Philosopher Michael Ruse has an article in the current issue of the academic journal Zygon. It is called, “Why I Am an Accommodationist and Proud Of It.” In it, he proposes to defend the notion that science and religion are simply independent of one another, and therefore cannot really be in conflict.

The article is not freely available online, but I will transcribe a few bits as we go. It is nothing that Ruse hasn’t been saying for years, however. The paper goes on for fourteen pages, but it is ultimately nothing more than God of the gaps stuff. There are certain questions that science cannot answer, so religion has room to insert answers of its own. Done! There’s really nothing more to his argument than that.

After identifying four questions that he says science cannot answer: (1) Why is there something rather than nothing? (2) What are the foundations of morality? (3) What is the nature of consciousness? (4) What is the purpose of it all?, Ruse goes on to write:

There is no great secret about what I am going to say next. I did not choose my four questions deliberately with the next move in mind. But obviously, as I was choosing them, I realized what the next move would be. The questions are questions that go right to the heart of the Christian religion. They do not cover all of the religion, obviously. They say nothing about the Trinity. But they do ask about matters central to the life and thought of the believer. And moreover, thanks to Christianity, they are questions to which the believer thinks that he or she has the answer. Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God, a being who exists necessarily, created heaven and earth as an act of divine goodness. For no other reason, nor is other reason needed. What are the foundations of morality? They are grounded in the will of God. They are that which He had decreed we should do. What is the nature of mind? Being created in the image of God. What is the point of it all? That we should enjoy eternal life with God, our Father.

I think there is a lot to be said against Ruse’s answers, even if we grant Christian theologians a place at the table. But I think there is a more fundamental problem with what Ruse is suggesting. After this paragraph, Ruse writes:

Some general and specific points of qualification are needed. What the Christian cannot do is offer quasi-scientific answers. It is one thing to say that God created freely out of love. That is not a scientific answer. It is another thing to identify the Creation with the Big Bang or some such thing, as one of the popes did in the middle of the last century. That is a scientific answer and illicit. If there is something behind the Big Bang in the temporal sense, it is not God. Apart from anything else, He is outside time and space. The same goes for other answers. One is not solving the mind-body problem in a way that the cognitive scientist qua cognitive scientist would find acceptable. One is offering a different kind of answer entirely.

I wonder, though, how many Christians will be satisfied with this. It is way too facile to say that Christians are offering different kinds of answers from scientists. There is one very important sense in which the answers Ruse puts into the mouths of Christians are, indeed, of a scientific character. The Christian intends his answers to be taken as true statements about the world. Truths, mind you, that you ignore at your peril.

Ruse explicitly endorses Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of “nonoverlapping magisteria,” which is to say that science and religion are just independent of each other. But Gould’s book was savaged by almost everyone who reviewed it, and not just by, or even primarily by, atheists. Many Christian critics objected mightily to the idea that religion’s only role is to lurk in the shadows, dining on whatever scraps remain after science has held forth on the factual reality of the physical world. They do not want independence. They want mutual reinforcement.

Ruse condescendingly grants to Christianity the right to make assertions about things that science cannot definitively resolve. But does Ruse think Christians can have any basis for confidence in the correctness of those assertions? There are distinctively religious ways of knowing, such as the testimony of scriptures and divine revelation. Does Ruse grant any authority at all to these ways of knowing? When Christians make their assertions, is there any reason for non-Christians to pay attention? Or, in Ruse’s view, should Christians just be talking to each other?

Ruse grants to Christians the right to hold forth on the foundations of morality. But how does he react when Christians take the obvious next step, and apply their particular ideas on morality to issues of public policy? When a Christian says that his understanding of God’s will is that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry, does Ruse think that argument should be taken seriously and treated politely? Or does he think instead that’s a lousy approach to morality? I’m sure its the latter, but what, then, of his invitation to Christians to hold forth on the foundations of morality?

What this really comes down to is that Ruse, like Gould before him, is mostly contemptuous of religious belief. He is respectful of religious people I am sure, as am I, but when it comes to the epistemic status of religious claims he is barely to the right of Richard Dawkins. I’m sure he would deny this charge, but it is no less true for that. As an abstract, philosophical question, he sees places where Christians can hold forth without fear of being directly contradicted by science. But as soon as Christians want more than this, when they want to argue that their religion provides factual insights into the world that are not available through other methods of investigation, Ruse will be scarcely more polite than any of the New Atheists.

There is more to Ruse’s essay than I have described. He goes on at some length about the importance of metaphor in science, and that science is committed for some reason to the metaphor of the world as a machine, and that under this metaphor certain questions are impermissible. I’m sure that sort of thing played well among the audience that heard these remarks (the paper is based on a talk Ruse gave at a science/religion conference), but, leaving aside the many dubious claims he makes, none of it strengthens his argument at all. There are certain questions science cannot definitively answer. Fine. You don’t need a degree in philosophy to appreciate that. The issue is whether, when science fails to answer a question, there is something else that does answer it.

I do want to point to his final paragraph, however:

And so, I draw to the end of what I want to say. I shall not be terribly upset (and certainly not surprised) if you do not agree with me in whole or in part. All I ask of you is to appreciate the need for some kind of position as I am advocating–or to provide an argument as to why we don’t need the kind of position I am advocating. I ask you if you don’t like my solution, to provide one in its stead. And to do as I have tried to do–use basic philosophy and history of science, and don’t get seduced into tender-minded thinking. It is not needed and it never really works.

Let me just say that I am all in favor of Ruse’s solution. I would be fine with a system in which Christians agree not to hold forth on the factual reality of the physical world, and to yield to science on all such questions. And I would be fine with a system where they simply talk to each other about what they believe, but don’t then insist that their religion provides special insights that are relevant to public policy. I don’t think the primary pushback against Ruse’s view will be coming from atheists. Rather, I suspect the main hostility will come from Christians, who will think, properly, that Ruse is not really being very accommodating at all.

Comments

  1. #1 James Downard
    Spokane WA
    May 30, 2015

    Ruse (as well as non-accommodations like Jerry Coyne) tread ground covered by many before, including William Clifford & William James, seduced by the religion vs science polarity to stomp back and forth across what is an actual demarcation line: that between decidable empirical knowledge (the domain of science) & undecidable (assumption neccessary) normative matters of belief (the domain of philosophy). Religions invade the decidable side because they carry long baggage trains that make statements about origin of species or pseudohistorical events like the Flood or Babel (other religions have their own sets of course). Secular atheists similarly try to haul the tools of scientific evidence over into the normative domain, forgetting they must make assumptions to decide which undecidable propositions (morality, meaning, etc) they choose to put belief in. I laid out the argument on this in more detail in a 2009 lecture “NOMA Revisited” for the Kennewick WA Freethought Society, pdf at http://www.tortucan.wordpress.com

  2. #2 sean samis
    May 30, 2015

    this should prompt some interesting comments.

  3. #3 Kel
    May 30, 2015

    “All I ask of you is to appreciate the need for some kind of position as I am advocating–or to provide an argument as to why we don’t need the kind of position I am advocating.”
    Every time I read Ruse on this question, this seems like the elephant in the room. So it’s good he’s stating it explicitly.

    I think Ruse is right that there’s a need for it, but I can scarcely imagine many believers would think Ruse (being an atheist) is in the best position to be the person to do it. He has no stake in the outcome, no hold on what kinds of beliefs need to be salvaged with the Christian doctrine, nor the authority to impose a particular theological narrative for Christianity. The best he can do is hint one way, but then it shouldn’t be a surprise when believers reject it.

    What I would be curious about is why Ruse thinks he’ll succeed where so many theologians have tried and failed. When there isn’t a specific Christian doctrine, nor agreed upon methods or shared tenets, isn’t Ruse trying to solve an intractable problem? At least with theologians who hold to certain doctrines, the exercise at least gives an internal consistency. What can Ruse do better?

  4. #4 Verbose Stoic
    May 30, 2015

    I think Ruse is right that there’s a need for it, but I can scarcely imagine many believers would think Ruse (being an atheist) is in the best position to be the person to do it. He has no stake in the outcome, no hold on what kinds of beliefs need to be salvaged with the Christian doctrine, nor the authority to impose a particular theological narrative for Christianity. The best he can do is hint one way, but then it shouldn’t be a surprise when believers reject it.

    I keep coming across what seems to be a popular argument these days about how being dispassionate — ie “having no stake in the outcome” — makes you less qualified to discuss the topic than someone that does, which I think is horribly wrong. If you care about an outcome, no matter what position you hold, you will ALWAYS be more tempted to rationalize the arguments towards the side that you started out supporting. Having no stake in the outcome means that you can evaluate the arguments as they are without worrying about what conclusion they end up with.

    Ruse is an atheist and not religious, which means that if science and religion are incompatible it doesn’t really affect him much, but at the same time he’s not anti-theist/anti-religious, which means that if they CAN be reconciled it doesn’t really affect him much either. This does allow him to be more objective and so makes him a better candidate for doing it than either theists who desperately want religion and science to be compatible or atheists who insist that religion is supernatural and unscientific.

    And my response to “It’s no wonder that believers reject it” is … who cares? If the interpretation is right, then they’re wrong to reject it. It isn’t an argument against either the project or the result that people don’t immediately accept it. This seems to be the result of a naturalistic approach to conceptual analysis: a concept just is what most people think it is. That’s absurd when you’re dealing with any concept that actually matters, because the rough-and-ready folk views were NEVER designed for that sort of detailed conceptual analysis. Relying on them for arguments that need that sort of detailed conceptual analysis really is like trying to do science starting from folk science.

