor of the resident Gnu's and Trolls.

Thank God! If I have to read anymore of djindra or StoneTops mind numbing blather I might forget there are a host of intelligent Atheist outside the cult of the Gnu.

OTOH we had some respite since dguller also stopped by.

Martin said...

monk68,

Any proposition whereby one attempts to restrict the scope of human knowledge to some narrow domain, necessarily involves a temporary step "outside" that domain in order to get the birds-eye-view needed to see the broader epistemic landscape so as to formulate the restrictive proposition in the first place. In short, one is sneaking a quick glance from beyond the limits of the proposed knowledge boundary in order to assert knowledge of the boundary itself: a knowledge claim derived from a venue which the knowledge claim itself declares as "off-limits" to human knowledge.

This might be the most concise and clear description of the problems with scientism that I've ever seen. Mind if I steal it for future discussions?

rad said...

Most brilliant analogy, Dr. Feser!

Rupert said...

I think the point is that if you are going to make a claim to be able to form reliable beliefs about reality you need to give an account of what makes the belief formation mechanism reliable. One interesting example comes up when mathematicians reason about infinite structures. I subscribe to a view called modal structuralism on which mathematical statements are to be re-interpreted as statements about what kinds of structures are possible. And I believe that our reasoning about what kinds of finite structures are possible receives confirmation from our ability to empirically confirm it with those finite structures that are small enough actually to be instantiated in physical reality and also the indispensibility of such reasoning to our best scientific theories about the world. But our reasonings about the possibilities of infinite structures is not indispensible to our best theories about the world. Scientifically applicable mathematics can be interpreted in systems which only countenance the possibility of finite structures. So in the case of our beliefs about the possibility of infinite structures there is an obligation to give an account of what makes us so sure that our beliefs about these matters are reliable beliefs about reality. I have very strong intuitions about these things as a mathematician, but in my philosophically reflective moments I acknowledge that I have not given a good account of how I am able to form reliable beliefs about these matters. For a belief system to prove indispensible for a theory which is highly successful at making correct predictions about empirical observations is one of the best confirmations we could possibly get that it is the product of a reliable belief formation mechanism. I'm not clear on what other kinds of grounds we could ever have for thinking our belief formation mechanisms reliable.

monk68 said...

Martin

No problem, go for it.

some kant said...

@BenYachov,

I always read Chuck's posts. We might not agree, but he always makes a serious effort to try to understand our position, which I believe is the point of philosophy (a conversation).

Actually, I even like djindra at times. Some of his posts are genuinely hilarious, though most of the time he just bores to * out of me as he tends to repeat himself all over.

I think that, in general, the non-believing regulars on this blog are fine. And even if they were not, it is our duty to be charitable to them. But then, we are Prof. Feser's guests, so he's the one who decides what is acceptable here (I myself have had a couple of over-the-top posts removed, like the one I made about djindra and his foot massages a couple of months ago -- and I'm fine with that).

FM said...

“Scientism”… is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when “complete,” what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today.

Interestingly, many physicists thought this way about 100 years ago, before Quantum Mechanics knocked their pants off...


Really there is no assurance that nature is truly as science portrays it NOW... new discoveries might change our picture of nature significantly, just like (General & Special) Relativity and Quantum Mechanics changed the view of nature from the Newtonian Mechanics view we had before.

Hence I am not sure where this 'assurance' Rosenberg has comes from.

Indeed this is no argument at all for scientism... hell, I think most physicist (who all secretly hope to be the new Einstein and discover something that will knock their colleagues pants down) would disagree!


-------


The technological success of physics is by itself enough to convince anyone with anxiety about scientism that if physics isn’t “finished,” it certainly has the broad outlines of reality well understood.

That is also utterly flawed indeed!

Thechnology is based on KNOWN PHYSICS like this:

Nature -> Physics who understands how nature works and draws a theory and models etc... -> Technology.


So OBVIOUSLY technolgy will back up physics... it's like saying that all the drawings you made with a blue crayon are blue and if you make new ones they will also be blue... yet it does not mean you can not discover a red caryon (i.e. NEW properties or nature) at some point.


Steam engines, for example, were based on classical physics... and so mechanical calculators... and existed way before we knew anything Quantum Mechanics.

Now we have QM and particle physics and from that we have computers, solar cells and nuclear powered submarines.


In the future we might have cars powered by cars that run on the X-engine powered by some principle of nature that now eludes us...

so sertainly I would be so sure that:

it certainly has the broad outlines of reality well understood

Again: physicists over 100 years ago thought the same way before QM and Relativity came along.

Nature may and probably will surprise us again.

-----------

TheOFloinn said...

Heck, technology does not always require the physics. Until fairly recently, the technologies of inventors often preceded the physics. Medieval China is a good example of a society with Pretty Good Technology, but no Science.

grodrigues said...

@Rupert:

"But our reasonings about the possibilities of infinite structures is not indispensible to our best theories about the world. Scientifically applicable mathematics can be interpreted in systems which only countenance the possibility of finite structures."

Could you expand on this? What systems exactly do you have in mind? PRA? EFA? Harvey Friedman famously conjectured that every theorem in the Annals of Mathematics whose statement involves only finitary mathematical objects could be proved in EFA. I am quite ignorant of reverse mathematics, but given that quantum field theory makes heavy use of functional analysis (just one example) which deals with infinitary objects, at first blush it seems implausible, but this is just a gut feeling.

Jinzang said...

I'm wondering if we can invoke Godel here. Since physics gives a mathematical model of nature, which in its final, perfected form, can be expressed as a set of axioms (the "true laws of nature,") there must by Godel's incompleteness theorem be so me set of affairs that cannot be proven by those laws. Hence even in its final. ideal form physics cannot provide a complete description of nature and reductive materialism fails.

Anonymous said...

Your discussion of "metallicism" was brilliant and hilarious. Thanks for the laughs, Doc. A truly "Feser" moment (Filosophical Erudition Sans Excessive Restraint)

Mark Szlazak said...

In his book "The Mystery of the Quantum World", physicist Euan Equires wrote of two possible ways in which God could play a role in a quantum world.

Quantum theory offers at least two possible roles for a ‘God’, where we use this term for a being that is non-physical, nonhuman, in some sense superhuman, and is conscious. The first role is to make the ‘choices’ that are required whenever a measurement is made that selects from a quantum system one of the possible outcomes. Such a God would remove the indeterminacy from the world by taking upon himself those decisions that are not forced by the rules of physics. Although expressed in nontraditional terms, this is reasonably in accordance with the accepted role of a God. He would be very active in all aspects of the world, and would be totally omnipotent within the prescribed limits. Prediction of his behaviour from the laws of physics would be impossible (note that we are not permitting any hidden variables in this chapter), although from both the theological and the scientific viewpoint we would want to believe that there were reasons for at least some of the choices; otherwise we would be back with random behaviour and the God would not have played any part. It is interesting to note that this role might even permit ‘miracles’, if we were to regard these as events so highly unlikely that they would be effectively impossible without very specific, and unusual, ‘divine’ choice. For example, according to quantum theory, there must be a small, but non-zero, probability that if I run into a wall, then I will pass right through it. This is a special case of the potential barrier experiment and the wavefunction on the left-hand side, corresponding to transmission, is never quite zero. Then, however small the probability for transmission might be, a God would be able to select it as the outcome, if he so chose. (p.66-67)

The second possible role for a God to play in quantum theory is more relevant to our principal topic. God might be the conscious observer who is responsible for the reduction of wavefunctions. Whether, in addtion, he also decides the outcome of his observations, as in the above paragraph, or whether this is left to chance is not important here. What is important is the fact that God must be selective-he must not reduce all wavefunctions automatically, otherwise we meet the same problem that we met when discussing modifications to the Schrodinger equation in $3.7: the reduction that is required depends on the observation that we are going to make. If, for example, a reduction to figure 16 is made, then there will be no possibility of interference, whereas a human observer might decide to do the interference experiment. It is therefore necessary that the God who reduces wavefunctions, and so allows things to happen in the early universe, in particular things that might be required in order for other conscious observers to exist, should know about these other observers and should know what they intend to measure. God must in some way be linked to human consciousness. (pp.67-68.)

rad said...

Jinzang said...

"I'm wondering if we can invoke Godel here. Since physics gives a mathematical model of nature, which in its final, perfected form, can be expressed as a set of axioms (the "true laws of nature,") there must by Godel's incompleteness theorem be so me set of affairs that cannot be proven by those laws."

Only if the axioms describe an infinite system.

If the world were finite in all its aspects (finitely many objects, finite discrete space and time) then it could be described by a complete set of axioms. In such world of course the premises for a cosmological argument would be ready made.

Will said...

This was an absolute knock out I couldn't help but break into fits of mirth. I didn't know that scientism had such a bad argument in its favour, quite apart from it's initial and fairly obvious failings. I don't suppose there could be any argument in for scientism other than, 'Physics is powerful, and its power doesn't seem to stop increasing, therefore physics is all powerful'. So many of my new atheist friends rely on this implicit argument and it seems quite a lot of talk centres around 'Science explains the things it explains very well, therefore even if it doesn't explain everything now, there is no reason to suppose it won't in the future'. Which is precisely begging the question against someone who says science does explain things well but not everything. Dawkins and the Dawks who follow him, said 'the achievements of the theologians don't do anything', which is strange since an achievement is surely something done, but more to the point this is just empty bluster. I don't like theology or philosophical ideology, thus everything they say is rubbish. I wish we could return to the old school, retro atheism of Mackie, Russell, Nietzsche et al. at least we might get some sensible reasons for atheism.

monk68, "Any proposition whereby one attempts to restrict the scope of human knowledge to some narrow domain, necessarily involves a temporary step "outside" that domain in order to get the birds-eye-view needed to see the broader epistemic landscape so as to formulate the restrictive proposition in the first place. In short, one is sneaking a quick glance from beyond the limits of the proposed knowledge boundary in order to assert knowledge of the boundary itself: a knowledge claim derived from a venue which the knowledge claim itself declares as "off-limits" to human knowledge."
That was a masterfully succinct way of putting down scientism, it belongs to another age, the age when people actually think about what they say rather than spout Dawkinsian claptrap and high five one another as they think they have demolished the 'faithheads'.

Don't feed it btw. It will go away.

Tony said...

Heck, even Rosenberg's own claims about physics being the only knowledge don't hold up.

1. He has to "qualify" his comments by adding "mathematical" to it, because of course modern physics isn't actually science without the mathematical formulas. But those mathematical formulas follow mathematical rules, i.e. rules that are not little atoms bouncing around, and often were invented completely independently of doing actual physical science. Abstract Algebra was developed more than 100 years before anyone had a physical-science use for it. Formal math theory is abstract, it is not physics. If the part that physics doesn't know how to make use of right now is "not knowledge" then none of it is, and so neither is physics.

2. Just as problematically, modern physics is so far wholly unable to account for motion except in analogy to yearnings, desires, preferences. Take gravity, for example. Newton's famous description says all bodies "incline to" or are "attracted to" all other bodies. Those phrases are hoped (by physicists) to be mere allegorical uses of "attract", but they don't really have an alternative. The various unification theories of the basic "forces" of physics have postulated that the forces are the result of the exchange of particles: photons, W and Z bosons, mesons, and the snark-like gravitons. However, not one theory about these actually explains the force in purely material and efficient causality, they all have a "gap" that remains unexplained: why is the transference of a particle experienced as an "attraction." Worse yet, the elusive quark is beginning to look (after 40 years of abject failure) to look like its properties might be unexplainable except in terms of formal cause: one perspective on quarks is that they don't even have extension of themselves, alone, and yet they give rise to particles that do have extension.

In reality, the scientism dream of explaining everything in terms of its component particles has run off a dead end bridge. Scientists now begin to recognize that if what it means to "know" a piece of matter is to understand its component parts, you either cannot really know anything, or you have to resolve down to the finest component part that has no subcomponents or substructure. And knowing that finest component cannot be accomplished by knowing its component parts. Therefore, it has to be explained by another kind of explanation altogether. One that seeks other kinds of cause, perhaps? Just maybe? Something other than material and efficient cause?

That is, even physical science cannot finally explain without relying on formal and final causality.

Edward Feser said...

Folks,

I've been deleting TruthOverFaith's comments as soon as I see them from the time he first showed up here. He hasn't gotten the message, so, since you asked:

TruthOverFaith, you're banned. Get lost.

StoneTop said...

After all, given a collection of sub-atomic particles interacting according to certain laws, what right have we - based only on those laws - to say "these particles over here constitute a human being"?

What exactly is stopping us from making such definitions?

Surely that is a distinction WE have made and not one contained in the physical description itself? As such, it's just a convenient fiction on our part - a kind of fairy-story we tell to help make sense of things.

Yes to your first part, huh? to your second. The distinction between what is a human and what is not a human is something that we define. Yet it is hardly a 'fiction' unless you are simply defining everything that we come up with as fictional.

Rupert said...

grodigues,

One system which is suitable for interpreting scientifically applicable mathematics is omega-order Peano arithmetic with predicative comprehension axioms. This system is conservative over Peano arithmetic, and all scientifically applicable mathematics as well as most mainstream mathematics can be proved in it. It would probably be possible to bring the system "still further down" so that it was conservative over Primitive Recursive Arithmetic.

Jinzang,

I think an important distinction to draw is between deductive completeness and descriptive completeness. A recursively axiomatised theory which describes an infinite structure will be deductively incomplete because of Gödel's theorem. But if the theory is in a higher-order language, it may still be descriptively completely in the sense of characterising the structure up to isomorphism. There will be validities in the higher-order logic which we cannot know about because we only have a recursive axiomatisation which does not capture all the validities.

rad said...

@Rupert:

What do you mean by "descriptively complete"? And how is peano arithmetic descriptively incomplete?

"But if the theory is in a higher-order language, it may still be descriptively completely in the sense of characterising the structure up to isomorphism."

You can always "translate" a higher order language into a first order language+set theory. (Its not so hard: quantification over predicates can be easily translated into quantification over sets).

grodrigues said...

@rad:

Rupert will surely respond, but a good example to have in mind is second order PA. It is categorical but it does not decide all arithmetical statements.

Anonymous said...

“The physical facts fix all the facts. [This] means that the physical facts constitute or determine or bring about all the rest of the facts.” (p. 26)

This quote was Factcat Approved http://fail.my.gd/fact_cat.png
Factcat said "it are a fact," therefore, it are a fact. What more of a logical demonstration do you need?

parbouj said...

Good to know he is advocating something that most naturalists don't subscribe to: scientism (a methodological doctrine). Most naturalists are metaphysical naturalists, not methodological naturalists. They realize you don't have to go to the lab to be told you love your child, even though your experience of love is a brain process.