    What I would be curious about is why Ruse thinks he’ll succeed where so many theologians have tried and failed. When there isn’t a specific Christian doctrine, nor agreed upon methods or shared tenets, isn’t Ruse trying to solve an intractable problem? At least with theologians who hold to certain doctrines, the exercise at least gives an internal consistency. What can Ruse do better?

    I think Ruse’s hope might be that as an uninterested party he’ll avoid some of the pitfalls of those who are, and that he’ll be able to do a solid philosophical conceptual analysis that will end up at least furthering the discussion if not solving the problem. Saying that others have tried and failed so why bother for a philosophical issue is about the same as saying that no one has been able to come up with a Grand Unifying Theory yet, so why would anyone even bother to try as if they could do better? Or, really, take ANY scientific question that has puzzled scientists and ask the same thing. Heck, we even have access to new information in a number of fields that might be relevant, just like you see in science.

  5. #5 JimV
    United States
    May 30, 2015

    Dr. Ruse has hedged his position well by talking about what believers think instead of whether what they think makes sense. For example, “Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God, a being who exists necessarily, created heaven and earth as an act of divine goodness.”

    To me that is not an explanation, just some extraordinary assertions. An explanation, such as the evolution algorithm, provides mechanisms which I can understand, and which preferably are observable in nature and testable. Dr. Ruse notes that such assertions are not scientific answers. He avoids dealing with the fact that science is the best way which human thinking has evolved to develop good explanations, which would imply that non-scientific “answers” are as likely to be delusions as truth. In effect he seems to be saying that delusions or possible delusions should be left alone since they are capable of making people happy.

    One of the problems some of us have with this is that if no one is allowed to argue for scientific explanations versus folklore, we would not have the germ theory of disease, for example. So the greatest good for the greatest number (including future descendants) might not be accommodation.

    He would object that he only proposes accommodation for “gap” beliefs, as Dr. Rosenhouse put it, but since science is in the business of filling gaps (including logic errors in claimed theological proofs), calling this accommodation seems a stretch; and as Dr. Rosenhouse says, most of the religious will not accept an accommodation which says their beliefs are tentative and transient, depending on the progress of science.

  6. #6 Michael Fugate
    May 30, 2015

    If one only knew what the methodology of theology was, then we might be able to determine if it can answer questions of any sort.
    Just because science can’t answer some questions, doesn’t mean that theology can. God as an answer to “why there is something” is not helpful unless we can understand the mind of this God. I can’t see theology getting us to that understanding.

  7. #7 eric
    May 30, 2015

    All I ask of you is to appreciate the need for some kind of position as I am advocating–or to provide an argument as to why we don’t need the kind of position I am advocating.

    We don’t need it, because there is no deeper philosophical or metaphysical requirement that religion and science be compatible.

    What the Christian cannot do is offer quasi-scientific answers.

    Well since I just looked it up yesterday, below is Pope Pius XII, doing what Ruse says a Christian cannot do. I would say that since Ruse’s argument requires one to classify “the Pope explaining true vs. false Catholic theology” as not real or proper religion, that’s a pretty good indication that Ruse’s argument is wrong.

    36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

    37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]

    References 11 and 12 are, respectively:
    11. Cfr. Allocut Pont. to the members of the Academy of Science, November 30, 1941: A.A.S., vol. XXXIII, p. 506.

    12. Cfr. Rom., V, 12-19; Conc. Trid., sess, V, can. 1-4.

  8. #8 eric
    May 30, 2015

    VS:

    I think Ruse’s hope might be that as an uninterested party he’ll avoid some of the pitfalls of those who are,

    In my opinion, he hasn’t (avoided the pitfall). In fact he seems to be making the exact same misstep that Gould made, intentionally: he is trying to put borders on what “legitimate” religion can say.

    To my mind, that’s just plain absurd. If you take seriously the idea that there are God or Gods and that it/they occasionally communicate with humans, how can someone in Ruse’s or Gould’s position claim to know that these Gods could not communicate empirical claims? You can’t. If one or more believers are really receiving messages from God, those messages absolutely could be science-like statements. So I think Jason is right about Ruse being somewhat condescending or contemptuous towards religious belief; because when Ruse says that religion cannot make such claims, he’s implying that he doesn’t consider even for sake of argument that believers could be receiving messages from an external entity.

  9. #9 Deepak Shetty
    May 30, 2015

    All I ask of you is to appreciate the need for some kind of position as I am advocating–or to provide an argument as to why we don’t need the kind of position I am advocating.
    Did he actually make a case why anyone actually needs religion to be compatible with science ? The religious could for e.g. realize its made up and just move on. Why does Ruse feel religion needs to be preserved?
    (As such I dont have an issue with Ruse’s position as long as the religious agree that Government needs to be secular and there is no need for exceptions to be made for it)

  10. #10 Kel
    May 30, 2015

    “Having no stake in the outcome means that you can evaluate the arguments as they are without worrying about what conclusion they end up with.”
    In many cases, I agree. But in this case, the lack of stake is a problem because Christianity is a largely experiential belief system. So one major issue with not having a stake in the outcome is that the bits that people may deem essential for non-rational reasons are the first to go with a rational account.

    “Saying that others have tried and failed so why bother for a philosophical issue is about the same as saying that no one has been able to come up with a Grand Unifying Theory yet, so why would anyone even bother to try as if they could do better?”
    That’s comparing apples with unicorns. Scientific theories are a different problem to the problem with the various kinds of thought of what is important in Christianity. When there is disagreement over the basic methods, disagreement over the important aspects of the dogma, and no way to settle theological disputes, we are talking about something very different to science where difficult problems don’t have the added burden of being emotionally satisfactory to people who have crafted an identity around a Grand Unified Theory.

  11. #11 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    May 30, 2015

    Verbose Stoic #4: I keep coming across what seems to be a popular argument these days about how being dispassionate — i.e. “having no stake in the outcome” — makes you less qualified to discuss the topic than someone that does, which I think is horribly wrong…

    I think the distinction you need is uninterested vs. disinterested.

  12. #12 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    May 30, 2015

    As many others have pointed out again and again, the main problem with non-overlapping magisteria is that the religious side is totally incapable of staying on their side of the fence. That is also what the above post says in much more polite and reserved terms.

    (1) Why is there something rather than nothing? (2) What are the foundations of morality? (3) What is the nature of consciousness? (4) What is the purpose of it all?

    Apart from Ruse’s answers all being complete non-answers, I would argue that he hasn’t even found a gap. (2) and (4) have clear answers, although many people don’t like them – a mixture of biological evolution, social evolution, and making stuff up in the first case, and “there is none” in the second. Physicists have provided answers for (1) even if they do not appear very intuitive to laypeople (e.g. “nothing is an unstable state” – was that Weinberg? Not sure).

    And I do not even understand the question behind (3). To me, consciousness is the higher functions of a meat computer being switched on and turning their attention to something that it is then conscious of. I have the suspicion that no matter what answers neuroscientists would provide, theologians would always respond with “not good enough” or “that is not what I meant”, just like a creationist when presented with plausible scenarios how something would have evolved. I also have the suspicion that there is some severe question-begging behind the religious and philosophical insistence that there must be something super-mysterious about consciousness.

  13. #13 Richard Wein
    May 31, 2015

    Disclaimer: I haven’t read the paper, so I’m not sure I’ve seen the core of Ruse’s argument. But I’ll respond to the quotes given here.

    Ruse’s criterion for the acceptability of Christian answers seems to be that they mustn’t be “quasi-scientific”. Unfortunately the quoted passages are unclear about what he means by this. He seems to consider it quasi-scientific to claim that God caused the Big Bang, but not that “God created heaven and earth”. What is the significant difference here? I suppose that mentioning the Big Bang is a little more specific and gives a slightly sciencey veneer to the claim, but I don’t see a clear and substantial difference.

    What the Christian cannot do is offer quasi-scientific answers.

    What kind of “cannot” are we talking about? As far as I can see, the most we can say is that some answers are so bad as to be intellectually (rationally, epistemically) beyond the pale. But this distinction is an extremely fuzzy one, and I can see no good reason to equate it (in the case of Ruse’s questions) with giving “quasi-scientific” answers (another very fuzzy distinction). It seems to me there are other moves that are as intellectually unacceptable as giving quasi-scientific answers (on any intepretation of that term that I can think of). A very common error in theological answers is misuse of language. To be fair, it’s quite common is secular philosophy too, but it tends to be particularly egregious in theology. Is that really much more acceptable than quasi-scientificness? I can’t see the justification for saying, in effect, that quasi-scientificness is the one and only criterion for putting an answer beyond the pale.

    I ask you if you don’t like my solution, to provide one in its stead.

    Solution to what? What is the problem Ruse has set out to solve? I can’t see that mentioned in Jason’s post.

    As I see it, we should judge the merits of any answer, based on all relevant considerations, and (where appropriate) make some judgement as to its overall epistemic merit. It’s a bad idea to adopt demarcation rules. I know philosophers often think it’s their job to discover formulaic rules, with necessary and sufficient conditions. I think they should pay more attention to Wittgenstein.