Seeming more and more like Rosenberg is somehow living and breathing straw!

Rupert said...

Dear rad,

First-order Peano arithmetic is descriptively incomplete because it has nonstandard models. Second-order Peano arithmetic, on the other hand, is descriptively complete, which is the same as grodrigues' "categorical". (It is not, however, deductively complete, because of Gödel's theorem. There will be some sentences that are true in every model of the axioms, but we cannot deduce this from the axioms using the standard axiomatisation of second-order logic, because the standard axiomatisation of second-order logic is not semantically complete, it does not prove all the validities in a given second-order language.)

In second-order Peano arithmetic the induction axiom is stated as a single second-order axiom requiring that the natural numbers be contained in every inductive set, not just those definable by first-order formulas (as with the induction scheme used in first-order Peano arithmetic). This puts a constraint on the kind of models it can have.

It is true that second-order Peano arithmetic can be translated into a first-order theory involving number theory and set theory, and this theory has nonstandard models, but they are only Henkin models, and not models for the second-order language in the standard sense. For our models for the second-order language we require that the second-order variables range over every possible subset of the domain of discourse. With a Henkin model some subsets might be left out (and no recursive set of set existence axioms can eliminate this possibility).

A consequence of this is that the set of second-order logical consequences of a recursive set of axioms (like the axioms for second-order Peano arithmetic) need not be recursively enumerable. This means that we cannot give a recursive axiomatisation of second-order logic. On the other hand, the set of first-order logical consequences of a recursive set of axioms is always recursively enumerable, and we do have a recursive axiomatisation of first-order logic.

So there might be a true description of physical reality given by some recursive set of axioms in a higher-order language which is descriptively complete, or categorical, in the sense that there is only one model of the axioms up to isomorphism, but not deductively complete, because we cannot deduce all the statements which are true in every model of the axioms using the standard axiomatisations of higher-order logic, because these are semantically incomplete. This would not contradict Gödel's theorem.

However, this is not really what physicists are after when they look for a Grand Unified Theory. They would be happy enough with a complete description of the basic laws of nature, which allowed them to make accurate predictions of future observations. These laws of nature might be purely deterministic, in that the future evolution of the system was always completely determined by its state at a given time, or there might be a stochastic element, as with some interpretations of quantum mechanics. But even if it was completely deterministic there might be more than one model of the axioms up to isomorphism, because we might not have complete information about the initial conditions.

rad said...

@Rupert

Thank you for thoughtful response, Rupert! I understand now what you meant. I have never thought about that. Thank you, again.

Its good to know this distinction, because I met someone who thought that Gödels incompleteness theorem somehow implies that our knowledge (or world? he was not clear about this) is somehow incomplete and there must be a God who somehow fills the "incompleteness-gap".

Maybe, if I had pointed out to him that it is possible to completely describe the natural numbers and that it is in principle possible to fully describe the world (albeit not deductively completly), it would have cut the discussion short.

Instead I pointed out to him that Gods knowledge must, in sense, completely describe the world and everything else, therefore not every system can be incomplete. (I know the terminology is a bit vague)

It is maybe interesting to note that St. Thomas thought that God does not reason, he knows everything in one single act. In other words, he does not deduce his knowledge, therefore Gödels theorem does not apply to his knowledge.

--

But one thing strikes me in your response:

"On the other hand, the set of first-order logical consequences of a recursive set of axioms is always recursively enumerable, and we do have a recursive axiomatisation of first-order logic."

I can see this for a simple first-order logic, but if I look at the real number system this does not seem right to me. There are uncountably many real numbers, therefore the statements about real numbers cannot be (recursively) enumerated. Arent some of those non-enumerated statements logical consequences?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Ed,

I think one can device a better argument for scientism. Here is one:

1. The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the universe is physically closed, i.e. that one need not assume anything non-physical in order to describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe.
2. The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that there is a perfect correlation between our conscious life (including thought, intuitions, phenomenal reality, etc) and the physical states of our brain.
3. All knowledge we may attain is the result on our conscious life.
4. Therefore all knowledge we may attain is the result of the transitions of the physical state of our brain, and thus of the universe.
5. The physical sciences are sufficient for describing the transitions of the physical state of the universe.
6. Therefore the physical sciences are sufficient for describing the way by which we attain all knowledge.
7. Therefore the physical sciences are sufficient for attaining all knowledge.

David Parker said...

I'm not sure about #1.

One need not assume anything quantum mechanical in order to describe the behavior of medium sized objects. Not a compelling reason to discard quantum physics, so why would we reject non-physical explanans unless we already accept that there only physical explanandum?

And #4 seems to run from a perfect correlation to a causation. How is that move justified? Wouldn't a biological naturalist say something like, "yeah, all conscious life is constituted by physical states. And you have a bottom-up causation there. But it doesn't follow that the only proper level of description is phyics."

rad said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis

You can cut the argument short by jumping from premiss one to the conclusion.

1. The physical or physically dependend is all there is.

2. Therefore the physical sciences are sufficient for describing all there is. (i.e. are sufficient for attaining all knowledge)

There are many problems with your argument. David Parker has noted some.
Here is another one: The transition from 6 to 7 is flawed. Just because you have described the physical process by which someone has come to some knowledge does not mean that you yourself have attained that knowledge. Just like the description of the physical process of seeing does not enable a blind man to see. Or just like a physical (or quantifiable) description of a text does not reveal the meaning of the text to you.

Even if the conclusion were true, this does not show that all knowledge is about physical facts. Maybe some relevant brain states describe non-physical facts? Why not? There is no need for a causal interaction between the knower and the known.

machinephilosophy said...

"The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the universe is physically closed, i.e. that one need not assume anything non-physical in order to describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe."

I'd like to see just one example of this demonstration, complete with each premise tagged as to its logical derivation status (either assumed premise or reference to logically prior statements that imply it), along with an indication of the *physical* components in which such premises consist or from which they are empirically derived. Just a link to one such scientific proof in the entire history of science would do just fine.

Anonymous said...

How do you even approach the question of Unicorns without using a system of assumptions whose status, if recognized or admitted, shows that they function as exact substitutes for features of Unicorns that were part of the basis for objecting to the very possibility of the existence or goodness of Unicorns in the first place?

Tony said...

y1. The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the universe is physically closed, i.e. that one need not assume anything non-physical in order to describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe.

I am going to give you the benefit of doubt here, and not yet blow up laughing. Instead, let me just ask: do cosmologists and physicists consider any of the several proposals about WHY the big bang banged any more than sheer hypothesis? I don't think so. I think that scientists are pretty uncomfortable with those proposals, and they would be pretty hesitant to say that they can "demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt" that the big bang can be explained without recourse to something we do not have physical access to.

5. The physical sciences are sufficient for describing the transitions of the physical state of the universe.

The medical scientists who investigate miracles, and conclude some miracles have happened, disagree with you, totally.

acucucuuc said...

I am fairly new to philosophy, but I would think, from other things I have read here, that Thomists would have a problem with this:

"2. The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that there is a perfect correlation between our conscious life (including thought, intuitions, phenomenal reality, etc) and the physical states of our brain"

Under the Thomist view, isn't the intellect supposed to be, at least in part, immaterial, and thus not "perfectly correlated" with "the physical states of our brain?"

rad said...

acucucuuc said...

"Under the Thomist view, isn't the intellect supposed to be, at least in part, immaterial, and thus not "perfectly correlated" with "the physical states of our brain?"

There certainly is a strong correlation between the intellect and the brain. By virtue of the soul, human matter is a special kind matter: it is living, feeling, thinking matter. Although the thought processes have an immaterial part.

Since the universals (i.e. that which can be common to many) themselves are not material, the thing that grasps them has to be itself immaterial. (Grasping universals is the proper operation of the intellect.) To grasp a universal the intellect has to abstract it from a phantasm, in which the universal inheres. But a phantasm is just a special state of an ensouled body.

rad said...

If this is a perfect correlation, I dont know, but I see no problem, if it were perfectly correlated (and I suspect that they are).

machinephilosophy said...

Sorry, but Unicorns (or any other grasped straw in mommy's basement) don't have ultimate criterial or cognitive authority claimed for them, while both basic assumptions and God do. To try to appeal to an alternative definition or term in the statement is -itself- an example of posturing some set of assumptions as if they have some kind of authority with reference to the argument. Can't anyone try to refute the criterial argument for God without compulsively aping that argument itself in the process?

Rupert said...

Dear rad,

Actually the first-order theory of the real numbers is complete, consistent, and decidable. This does not contradict Gödel's theorem because the first-order language of arithmetic cannot be interpreted in the first-order language of real numbers, one cannot define "natural number" in the first-order language of real numbers. By the Löwenheim-Skolem theorem there are nonstandard models for the first-order theory of real numbers, but these are elementarily equivalent, although not isomorphic, to the standard one; that is, they satisfy exactly the same sentences even though they are not isomorphic structures.

With the second-order theory of real numbers matters are different; that theory is categorical but deductively incomplete, but this squares with my previous remarks that there is no recursive axiomatisation of second-order logic.

I would just like to comment on Tony's remark that the big bang is an example of a physical event that cannot be explained with reference to previously existing conditions. The big bang is a singularity in the metric of the space-time continuum; a point at which the metric of the space-time continuum diverges to infinity. The big bang hypothesis tells you what conditions were like in the region close to the singularity. It is true that there is something here that requires explanation, but it is not really a counterexample to the principle that the universe is "physically closed", in the sense that events within the space-time continuum happen as a consequence of the laws of nature and previously existing conditions. The distribution of the energy tensor in the universe in the time near the big bang still evolves in accordance with the equations of physics. Furthermore, Roger Penrose has an interesting proposal called "conformal cyclic cosmology", which has received some experimental conformation, which models the space-time continuum as an infinite sequence of successive "eons". The big bang is the start of our own eon and can be explained in terms of what took place in a previous eon. Even here, one can still ask for further explanation, why does the space-time continuum exist as a whole. Make of that what you will, I still think it is fair to say that the universe is "physically closed" in the sense that events in the space-time continuum are governed entirely by physical laws. Machinephilosophy's request for a demonstration is beside the point; the demonstration is provided by the content of physics as a whole and its outstanding success at helping us to predict observations about the world. You may still entertain the possibility that there are some events not explained by physical law, the claim is that this is not a reasonable hypothesis given the outstanding successes of our best physical theories in the past at explaining such a wide range of observations.

acucucuuc said...

Rad,

Thank you for responding to my comment.

I think you said you find premise 2 in Dianelos Georgoudis's argument to be acceptable. I understood the argument's premises 2 and 3 (repeated immediately below)

"2. The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that there is a perfect correlation between our conscious life (including thought, intuitions, phenomenal reality, etc) and the physical states of our brain.
3. All knowledge we may attain is the result on our conscious life."

to be designed to work together to set up a kind of equivalency between our conscious life (A), brain states (B), and all knowledge we may attain (C) so that A=B=C. The B=C part of which is scientism.

If I'm right, and you don't want to accept scientism but you accept premise 3, then don't you have to deny premise 2?

rad said...

@Rupert:

"Actually the first-order theory of the real numbers is complete, consistent, and decidable."

Tarski showed this (if you drop the induction principle). But you said that the logical consequences are recursively enumerable. And this cannot be, since you cannot enumerate the real numbers. Completeness does not imply enumerability. I suppose that a complete formal system of the real numbers has to have an uncountable set of symbols.


@acucucuuc

Whether I accept scientism or not depends on how you define it. If you define scientism as the belief that only that which is measurable is knowable. Then this is trivially false, since there are countless non-quantifiable properties in the world that still can be known.

Further, even if you know how the brain works, that does not give you the knowledge that is represented by the brain states. To know everything about the brain is not the same as to know everything.

Jinzang said...

I think one can device a better argument for scientism.

Since our knowledge includes necessary truths and these are true in all possible worlds and scientific knowledge can only be of the actual world, there are some truths that cannot be captured by science.

machinephilosophy said...

". Machinephilosophy's request for a demonstration is beside the point; the demonstration is provided by the content of physics as a whole and its outstanding success at helping us to predict observations about the world. You may still entertain the possibility that there are some events not explained by physical law, the claim is that this is not a reasonable hypothesis given the outstanding successes of our best physical theories in the past at explaining such a wide range of observations."

How freakin lame. Beside -what- point? -What- content demonstrates materialism? -What- successes of physical theories "demonstrate" materialism? Let's see the actual demonstration, not some vague handwaving bs. If I claim X is demonstrated, I'm damn well going to be prepared to specify that demonstration in a specific set of premises implying the conclusion, not try to run interference for some lazyass handwaving fallacies. "Content provides! Content provides!" "We invented the wheel! Therefore, our universals are proved beyond a doubt!" Sheesh. What's next, an altar call, complete with moral scolding of anyone who doesn't cognitively genuflect to the never-to-be-specified "demonstration"?

Rupert said...

rad,

The first-order theory of the real numbers does not have a constant symbol for every real number. It has constant symbols for 0 and 1, two binary function symbols + and *, a binary relation symbol <, a denumerable supply of variables, and the quantifiers, propositional connectives, and parantheses. There is a countable set of symbols, and the set of sentences which are provable in the theory is recursively enumerable (in fact, in this case it is recursive).

Obviously if your language is countable then you are not going to be able to specify every real number in finitely many symbols.

Rupert said...

Machinephilosophy,

Okay, you want the demonstration. How much physics do you know? Are you familiar with the range of theories in modern physics and their outstanding success at predicting observations?

The Social Pathologist said...

The problem with scientism/positivism is that its foundations rest on what is essentially the Liar's Paradox.

The movie, The Matrix, illustrated this quite nicely. People thought that they were inhabiting reality whilst reality was really a computer projection onto their brains. The question is, how does one know if our senses experience the sum total of reality. The self referential nature of our perceptions render statements about reality beyond our perceptions unprovable. (I think Tarski's undecidability theorem may be relevant here).

Consider an isolated community of blind empiricists. How do they determine the existence of colours? Answer, they cannot. Since empiricism is perceptually limited. Even if you, as a sighted person, could convince them of the existence of colours, there is no way they (the unsighted) can prove it empirically.

The problem with scientism is that it is that it is self-referential. Making statements about possiblilities outside its frame of reference which are unprovable within its frame of reference.

jack bodie said...

Rupert,

"Okay, you want the demonstration. How much physics do you know? Are you familiar with the range of theories in modern physics and their outstanding success at predicting observations?

You've already violated the second law of Frisbee: never preface any manoeuvre with a comment more substantial than "Watch this!"

What follows any violation of this law is never very impressive. Or maybe that's just my Frisbeeism showing again.

Enough of your throat clearing: give us the demonstration please!

Rupert said...