  14. #14 Richard Wein
    May 31, 2015

    After identifying four questions that he says science cannot answer: (1) Why is there something rather than nothing? (2) What are the foundations of morality? (3) What is the nature of consciousness? (4) What is the purpose of it all?

    I think it can reasonably be said that those questions are more philosophical than scientific. But I state that as a matter of degree (“more”). I reject the sharp demarcation lines that accommodationists tend to draw. “Science” and “philosophy” are both very fuzzy, context-dependent terms. It’s in the nature of language that it forces us to divide things into a number of discrete categories. Science or philosophy. Child or adult. Hill or mountain. We then tend to essentialise these categories, and treat them as more distinct than they really are, assuming that there must be a fact of the matter as to which category a given instance falls into. Of course, if we got into an argument over whether a particular geographical feature was really a hill or a mountain, we might suspect that we were arguing over little or nothing. But in other cases people tend to feel that there’s a lot at stake, even when there isn’t. For many people there’s a significant fact of the matter to be settled about whether a given question is a scientific one or a philosophical one. That’s not to say that it’s never useful to make that distinction. Fuzzy distinctions can be useful. But problems arise when we lose sight of that fuzziness and we think in an overly essentialistic way. Essentialistic thinking is particularly encouraged when we reify nouns, and say things like “science does such-and-such”, as if science was a well-defined entity.

    One of the reasons people see philosophy and science as more distinct than they are is that philosophers have traditionally approached philosophy in misguided ways: too deductive, too a priori, etc. When you take a more naturalised, scientifically-informed approach to philosophy, it looks less distinct from science. (Of course, if you’re comfortable with the more traditional ways of doing philosophy, this won’t impress you.)

    Perhaps the biggest difference between science and philosophy (done properly) is that philosophical questions tend to require much more conceptual clarification. But that’s still not an absolute difference: scientists have to clarify their concepts too. Sometimes philosophical questions are so incoherent that, once the conceptual confusion has been dispelled, there’s little or no substantive question left to answer. I’d say that at least one of the four questions above falls into that category. But I’m not going to discuss them specifically.

    I hesitate to say that Christian answers to these questions are strictly “inconsistent with science”. But I’d say, as Jason has in the past, that they’re “in tension” with science. The more our thinking is informed by science, the less likely we are to accept such answers.

  15. […] I see Jason has written a longish reponse to Ruse, and then another post in which he describes how he first decided to publish a rebuttal to […]

  16. #16 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    May 31, 2015

    Agreed that the boundary is fuzzy, but these questions? Expect for #4 they are all clearly empirical, clearly to be answered by the natural sciences. And even in the case of #4 empirical evidence has a big contribution to make.

    That is not to say that science necessarily already has the answer to everything at this moment. But #1 is astrophysics, #2 is a mixture of evolutionary biology and historical and social sciences, and #3 is neurobiology. I have no idea how a philosopher can even begin to answer any of these questions except by making wild guesses.

  17. #17 couchloc
    May 31, 2015

    Some appear to think that the four questions Ruse mentions are basically scientific. I think those who think this should maybe read a little more widely since Ruse has a point here. Just on topic #3 (consciousness) there are many who’ve concurred with certain philosophers that there are not good scientific answers available. Here is just one example:

    David Barash, biologist,
    “the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it.”

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/the-hardest-problem-in-science/40845

  18. #18 Kel
    May 31, 2015

    The hard problem of consciousness is a philosophical non-starter. Why should we think that through introspection we can conceive of the relationship between matter and consciousness? It doesn’t really tell us anything about whether Zombies are physically possible and thus not anything useful about the nature of consciousness to physical reality.

  19. #19 JimV
    United States
    May 31, 2015

    The nature of consciousness doesn’t seem extremely hard to me – that is, the question of how does consciousness work. I think what some people are struggling with is, why does consciousness feel the way it feels as we experience it. That seems to me to be the same sort of question as “why does a rose smell like a rose?” A rose evolved to attract pollinating insects by releasing certain chemicals. Those chemicals cause the sensation known as the scent of the rose. If they didn’t produce some sensation, the rose would have tried something else. The same is true for consciousness – it had to feel like something to be experienced and how it feels is that way that we experience it (in this universe).

    I think that how it works is like the operating system of a computer, such as Windows on PC’s. Windows does not do spreadsheet calculations, but when the user clicks the Excel icon, Windows starts the Excel program takes user inputs from the keyboard and mouse and passes them on to Excel. When Excel calculates some value, it passes it back to Windows to display on a PC screen. Similarly, our consciousness parses external inputs and passes data on to neurons for processing, and receives back results. It does not monitor the background neural activity (there are no nerves for that) so in many cases the answer seems to come out of nowhere – just as Windows does not know how Excel does its calculations.

    That is probably simplistic and perhaps totally wrong, but it is a start, and whatever the right model is, neuro-scientists will find it. They will probably never answer the question of why consciousness feels as it does, but who cares?

  20. #20 Michael Fugate
    May 31, 2015

    Whatever the answer is – it won’t be theologians who find it and it won’t be revealed to someone by a god either.

  21. #21 Phil
    May 31, 2015

    “If they didn’t produce some sensation, the rose would have tried something else.”

    Right. Perfect. The brilliance of tinkering roses.

  22. #22 couchloc
    May 31, 2015

    “whatever the right answer is, neuro-scientists will find it.”

    This is merely an expression of faith on you part I think. There is no evidence that the problem can be solved by neuroscientists as the solutions offered never seem to deal with the central difficulties involved Barash describes. Ruse himself would agree that theologians won’t find the answer either. His point is that we should accept that these are “open” problems and, as such, theological answers can’t be excluded a priori.

  23. #23 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    May 31, 2015

    couchloc,

    Has it occurred to you that the question might be so “hard” because it doesn’t have any intelligible meaning? That is what I meant with question-begging the mystery.

    How god can be one and three at the same time is also so hard a question that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it. But that doesn’t mean it is a question that makes sense in the first place; it might just be gibberish that somebody has come up with based on ludicrous premises.

  24. #24 Kel
    May 31, 2015

    There’s already very good evidence showing that brain activity is tightly coupled with consciousness. Brain injury alters or impairs consciousness. Different neurochemicals alter thought and behaviour. Brain activity is directly connected with physical action in the body. If consciousness is not brain activity, then how do we explain all the science that says otherwise? Indeed, if it’s not our brains that are conscious, then what could consciousness possibly be? To say something other than brain is involved not only goes outside the evidence we have, it introduces something completely beyond all science.

  25. #25 Kel
    May 31, 2015

    I would say there are definitely hard problems of consciousness – we currently lack the conceptual language needed to make sense of consciousness. But the hard problem isn’t the best way of representing those difficulties because philosophical zombies can’t really tell us much beyond our intuitions about mind and matter.

  26. #26 Michael Fugate
    May 31, 2015

    theological answers can’t be excluded a priori.

    Snort! Oh do tell how theology can answer anything. It is a field without a method.

  27. #27 Phil
    May 31, 2015

    “I would say there are definitely hard problems of consciousness”

    The hardest would be how it originated. Naturalism has two elemental mechanisms to work with; random mutations and natural selection. The latter is not in view as it is only removes failures, so it must be the former. Consciousness, and everything associated with it has to be the result of DNA replication errors. There is nothing else available.

  28. #28 JimV
    United States
    May 31, 2015

    Re: brilliance of roses – the trial and error of evolution is what I had in mind, but in fact I think human thinking works pretty much the same way. Certainly human design does, based on my experience as a design engineer. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, brilliance is to keep trying a thousand light-bulb filaments until one of them works.

    Re: faith in neuro-scientists – if you went back in time and showed my laptop PC to a medieval philosopher, he would probably describe its working as “the hard problem of the magic box” (or whatever he called it), and be as skeptical that humans would ever figure out how it did its amazing feats. Currently, computers can beat the best chess-players at chess and the best Jeopardy-players at Jeopardy. This gives me a justified confidence that computers could, in principle, given enough program development and processing power, do any mental feat that humans can do. (And yes, they can also prove theorems and design things.) (Although currently no super-computer yet has the processing power of our 70+ billion neurons and trillion of synapses.) We figured out how to make computers and program them, one step at a time. They can do the sorts of things humans do with their brains without any magic, so I see no reason why brains require magic, and if it isn’t magic we can figure it out, one step at a time. (How they work, that is, not why they experience certain sensations, such as the smell of a rose or the color red, in the specific way that they do – other than the fact that unique sensations are a evolutionary requirement for distinguishment.)

  29. #29 Phil
    June 1, 2015

    JimV,

    “the trial and error of evolution is what I had in mind, but in fact I think human thinking works pretty much the same way”

    Not quite. Human thinking instantly and significantly eliminates anything that is not a solution, and deliberately focuses and on things that could be. There is no equivalency with random accidents; no reasoning, no focus, no application….no ‘works’.

    “To paraphrase Thomas Edison, brilliance is to keep trying…”

    No ‘trying’ either.

    ===

    Discussions like this always remind me of Jastrow, who was hardly a slouch in his disciplines. He didn’t recognize that there are consequences associated with tardy awareness, but he seemed to anticipate the outcome:

    “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
    ― Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers

  30. #30 Kel
    June 1, 2015

    “The latter is not in view as it is only removes failures, so it must be the former. ”
    It’s simply not the case that natural selection only removes failures. An allele that confers a survival advantage over a rival allele can be positively selected for.