The way I give the demonstration is by teaching you physics and showing you how successful our best physical theories are at predicting observations. It can take a while to learn physics. But I was kind of hoping you might know something about it already; hence my asking "How much physics do you know?"

grodrigues said...

@Rupert:

"The way I give the demonstration is by teaching you physics and showing you how successful our best physical theories are at predicting observations."

The predictive success of physics proves that physics is successful at predicting things in the range of phenomena it set out to study. If you think it proves any version of materialism, then frankly, it is an assertion belonging in Pauli's category of "Not even wrong".

jack bodie said...

Rupert,

Well, that's not what I expected. I believe machinephilosophy described well what a demonstration would look like.

In any case, grodrigues beat me to the punch - if that's all your 'demonstration' would have consisted of I'm wondering if you read the original post? Dr. Feser has already rubbished that argument as Rosenberg made it.

dguller said...

Granted that science cannot answer all questions, and that there are likely aspects of reality that its tools just cannot comprehend, does it necessarily follow that philosophy and theology do have the tools? How does one make this argument?

rad said...

@Rupert:

I think you make a logical mistake here. Just because a theory is good at predicting things does not mean that the theory itself is true. Thats the fallacy of affirming the consequent.

A theory implies certain propositions. Now if these propositions are constantly verified, this says nothing about the underlying theory.

E.G. There are a dozen or so empirically equivalent, but contradictory interpretations of the formulas of quantum physics. Every interpretation gives you the same set of formulas. They all have therefore the same predictive power. But only one theory can be true, at best. Every other one is false.

This shows that you can there are false theories with very high predictive power.

rad said...

Correction: "This shows that there are false theories with very high predictive power."

rad said...

dguller:

"Granted that science cannot answer all questions, and that there are likely aspects of reality that its tools just cannot comprehend, does it necessarily follow that philosophy and theology do have the tools? How does one make this argument?"

Tools for what? Tools to answer all questions? No. Tools to answer questions? Yes. How so? Look at the answers they give.

Verbose Stoic said...

Rupert,

"The way I give the demonstration is by teaching you physics and showing you how successful our best physical theories are at predicting observations. It can take a while to learn physics. But I was kind of hoping you might know something about it already; hence my asking "How much physics do you know?" "

Being not uninformed about physics myself, the sort of demonstration I'd be looking for is one that shows that, say, physics can explain intentionality. It can't, of course, since there is no real difference between the atoms that do intentionality and those that don't, so demonstrating by appealing to physics seems to miss the point somewhat; there are clearly interesting propositions that physics cannot explain or, in fact, predict.

dguller,

"Granted that science cannot answer all questions, and that there are likely aspects of reality that its tools just cannot comprehend, does it necessarily follow that philosophy and theology do have the tools? How does one make this argument?"

For philosophy, quite easily: since it is the field that in fact studies all aspects of reality and all possible aspects of reality, it will form tools on the basis that it helps it study those aspects, just like science developed its tools for the empirical/material world. Thus, if anything has the tools to study those aspects, philosophy has them.

Theology can make the same claim for gods; since it studies them, it develops tools to allow it to study them.

dguller said...

Rad:

Tools for what? Tools to answer all questions? No. Tools to answer questions? Yes. How so? Look at the answers they give.

But just because they answer questions does not mean that their answers are necessarily correct. I was just wondering how a philosopher or theologian knows when their answers are correct. The fact that they give answers all the time is not in question, but only whether their answers are valid, and how one determines this.

Thanks.

dguller said...

Verbose Stoic:

For philosophy, quite easily: since it is the field that in fact studies all aspects of reality and all possible aspects of reality, it will form tools on the basis that it helps it study those aspects, just like science developed its tools for the empirical/material world. Thus, if anything has the tools to study those aspects, philosophy has them.

Consider an analogy.

Astrologers proclaim that they have a field to study, and have the tools to come up with answers, and indeed, have derived a complex system from their tools. By your argument, one would have to accept that their answers are correct, simply because they claim to be studying something with some kind of tools that give some kind of answers.

My question pertained to how a philosopher or theologian knows when their tools have struck gold, so to speak. In other words, after they have concluded something using their methodology, then how do they know that their conclusion is correct and representative of something real?

When it comes to science, the answer is clear, but in these other disciplines, I am not too sure what the answer could be.

Any thoughts?

djindra said...

Social Pathologist,

"Consider an isolated community of blind empiricists. How do they determine the existence of colours? Answer, they cannot. Since empiricism is perceptually limited. Even if you, as a sighted person, could convince them of the existence of colours, there is no way they (the unsighted) can prove it empirically.

Consider that sharks have the ability to sense electromagnetic fields. That sense is so strong they can feel another creature's muscle contractions from a distance. They also sense the earth's magnetic field which they use to navigate. Also consider that man does not have this sense. Further consider that sharks cannot talk to us. Yet man has discovered this sense in sharks. If your assertion about blind empiricists were even remotely true, man could not have discovered shark's electromagnetic sense.

djindra said...

Verbose Stoic,

"since [philosophy] is the field that in fact studies all aspects of reality and all possible aspects of reality, it will form tools on the basis that it helps it study those aspects, just like science developed its tools for the empirical/material world. Thus, if anything has the tools to study those aspects, philosophy has them."

This reminds me of Ghostbusters. Their paranormal exterminator service was thought to have developed tools to detect the reality of ghosts. There are some people who actually believe, or claim to believe, they have discovered the same. It does not follow that their tools perform up to spec.

Same with philosophy.

machinephilosophy said...

Well, how would you know that any offered view or argument is a satisfactory answer to that question? Same problem.


Inquiry itself already presupposes some arbitration system of assumptions that adjudicate (even adjudicating themselves) which drive the whole process, so as we inquire, we're already processing an algorithm for evaluating claims and arguments.

Right out of the starting gates of thought, we're already riding a system that's out to understand, evaluate, and believe some kind of new truth about something---as well as everything.

And epistemically, it all gets a free ride. The necessity is an existential one of an already-situated systemic grasp.

If you try to defend logic, you necessarily break a core rule of logic itself, that you can't use a conclusion as an argument for itself (which also raises the question of why it needed an argument for itself in the first place).

Furthermore, in the case of logic itself, such an attempt actually negates logic's epistemic ultimacy by assuming that logic must have some -other-, more epistemically foundational and authoritative, control statements, to be able to infer its own pretended logically ultimate status. Talk about love's labor lost.

jack bodie said...

dguller,

"how do they know that their conclusion is correct and representative of something real?"

The answer, of course, is Reason.

"When it comes to science, the answer is clear, but in these other disciplines, I am not too sure what the answer could be.

Any thoughts?"


In the hard sciences the answer isn't as clear as you think. No doubt you would appeal to empirical observations, and I assume this as I've read your other posts where you fetishize empirical observation over even the conclusions of deductive logic.

But consider that the science of physics is characterised as much by instrumentation as it is by the scientific method. In physics, no one ever has observed - nor will they ever - the objects of their enquiry. Mass is not the deflection of a needle on a set of scales, and a sub-atomic particle is not an ensemble of tracks in a cloud chamber. I think you'd agree that, here, you have no such thing as an empirical fact if one excludes the concomitant role of theory (which the instrumentation and the physicist's interprestation must include).

In this way the customary notion that theories are 'in doubt' until they have been verified by experiment on their corresponding hypotheses is overdrawn and misleads some. For the supposedly solid facts of these instrument readings can in principle have no more certainty than the hypotheses upon which they rest. And the strength of those hypotheses is tested by reason, not empirical observation.

Before you begin trying to inject just enough irrationality to the world so you can pretend your skepticism of the cosmological argument is somehow the reasonable position, I'm one of those 'reason all the way down' types. I really don't get what motivates you to want things elsewise.

Verbose Stoic said...

dguller,

"Astrologers proclaim that they have a field to study, and have the tools to come up with answers, and indeed, have derived a complex system from their tools. By your argument, one would have to accept that their answers are correct, simply because they claim to be studying something with some kind of tools that give some kind of answers. "

The problem with this analogy is that clearly philosophy and arguably theology do not, in fact, proclaim that they have a field to study in the sense you take it here. Philosophy is built entirely on questionning, for the most part, and it questions everything. It questions if there really are those aspects, and if there are how you would study them or determine if they really exist. So it, in fact, questions its tools in light of asking questions, which in fact is more than what science does.

The only reason the "struck gold" is clear for science, being generous, is that they were able to hit on predictions as a test for the things they were interested in and let philosophy held them accept that that's sufficient, and so stopped asking. Philosophy never stopped asking.

In my opinion, the field of theology also includes questions of whether or not the things are really there and what tools should be used.

djindra,

"This reminds me of Ghostbusters. Their paranormal exterminator service was thought to have developed tools to detect the reality of ghosts. There are some people who actually believe, or claim to believe, they have discovered the same. It does not follow that their tools perform up to spec.

Same with philosophy."

Philosophy, though, constantly asks if they have the right tools to detect reality and if those tools are up to spec, which is the most that anything can do. What does science do that's any better?

machinephilosophy said...

"There are some people who actually believe, or claim to believe, they have discovered the same. It does not follow that their tools perform up to spec."

It does not. But how one -knows- that it does not---already assumes those same philosophical principles to which you are trying to draw an analogy. Which impugns your own reasoning and points about philosophy (which is a known category of philosophical inquiry called metaphilosophy).

Self-exemption is just so much fun. Plus, most people, dedicated anti-intellectual cognitive slugs that they are, don't even see it---and probably never will.

But for those who are starting to recognizing self-referential issues, let me welcome you with the first Rule of The Self-Referential Analysis Manual:

"Have a good mistrust today!"
--Nietzsche, Patron Saint of SRA.

dguller said...

Jack:

The answer, of course, is Reason.

Why “Reason” and not “reason”? I have no problem with reason, but am suspicious of Reason with a capital “R”. The former is our natural capacity to utilize abstraction in order to ascertain underlying patterns and regularities in the world. The latter seems to be some cosmic ability to Understand the Deeper Truths of Reality.

But consider that the science of physics is characterised as much by instrumentation as it is by the scientific method. In physics, no one ever has observed - nor will they ever - the objects of their enquiry. Mass is not the deflection of a needle on a set of scales, and a sub-atomic particle is not an ensemble of tracks in a cloud chamber. I think you'd agree that, here, you have no such thing as an empirical fact if one excludes the concomitant role of theory (which the instrumentation and the physicist's interprestation must include).

Right, but there is good evidence that the instruments are measuring something real, and that there is a point to scientific hypotheses where the rubber meets the road, i.e. in some kind of experiment. Where such an experiment is impossible, then the hypothesis is speculative. It isn’t treated as some kind of deeper truth despite its lack of empirical confirmation or falsification.

And you are also correct that all empirical facts operate within an interpretive framework from which those facts get their sense. But so what? Harry Potter novels also have an interpretive framework that the behavior of the characters makes sense. Unless you want to deny the difference between fiction and reality, this point is moot.

For the supposedly solid facts of these instrument readings can in principle have no more certainty than the hypotheses upon which they rest. And the strength of those hypotheses is tested by reason, not empirical observation.

Does that mean the empirical observation adds nothing to the hypotheses, and that if the hypotheses pass the standard of reason (but not Reason?), then that is good enough?

dguller said...

Jack:

Before you begin trying to inject just enough irrationality to the world so you can pretend your skepticism of the cosmological argument is somehow the reasonable position, I'm one of those 'reason all the way down' types. I really don't get what motivates you to want things elsewise.

It might just be a temperament thing. My understanding of reason is that it is a capacity that human beings have to determine and discover the underlying regularities and patterns of the world around us. We are a product of that world, and thus are part of those patterns, which are detected by our minds. It is the underlying patterns that is primary, at least from my standpoint, and we cannot help but understand and process information according to the patterns that have shaped our minds. I don’t think anyone would disagree with this general outline.

Where we differ is whether the patterns that have shaped our minds are the only patterns that exist in all of reality. You say that they do, and I say that I have no idea. The key question, as far as I can see it, is whether it follows that the patterns that have conditioned our minds are operative at all levels and aspects of reality. The only justification that I can find for such a position is that we cannot help but understand the world as operating according to these patterns.

The problem is, as Feser pointed out when it comes to scientism, the fact that a way of knowing the world works well in one particular domain does not imply that it necessarily works well in all domains. This does not mean that the patterns in reality that reason is parasitic upon do not operate at all levels of reality, but only that we do not know. We certainly hope that they do, but hope is not knowledge. I honestly do not know one way or the other, and so I am agnostic.

And trust me, I am not afraid of the cosmological argument. I actually find it quite compelling. The questions predated my exposure to the cosmological argument entirely, but it certainly brought them into focus for me.

Thanks.

dguller said...

Verbose Stoic:

The problem with this analogy is that clearly philosophy and arguably theology do not, in fact, proclaim that they have a field to study in the sense you take it here. Philosophy is built entirely on questionning, for the most part, and it questions everything. It questions if there really are those aspects, and if there are how you would study them or determine if they really exist. So it, in fact, questions its tools in light of asking questions, which in fact is more than what science does.

I am more interested in answers, not questions. If philosophy is fundamentally about questioning everything, including its own methodology, then it would seem to compromise its ability to do anything other than wider the spectrum of possibilities that might be true, but rarely, if at all, determine what is true. I believe Russell said something similar in his Problems of Philosophy.

S Jilcott said...

Actually, some final causality can be modeled using mathematics. Control theorists use equations to describe the behaviors of goal-seeking artifacts such as thermostats, aircraft autopilots, and electronic circuits.

Living systems can and are studied by biologists using the tools of control theory, by analogy with artifacts that have goal-seeking "designed-in".

jack bodie said...

dguller,

"Does that mean the empirical observation adds nothing to the hypotheses, and that if the hypotheses pass the standard of reason (but not Reason?), then that is good enough?"

Well we could work through the cases. Science is no small graveyard of empirically verified hypotheses. In the case of any now-defunct theory some empirical observation seemed to add something positive, but in retrospect what would we say? That the same observation allowed an inaccurate or incorrect idea to persist at the expense of a more accurate or more correct one?

I wrote that the customary notion mislead some, not that empirical observation adds nothing. In supporting the probabilistic conclusions of science, empirical observation is indeed valuable. My point was more that some people are mislead into thinking that empirical observations are stronger / more certain / more "evident" than, say, the necessary truths of deductive logic. That isn't the case.

BTW - You are quite right to rib me for the affected use of capital R Reason!

Rupert said...

grodrigues, jack bodie,

What I am doing is defending premise 1 of the argument that was offered by Danielos Georgoudis agains machinephilosophy's criticisms. I have not yet started to look at the other premises. The first premise is

1. The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the universe is physically closed, i.e. that one need not assume anything non-physical in order to describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe."

This is a weaker claim than physicalism. If I was offering a defence of physicalism then I would say more.