    Though I think it would be a mistake to try to understand variation and selection as separate. Natural selection is the outcome of the differential reproductive fitness of the variation. That is, the selection is the relation of the variation to reproductive fitness. You can’t separate out the two without destroying the concept.

  31. #31 Richard Wein
    United Kingdom
    June 1, 2015

    Couchloc wrote:

    His point is that we should accept that these are “open” problems and, as such, theological answers can’t be excluded a priori.

    We don’t have to know the correct answer to a question to know that some sorts of answers are bad ones. Even if we don’t know what consciousness is, we know lots of things that it isn’t. For example, it isn’t a pink blancmange. Many answers in philosophy (and particularly in theology) are not just factually wrong but conceptually confused. The conceptual errors of theologians are not quite so obvious as saying that consciousness is a pink blancmange, but they’re often apparent to people with their eyes open.

    Resolving the 4 questions above is primarily a matter of clarifying concepts, not a matter of giving causal explanations. Invoking God is not going to help here. Insofar as theologians think it helps, that’s because they’re conceptually confused. For example, invoking God can’t resolve the question of why there is something rather than nothing, because God is a something. To get around this obvious problem, theologians have traditionally made the move of declaring God to be a “necessary being”. As philosophers have often pointed out, at least since the time of Bertrand Russell, this is an abuse of language, a conceptual error. Similarly, the problem of consciousness lies in trying to understand what consciousness is (or what we mean by “consciousness”), not saying what made consciousness happen, so “God did it” won’t help.

    On top of this, I would say we have sufficiently good reason to doubt the existence of God that we can consider any invocation of God to be misguided. I don’t expect you to agree with this, but I hope you would agree that there are at least some supernatural entities about which we can say such a thing. I hope you would agree that we can reject any explanations that invoke the tooth fairy. In that case, you can’t claim that the absence of a natural explanation is sufficient reason to refrain from rejecting the invocation of a particular supernatural entity.

    And by the way, I think there are already some cognitive scientists and secular philosophers (like Daniel Dennett) who are in the right ball park as far as explaining consciousness is concerned.

  32. #32 Richard Wein
    United Kingdom
    June 1, 2015

    I still haven’t seen Ruse’s paper, but I’ve read some more extracts, at Jerry Coyne’s blog, including some of what Ruse has to say about “metaphors”. Oh dear, oh dear. It really is bad.

    A paradigm/metaphor simply is silent about things outside its domain. I say my love is a rose. I am telling you that she is beautiful and fresh and much else. If I am being funny, I might also mean that she is a little bit prickly. I am not telling you whether she is an atheist or an evangelical, whether she is good at mathematics or has trouble with simple arithmetic. It is not that the metaphor is saying she isn’t an atheist or an evangelical. It is not saying that this is not an important question. It is just that it is not asking about this at all.

    How on earth is metaphor relevant here? Any proposition or theory is about some things and not about other things. Metaphor has nothing to do with it. Ruse then goes on to massively overstate the significance of the “machine metaphor” in science. He makes no attempt to explain how the “machine metaphor” is supposed to work, or justify the claim that it’s at the “root” of science (at least in the passages I’ve seen). His attempts to make use of the “machine metaphor” are vacuous.

    Of course you can ask questions about what came before the Big Bang and that sort of thing. But that is not quite what the fundamental question is asking. It wants to know the answer to the very fact of existence. The machine metaphor takes this for granted.

    Even if it’s true that science takes the existence of something for granted, invoking the “machine metaphor” does nothing to support that point. Ruse is just using the term “machine metaphor” as a fig leaf for avoiding any genuine examination of the issues. Maybe it’s good enough to just say that science obviously takes the existence of something for granted. If you think so, then drop the fig leaf and say so.

    You cannot go from the way that the world is—-which is what science under the machine metaphor tries to describe and understand—-to the way that the world ought to be—-which is the moral question.

    Again, the “machine metaphor” does no valid work here. The claim that science depends on a “machine metaphor” can’t sensibly be used to justify the claim that science only addresses the way that the world is, since (I would say) the former claim is more controversial than the latter. But both claims are vague, and what’s really needed here is clarification, not invoking another vague (and superfluous) concept. The “machine metaphor” just works here as a pointless, obfuscatory middleman. (I say, cut out the middleman. Pour your beer straight down the toilet!)

    I’m tempted to say that Ruse has been reading too much theology, and he’s picked up bad habits from theologians.

  33. #33 eric
    June 1, 2015

    Couchloc:

    His point is that we should accept that these are “open” problems and, as such, theological answers can’t be excluded a priori.

    I don’t exclude them a priori, but I don’t consider them anything more than vague hypotheses until theologians come up with reproducible tests of their ideas, actually do the tests, and publish data showing their hypotheses are supported.

    Phil;

    Human thinking instantly and significantly eliminates anything that is not a solution, and deliberately focuses and on things that could be.

    Are you saying we never get anything (significantly) wrong? Really? It seems to me we do not “instantly and significantly” eliminate non-solutions. Religion is a great example: if you were right about how the human mind works, we would have at most one of them.

  34. #34 Brain Molecule Marketing
    http://brain4biz.wordpress.com
    June 1, 2015

    Philosophy is a dead language. No philosophical statement can either be proven or disproven. BTW, the same is true of theology-magical beliefs and economics and the other humanities.

  35. #35 Michael Fugate
    June 1, 2015

    BMM, that’s just stupid.

  36. #36 Richard Wein
    United Kingdom
    June 1, 2015

    Another quote from Ruse (taken from Coyne’s blog):

    . . . A machine is a material object and that almost by definition is not a thinking entity. This is not to say that machines cannot think. If the cognitive scientists are correct, they can. It is rather that thinking in machine terms alone does not explain thinking. To put the matter another way, the only satisfactory solution to the mind–body problem is Cartesian dualism—res extensa and res cogitans—and that has to be false. I don’t think the problem can be solved, and I am certain it cannot be solved by science.

    Ruse seems to contradict himself. On the one hand, Cartesian dualism is “the only satisfactory solution to the mind–body problem”. But on the other hand, it “has to be false”. How can a solution be satisfactory if it has to be false?

    I guess the point is that Ruse finds these matters paradoxical. He’s torn between two intuitions that he can’t reconcile. But I think he’s being too quick to conclude that, just because he can’t resolve the problem, no one can. As for whether it can be “solved by science”, I think solving the “hard problem” is a matter of clearing up conceptual confusion, which is more philosophical than scientific. But then again, sometimes scientists are capable of avoiding such conceptual confusions in the first place, or of getting themselves out of confusion without the help of philosophers. If the so-called “hard problem of consciousness” is the mirage that some philosophers (like Dennett) say it is, then some scientists might address the real, answerable questions without being distracted by the mirage.

    I think we should set aside the “hard problem”. Even if it’s not a mirage, there’s plenty to do that doesn’t require a solution to the hard problem. Indeed, I would say that focusing on the hard problem gets in the way of people seeing the answers to the less hard problems, such as “intentionality”. It contributes to nonsense like the Chinese Room Argument. And it seems to me that solving the less hard problems helps to dispel the mirage.

    One problem with Ruse’s overstated “machine metaphor” is that it encourages him to focus on material stuff, which is mostly not the right level of abstraction for thinking about the mind. Once we set aside the “hard problem”, then what’s left is more a matter of “software” than of “hardware”. That’s why I think cognitive science is more relevant than neuroscience (but I’m not saying neuroscience isn’t relevant at all).

    People often base their conception of science too much on physics. It would be more useful to think in terms of a spectrum, from the “hardest” most precise science (particularly physics) to softer sciences like biology, and on to the human “sciences” like psychology, and then to the humanities. All of these disiciplines are involved in describing (modelling) reality. They’re not fundamentally different enterprises. (I exclude the arts, and those parts of the humanities that are in the business of prescribing rather than describing.) The reason physics is so precise is because it’s usually dealing with simple systems, with relatively few (or isolatable) interactions. The reason the human sciences and humanities are much softer is because they’re dealing with the behaviour of arguably the most complex system there is: the human brain. That means they depend on higher-level, fuzzier abstractions, and they’re modelling behaviours that are much less predictable. People who have a simplistic and over-physics-oriented conception of science are liable to say that high-level, mental concepts like beliefs are by definition “not matters for science”. But the only reason they’re any less “scientific” than the concepts of physicists is that they’re much fuzzier. That’s basically a matter of degree, and while the degree is significant, it doesn’t amount to a reason for drawing an essentialistic demarcation line and declaring the mind to be on the non-scientific side of that line. There are often good practical reasons for separating the harder disciplines from the softer ones, and that’s why by convention we don’t usually group history (for example) with the sciences. But, again, we shouldn’t mistake such useful conventional groupings for essentialistic categories.

  37. #37 JimV
    United States
    June 1, 2015

    @Phil, the history of science is full of wrong ideas that human minds did not instantly eliminate. The analogy with biological evolution is very plain to see: the fittest ideas (those that fit the most verified data) survive and reproduce themselves into the minds of new generations whereas less fit ideas gradually die out. (Of course some people neglect the step of verification vs. reality and so their bad ideas persist.)

    What goes on in our background neurons as individuals evaluate ideas is not consciously known, since there are no nerve cells which monitor our neurons, but just as a computer program can evaluate a randomly-generated design alternative versus a list of desired properties, that could be what those neurons are doing.

    A few years ago I set myself a New Year’s resolution to find an independent, personal proof of Fermat’s Prime Theorem, which I had read about (but not seen a proof of) in Simon Singh’s book “Fermat’s Enigma” (which is mainly about Fermat’s Last Theorem, but mentions his other work).( FPT says that every prime of the form 4N+1 is the sum of two squares.) It took me ten or eleven months of daily work to find what I consider a convincing proof. In the process I filled a notebook, with mostly approaches which did not work, but in the process I learned things and bit by bit assembled enough knowledge. This process convinced me that thinking works much like natural evolution.

    Neils Bohr and many others have made observations consistent with this, such as, “An expert is someone who has made every possible mistake in a narrow field.” Einstein: “Every mathematician makes mistakes; good mathematicians find them.”

    Brent R. Stockwell: “There is a popular notion about new ideas in science springing forth from a great mind fully formed in a dazzling eureka moment. In my experience this is not accurate. There are certainly sudden insights and ideas that appear to you from time to time. Many times, of course, a little further thought makes you realize it is really an absolutely terrible idea… But even when you have an exciting new idea, it begins as a raw, unprocessed idea. Some digging around in the literature will allow you to see what has been done before, and whether this idea is novel and likely to work. If the idea survives this stage, it is still full of problems and flaws, in both the content and the style of presenting it. However, the real processing comes from discussing the idea, informally at first… Then, as it is presented in seminars, each audience gives a series of comments, suggestions, and questions that help mold the idea into a better, sharper, and more robust proposal.”

    Thomas Edison: “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”

    Priscilla Long, wondering why schizophrenia persists across generations, points to a link between the illness and creativity:
    “Imagination, suggests Princeton molecular biologist Lee M. Silver, is related to the brain’s “noise” (random firings of neurons, or nerve cells), thus generating more associations. Brain scans of people with schizophrenia and their unafflicted family members show mega-amounts of random noise. Brain scans of control subjects (no schizophrenia in the family) do not.”

    I have more quotes in this spirit, but really the sentiment is quite commonplace and I am surprised anyone thinks thinking is somehow a magical and unerring process, rather than a process of evolution.

  38. #38 Michael Fugate
    June 1, 2015

    It has pointed out to phil numerous times that his beloved Bible depicts a God who uses trial and error to accomplish tasks – has to experiment to reach a better solution. Alas, it goes over his head every time.

  39. #39 couchloc
    June 1, 2015

    Ruse claims that consciousness is an “open” problem and not settled by science. I don’t see that anything said here reveals this to be wrong. Indeed, several commentators seem to make his point. Alex SL at #16 first says the problem of consciousness is “clearly empirical, . . . to be answered by the natural sciences.” But then at #23 he says “the question might be so “hard” because it doesn’t have any intelligible meaning.” If the question lacks intelligible meaning, one can wonder how it can be “answered” by the natural sciences? Richard Wein then offers another view that the problem concerns “a matter of clarifying concepts, not a [empirical] matter of giving causal explanations.” And a fourth answer is given in the Barash article where he says he has no idea how to solve the problem. So here in this site we see there is no consensus about how to address the problem at issue. How is this not making Ruse’s point for him? The second issue about how to address theological solutions to the problem I won’t take up here. Ruse thinks theology should at least have a seat at the table and there is no good way to exclude it a priori. I’m not sympathetic to theology myself, but this perspective doesn’t strike me as so unreasonable.

  40. #40 eric
    June 1, 2015

    Ruse thinks theology should at least have a seat at the table and there is no good way to exclude it a priori. I’m not sympathetic to theology myself, but this perspective doesn’t strike me as so unreasonable.

    IMO the seat is there; they mostly refuse to sit in it. ‘Sitting at the table’ here means formulating your ideas as testable hypotheses, and actually doing the work to test them and report back the results. As far as I know, that is not something the vast majority of theologians are interested in doing today.

    Look, the tools of science are out there for anyone to use. And there are some pretty deep pockets in the religious world. If the RCC or Ahamson or Templeton or any other religiously-focused organization or benefactor chooses not to use their resources to do science on their theological propositions, then that can hardly be blamed on the scientific community. Its not our obligation to study your pet topic. But you are more than welcome to do so. You just choose not to (for rhetorical ours and yous).

  41. #41 Oran Kelley
    Michigan
    June 1, 2015

    I’m glad to see this somewhat more nuanced view of NOMA than I’m used to seeing among anti-accommodationists.

    Just a couple of points: NOMA’s unpopularity among scientists is essentially because it is really a political (not a philosophical or scientific) proposal. It is a proposal that gives religion the opportunity to save face and some sway in the normative & aesthetic realms. Science gets questions of fact. Now as rigorous reason, NOMA certainly lacks for something, but that’s not what it is for. It is a proposed modus operendi, not a final answer to all the philosophical questions it touches upon. the fact that many on the scientific side failed to see this is rather reassuringly naive (how unworldly of them!), but nonetheless naive.

    A number of other objections get raised about this: for instance, that religious adherents are never going to abide by this division of the faculties. But the proposal is not a proposed law , it is a framework within which to see the relationship between religion and science. If the framework is widely adopted, then those encroachments will be seen as encroachments. It doesn’t make them go away. But then again nothing is going to.

    Another objection is that certain religious people will never accept this framework. But these same people are, essentially, the encroachers we mention above. We can’t judge a proposed framework on the basis of absolute unanimity. Someone’s predilections are going to be looked upon badly through any reasonable framework of judgment. Those of a murderous bent object to our insistence that murder be vigorously suppressed. But so what? The question is not whether NOMA will be happily accepted by those whom it is designed to disadvantage, the question is can we get most people on board with it?

    Another objection is that the is/ought divide is insupportable, or unstable, or that the line moves with scientific progress. All of these things are worth bearing in mind, but none, I think, is really a knockdown argument for what is meant to be a political framework for judgement.

    (For instance, research into the *origins* of human morality, really don’t answer ought questions. That research tells us about certain behavioral traits and certain predilections we might have. They do not answer questions of ought, since morality has traditionally largely been about DENYING our predilections, not just fulfilling them. Morality is sometimes even about denying or sublimating some of our needs for reciprocity.)

    Anyhow, a thoughtful article. I only wish Ruse’s was available for a first hand look.

  42. #42 Michael Fugate
    June 1, 2015

    Ruse essentially is trying to float a feedback loop between science and religion – but he can’t quite tell us how religion or theology influences science. I could understand a feedback between science and philosophy or history or art, but what does religion or theology have as a means for generating knowledge? Can anyone answer that?

  43. #43 eric
    June 1, 2015

    @41:

    NOMA’s unpopularity among scientists is essentially because it is really a political (not a philosophical or scientific) proposal.

    Correct. But even as a political proposal, it fails (IMO). People are certainly allowed (and should be allowed) to cite theological and religious reasons for supporting various social policies. And when it comes to elected representatives, it is critically important that we be allowed to understand something of their decision-making processes not just their planned outcomes; it helps us to decide who will be our best representatives. Preventing people from discussing their religious position on worldly matters (because we deem it illegitimate to have a religious position on worldly matters) strikes me not just as unworkable, but as a really terrible idea. I want to honestly debate with people their motivation and thought processes; I don’t want to demand one type of motivation be verboten and then watch as everyone charade-acts that they don’t have it.

  44. #44 Verbose Stoic
    June 1, 2015

    Kel,

    In many cases, I agree. But in this case, the lack of stake is a problem because Christianity is a largely experiential belief system. So one major issue with not having a stake in the outcome is that the bits that people may deem essential for non-rational reasons are the first to go with a rational account.

    There’s no reason that a rational account has to dispense with personal experiences. It can indeed allow for them and take them into consideration. This is, again, I think the pernicious influence of the scientific approach to rationality which insists that all experiences have to be vetted publicly to be meaningful or real or rational, which is clearly false. I can say things about myself that only I have experienced, and can point out what the rational approach is to something that someone else has experienced and I haven’t. So therefore there is no reason to assume that a rational assessment of Christianity will eliminate the experiential … and if that really is essential to Christianity it wouldn’t be a good analysis if it did.

    Scientific theories are a different problem to the problem with the various kinds of thought of what is important in Christianity. When there is disagreement over the basic methods, disagreement over the important aspects of the dogma, and no way to settle theological disputes, we are talking about something very different to science where difficult problems don’t have the added burden of being emotionally satisfactory to people who have crafted an identity around a Grand Unified Theory.

    I’d almost reduce this to the simple answer of “That’s different, because that’s not science”. My answer, essentially, is that while the other factors might be more challenging, most of those are indeed things that you find in pretty much any philosophical discussion, and I did say that that’s what this is. Unless you claim that philosophy will never find any answer to this or any other questions, there’s no reason to dismiss it out of hand.

  45. #45 Verbose Stoic
    June 1, 2015

    Kel,

    This is, again, I think the pernicious influence of the scientific approach to rationality which insists that all experiences have to be vetted publicly to be meaningful or real or rational, which is clearly false.

    In hindsight, I REALLY think this was a bit harsh, so I apologize for that.

  46. #46 JimV
    United States
    June 1, 2015

    @couchloc: I agree there are unsettled scientific questions and in fact I am not sure there are any totally “settled” scientific questions (except in a relative sense, that Theory B is better than theory A); just as biological evolution has produced us but we could be greatly improved in many ways, scientific evolution is ongoing and may improve on everything it now accepts, including General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. As other commenters have said, theologians are welcome to conceive testable theories and submit them for peer review.