I did read the original post by Dr. Feser and as I recall he didn't argue against this claim. Presumably he believes that it is not true, because, for example, miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus have taken place, but he certainly did not offer a defence of that view in his post.

rad,

Bearing in mind that I am arguing for Danielos Georgoudis' premise 1 as quoted above, I don't think that I need to make any assumption that a predictively successful theory is likely to be true. It is enough that it is likely to continue to be predictively successful in the future.

Verbose Stoic,

You say that there are clearly interesting propositions that physics cannot explain or in fact predict. Can you tell me which ones you have in mind?

jack bodie said...

dguller

"Unless you want to deny the difference between fiction and reality, this point is moot."

It's not the mere fact an interpretative framework exists; it's that this interpretative framework is enough for the best physicists to know (believe?) that some competing theory, even one verified empirically, is incorrect. The capacity for logical thought and conceiving the intelligible forms of things gives a kind of a priori validity to hypotheses that your question "if the hypotheses pass the standard of reason (but not Reason?), then that is good enough?" implicitly denies.

What makes one physicist better than another? Is it merely the observations he's seen, or his greater reason and intellect?

Of course I would say the latter but my point was denying that "When it comes to science, the answer is clear," as asserted in your earlier combox post.

rad said...

@dguller
"But just because they answer questions does not mean that their answers are necessarily correct."

True.

"I was just wondering how a philosopher or theologian knows when their answers are correct."

By arguments?

"The fact that they give answers all the time is not in question, but only whether their answers are valid, and how one determines this."

You cannot dispute the correctness of their answers by sidestepping their arguments. And the question "how one determines this" sounds like a philosophical question to me. By arguing against philosophy you are already engaged in philosophy.

rad said...

@Rupert

"It is enough that it is likely to continue to be predictively successful in the future."

Ok.


"You say that there are clearly interesting propositions that physics cannot explain or in fact predict. Can you tell me which ones you have in mind? "

Gödels theorem?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

David,

Experiments have been devised where the behavior of one ton heavy objects can only be explained by quantum mechanics. And in any case the physical sciences do not concern themselves with medium sized objects per se, but with all physical phenomena. Thus common phenomena, including the reflection of light, are best described by quantum mechanics. – As for the difference between correlation and causation, it is irrelevant in our context. Indeed quantum mechanics only describes correlations. Even so people design computer chips (a teleological enterprise) based on quantum mechanics.

In any case I find that (1) and (2) are pretty factual.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Rad,

I think you are pointing out a genetic fallacy in the argument: To know how a belief comes about says nothing about whether the belief is true or false. This leads me to make a clarification. This argument is not meant to be convincing to an agnostic, let alone to a theist. Rather I suggest that this argument (or something like) is what moves naturalists to embrace scientism. The naturalist is in effect saying this: As long as (1) and (2) hold (and it is a very good bet that they will keep holding) naturalism’s worldview is such that A) no scientific datum can contradict it but can only shape it, B) no philosophical argument can defeat it because naturalism’s worldview is such that (as per the argument stated) it *explains* why such arguments are felt as convincing by some or by many.

Let me justify (A) and (B).

(A) is a truism. Premise (1) says that no supernatural hypothesis is necessary for explaining physical phenomena, and thus that a naturalistic worldview suffices.

(B) is more interesting. Take any example of an argument against naturalism, say the argument from objective moral values. The naturalistic worldview explains why or how the structure of our brain has naturalistically evolved to perceive moral values as if they were objective. Thus the naturalist has a defeater for that argument. Or take the scholastic arguments based on the premise that reality is intelligible. The naturalistic worldview explains why or how our brains are disposed to find intelligible a worldview which is in fact false.

rad said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis

I think we should get clear what we mean by such words as "science", "scientific" etc..

As Dr. Feser pointed out:

"As I’ve noted elsewhere (e.g. here, here, and here), the trouble with the claim that science is the only reliable source of knowledge is that it is either self-defeating or trivial -- self-defeating if we narrowly construe what counts as “science” (since scientism is itself a metaphysical and epistemological theory and not a view that physics, chemistry, or any other particular science has established) and trivial if we construe “science” broadly (since in that case philosophy, and in particular metaphysics and epistemology, count as “sciences” no less than physics, chemistry, and the like do)."

jack bodie said...

dguller

"The problem is, as Feser pointed out when it comes to scientism, the fact that a way of knowing the world works well in one particular domain does not imply that it necessarily works well in all domains."

Well hold on a second: what is the object of philosophy? No one denies physics is good at physics. Are you implying that philosophy has no particular domain and that its branches have no particular domains?

I don't really know what you mean when you talk about levels of reality or reason being parasitic on reality - your agnosticism is a denial of reason (in the sense of an ordered objective reality), so why accept science which presupposes it?

Thanks for explaining your point of view, but it seems like you can see where reason leads (eg, the cosmological argument is compelling) but you'd really rather not be a theist and wantto get off the ride; so, summoning the excuse of selective agnosticism, you activate your ejector seat just after Quantum Theory station.

jack bodie said...

Rupert

"I did read the original post by Dr. Feser and as I recall he didn't argue against this claim."

This is one reason why I really wanted to see your demonstration. I didn't know if you'd focus on the weaker claim but then you explained your demonstration like this:

"The way I give the demonstration is by teaching you physics and showing you how successful our best physical theories are at predicting observations."

However this looks like the summary of Rosenberg's argument as Dr. Feser presented in his post:

"Rosenberg’s argument, then, is essentially this:
1. The predictive power and technological applications of physics are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.
2. Therefore what physics reveals to us is all that is real."
(Emphasis mine).

However, you're quite right that "that one need not assume anything non-physical in order to describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe." is different from saying "reveals to us all that is real".

I'm sorry for confusing matters. I'm clear enough, however, to remain suspicious of your demonstration.

dguller said...

Jack:

It's not the mere fact an interpretative framework exists; it's that this interpretative framework is enough for the best physicists to know (believe?) that some competing theory, even one verified empirically, is incorrect. The capacity for logical thought and conceiving the intelligible forms of things gives a kind of a priori validity to hypotheses that your question "if the hypotheses pass the standard of reason (but not Reason?), then that is good enough?" implicitly denies.

I still do not understand why this is relevant. I agree that all human practices require an interpretive framework in order to possess sense, but sense is not equivalent to truth. Many concepts make perfect sense, but are untrue. The question is what additional component converts a sensible idea into a true one? That is what interests me. It seems that science allows empirical observation or experimentation to provide that extra something to nudge a sensible idea into the direction of a true idea. I wonder what similar component exists for the sensible and coherent ideas derived from reason itself?

Well hold on a second: what is the object of philosophy? No one denies physics is good at physics. Are you implying that philosophy has no particular domain and that its branches have no particular domains?

I think that philosophy is excellent at broadening our horizons of possibility by questioning our background assumptions, which has often opened up fruitful areas of inquiry. I think that when philosophy claims to study the totality of reality, that that is a bit grandiose for me, and I am more sympathetic to the claim that philosophy interrogates our background conceptual framework rather than the deepest aspects of Reality.

your agnosticism is a denial of reason (in the sense of an ordered objective reality), so why accept science which presupposes it?

It is not a denial of reason. It is a suspicion that perhaps reason is not Reason, and that its domain is not all-encompassing of the totality of Reality. I think that science presupposes reason and not necessarily Reason.

Thanks for explaining your point of view, but it seems like you can see where reason leads (eg, the cosmological argument is compelling) but you'd really rather not be a theist and wantto get off the ride; so, summoning the excuse of selective agnosticism, you activate your ejector seat just after Quantum Theory station.

I actually have no problem with a Necessarily Existing Ground of All Being, which is implied by the cosmological argument. Whether that makes me a theist depends upon your definition of “deity”. If your definition of “deity” is of an impersonal substratum of being operating according to specific patterns and regularities, and essentially pulsating reality as we know it from itself, then fine, I’m a theist. I doubt that’s what you mean at all. That is why I am not troubled by the cosmological argument. The NEGAB certainly shares some qualities with God, but that does not mean that it is God.

Rupert said...

rad,

I would say you are right to say that Gödel's theorem is an interesting proposition which lies outside the scope of physics, but I was addressing Verbose Stoic, and Verbose Stoic was trying to show that physics cannot explain intentionality because there are interesting propositions regarding those entities that are capable of having intentions that physics cannot explain. I was just curious about what specific examples he had in mind.

jack bodie,

You say that you are suspicious of my demonstration. Is that because you think that there are physical events that take place that require something non-physical in order to explain them? Can you give me any examples?

dguller said...

Rad:

By arguments?

How does one determine whose argument is correct? All philosophers and theologians use arguments. That is not in dispute, and it is clear that argumentation is their tool for understanding their domain of interest. It seems that there is no consensus amongst philosophers or theologians about anything, and that as time goes on, there are simply more and more possibilities to consider, muddying the waters as time marches on. There is never a position that is conclusively refuted and no longer taught by consensus. There are arguments for X and for not-X, and the debate continues ad nauseum. If just arguing about issues was both necessary and sufficient to determine truth, then why do these debates continue without any hint of resolution?

You cannot dispute the correctness of their answers by sidestepping their arguments. And the question "how one determines this" sounds like a philosophical question to me. By arguing against philosophy you are already engaged in philosophy.

Agreed. That is the nature of the beast. Any time one raises a question about a background assumption of our conceptual framework, one is engaging in philosophy. Again, I have no problem with that, but only with whether philosophy (or theology) has the resources to answer the questions that they pose. It does not seem that logic and argument is effective at arriving at consensus about what reality is like.

grodrigues said...

@Rupert:

"What I am doing is defending premise 1 of the argument that was offered by Danielos Georgoudis agains machinephilosophy's criticisms. I have not yet started to look at the other premises. The first premise is

1. The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the universe is physically closed, i.e. that one need not assume anything non-physical in order to describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe.

This is a weaker claim than physicalism. If I was offering a defence of physicalism then I would say more."

Claim 1. is either false or an uninteresting truism -- eject all the phenomena that does not fit in the physical sciences to the level of the human mind and you can declare victory.

Let me ask you, are the physical laws, say Schroedinger's equation, essential to the demonstration? I will assume yes, for otherwise then I cannot see how you can coherently claim that Physics has demonstrated anything whatsoever. Then what is their ontological status? They are certainly not physical in any relevant sense of the term. Are you trying to convince me that these laws live in some Platonic la-la land, they they actualize potency and drive change? That motion is reducible to what is physically quantifiable, e.g. by a second order differential equation? More generally, why is there order in the universe? Physics cannot demonstrate that there is order in the universe, because that is completely circular, as order is a *presupposition* for Physics to work anyway.

rad said...

@dguller

"How does one determine whose argument is correct?"

If the argument form is valid and the premises are true, then the conclusion is true, and the argument is correct.

You might ask, how do I determine whether the premises are true? I'd say by another argument or by intuition. The arguments have to be based somewhere on premises for which there are no further arguments, and the truth of these premises must be self-evident, i.e. they must intuitively true. I mean propositions like for example: A straight line is the shortest line between two given points. If you see just one instance in which an intuitive proposition is exemplified, you can see the truth of such a proposition for every instance.

"All philosophers and theologians use arguments. That is not in dispute, and it is clear that argumentation is their tool for understanding their domain of interest."

It is not only their tool. You will find argumentation in every science. Science lives by arguing.

What differentiates the sciences are not their logical methods, which are the same for every science, but their axioms or basic assumptions. The subject matter of the axioms or basic assumptions determines the scope of the science and with what objects it deals.

"If just arguing about issues was both necessary and sufficient to determine truth, then why do these debates continue without any hint of resolution?"

Just arguing about issues is not sufficient. You have to have self-evident axioms and valid arguments to arrive the truth.

Strictly speaking: Making up hypotheses to predict certain phenomena is not a scientific activity, since you do not know thereby whether the hypothesis are true or not. They are useful, but they are not knowledge. Knowledge is about truth.

Rupert said...

grodrigues,

Schrödinger's equation is a part of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, a mathematical model which we are able to use in order to predict a broad range of observations. I make no claims about what sort of "ontological status" it has. Nor do I claim to be able to explain why the universe is ordered. Armstrong's view of laws of nature as relations between universals might be of help here, but I would not wish to commit to such a theory. I do not need to. I am just defending the view that a change in the physical state of the universe can always be explained entirely by physical causes. Can you give me a counterexample?

jack bodie said...

Rupert,

I am suspicious of your demonstration because I wonder if it makes a difference that you will describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe as opposed to explaining what causes those changes.

Moreover, it seems you intend to ignore formal and final causation in your description; but then how will you describe the dispositions of some physical constituents, or phenomena such as gravitational attraction between all pairs of bodies (for one)? I just don't see how you can reduce dispositional properties to entirely structural properties.

Perhaps you'll just 'pull a Hawkings' and assume 'something like the law of gravity exists' without explaining how this is not non-physical?

Or perhaps it's your use of the word describe that I should pay attention to; perhaps all you'll give us is a Humean collection of events that correlate somewhat but are otherwise claimed inexplicable. In which case good luck with predicting how some physical object will respond to new experimental tests.

So these are some reasons I'm suspicious of your demonstration; because I'm also cynical your seeming reluctance to simply demonstrate doesn't help.

grodrigues said...

@Rupert:

"Schrödinger's equation is a part of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics, a mathematical model which we are able to use in order to predict a broad range of observations. I make no claims about what sort of "ontological status" it has. Nor do I claim to be able to explain why the universe is ordered. Armstrong's view of laws of nature as relations between universals might be of help here, but I would not wish to commit to such a theory. I do not need to."

Then your demonstration already fails because there is a part of the explanation, namely physical laws, which is not reducible to changes in physical states.

"I am just defending the view that a change in the physical state of the universe can always be explained entirely by physical causes. Can you give me a counterexample?"

I did not give any counterexamples for the reasons that I stated in the first paragraph of my response.

But just so you do not think I am dodging the question, here is a humdrum example. I am typing this post at the computer; I could be doing other things, but I freely chose to type this post (and thus altering the state of the universe), so in order to account for one change of state (e.g. typing of this post) you have to account for Free Will, and ultimately the mind, purely in terms of physical states.

The fact is, for your demonstration to go through you have to reduce all known phenomena to physics. I grant you that such reduction is possible, at least in principle, for chemistry (and then again, check the entrance on Philosophy of Chemistry at the SEP); but from the level of biology upwards, such reduction is currently nothing more than wishful thinking.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

rad,

Here I use “science” and “scientific” in the sense of the physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, etc. Please observe that in the original argument for scientism I presented I explicitly write about “the physical sciences”.

You quote Ed’s argument “the trouble with the claim that science is the only reliable source of knowledge is that it is either self-defeating or trivial -- self-defeating if we narrowly construe what counts as “science” (since scientism is itself a metaphysical and epistemological theory and not a view that physics, chemistry, or any other particular science has established) [snip]

But the naturalist does not claim that the physical sciences “establish” scientism. Rather, as my argument above tries to express, the naturalist simply points out that according to (scientific) naturalism all knowledge is produced by changes of physical states, which in turn are exhaustively described by the physical sciences. To be more precise, changes of physical states in peoples’ brains produce knowledge when they produce a physical state which correlates with understanding which corresponds with how physical reality (or its experiential correlate or analogue) actually is. Thus, for example, scientism is knowledge because the respective understanding does correspond with how physical reality actually is.

In practical terms, here is what scientism’s epistemology says:

1) When you want to know something about physical reality then you go to the physical sciences

2) When you want to know something about the non-physical reality of the human condition then you also go to the physical sciences which study the human brain, and use the appropriate correlations table to translate mental language to physical language and vice-versa.

3) Since the physical sciences are a work in progress you’ll only get partial answers for now, but an ideal physical science (which may or may not be feasible) will get you the precise answers.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

drodrigues,

I agree that physical laws are not reducible to changes in physical states, in the same sense that a map is not reducible to the terrain either. Physical laws describe physical phenomena, or rather describe mathematical patterns present in physical phenomena. The issue at hand though is this: According to naturalism reality is such that all knowledge, including knowledge about physical laws, is produced by changes in physical states, namely by changes in the physical states of the brains.

You write that biological phenomena are not reducible to physics, but this is true only in the analytic sense. One cannot mathematically compute (forwards or backwards) biological phenomena the way one can do with, say, the orbits of the planets or with most chemical phenomena. But I don’t see what the relevance of this fact is for the naturalist. There is no such thing as emergent phenomena or top-down causality, as evidenced by the fact that computer simulations with only bottom-up causality are always capable of explaining such high-level phenomena. Thus computer simulations based on chemistry and physics are capable of explaining biological phenomena.

As for the counterexample you suggest, namely free choices by agents, according to naturalism such choices do not exist. Indeed there is no physical evidence that such choices exist. If such evidence did exist then we would have scientific evidence for supernatural effects and premise (1) would be falsified. Please remember that we are here discussing the coherence of naturalism, and why a naturalist can reasonably embrace scientism.

My larger point is this: Theists rightly complain when naturalists criticize theism without having made the effort to first understand it. Similarly theists should not criticize naturalism without having made the effort to understand it. I haven’t read Rosenberg’s book and I assume that Ed’s description of its argument for scientism is accurate. But this only evidences that this particular book is probably not a very good defense of scientism.

Anonymous said...

"But the naturalist does not claim that the physical sciences “establish” scientism."

Rosenberg seems to claim that: "Scientism"… is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything.

And if the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything are the physical sciences, then physical sciences would have to be what's establishing scientism by Rosenberg's estimation. Unless Rosenberg is saying that scientism is established by some other (unreliable) method.

"3) Since the physical sciences are a work in progress you’ll only get partial answers for now, but an ideal physical science (which may or may not be feasible) will get you the precise answers."

Rosenberg takes a much stronger position than this. He also goes on to say that ideal physical science, feasible or not, would/will look a lot like the science of today, which is why he's able to make a laundry list of statements about the supposed reality of human experience, belief and thought now. Including a lot of eliminative claims.

"2) When you want to know something about the non-physical reality of the human condition then you also go to the physical sciences which study the human brain, and use the appropriate correlations table to translate mental language to physical language and vice-versa."

There is no non-physical reality for Rosenberg, or arguably for any consistent naturalist. Nor is there a "mental language" to "translate". The mental is to be reduced or eliminated.

Going back to your earlier example...

"The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the universe is physically closed, i.e. that one need not assume anything non-physical in order to describe what causes changes in the physical state of the universe.""

Physical science is utterly incapable of demonstrating this. It would be denied by a variety of philosophers, including thomists, by science has no tools that allow it to determine whether such and such thing was caused by something outside of the universe or by a non-physical thing.

machinephilosophy said...

Two questions do not constitute a demonstration, except maybe for bluffing bible-thumpers at the end of their statement loops.

jack bodie said...

Danielos Georgoudis:

And where is the objectivity of physical science when knowledge of any object is no more than a change in the brain-state of the observer-subject?

Anonymous said...

One more thing.

"There is no such thing as emergent phenomena or top-down causality, as evidenced by the fact that computer simulations with only bottom-up causality are always capable of explaining such high-level phenomena."

This seems like quite a statement, and as far as I know is controversial even in science. You could not mean "always" without qualification here, since there are current, considerable practical limits to what we are capable of simulating in the manner you describe, and the success of some simulations would not mean or necessarily imply the success of all simulations.

Feser says in his OP that chemistry has not been reduced to physics. Is there a simulation which accomplishes this?

Anonymous said...

"All of science is either physics or stamp-collecting." - Paul Dirac

Truer words have never been spoken.

machinephilosophy said...

jack bodie

"And where is the objectivity of physical science when knowledge of any object is no more than a change in the brain-state of the observer-subject?"

An excellent and challenging question. In some senses baffling, in fact.

The implications of such reductions for both objectivity and knowledge, seem to reduce those reductions themselves to nothing more than their own alleged explanatory factors.

Sort of a built-in cognitive death wish, which means the trash wants to empty itself. Three cheers, I say.

machinephilosophy said...

Tom Esteban,

Stroud's heavy metal. Just a couple of cricitisms of his against Quine's naturalized epistemology put it face down in the mud. (I'll have to look them up.) Then Putnam showed how it didn't even qualify as a theory.

A lot of logical firepower in both of those guys. What I've read of both of them invoked mindlock on first reading.

I've only read journal articles by Stroud, but I appreciate the reference and will definitely check out the book.

dguller said...

Rad:

If the argument form is valid and the premises are true, then the conclusion is true, and the argument is correct.

But where does logic get its validity from? My understanding is that logic attempts to capture the patterns and regularities of the natural world. Logic did not spring out of nothing fully justified, but was developed over time by individuals trying to determine how to map our language onto reality. That is why logic textbooks always include empirical propositions to justify the rules of inference. In other words, logic is derived from the patterns and regularities of the world that we experience.

It is not only their tool. You will find argumentation in every science. Science lives by arguing.

Right, but at some point, the argument is decided by an empirical experiment, especially when there are contradictory hypotheses involved. In theology, when there are contradictory hypotheses, then how does one decide between them, especially if each hypothesis is based upon plausible assumptions? For example, some theological positions assume that the universe is comprehensible to human reason, and others assume that human reason is fundamentally limited, and thus that there are aspects of the universe and reality that are beyond our comprehension. How does one decide between these two positions? Each leads to rich and sophisticated systems of theology that accurately describes many aspects of our world, but they are based upon contradictory background assumptions. What do theologians do here to decide which assumptions are correct?

Strictly speaking: Making up hypotheses to predict certain phenomena is not a scientific activity, since you do not know thereby whether the hypothesis are true or not. They are useful, but they are not knowledge. Knowledge is about truth.

The hypothesis is determined to be true once it is confirmed by an experiment or some other empirical verification. And that is the point. Inferring a possible hypothesis is just not good enough, because X can make perfect sense, and yet can be false in the sense that it does not accurately represent a genuine state of affairs in the universe. You need something in addition to the inference to anchor the hypothesis in the world.

I understand what science does, but not what philosophy and theology do. In fact, I can understand the general consensus of scientists in terms of how the world works, which has sharpened over the centuries, and infer that their method actually can result in consensus. Compare that to philosophy and theology, which seems to simply diverge over time into more and more divergent positions. And that makes me suspicious that they might not actually have the tools to understand reality at all, seeing as how they disagree so much, and are just spinning their wheels in the air without any firm traction.

Jinzang said...

logic is derived from the patterns and regularities of the world that we experience

If the derivation involved logic, you've got a bit of circular reasoning here.

Jinzang said...

It seems some are arguing here not only that all knowledge is empirical, but all empirical knowledge is reducible to physics. As a counter-example to the latter proposition, I give you Grimm's Law

The Social Pathologist said...

@Djindra

With respect, your position doesn't invalidate mine. Electromagnetic radiation was never directly percieved, but postulated as a solution to various empirical phenomenon. It's a second order phenomena.

The question I pose to you is, how can we confirm that our reality is not akin to events described in the Matrix? Answer: You can't; because positivism/scientism is self- referential. The whole anti religious argument with regard to scientism is based on the assertion that there is no god/afterlife/heaven because we cannot sense them. The fact that there may be other modalities of reality that we cannot perceive does not logically invalidate their existence. The assertion, by science, that nothing exists beyond our senses is unprovable. That's not say that something definitely does exist beyond our sense perceptions rather that the answer is indeterminate within a self-referential system.

Jinzang said...

In fact, I can understand the general consensus of scientists in terms of how the world works, which has sharpened over the centuries, and infer that their method actually can result in consensus. Compare that to philosophy and theology, which seems to simply diverge over time into more and more divergent positions.

By what argument can you conclude that a proposition that has achieved a consensus is more likely to be true than one that has not? Aren't there plenty of examples where the consensus opinion, in philosophy AND science, has later been determined to be false?

Tony said...

The big bang hypothesis tells you what conditions were like in the region close to the singularity. It is true that there is something here that requires explanation, but it is not really a counterexample to the principle that the universe is "physically closed", in the sense that events within the space-time continuum happen as a consequence of the laws of nature and previously existing conditions.

Rupert, if the singularity were a true singularity, then all of the pre-conditions leading up (before it became a singularity in the prior eaon) would be swallowed up in a formlessly pristine point source that cannot carry information from before its occurrence. (except maybe total mass, but there is no current theory that explains the reversal of such a mass's coalescing into a singularity). Consequently, post-hoc extrapolating about conditions that led to the singularity, and to its exploding, are speculation without evidence or hope of resolution in the empirical sciences. As a consequence, there is no SCIENTIFIC basis to claim that the prior conditions fully account for the event, except on account of a faith, a belief beyond the evidence provides, that it must be so.

dguller said...

Jinzang:

If the derivation involved logic, you've got a bit of circular reasoning here.

They are certainly related, but I don’t think it is circular. I think that logic is simply our attempt to represent the patterns and regularities that exist in the universe. In other words, logic is parasitic upon real patterns in the universe, much like intentionality is parasitic upon the intrinsic teleology in the universe.

The way that I think about it is the universe has regularities and patterns, and biological organisms are able to detect and respond to those regularities likely because they are built out of different manifestations of those regularities. Our minds are highly evolved and sophisticated biological entities that are capable of doing the same but to a more developed extent.

By what argument can you conclude that a proposition that has achieved a consensus is more likely to be true than one that has not?

Based upon our commonsense experience of attempting to describe a single event. There may be variations in that description due to a number of factors, but there must be a core description that should achieve a consensus. Take the example of a car accident with witnesses. If the majority of people who observed the car accident said that the car was green, and a few individuals said it was red, then what is more likely? Ultimately, it is based upon the fact that we are all interacting with a single universe.

Aren't there plenty of examples where the consensus opinion, in philosophy AND science, has later been determined to be false?

First, do you have any examples of a consensus in philosophy?

Second, consensus is not a guarantor of truth, but it increases its likelihood.

Tony said...

I understand what science does, but not what philosophy and theology do.

dguller: the results you ascribe to science must ALSO be ascribed to philosophy. For, philosophy is what tells science that it may use logic and deductive rules and arithmetic rules and statistical rules and calculus to model reality. These capabilities are philosophy's triumphs: logic belongs to philosophy, and math rests on logic, and physics rests on math.

Anonymous said...

"Second, consensus is not a guarantor of truth, but it increases its likelihood."

How? Why? What brings you to this conclusion?

djindra said...

machinephilosophy,

"If you try to defend logic, you necessarily break a core rule of logic itself, that you can't use a conclusion as an argument for itself (which also raises the question of why it needed an argument for itself in the first place)."

And,

"Self-exemption is just so much fun. Plus, most people, dedicated anti-intellectual cognitive slugs that they are, don't even see it---and probably never will."

It's a curious phenomenon. I'm not sure you are correct in your assessment of the anti-intellectual cognitive slugs though. It seems to require the same sort of self-exemption you are skeptical of.

In defending the slugs I'll offer the carpenter. He's building a house and sees a need to attach two pieces of wood together. He finds nails will work but they require a tool for insertion. So he invents a hammer. It's a nifty tool. It works better on nails than a screwdriver. The result is so favorable that he sees no reason to question if the result justifies his epistemology. He could waste half the day scratching his head on that puzzle. But a house needs to be build and scratching of heads doesn't seem to make progress on the house. In fact, he might consider the philosopher a slug when it came to the epistemology of hammer, nails and house-building.

djindra said...

jack bodie ,

"In physics, no one ever has observed - nor will they ever - the objects of their enquiry. Mass is not the deflection of a needle on a set of scales, and a sub-atomic particle is not an ensemble of tracks in a cloud chamber. I think you'd agree that, here, you have no such thing as an empirical fact if one excludes the concomitant role of theory (which the instrumentation and the physicist's interprestation must include)."

If you think detection by instruments is not empirical evidence, do you stick your finger in your radiator to see if the engine is running hot?

Anonymous said...

"If you think detection by instruments is not empirical evidence, do you stick your finger in your radiator to see if the engine is running hot?"

What happens to your detection by instruments once you strip away theory?

djindra said...

Tony,

Physics does not rest on math. Physics rests on nature.

Anonymous said...

"Physics does not rest on math."

Tell that to the physicists. Physics rests on multiple things.

Anonymous said...

"Second, consensus is not a guarantor of truth, but it increases its likelihood."

"How? Why? What brings you to this conclusion?"

Don't be so literal and thick. Be practical. It is how you operate in the world. Do you need examples?

OTOH. Seems that is precisely an argument many make for the validity of scripture and testimony.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"What happens to your detection by instruments once you strip away theory?

Epistemological theory doesn't prevent the engine from overheating.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"Tell that to the physicists. Physics rests on multiple things."

Why do physicists feel compelled to test their theories on the natural world? Why is no theory accepted until it is so tested, no matter what the math might say?

Anonymous said...

"Epistemological theory doesn't prevent the engine from overheating."

So theory is necessary to make sense of the data, yes?

"Why do physicists feel compelled to test their theories on the natural world?"

They do? All of them? There's quite a lot of physicists who advocate theories that can't be tested at the moment, or in the foreseeable future.

Why do far and away the majority of physicists rely on math to explain and test their theories?

"Why is no theory accepted until it is so tested, no matter what the math might say?"

Why are all scientists morally pure and intellectual rigid?

The proper reply to my question is the same as the proper reply to yours.