    My issue is that Dr. Ruse seems to be prepared to accept theological submittals of the form, “It’s magic and god did it.”, which in my opinion are indistinguishable from “I don’t know how it happened or how it works.” The peer reviewers will then ask, what is the mechanism by which god did it, and where is this god of whom you speak, among other questions and I think the submittal will be rejected.

    Note that those sorts of theological “answers” are in fact intended to close off inquiry rather than increase our knowledge, since “the ways of god are unknowable” and “god doesn’t do tests”. Science by its nature cannot accept such answers, but will always keep trying, just like biological evolution. It may never “settle” every question, but it will not accept non-answers as answers.

  47. #47 Oran Kelley
    Michigan
    June 1, 2015

    @eric

    “Preventing people from discussing their religious position on worldly matters (because we deem it illegitimate to have a religious position on worldly matters) strikes me not just as unworkable, but as a really terrible idea. I want to honestly debate with people their motivation and thought processes; I don’t want to demand one type of motivation be verboten and then watch as everyone charade-acts that they don’t have it.”

    Well . . . that’s politics really. Politics is more like a poker game than a field of study. This is what we are faced with in the political realm–people who may be just ritually displaying an allegiance rather than talking about something that’ll actually happen; people pretending to be motivated by one thing when they are actually motivated by something else; people supporting a) on the way to getting x). That’s a lot of what politics *is*. A lot of it is just a load of bs, a lot of it is just different interest groups playing their hand as best they know how. “Transparency” just can’t be the standard in a case where we are playing with incomplete information and important stakes. It can be the ideal, but it can’t be the standard. We’ve got to move this game quite a ways further along to get to a point where the ruses (sorry) can be left to the side. Meanwhile, that’s the game we’re playing.

    In that context, I see NOMA as a pretty good high ground to occupy, it looks generous and open handed, but gives nothing substantial away.

    And we’re not talking about *forbidding* people from saying anything. We’re talking about trying to introduce some rules of engagement that will put certain kinds of argument at an immediate disadvantage: like “because I say so.” In the public realm that sort of reasoning immediately rouses resentment and rejection. It isn’t forbidden, but one seldom hears it.

    If NOMA were more generally and explicitly adopted, you’d see certain kinds of argument less often (my old book says x, so everyone should be bound by it), but it’s not as if this kind of argument gets much traction now. Anti-gay-marriage amendments were mainly pushed in the general public with all kinds of misdirections and ruses and scare tactics, NOT through mere appeals to dubious authority.

    In a lot of ways, NOMA is already the status quo. Very few cable networks call the local Baptist minister to explain why the shuttle crashed (unless he’s on some sort of freak-show segment). No one calls the local cosmologist to explain the latest mass shooting or the latest trend in anti-depressant use.

    NOMA really just spells out and expands codes we are already living by.

  48. #48 Kel
    June 1, 2015

    “There’s no reason that a rational account has to dispense with personal experiences.”
    I’m not claiming otherwise. It wasn’t about dispensing with personal experience, but the opposite – that the personal experiences of believers would not be given their proper weighting by someone who lacked those experiences.

    “So therefore there is no reason to assume that a rational assessment of Christianity will eliminate the experiential”
    My highlighting of the experiential was to say that an outsider might not be able to grasp the personal significance of the experiences when doing their analysis; that certain points of significance would be more easily cast aside when they don’t fit compared with someone who had their belief bound up in that experience.

  49. #49 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    June 1, 2015

    couchloc,

    There is no mystery here. My view is that the question as insisted upon to be hard by certain philosophers and theologians is deliberately obfuscating so that it can remain forever mysterious; but that doesn’t mean that science cannot answer a more sensible variant of it, even if it hasn’t yet. No “what is it like to be a bat”, but for example “what wiring in the brain makes an organism conscious, and how, and what are the evolutionary advantages?”

    I mean, perhaps we could start with specifying the question? Whatever you pick, I am sure we will see that it is either unanswerable in principle (the bat thing) or that it falls into empirical science because it will be an equivalent to “how does the brain’s memory work”.

  50. #50 Kel
    June 1, 2015

    “Unless you claim that philosophy will never find any answer to this or any other questions, there’s no reason to dismiss it out of hand”
    I won’t make that claim about philosophy (though it sometimes has that problem – there are still philosophers who hold to Idealism) but I would make that claim about theology, as there are a number of domain-specific problems in theology that don’t even in principle have a way to resolve it – such as which instances (if any) of revelation are essential and to what extent they are. How to interpret religious experiences is another case, as is the right way to interpret dogma, or even to what extent natural science should be used to understand the belief.

    And in practice, it’s worse. We have such a divergence of belief even among a single religion that it’s difficult to see how one could tease out the right methods of forming truth beliefs for the religion. That there’s a divergence of beliefs about God from being a person to a personification, when there’s a divergence between how to interpret the Bible, of what presence God has in the world and how to detect God, the problems becomes intractable in practice.

    Perhaps you know of the right way to make theology tractable, or have at least an outline of how theology could be tractable. I would wager, however, that it won’t be persuasive to any believer that doesn’t share the same background assumptions as you do. Maybe I’m wrong about this, in which case I’ll be happy to see just how theology is made tractable. I’m just sceptical it can be done, either in theory or in practice.

  51. #51 Phil
    June 1, 2015

    Kel,

    “It’s simply not the case that natural selection only removes failures. An allele that confers a survival advantage over a rival allele can be positively selected for”

    Selected for what?

    The popular perception of natural selection is pretty much like archaic ether, some kind of permeating force. It is in fact, nothing at all. Organisms that are suited to their environment generally survive, and those that are not, generally do not. It is not a discriminating fairy.

    That said, the vigorously ignored point about mutations still stands. Consciousness, for materialists, has to be the result of random DNA replication errors. There is nothing else to appeal to.

  52. #52 Oran Kelley
    Michigan
    June 1, 2015

    @#50

    Why assume that it is necessary or even desirable for theology to become “tractable.” It isn’t there to enforce unity of viewpoint, it is there to provide a context and vocabulary for disagreements to take place. As such it is highly preferable to bombs and guns, wouldn’t you say?

    And the very non-systematic way in which theological discussions proceed means they talk about all kinds of other things that don’t really have anything necessary to do with dogma or our relationship with god or gods. And here they sometimes have some good things to say. Much like historians or English professors or novelists might. Theology is absolutely not the science of the non-scientific, it isn’t meant to be, and it would do no good trying to be.

    Religion and “theology” as most people understand it aren’t coextensive. The non-overlapping magesteria Gould wrote of and (judging by this article) Ruse is thinking about are *religion* and science. Not theology and science.

    And religion, at core, isn’t about answering science types of questions. Of course, for the simpleminded, it provides some, but they are generally unsatisfying. If someone is truly bothered about why there is something rather than nothing, how can they NOT be bothered by the question of why there is a god and not nothing? The god answer simply doesn’t answer the question. The god answer shows that the question itself was completely inconsequential.

    Religion is worrying and working at questions like what does this all mean? Why is this important? Who am I? What should I be doing with my life? How can I go on after my wife suddenly died? Why should I go on? Why should I quit my debilitating drug habit? Why shouldn’t I be cruel if it amuses me? Here science’s answers are about as helpful as religion’s origin stories are as science. And I don’t see that changing because science itself (rather than scientism) is just not about providing these sorts of answers.

    BTW: The best answer from a skeptical viewpoint on the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” seems to me to be “What do you mean by ‘Why’?”

    If you mean “For what purpose” then you have a lot to unpack, because who is it that you imaging who would have a purpose for the existence of the universe? Your question is not a question: it is an assumption that there is, in fact, a god.

    If you mean “as a consequence of what” then we’re still in the woods a bit . . . you are assuming that there is a something previous to all somethings that would cause there to be something and not nothing. The question is just a hopeless muddle, but an understandable one given the fact that the asker is probably trying to fit the cosmic into a viewpoint entirely designed for and shaped by the day-to-day and minute-to-minute.

  53. #53 Kel
    June 1, 2015

    “Selected for what?”
    A phenotypic expression that aids reproductive fitness in comparison to rival alleles that do not.

    If a bird is attracted to the redness in a potential mate, then an allele that causes birds with the allele to be redder than birds without is statistically more likely to get more mating opportunities than birds without the allele. So all things being equal, the allele that makes birds redder will spread through the population over time.

    Selected-For as opposed to selection-of.

    ” Consciousness, for materialists, has to be the result of random DNA replication errors.”
    It’s a trivial point in the sense that all biological variation arises this way, and as we can see from the variation in nature, the mechanism is capable of coming up with some quite amazing features. But it’s misleading to talk about the variation without the selection as selection is what shapes traits through time. The importance of any variation in the Darwinian view is how they aid in reproductive fitness.

    And realistically-speaking, what are the other options? If you ignore naturalism for the moment, how else could we account for consciousness in biological organisms? Indeed, given our consciousness is related to our survival and reproduction, shouldn’t we think NS is a good hypothesis to explain consciousness? Hunger, thirst, pain, fear, love, etc. all serve evolutionary functions. So if we posit something outside of evolution, then what job does something outside of the evolutionary process add to it?

  54. #54 Phil
    June 1, 2015

    eric,

    “Are you saying we never get anything (significantly) wrong?”