Anonymous said...

"They do? All of them? There's quite a lot of physicists who advocate theories that can't be tested at the moment, or in the foreseeable future."

And they are THEORIES. Probably educated guesses. They will be revised by said physicist when it is shown it doesn't comport with reality.

Your point?

djindra said...

Social Pathologist,

"With respect, your position doesn't invalidate mine. Electromagnetic radiation was never directly perceived, but postulated as a solution to various empirical phenomenon. It's a second order phenomena."

It doesn't matter if it's a second order phenomenon or not. Sharks detect electromagnetic radiation. We do not. We nevertheless know about this sense we do not have ourselves. The claim was that we could never know such things. That is demonstrably false. We do know unless you want to claim the biologists are mistaken.


"The question I pose to you is, how can we confirm that our reality is not akin to events described in the Matrix?"

Answer: Some people are solipsists. Other people cling onto "Matrix" beliefs. We shouldn't measure truth against lunacy. We shouldn't be skeptical to the point of lunacy. That ceases to be rational inquiry.

Anonymous said...

"And they are THEORIES. Probably educated guesses. They will be revised by said physicist when it is shown it doesn't comport with reality.

Your point?"

That djindra is wrong and that quite a lot of scientists commit or invest in theories that have not been tested, or cannot be tested.

You say "when". You should say "if". And "will" should be replaced by "may".

Anonymous said...

'Why do far and away the majority of physicists rely on math to explain and test their theories?"

Because it is a useful TOOL. Now if you are trying to square the circle and say that ALL theology and philosophy is as sound as math, I'd have to disagree.

Anonymous said...

"You say "when". You should say "if". And "will" should be replaced by "may"."

O-Tay

Anonymous said...

"Because it is a useful TOOL. Now if you are trying to square the circle and say that ALL theology and philosophy is as sound as math, I'd have to disagree."

Not all math is as sound as 2 + 2 = 4. Not all science is particularly good, much less useful.

But physicists certainly rely on math.

Anonymous said...

djindra: "Epistemological theory doesn't prevent the engine from overheating."

Why don't you answer his question instead of being disingenuous?

Anonymous said...

"Not all math is as sound as 2 + 2 = 4. Not all science is particularly good, much less useful.

But physicists certainly rely on math."

Many loaded words in there. Good? Then it's probably not 'science'.

Failing to grasp your point. My point is we disagree about conflating Theology and Philosophy.

Inf the theory uses 'questionable' math it's a weak theory. Most importantly if it doesn't represent the way the world works it's rejected. That's all we can say.

Science corrects itself. Usually by it's utility and descriptive power. And yes. Consensus plays a part.

Enough combox bickering for me. You can have the last word.

machinephilosophy said...

"he might consider the philosopher a slug when it came to the epistemology of hammer, nails and house-building."

Geez. I don't recall saying anyone who "might consider" -anything- would count as a slug.

But maybe I too can learn to fudge on definitions in little stories mascarading as arguments.

Anonymous said...

"Many loaded words in there. Good? Then it's probably not 'science'."

Wow, you just eliminated a whole lot of science. Arguably the lion's share of what atheists are really attached to too.

"Inf the theory uses 'questionable' math it's a weak theory."

If that's the case, then it seems mathematicians are final judges in science. Not scientists. At least sometimes.

"Most importantly if it doesn't represent the way the world works it's rejected. That's all we can say."

No, it's not. It's amended. Or the discrepancy is ignored. Or many other things.

Here's your problem.

"Science corrects itself. Usually by it's utility and descriptive power. And yes. Consensus plays a part."

Science does not correct itself anymore than math corrects itself. If anyone is doing correcting, its human beings. Scientists, typically, and even then not always.

People fetishize science to the point where they really seem to think of science as an actual agent, a man out there who is trying to bring about the singularity right as we speak.

But there's no such being. We just have a bunch of people who went to school to get jobs in a certain field, often in government. Science, as a tool, is pretty useful. It's also very incomplete, and not the only tool we have available to us. And it certainly is not an agent, nor scientists without their share of problems.

That doesn't mean science isn't useful, or that scientists don't have quite a lot of success. In fact, scientists are about to give the Iranians nuclear weapons, according to reports. How nice of them.

Anonymous said...

"People fetishize science to the point where they really seem to think of science as an actual agent,"

Substitute philosophy or Thomism for science and you've got it.

Islamic Republic of Iran? (Religion, dogma) How nice or them.

The rest was strawmen through and through. Makes your argument much easier when you mischaracterize and trivialize.

Of course people correct science. Go read djindra's carpenter story. It may apply here.

Anonymous said...

"Not all math is as sound as 2 + 2 = 4. Not all science is particularly good, much less useful."

Ding Ding Ding. Winner winner. Chicken dinner. We use the useful bits. Same with philosophy. The rest is theology.

Anonymous said...

"Substitute philosophy or Thomism for science and you've got it."

Sure, that wasn't a Peewee Herman "I know you are but what am I!" empty response or anything. ;)

"Islamic Republic of Iran? (Religion, dogma) How nice or them."

Indeed, there are scientists trying hard to help an actual theocracy go nuclear.

"The rest was strawmen through and through."

Nah, just reasoning cutting to the core of a belief you have. Drop your shoddy beliefs and this won't happen. Adios scientism, goodbye materialism. Atheism abandoned for agnosticism or a broad theism.

"Ding Ding Ding. Winner winner. Chicken dinner."

Mmm, flustered, awkward humor. The sign of an internet arguer in a downward spiral. ;) Be sure to rhyme some more in the "you can have the last word, not really!!!" reply after you reload this page.

rad said...

dguller:

"My understanding is that logic attempts to capture the patterns and regularities of the natural world. "

Sorry, but you have no clue about logic. There is nothing about the natural world in a logical system. Logic deals with no specific content.

If you really think that the law of non-contradiction is just a empirical observation, and could be in principle false, then your philosophy of science is just false from the get go. You cannot contradict yourself more than contradicting the law of non-contradiction. Its the queen of self-contradictions.

Tony said...

djindra: Physics does not rest on math. Physics rests on nature.

Physics resting on nature does not preclude it resting on math also. Which you would have been able to pick up if you knew any logic.

Rosenberg certainly thinks physics rests on math, he says so. Most other physicists say so as well. Certainly physics programs in the universtities do: they make their physics students take a hell of a lot of math if they expect to go on for PhD's.

Why is no theory accepted until it is so tested, no matter what the math might say?

Ah, you are creating an opposition to THEORETICAL mathematical models versus empirically verified mathematical models. When the scientists have done the experiments in nature, and the experiments come out in agreement with the model, they say "the model is valid" (to the extent the experiment can test). That is to say, the MATHEMATICAL model is valid. They continue to rely on the math for its explanatory power to explain the empirical results.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Djindra

If your assertion about blind empiricists were even remotely true, man could not have discovered shark's electromagnetic sense.

That was a subtle distortion of my argument. Blind people can know of the existence of sight, but they can't experience it. Their knowledge of sight is a best fit theory of their available data. They know of a theory of the colour red, but they as blind people can't empirically verify its existence. Sure, they can ask their sighted friend for proof but that's not empirical, it's hearsay. Suppose he had two friends, one who was sighted and said he saw a red apple or another who said he saw a red unicorn. Whom should he believe? And is he being empirical about it?


The question you haven't answered, except by dismissing it, is how can you prove that we are not in some sort of Matrix type of environment. I don't care if the assertion is ridiculous. What I would like to know that is, if such a situation were possible, how would you be able to tell reality from illusion. Inquiring minds would like to know.

Reality is an illusion, is the Godel sentence of empiricism.

grodrigues said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis:

"I agree that physical laws are not reducible to changes in physical states, in the same sense that a map is not reducible to the terrain either. Physical laws describe physical phenomena, or rather describe mathematical patterns present in physical phenomena. The issue at hand though is this: According to naturalism reality is such that all knowledge, including knowledge about physical laws, is produced by changes in physical states, namely by changes in the physical states of the brains."

If I ask what are physical laws you concede that they are not physical and then locate the *knowledge* of them in the brain states and changes in them. But brain states and their changes are also explained by physical laws. You are going in circles and have explained nothing.

"You write that biological phenomena are not reducible to physics, but this is true only in the analytic sense. One cannot mathematically compute (forwards or backwards) biological phenomena the way one can do with, say, the orbits of the planets or with most chemical phenomena. But I don’t see what the relevance of this fact is for the naturalist. There is no such thing as emergent phenomena or top-down causality, as evidenced by the fact that computer simulations with only bottom-up causality are always capable of explaining such high-level phenomena. Thus computer simulations based on chemistry and physics are capable of explaining biological phenomena."

Either Biology is reducible to Physics or it is not. If it is, you have to prove such a reduction, if it is not you have to show where the mechanisms doing the explanation and not reducible to the lower level of reality -- fermions and bosons, say -- come from. Either way, there is no such explanation (simulations notwithstanding). Prof. Edward Feser argues that there cannot even be such a naturalist explanation in principle (at least for some phenomena); I simply observe that the naturalist reduction has not been achieved despite the proclamations otherwise.

I should warn that murmuring something about "partial explanations" is conceding my point. If you reply that my standards are unreasonable, I will reply that your first premise starts as "The physical sciences have demonstrated beyond *reasonable doubt* that the universe is physically closed" (emphasis mine).

"As for the counterexample you suggest, namely free choices by agents, according to naturalism such choices do not exist. Indeed there is no physical evidence that such choices exist. If such evidence did exist then we would have scientific evidence for supernatural effects and premise (1) would be falsified. Please remember that we are here discussing the coherence of naturalism, and why a naturalist can reasonably embrace scientism."

There is a given phenomena called free will -- the phenomena, not the doctrine -- which as a matter of common experience exists. You have to explain it purely in terms of changes in brain states, otherwise the premise is not cogently argued for.

"My larger point is this: Theists rightly complain when naturalists criticize theism without having made the effort to first understand it. Similarly theists should not criticize naturalism without having made the effort to understand it. I haven’t read Rosenberg’s book and I assume that Ed’s description of its argument for scientism is accurate. But this only evidences that this particular book is probably not a very good defense of scientism."

I do not know if the charge of misunderstanding is directed at me, but I think you underestimate the enormity of the task you face in arguing for premise (1). And it is just the first premise in your argument for scientism.

note: verification word is "falso" which in Portuguese means "false". A sign, a sign...

djindra said...

Anonymous,

Me: "Epistemological theory doesn't prevent the engine from overheating."

You:"Why don't you answer his question instead of being disingenuous?"

That *is* an answer to his question. But if you want the boring version of it: Epistemological theory has no effect on reality. Too many philosophers act like it does.

djindra said...

Tony,

"That is to say, the MATHEMATICAL model is valid. They continue to rely on the math for its explanatory power to explain the empirical results.

That should be changed to:

"That is to say, the mathematical MODEL is (contingently) valid. They continue to rely on the math for its explanatory power to explain the EMPIRICAL results."

Models are models. Math can, and does, result in false models. Our best models today are incomplete. Physics is about the description of nature. It's not about the descriptions themselves. It's not about beautifully constructed models. It's not about the language of description. It can never rest on the imperfect models. It rests on nature.

djindra said...

Tony,

"Rosenberg certainly thinks physics rests on math, he says so. Most other physicists say so as well."

I don't consider Rosenberg much of an authority. Nevertheless, do you have some quotes from him and those many physicists?

Anonymous said...

Models are models. Math can, and does, result in false models. Our best models today are incomplete. Physics is about the description of nature. It's not about the descriptions themselves. It's not about beautifully constructed models. It's not about the language of description. It can never rest on the imperfect models. It rests on nature.

You are conflating a model's empirical validity with its logical consistency. It is possible to have a mathematical model that is logically consistent through and through, but gets falsified upon empirical testing (in which case the physicist ought to posit another model), but it is *impossible* to do the converse, i.e. have a logically inconsistent model and get it confirmed empirically.

It isn't that hard. Do you need an example?

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"djindra is wrong and that quite a lot of scientists commit or invest in theories that have not been tested, or cannot be tested."

There's always a lag time between the formulation and testing of a theory, but if a theory cannot be tested it's not accepted and it's not (yet) scientific.

djindra said...

The Social Pathologist,

"They know of a theory of the colour red, but they as blind people can't empirically verify its existence.

Of course they can verify it empirically. They don't need to rely on hearsay any more than biologists rely on hearsay from sharks that they sense magnetic fields. Empiricism is not limited to what we sense subjectively. Blind people can learn about light, they can measure it with instruments, they can empirically discover color receptors in the eye just as we humans can discover electromagnetic sensors in sharks. We do not have to directly experience either the sensation of red or magnetic waves to verify it empirically.

djindra said...

machinephilosophy,

"But maybe I too can learn to fudge on definitions in little stories mascarading as arguments."

You are far too humble, my sage.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"it is *impossible* to do the converse, i.e. have a logically inconsistent model and get it confirmed empirically.

Quantum Mechanics is not logically consistent. So I don't know what you think you're saying.

Ray Ingles said...

The Social Pathologist - "...how can you prove that we are not in some sort of Matrix type of environment. I don't care if the assertion is ridiculous."

Like solipsism, it can't be disproved. Similarly, the idea that our reason is fundamentally, inescapably wrong and can't be trusted.

But there still can be rational reasons for rejecting such notions. The main one being, if they were true... then what?

Seriously. Let's say we're in a simulation and none of our sensory input corresponds to anything real. Okay, fine. Now what?

Propositions like solipsism or the complete inadequacy of reason can be rejected on pragmatic grounds. If they're true, it's an automatic 'game over'. They are one-way trapdoors into futility.

Assuming their converse (our sense-data has at least some correspondence to an external reality, our reason is at least capable of reaching valid conclusions) is the only practical alternative. (I'd put Ockham's Razor in that class of 'forced moves', too - if not, at what level of 'explanation complexity' do you stop?)

After those assumptions, one can then go on to develop empiricism. Your blind friend can take data they've learned, or conduct experiments, to see if his companions are looking at a red apple or a red unicorn.

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

"Quantum Mechanics is not logically consistent. So I don't know what you think you're saying."

Huh? You do not know what you are talking about. If QM were not logically consistent, you could prove *anything* from it. Explicitly, for every P you could prove both P and not-P, which means that it would have no predictive power *at all*.

dguller said...

rad:

Sorry, but you have no clue about logic. There is nothing about the natural world in a logical system. Logic deals with no specific content.

First, if the natural world has nothing to do with logic, then why do logic textbooks include empirical propositions when demonstrating the validity and invalidity of logical arguments? Why include them at all if they are irrelevant?

Second, would you say that the truth tables associated with various logical inferences do not have any content? Are the T’s and F’s meaningless and without content?