    In terms of design, of course we do. But anyone who conceives of something is already ahead of the game. If I want to build a walkway across my back yard, my first choice for the best material is not going to be wax.

    For a natural production, think about venomous snakes. There are multiple systems involved. Fangs, targeting mechanism, strike musculature, eye coordination, toxin production and storage, etc., all with genetic controls and all neuro-wired to the brain. There is no way in hell that trial and error random errors could possibly arrive at such an integrated system. To corner just one detail, how many DNA replication failures would have to occur before accidental glands would produce an accidentally suitable venom?

    ===

    kel,

    “And realistically-speaking, what are the other options? If you ignore naturalism for the moment, how else could we account for consciousness in biological organisms?”

    Well I guess if you momentarily ignore naturalism, you’d automatically have to consider something extra-natural.

    “Indeed, given our consciousness is related to our survival and reproduction, shouldn’t we think NS is a good hypothesis to explain consciousness?”

    Enter the selection fairy. For discussion purposes, let’s just assume that selection is immensely wise and powerful, and given something to select, it will make the right choice and do the right thing with unflinching devotion.

    However, if no gracious, helpful, fortuitous DNA replication errors occur, selection is like a magnificent postal system with no fill-in-the-blank mail to deliver.

    I am continually stunned about this. Something is really wrong with contemporary science education.

  55. #55 Phil
    June 2, 2015

    Michael Fugate,

    “It has pointed out to phil numerous times that his beloved Bible depicts a God who uses trial and error to accomplish tasks – has to experiment to reach a better solution.”

    I don’t recall that happening at all. But it is more than obvious that the only thing you despise more than my beliefs are the sappy notions that you accept, but are not willing to defend. With so much stalwart faith invested in random mutations, why do you avoid trying to explain how they work?

  56. #56 Kel
    June 2, 2015

    “you’d automatically have to consider something extra-natural.”
    But what is the extra-natural? If all we have is that it’s not natural (that in itself would need proof) then all we’ve done is say what it isn’t. “Extra-natural” would be nothing but a placeholder for our ignorance!

    “However, if no gracious, helpful, fortuitous DNA replication errors occur, selection is like a magnificent postal system with no fill-in-the-blank mail to deliver.”
    Indeed. This is only a problem, however, if you’re aiming for an existing distant target – but evolution as a process doesn’t work like that. Instead what matters is what aids in the struggle for existence at that time, for that organism. And as we see around us, that process running over 4 billion years produces quite a number of ingenious and contingent solutions.

    Is the problem that there’s no guarantee of consciousness in an evolutionary view? If so, so what? If not, then what’s the fuss about? Can’t consciousness be a much a product of evolution as an eye or a web-building behaviour in spiders?

  57. #57 JimV
    United States
    June 2, 2015

    @Phil, re venomous snakes:

    I am not a biologist and know nothing about the subject, so I typed “evolution of venomous snakes” into Google. It turns out there is a lot of information available and many answered questions, by people who have been studying this issue – for only the 30 years or so that DNA research has been possible! It is amazing what people can achieve who don’t give up, but keep trying, making mistakes but finding them and trying something else and so evolving better answers. Almost as amazing as what biological evolution has done with random mutations of septillions of genes (in parallel) over billions of years. It seems arrogant to me to make claims about what that massive amount of natural evolution (unsimulatable for more than a few years by all the computers presently on this planet working together) cannot do without having done any detailed study.

  58. #58 eric
    June 2, 2015

    Oran @47:

    “Transparency” just can’t be the standard in a case where we are playing with incomplete information and important stakes. It can be the ideal, but it can’t be the standard.
    …In that context, I see NOMA as a pretty good high ground to occupy, it looks generous and open handed, but gives nothing substantial away.

    I agree with you on your first point. Where we differ is I see NOMA as moving us away from ideal transparency, not towards it. Any rule that says you politically ought not express motivation or belief X in relation to some empirical claim moves us away from transparency.

    We’re talking about trying to introduce some rules of engagement that will put certain kinds of argument at an immediate disadvantage: like “because I say so.”

    If that’s someone’s real reason for espousing a policy, I want to know it. I don’t want them to feel socially obligated to dress it up in fancier language. Now yes I agree with your comment “that’s politics.” Yes people often will dress it up. But I see NOMA as encouraging such bad behavior rather than discouraging it.
    Not only that, but it is occasionally legally critical that people be honest about their motivations. Because of our first amendment, our representatives acting ‘as’ government cannot act to endorse a religion over others or over non-belief. If you fashion a NOMA-rule which says people ought not declare such motivations, you are essentially muddying up the waters; encouraging people to lie on the stand by saying that’s what’s socially expected of them. I don’t want that!

    Look, I get what Gould and Ruse are doing; they are trying to change minds, trying to get people to think more rationally and stop using revelation-based arguments for empirical claims. If they succeed, the world will be a better place for it. But as long as people are using revelation-based arguments for empirical claims, I think the best course of action is that we all communicate honestly back and forth about that.

  59. #59 eric
    June 2, 2015

    Oran @52:

    And religion, at core, isn’t about answering science types of questions.

    And here’s the key problem. You may not view religion that way, but people do, and they have just as much a legitimate claim to say their religion is about answering science types of questions as you have to say yours isn’t.
    For me, this again goes back to whether you are treating the underlying metaphysical claims of religion seriously or not. Believers say their God(s) communicate with them. There is no good philosophical reason to assume such entities would limit themselves to statements about morals or aesthetics or dietary restrictions. Could God communicate “E = mc^2”? YES, if he exists and wanted to. So I really don’t see how someone like you, Oran, can make the claim like the one you make above. To say that religion can’t or shouldn’t involve science-like statements is to start with the assumption that these claims to be communicating with external, knowledgeable entities is false. Even worse, its an attempt to say that no legitimate religion will claim such communications. This is just patently false and unrealistic. Its viewing religion through very liberal lenses of what you want it to be, rather than viewing it as it is: a claim of communication with an external, powerful, entity, which can send us any sort of message he/she/it/they wants.

  60. #60 eric
    June 2, 2015

    Phil:

    To corner just one detail, how many DNA replication failures would have to occur before accidental glands would produce an accidentally suitable venom?

    Many. But then again, there are billions of entities of many different species descending with modification, over thousands of generations, and there are thousands of positive-adaptive venom outcomes.
    Now if venom evolved, we should in principle be able to observe intermediates: past or present snake species with less sophisticated toxins or more ‘primitive’ production glands. We see that. Genetically, what we should see is that the genes for production of more sophisticated venoms are variations on the genes for production of less sophisticated ones. We see that too. In this specific case, more complex venoms appear mostly to be a result of first duplication errors (making too many copies of a gene) followed by errors in the duplicate leading to more sophisticated cocktails being produced.
    Supportive of the evolutionary theory (but not necessarily something we would predict) is the fact that there are nonpoisonous snakes with inactive venom-producing genes. This makes absolutely no sense under a Intelligent Design concept, but makes perfect sense under evolution, in which an adaptation that is not that useful will suffer genetic changes rendering it inactive over time.

    See, that’s the difference between creationism an evolution. Under creationism, you didn’t even bother to look to see what empirical evidence might show. The research was there, but as far as you’re concerned you have your answer, it’s pat, and you have no interest in testing it. We explore; we attempt to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. We study snakes to figure out how venom originated. We throw away hypotheses when they don’t pan out. This work has produced hundreds if not thousands of peer-reviewed publications discussing the empirical evidence for the origin and evolution of snake venom, all out there for anyone interested in learning how it happened. But as a creationist, you aren’t, so you don’t. You simply make the argument from incredulity. Powerful stuff! Um…maybe not.

  61. #61 couchloc
    June 2, 2015

    Alex SL,

    “My view is that the question as insisted upon to be hard by certain philosophers and theologians is deliberately obfuscating so that it can remain forever mysterious”

    It is clear you dislike philosophers from your comments. Maybe then you can simply focus on the article by the biologist David Barash I gave who agrees with Ruse that science has no explanation for the nature of consciousness and is written rather clearly. Or do you intend to dismiss the work of biologists too? Or what about the neuroscientist Sam Harris who accepts the hard problem? Is he also being obfuscating? Forgive me if I’m flip but your attempt to dismiss it isn’t terribly persuasive.

  62. #62 Michael Fugate
    June 2, 2015

    I see NOMA and accommodationism as solutions that create more problems than they solve. Instead of unifying they are dividing. If, as eric points out, revelation works, then it can’t be restricted to just normative statements; a god should and could be able to provide positive statements if it so chooses. Religious experience either works or it doesn’t and if it does we need to figure out which experiences are true communications from gods. If it doesn’t, we can write off religion entirely and stick to moral philosophy and ethics for normative problems. Thinking is never clear cut – we use all kinds of tools as in Dennett’s “Intuition Pumps” – some science some philosophy some history and so on. There is too much of this – science can’t answer this – therefore religion. That science cannot answer a question in no way justifies religion – religion must be justified on it own. Organizations like the NCSE or the NAS seem to want us to accept without comment that since people are religious, then religion is a way of thinking or knowing on par with science. Never once do they tell us how religions think or know. It hinges on what religious experiences actually are and if they are data as believe by theologians like John Hick or Ian Barbour.