I think it is reasonable to state that logic deals with the formal properties of the world, and thus its efficacy is derived from correct abstractions from the patterns and regularities in the observed universe, which are primary in this case.

If you really think that the law of non-contradiction is just a empirical observation, and could be in principle false, then your philosophy of science is just false from the get go. You cannot contradict yourself more than contradicting the law of non-contradiction. Its the queen of self-contradictions.

What about the liar’s paradox? Wouldn’t that count as an example of a proposition that is both true and false?

djindra said...

Ray Ingles,

"But there still can be rational reasons for rejecting such notions. The main one being, if they were true... then what?"

Exactly. Even if a 'Matrix' environment were true it makes no difference to us. Laws of physics would work the same from either POV. So the speculation is wasted energy.

djindra said...

grodrigues,

"If QM were not logically consistent, you could prove *anything* from it. Explicitly, for every P you could prove both P and not-P, which means that it would have no predictive power *at all*."

First, that does not follow. Second, blame God, not me.

Josh said...

What about the liar’s paradox? Wouldn’t that count as an example of a proposition that is both true and false?

The only reason it's a paradox in the first place is because of the law of contradiction being applied to it, so I don't think that supports any defeat of the law itself.

Anonymous said...

Ray Ingles: "Seriously. Let's say we're in a simulation and none of our sensory input corresponds to anything real. Okay, fine. Now what?"

So your wife and kids don't exist, for example. The love you have for them is not real. Their responses to your love are false, as is their love, and joy and comfort at being with you. An analogy could be made with a schizophrenic who thinks he has a wife and children, whom he loves very much or a Japanese animation fan who is really, really in love with that Hatsune Miku girl and who takes her out for a romantic dinner each anniversary. That wouldn't disturb you? Would you continue being the same you if you found this out?

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

"If QM were not logically consistent, you could prove *anything* from it. Explicitly, for every P you could prove both P and not-P, which means that it would have no predictive power *at all*.

First, that does not follow. Second, blame God, not me."

First you have not shown us how QM is logically inconsistent. If you do have a proof of that, be prepared to become wordly famous. Second, what does not follow?

Josh said...

Exactly. Even if a 'Matrix' environment were true it makes no difference to us.

Let's test this theory:

'Djindra' is a figment of the Troll Matrix. Therefore, his silliness is a Troll illusion. Therefore, it makes no difference to us.

Looks solid! Good to go.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to get an avatar of a cool Penrose triangle and write with Italics and big words so that others can see how smart and well-read I am.

dguller said...

Josh:

The only reason it's a paradox in the first place is because of the law of contradiction being applied to it, so I don't think that supports any defeat of the law itself.

The law of non-contradiction (LNC) says that it cannot be the case that “p and not-p”. When p = “this sentence is false”, then it is the case that “p and not-p”. That would falsify the LNC, because p is both true and false at the same time.

So, you are correct that there is a paradox if the LNC is applied to “this sentence is false”, because the LNC is violated by that proposition. Otherwise, why would there be a paradox at all? It would be no big deal.

But maybe I'm missing something here. Help me out?

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

One way to view it, is that every proposition is either true or false and not both, that is, LNC is necessarily true of propositions. But this means that the Liar sentence does not express any proposition, so that there is no paradox or violation of the LNC.

machinephilosophy said...

If reality is an illusion, a lazy dumbass can still posture as knowledgable without mentioning the assumed reality of the illusion itself.

Now let's all bow our heads and invite self-exemption into our lives!

Ray Ingles said...

Anonymous - "So your wife and kids don't exist, for example... That wouldn't disturb you?"

Um, yes, it would. Which was my point. You may want to reread what I wrote in that light.

Ray Ingles said...

Anonymous - "I'm going to get an avatar of a cool Penrose triangle and write with Italics and big words so that others can see how smart and well-read I am."

At least you'll be in good company! :)

Anonymous said...

Pragmatism is lazy.

Josh said...

dguller,

So, you are correct that there is a paradox if the LNC is applied to “this sentence is false”, because the LNC is violated by that proposition. Otherwise, why would there be a paradox at all? It would be no big deal.

But maybe I'm missing something here. Help me out?


It's a never-ending bout of reasoning; you are no more authorized to say the LNC is falsified by the conclusion than you are to say it is proven. That's why it's axiomatic.

Why not conclude that the statement is neither true nor false?

Josh said...

In other words, what grodrigues said.

Ray Ingles said...

Anonymous- "Pragmatism is lazy."

But quite practical. :)

rad said...

This is a very interesting phenomenon. dguller is not the first atheist I've met who denies the law of non-contradiction. Maybe St. Augustine was right: Unbelief distorts the mind and makes it uncapable to grasp the truth.

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

One way to view it, is that every proposition is either true or false and not both, that is, LNC is necessarily true of propositions. But this means that the Liar sentence does not express any proposition, so that there is no paradox or violation of the LNC.

That is a great response, and one that I have considered, actually. After all, there are a variety of statements that superficially have sense, but are actually nonsense, and it is reasonable to toss the Liar sentence into that category.

What impact would it have upon Godel’s theorems, though, which seem to rely upon such contradictory self-referential statements?

dguller said...

Grodrigues:

One way to view it, is that every proposition is either true or false and not both, that is, LNC is necessarily true of propositions. But this means that the Liar sentence does not express any proposition, so that there is no paradox or violation of the LNC.

That is a great response, and one that I have considered, actually. After all, there are a variety of statements that superficially have sense, but are actually nonsense, and it is reasonable to toss the Liar sentence into that category.

What impact would it have upon Godel’s theorems, though, which seem to rely upon such contradictory self-referential statements?

dguller said...

Rad:

This is a very interesting phenomenon. dguller is not the first atheist I've met who denies the law of non-contradiction. Maybe St. Augustine was right: Unbelief distorts the mind and makes it uncapable to grasp the truth.

Why do you think it is atheism that drives this line of questioning? Whether this law is true universally or admits some exceptions would not have any bearing upon God, I think. Either he would necessarily follow the laws of logic as part of his nature, or he is sufficiently powerful and transcendent to occasionally do what is logically impossible despite the fact that this is inconceivable to the human mind, being conditioned to understand the world through logical categories. Theism would have a case to be made in either case, and thus your observation is irrelevant.

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"So your wife and kids don't exist, for example. The love you have for them is not real."

Sure it is. It merely exists in a different form than we expect. Either way, the wife feels the same to me.

Anonymous said...

djindra said: "Sure it is. It merely exists in a different form than we expect. Either way, the wife feels the same to me."

So loving a figment of imagination is the same as loving a real person?
Your wife does not exist, so she can't feel anything.

Josh said...

Dguller,

Whether this law is true universally or admits some exceptions would not have any bearing upon God, I think.

If it wasn't universally true, axiomatic, then God could exist and not exist. Seems to have a bearing.

Either he would necessarily follow the laws of logic as part of his nature, or he is sufficiently powerful and transcendent to occasionally do what is logically impossible despite the fact that this is inconceivable to the human mind, being conditioned to understand the world through logical categories. Theism would have a case to be made in either case

Yeah, and the latter foundation is weak as hell.

Dguller, you bring up some great points from time to time, but why go after the first principles every so often? They're the only self-evident things in our feeble stores of knowledge. Is it because, like Nietzsche, you subconsciously understand that to acknowledge the realist's view of them is to let God in a trap door somewhere?

rad said...

dguller:

"Why do you think it is atheism that drives this line of questioning?"

This makes it so interesting. The only people I know who deny the law of non-contradiction (LNC) are atheists. Why is this? Maybe the answers lies along the lines that Josh suggested.

"Theism would have a case to be made in either case, and thus your observation is irrelevant."

Maybe, its interessting nevertheless. BTW: How come you are trying to contradict me, if every statement may be at same time true? (This must be your belief, if you deny the LNC.)

jack bodie said...

dguller

God cannot do the logically impossible.

I think rad makes an interesting observation, and Josh asks a great question here: "why go after the first principles every so often? They're the only self-evident things in our feeble stores of knowledge. Is it because, like Nietzsche, you subconsciously understand that to acknowledge the realist's view of them is to let God in a trap door somewhere?"

Tying the two together, I'm specifically interested in your selective agnosticism about reason and its applicability? You've previously suggested it's just a difference of temperament perhaps, but why doubt it anywhere in the first?

dguller said...

Josh:

If it wasn't universally true, axiomatic, then God could exist and not exist. Seems to have a bearing.

If God’s existence was an instance of the law not applying, then that would be a possibility. I am not arguing that the law never applies, nor am I arguing that it always applies. All I know is that it seems to apply to all possibilities that human beings have thus far encountered. I can even understand why the law is operative and appears necessary, given the patterns and regularities in the natural world that influenced our cognitive development and hardwired our mental apparatus to interpret the world through logical categories. After all, the logical categories accurately capture the patterns and regularities that we regularly interact with in the natural world.

My only point is that just because all that we have encountered thus far is consistent with the laws of logic, it does not follow that all that we have not encountered (yet) necessarily operate according to the same laws as our usual experiences. That seems to be an unjustified leap into the unknown that we should be wary of making. You can just assert that it is axiomatic and leave it at that, but that misses the point that our logical categories come from somewhere, and derive their justification by their accuracy and effectiveness at helping us navigate in the world. If you starting with axioms that ended up with incoherent conclusions that contradicted our experiences, then the axioms should be discarded.

As I mentioned earlier, it might just be a difference in temperament. I have no problem with reason (with a small “r”), but it seems that everyone here is enamored with the grandiose and unlimited capacity of Reason (with a capital “R”). All I can say is that just because human beings cannot help but understand the world in a certain way does not necessarily mean that the world is, in fact, structured that way. Some of our conceptual resources accurately identify real patterns in the world, and some result in false positives. I am comfortable with our limitations, but it seems that many here are very disturbed by the mere thought that our minds might not be able to identify the deeper and universal principles and laws of the universe simply by thinking really, really hard. Again, this might just be a difference in temperament.

Yeah, and the latter foundation is weak as hell.

Why? Many prioritize God’s utter transcendence and existence beyond our understanding. This does not seem to be a weaker form of religious belief, but it does put our ability to meaningfully speak about God in a difficult position. Then again, even Aquinas had to rely upon the doctrine of analogy as a limited form of meaningful communication about the divine, implying that there are aspects of God that are simply beyond our understanding.

Dguller, you bring up some great points from time to time, but why go after the first principles every so often? They're the only self-evident things in our feeble stores of knowledge. Is it because, like Nietzsche, you subconsciously understand that to acknowledge the realist's view of them is to let God in a trap door somewhere?

Well, what goes on in my subconscious is, by definition, outside my awareness and thus also outside my ability to comment on. :) All I can say is that these issues interest me, because I find discussions about the implications of our finitude and limitations fascinating.

And I do know that as an atheist discussing these issues theists, my motivations are likely suspect, but I do appreciate your feedback to my ideas, which are always works in progress, and I am always open to changing my mind. I have already done so when it comes to intrinsic teleology, which I initially rejected, but was persuaded to see as absolutely necessary for any coherent understanding of reality.

djindra said...

grodrigues ,

"First you have not shown us how QM is logically inconsistent. If you do have a proof of that, be prepared to become wordly famous. Second, what does not follow?"

Is light a particle or wave? How do we decide *logically*? In a variation of the double slit experiment where one "particle" of light is fired at a time, it looks like the light "particle" passes through both slits and interferes with itself. How is this logical? I think if man were constructing a universe he could construct something that behaved truly logical rather that according to probability.

So to "prove" something we do not necessarily need logical consistency. What *is* does not need to conform to our logic or the way we think it *ought* to behave. We don't need a logical explanation of why light is both particle and wave or that we have two eyes. In the QM universe, probability is more useful as "proof" than logic. So it does not follow that since QM is not logically consistent, we cannot "prove" anything. We "prove" things using probability, or we look and see how things are through an experiment. We shouldn't expect matter to behave logically. If it did then empirical data would be superfluous. We could solve every problem in the universe using logic alone.

James said...

@djindra:

“First, that does not follow.”

In fact, it does follow. From a set of inconsistent axioms any statement can be proven; look up the principle of explosion. Thus if (1) QM is true and (2) it has contradictory implications, then we can use it to prove — well — anything.

dguller said...

Rad:

Maybe, its interessting nevertheless. BTW: How come you are trying to contradict me, if every statement may be at same time true? (This must be your belief, if you deny the LNC.)

Because I know that the LNC applies to our experienced world, which we both share. It has been well-validated by innumerable instances, and thus is an exceptionally effective tool in terms of understanding our world. My skepticism relates to its efficacy to all aspects of reality, including those that we have no direct experiential interaction with. Maybe the LNC will continue to be applicable to these domains if we ever encounter them, but it is possible that they operate according to laws and regularities utterly different from those that govern our world, and thus a different form of logic would be required to understand them. In that case, they will appear utterly bizarre and illogical to our minds.

James said...

@djindra:

“I think if man were constructing a universe he could construct something that behaved truly logical rather that according to probability.”

Wait — since when is probability illogical? Sitting right next to me (literally!) is a book on measure theory which argues otherwise. A statement such as

“probability is more useful as ‘proof’ than logic”

is really just nonsense; “probabilistic” does not mean “illogical” or “inconsistent”.

dguller said...

Jack:

Tying the two together, I'm specifically interested in your selective agnosticism about reason and its applicability? You've previously suggested it's just a difference of temperament perhaps, but why doubt it anywhere in the first?

Because I am hesitant to make truth claims about a domain of reality that I have no legitimate knowledge or comprehension about. It has been the case that throughout human history, our horizons are continually expanding and taking in new aspects of reality, undreamt of by prior historical epochs. I see no reason why this should not continue, and that even after human beings have reached the limits of our understanding that there might be additional aspects of reality that are simply beyond our reach. It makes me uncomfortable to casually make the claim that my evolved brain, albeit incredible in a number of ways, has the capacity to make perfectly valid claims about aspects of reality that may be beyond its capacity, and all because it seems to work incredibly well in some domains of reality. That seems highly presumptuous. I’d rather just say “I do not know”, and leave it at that.

Any thoughts?

The Social Pathologist said...

@Ray Ingles

Like solipsism, it can't be disproved. Similarly, the idea that our reason is fundamentally, inescapably wrong and can't be trusted.

The reason why it can't be proved is because empiricism/scientism/positivism is self-referential. Hence the link to Godel.

It's one thing to claim that there are pragmatic reasons to accept the validity of Scientism, but its a totally different thing when Atheist fundamentalists overstep the boundary and make claims about the nature of reality which are logically impossible to achieve from within the inherently self-referential nature of scientism. As Tarski and Godel showed, self-referential systems can't prove their own truth.

So, when a Scientist says there is nothing else outside of science, he is contradicting Godel's incompleteness theorem which is logically sound. Statements about the nature of reality by science, outside itself, are unprovable from within science. So when some fundamentalist Atheist starts banging on about how there is no God and that science proves it, we know(through logic) that he is arguing from a position of faith and not reason.

Godel himself wast a Platonist, believing that a reality existed outside the realm of physical perception. He thought that positivism, in all its various manifestations was a load of rubbish.

Josh said...

Dguller,

it seems that everyone here is enamored with the grandiose and unlimited capacity of Reason

Now surely you're forgetting about Faith? Note that I called attention to the "feeble stores of our knowledge" as well. Thomists aren't Rationalists. You might even call them 'moderate Empiricists'!

But levity aside, the LNC is itself a testament that realists don't believe Reason is unlimited; we are not free to deny the LNC. As for our logical categories coming from somewhere, we have someone to thank for that... ;-)

Why? Many prioritize God’s utter transcendence and existence beyond our understanding.

Yes, Fideists and many Protestants. Do you not see why I'd say it's a weak case that attempts to use the natural Reason to argue toward something completely beyond our understanding?

I am always open to changing my mind. I have already done so when it comes to intrinsic teleology, which I initially rejected, but was persuaded to see as absolutely necessary for any coherent understanding of reality.

Well, perhaps the LNC could fall into that class of objects in the future!

But cheers Dguller; we are all agnostics here (in the epistemological sense), just of wildly different degrees. I wouldn't really suspect you of ulterior motives, unlike some others around here...

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

"First you have not shown us how QM is logically inconsistent. If you do have a proof of that, be prepared to become wordly famous. Second, what does not follow?

Is light a particle or wave? How do we decide *logically*?"

Oh brother... two things. First learn the definition of logical inconsistency. Second, learn Quantum Mechanics.

"So to "prove" something we do not necessarily need logical consistency. What *is* does not need to conform to our logic or the way we think it *ought* to behave. We don't need a logical explanation of why light is both particle and wave or that we have two eyes. In the QM universe, probability is more useful as "proof" than logic. So it does not follow that since QM is not logically consistent, we cannot "prove" anything. We "prove" things using probability, or we look and see how things are through an experiment. We shouldn't expect matter to behave logically. If it did then empirical data would be superfluous. We could solve every problem in the universe using logic alone."

"So to "prove" something we do not necessarily need logical consistency."?? "In the QM universe, probability is more useful as "proof" than logic"?? "We shouldn't expect matter to behave logically"?? The rank ignorance and overwhelming stupidity in your post defies qualification. Go read a book on logic; go learn Probability theory (wadda ya know boys, Probability does not need logic!) and also learn QM. Dumber than a bag of hammers.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

drodrigues:

If I ask what are physical laws you concede that they are not physical and then locate the *knowledge* of them in the brain states and changes in them. But brain states and their changes are also explained by physical laws. You are going in circles and have explained nothing.

I am trying to first *describe* what I hold to be a viable naturalistic worldview, and then *explain* why scientism is a reasonable epistemology for naturalists. In the naturalistic worldview I describe scientific knowledge is located in mental states (not brain states), which correlate with brain states. That knowledge refers to mechanical order (or mathematical patterns) present in physical events. The brain states which correlate with that knowledge are produced by previous changes in brain states. These changes (as anything physical) evolve through the same mechanical order referred by the scientific knowledge. That description strikes me as quite coherent, and I am not sure what going in circles you refer to. “Circularity” is a defect of explanations, not of descriptions. After all there are many circular processes.

Either Biology is reducible to Physics or it is not.

It is not reducible in the sense that one cannot use the physical state of the universe at some time in the past and the equations of physics to derive the human genome. It is reducible in the sense that one can (at least in principle) explain how something *like* the human genome would mechanically evolve using nothing but the physical state of the universe at some time in the past and the equations of physics. That explanation is of course very complex and in the praxis can only be given in the form of computer simulations. As any biologist will tell you, biology does not assume the existence of any effects beyond purely physical mechanisms in order to explain the evolution of the species.

Either way, there is no such explanation [which reduces biology to physics] (simulations notwithstanding).

Depends on how strictly you mean “explanation” here (and if you mean it too strictly you open yourself to the charge of the “God of the gaps”). Let me elaborate: On the one hand it is true that biology does not assume the existence of any non-physical mechanisms, on the other hand neither does biology at its current state support the claim that such non-physical mechanisms are not required, or have not obtained even if not required. (Not to mention that how the first biological organisms were produced is not today understood.) In response to these facts the naturalist thinks inductively: Given the huge number of physical processes where demonstrably nothing more than physical mechanisms are required, it is very probable that natural evolution does not require them either. The fact that natural evolution is so complex that science has not yet demonstrated that nothing more than physical mechanisms are required permits some space for doubting, but the naturalist judges that given the huge explanatory success of a purely mechanistic interpretation of the physical sciences such doubts are unreasonable. Thus the naturalist accepts premise (1) because she judges that the physical sciences have already demonstrated *beyond reasonable doubt* that nothing more than physical causes are required. (Speaking for myself I am inclined to agree. Premise (1) has been demonstrated in so many instances and is indeed such an elegant principle, that it amounts to little more than wishful thinking to expect or hope that some future scientific discovery will falsify it.)

[continues bellow]

grodrigues said...

@dguller:

"What impact would it have upon Godel’s theorems, though, which seem to rely upon such contradictory self-referential statements?"

None, because Goedel's sentence while self-referential is not self-contradictory (where do you got that idea?).

Note: there are proofs of Goedel's theorems that do not proceed via the construction of self-referential statements.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

[continues from above]

There is a given phenomena called free will -- the phenomena, not the doctrine -- which as a matter of common experience exists. You have to explain it purely in terms of changes in brain states, otherwise the premise is not cogently argued for.

The naturalist will answer: The phenomenon of “free will” refers to a feeling we have. That feeling is factual and will be explained when we understand well enough how the human brain works and why such feelings are produced by intelligent brains. (Speaking for myself I tend to agree. The human brain is a hugely complex mechanism but using computers it is probable that some day it will be possible to understand it at the required depth.)

I do not know if the charge of misunderstanding [naturalism] is directed at me

No, not specifically. I observe that often naturalists try to understand theism using their naturalistic presuppositions, and that theists too often try to understand naturalism using their theistic presuppositions. One won’t understand naturalism using A-T metaphysics, that’s for sure. On the other hand, naturalism strikes me as a simple worldview, which (as long as premises (1) and (2) hold) is intrinsically coherent and unfalsifiable. Just assume that all of reality is basically how the physical sciences describe it, and that the mind supervenes on some physical systems such as the human brain – and you’re done. Indeed, in my previous posts I tried to describe an algorithm with which to defeat any philosophical argument against naturalism, namely to point out that the naturalistic reality is such this particular argument will be felt to be convincing by some or many.

djindra said...

grodrigues,

Oh brother yourself. Prove *logically* that an oxygen atom combined with two hydrogen atoms should have the properties of water. Until you can do things like that you're on thin ice.

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

"Prove *logically* that an oxygen atom combined with two hydrogen atoms should have the properties of water. Until you can do things like that you're on thin ice."

I never said or implied that you could logically prove that "an oxygen atom combined with two hydrogen atoms should have the properties of water". You have a nasty habit of reading things that I never wrote or implied. For example, in your previous post you said "So it does not follow that since QM is not logically consistent, we cannot "prove" anything." while what I *did* say is that if QM is logically inconsistent it can prove anything and thus it has no predictive power. Can you spot the difference or it needs to be spelled out?

But I forgive you, as I each time I read your previous post I give a good chuckle. "We don't need a logical explanation of why light is both particle and wave or that we have two eyes."?? Hilarious, simply hilarious.

grodrigues said...

@djindra:

As far as the question itself, that is, if it can be logically proved that "an oxygen atom combined with two hydrogen atoms should have the properties of water" it depends on what you mean by logically prove. If it means what I think you mean by it (but I am guessing here) then the answer is no.

Anonymous said...

(Speaking for myself I tend to agree. The human brain is a hugely complex mechanism but using computers it is probable that some day it will be possible to understand it at the required depth.)

And there's no guarantee that any understanding we make of it will conform to our current expectations or understandings. It also presumes that the question of free will can be decided by experiment, but this doesn't seem to be the case. We'll likely get a lot more data as time goes on. Interpreting that data, especially for cases of free will or mind or even formal and final causes, will be a metaphysical and philosophical task.

Jinzang said...

First, do you have any examples of a consensus in philosophy?

Carnap's philosophy of science, which was known as the received (i.e, consensus) view. It's now totally demolished.

Jinzang said...

I think that logic is simply our attempt to represent the patterns and regularities that exist in the universe. In other words, logic is parasitic upon real patterns in the universe, much like intentionality is parasitic upon the intrinsic teleology in the universe.

Logic is usually defined as the set of rules for transforming propositions that preserve truth. Unless we come to some agreement on what logic is, further discussion is pointless.

Michael said...

Hey Folks,

I just wanted to jump in the convo about LNC. This is mostly aimed at dguller, but I would appreciate feedback from others.

I think, rationally, one would never come to the position that "it might be possible for the LNC to not apply to some entities". For I think the very possibility of conceiving of non-following-LNC entities is inconceivable. Since a non-following-LNC entity is inconceivable, then the possibility of one existing is inconceivable.

This means, when thought out rationally, that the above quote is akin to saying, "it might be possible for asfds sadfasd asdfds".

There's no escape from LNC! Not even from the possibility that LNC might not apply!

ciao,
Michael

Josh said...

Michael,

I think, rationally, one would never come to the position that "it might be possible for the LNC to not apply to some entities".

I agree, otherwise it would just be another contingent proposition.

dguller said...

Josh:

But levity aside, the LNC is itself a testament that realists don't believe Reason is unlimited; we are not free to deny the LNC.

I meant that you seem to believe that the capacity for Reason to understand all of reality is theoretically unlimited, although practically limited by a number of factors. Certainly, reason has been extremely successful at understanding some of reality, but how one subsequently infers that it must equally be successful at understanding all of reality is beyond me.

As for our logical categories coming from somewhere, we have someone to thank for that... ;-)

I should have seen that one coming!

Yes, Fideists and many Protestants. Do you not see why I'd say it's a weak case that attempts to use the natural Reason to argue toward something completely beyond our understanding?

Not really. I see each scenario are equally possible, with equal shares of strength and weakness. Again, it just seems a matter of temperament whether one prefers the complete mystery of an utterly transcendent being versus a comprehensible rational being. And whether this being is completely transcendent and beyond our understanding or just partially transcendent still means that our reason has limited and that there is something about God that is just beyond our reach.

Well, perhaps the LNC could fall into that class of objects in the future!

Anything is possible, even p and not-p! ;)

dguller said...

Jinzang:

Logic is usually defined as the set of rules for transforming propositions that preserve truth. Unless we come to some agreement on what logic is, further discussion is pointless.

I agree with that definition, but only wanted to go a bit deeper into how logic is able to even do such a thing. As I mentioned, it is my understanding that the formal properties of logic attempt to mirror the formal properties of the natural world. Otherwise, logic would simply be unable to preserve truth, except in a trivial sense of within-logic, but that would make it as arbitrary as chess. Logic is so useful, because it does mirror the natural world to a great extent, and thus is conditional upon the patterns and regularities that make up the formal properties of the natural world.

Does that make sense?

dguller said...

Michael:

I think, rationally, one would never come to the position that "it might be possible for the LNC to not apply to some entities". For I think the very possibility of conceiving of non-following-LNC entities is inconceivable. Since a non-following-LNC entity is inconceivable, then the possibility of one existing is inconceivable.

Why is conceivability a criterion for truth about all aspects of the universe?

Josh:

I agree, otherwise it would just be another contingent proposition.

Could necessary propositions simply be propositions that are so central to our conceptual framework that denying them would unravel the entire structure?

grodrigues said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis:

I will be very brief. Three points:

1. "Premise (1) has been demonstrated in so many instances and is indeed such an elegant principle, that it amounts to little more than wishful thinking to expect or hope that some future scientific discovery will falsify it."

Premise (1) is completely circular: what do the physical sciences search for? The physical. What is the physical? What the physical sciences search for. What is even more bizarre is that you contradict yourself, for below you write

"On the other hand, naturalism strikes me as a simple worldview, which (as long as premises (1) and (2) hold) is intrinsically coherent and unfalsifiable."

So which is it? Unfalsifiable or falsifiable as you seem to concede it is, at least in principle, in the previous quote?

2. "The naturalist will answer: The phenomenon of “free will” refers to a feeling we have. That feeling is factual and will be explained when we understand well enough how the human brain works and why such feelings are produced by intelligent brains."

You concede my point that the reduction has not been achieved. Recall the start of your first premise: "The physical sciences have demonstrated *beyond reasonable doubt* that the universe is physically closed" (emphasis mine).

Now put points 1. and 2. together. Can you see why your inductive naturalist leap is unwarranted?

3. I go back to your sentence:

"On the other hand, naturalism strikes me as a simple worldview, which (as long as premises (1) and (2) hold) is intrinsically coherent and unfalsifiable."

Naturalism may be simple, but it certainly is not coherent. I will leave such a demonstration to Prof. Feser, his posts and his books. I will add however that I think you misunderstand the main objection. The main objection is not that scientists should stop what they are doing and look for non-physical causes for physical phenomena, but rather the naturalistic, scientistic, eliminative reductionism that chucks out a whole range phenomena out the window (see above in free will as a "feeling we have". Of course, if free will is a "feeling" so is likewise rationality), truncates reality, and then triumphantly declares victory. Excuse me if I do not share your enthusiasm.

Ray Ingles said...

"It's one thing to claim that there are pragmatic reasons to accept the validity of Scientism"

Which isn't quite what I said. I said there were practical reasons to reject (a) solipsism and (b) radical incompetence of reason, and practical reasons to accept Ockham's Razor.

Now, given those, some degree of empiricism is inevitable. It doesn't seem that 'Scientism' as defined by Rosenberg (and Feser?) is forced by those presumptions.

"So when some fundamentalist Atheist starts banging on about how there is no God and that science proves it"

Depending on how the concept of 'god' is understood, that can be accurate. And if one accepts Ockham's Razor (as everyone does in practice, in most things) then Laplace's "I had no need of that hypothesis" is perfectly justified.

Ray Ingles said...

grodrigues - "You concede my point that the reduction has not been achieved."

Which is not proof - not even evidence, really - that the reduction can't be achieved. (I've mentioned Haldane's Error here before.)

Other arguments are needed to establish that. Some people think they have them. Others disagree.

Matteo said...

If the LNC fails to hold, then it is safe to conclude that it holds at all times.

This is a valid argument if there is no LNC. That being the case, the LNC holds either way.

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