  63. #63 eric
    June 2, 2015

    If, as eric points out, revelation works, then it can’t be restricted to just normative statements…

    Well, hypothetically it could be. God could restrict himself to talking to us about women’s spring fashion if he really wanted to. The point is, we don’t know what restrictions there are on God’s communications…and neither does Ruse or (posthumously) Gould. So when they make a claim which is functionally identical to ‘God wouldn’t talk about X,’ we should dismiss it as not true (they don’t know any such thing) and not helpful (it seems to be a preaching to the choir sort of outreach; the only ones who will accept this rule of debate are the ones you have no substantive disagreement with).

  64. #64 Michael Fugate
    June 2, 2015

    Yes, I should have said that we have no reason to believe a god would only transmit normative statements – it can’t be “necessarily” restricted – if there are any gods out there and they feel like talking, that is.

  65. #65 couchloc
    June 2, 2015

    For those who might be interested, Eric MacDonald has some things to say about Ruse’s view here.

    http://choiceindying.com/2015/06/02/jerry-coynes-reply-to-michael-ruse-and-the-difficulty-of-thinking/

  66. #66 eric
    June 2, 2015

    @65: thanks for the link. I’ll read it tonight but given that the first 1,000+ words don’t even address the complaints about Ruse, I’m not optimistic.

  67. #67 eric
    June 2, 2015

    After all, if Ruse is Chamberlain, then who represents the sciences (in the comparison)?

    The people who opposed the Nazis. MacDonald is implying Hitler = science (in Coyne’s metaphor), but he’s getting Coyne’s metaphor completely backwards when he does so. Another bad sign.

  68. #68 Michael Fugate
    June 2, 2015

    Thanks, couchloc. I mainly agree with Eric’s post. A couple of points made me pause though: 1) I don’t think there is a right way to practice religion like there is a right way to practice science. I couldn’t tell you who is practicing any religion correctly and how one would know if he or she were. 2) I don’t see how religious answers to questions that science can’t answer are relevant a priori. When he brings up consensus among religions – it is not only religions, but also secular philosophy that has joined the consensus – there is nothing special I can see about religious answers to set them apart from non-religious answers. I would contend that any answers are most likely derived using the same methods.

  69. #69 eric
    June 2, 2015

    I do not think that Coyne can demonstrate that we are molecular machines.

    If by ‘demonstrate’ he’s asking for a proof, science can’t do that. But if he just means strong evidence – a ‘good case,’ then yes, IMO science has done that. First by showing over and over again that messing with the molecules messes with the behavior. If humans aren’t molecular machines, why does ethanol change the way I think? Change the brain and behavior changes. Secondly, because of the absolute, complete, and utter failure on the part of dualists or others to provide evidence for any other contributor to behavior. Okay non-machinists, propose your alternate testable hypothesis for the source of human cognition. Got one? If I say Sagan’s Dragon in the Garage is the source of my human cognition, then that hypothesis has about equal evidential status as the soul hypothesis, doesn’t it? They are equally well supported, right? And if you don’t take the former seriously because of the utter lack of support for it…

    The machine metaphor is a metaphor, which some naturalists, like Coyne and Rosenberg, have taken for the plain truth.

    I pull this one out only because Rosenhouse recently posted on the subject, and maybe this is a typo?

    First, a god that could be proved to exist by empirical means would not be the God worshipped by the great religions.

    Holy cow, Prof. MacDonald, what about the bible? Pillars of fire by day? Poke your hands in my wounds Peter? Both Yahweh and Jesus both seemed to have no problem at all giving strong empirical evidence when it suited them. I get that some liberal Christians think this is all metaphor, but they simply can’t credibly claim to speak for the whole religion or claim that nobody ought to think differently than they. It is simply not true that either of the biblical characters Yahweh or Jesus had a problem with giving empirical evidence of their divine power.

    What he claims to have shown is that there are some fundamental questions that science can’t answer, where religious answers are at least relevant, whether they can make good on their promise or not.

    Well this is sad. I get to the end and discover there’s not one word on Rosenhouse’s actual complaint (even though he seems to be mentioned, albeit incorrectly). Not one word on the second quote in Jason’s argument, where Ruse makes a claim about what religion can’t (or shouldn’t) say. Hey look, I don’t know whether science will answer those four questions first, or ever. I don’t want to get into the debate about how much theology contributes to them either. Ruse is wrong when he says “What the Christian cannot do is offer quasi-scientific answers.” Ruse is wrong when he calls such moves illicit. Prof. MacDonald, if you’re reading it, what do you have to say (if anything) in defense of those comments by Ruse? How can Ruse possibly claim that revelatory communications by God could not include quasi-scientific content? How can Ruse credibly imply that, for example, Pope Pius XII’s encyclical discussing the reality of an actual Adam and Eve is illicit religion? If your definition of ‘religion’ does not include Popes making formal comments on Roman Catholic doctrine and faith, then I have to say, you really need to re-examine your definition.

  70. #70 Oran Kelley
    Here
    June 2, 2015

    “You may not view religion that way, but people do,” Really? How many people do you know with bible-based cell phones? Or who fly in authentic bible-era fiery chariots? Or who had a triple bypass based on a passage in Ezra? I don’t know any, because pretty much no matter how strongly you believe, you cede knowledge of these things to scientists and engineers. Origins is a special category mainly because that’s what’s at the beginning of the bible and that’s the bit that everyone knows. And for the typical person it’s trivia anyway. By and large religious people happily cede scientific questions to science. You are judging the whole by the exception. The exception is worth paying attention to, but it doesn’t characterize the general reaction, which is effectively to view science as not having anything to do with religion.

  71. #71 Oran Kelley
    Here
    June 2, 2015

    “its an attempt to say that no legitimate religion will claim such communications.”

    You are completely misunderstanding my point. Religion will, of course, make forays into areas that aren’t it’s natural area of concentration and has nothing to do with it reason for being. Institutions tend to be imperialistic and such is life. What I am saying is that providing quasi-scientific answers to scientific kinds of questions is not why religion is here. Religion was not here as the hapless stand-in until we got science. Religion was performing other functions and moved into explaining thunder etc. as a minor sideline. That they might try to defend what elements of that sideline they’ve still go a foothold in is to be expected. Again, NOMA isn’t a code of behavior I expect religious zealots to sincerely adopt and abide by. It’s a framework within which more reasonable people can judge the behavior of religious zealots (and others, of course).

  72. #72 Michael Fugate
    June 2, 2015

    Oran, I think the question that you and everyone else advocating NOMA/accommodationism is – Is there any reason to concede moral or philosophical questions such as the four Ruse highlighted to religion? Are religions equipped to answer these questions – if so how so? Just because they have supplied answers doesn’t make the answer good or better than a say a moral philosopher. Do religions have a good track record of answering moral questions well? I can think of many issues where I wouldn’t take the traditional religion view as correct.

  73. #73 eric
    June 2, 2015

    @70:

    “You may not view religion that way, but people do,” Really? How many people do you know with bible-based cell phones? Or who fly in authentic bible-era fiery chariots? Or who had a triple bypass based on a passage in Ezra? I don’t know any, because pretty much no matter how strongly you believe, you cede knowledge of these things to scientists and engineers.

    So in your reality, there are no Christian Scientists eschewing vaccination and effective medical treatment for prayer? There are no creationists in your US? Funny, in mine, they make up about 40% of the population. It is ludicrous to suggest that everyone cedes knowledge of all material things to science. The standard theistic behavior, at least in the US, is to cede most things to science but carve out some exceptional areas for religion. And *that* attitude is utterly at odds with the NOMA concept, because it is a clear defense of the notion that religions can legitimately make claims about the material world.

    You are judging the whole by the exception.

    Gallup and other polls show about 42% of the population things God created humans in their present form, another 31% believe God intervened to guide evolution, and only 19% believe in unguided evolution the way scientists would describe it. That’s a minimum of 42% of the population you’re calling “exceptions.” They outnumber the non-exceptional ‘cede it all to science’ crowd by a good 2 to 1. There’s also that big 31% who sit in the middle, not ceding everything in theory to science, but ceding so much in practice that the difference may be moot.

    Religion will, of course, make forays into areas that aren’t it’s natural area of concentration and has nothing to do with it reason for being.

    No again, I strongly disagree. On what grounds do you say that claims about the world are not a natural area of concentration of religions? On what grounds can you claim that Gods never or can’t start religions for the purposes of imparting knowledge about the world? Do you know the minds of these Gods? Do you know that their primary goals do not include imparting information about the physical world? No, you don’t know that. You are trying to demand that everyone treat religion as if its a social invention of humans. Now I personally believe that’s what it is, but I’m not going to try and win that debate by defining “proper religion” to be what I think it is. That point must be won through argument, it can’t be defined away by liberal theists who want everyone to just get along. Religion ought only concern normative and other similar questions? I’m on the side of the fundies in answering that: who the frak made you guys the deciders of what religion has to be? Are you going to tell them their revelations from God don’t count as proper religion because, sorry, your God told you E=mc^2 rather than Thou shalt not kill and only Gods who say stuff like the latter count as properly religious? How preposterous.

  74. #74 Phil
    June 2, 2015

    Kel,

    “And as we see around us, that process running over 4 billion years produces quite a number of ingenious and contingent solutions.”

    I see almost endless specialties. I don’t see anything that looks accidental.

    What do you mean by “contingent”?

    ===

    JimV,

    “Almost as amazing as what biological evolution has done with random mutations of septillions of genes (in parallel) over billions of years.”

    Stated as a fact, but if you start asking questions about these mutations, it is hard to get any kind of hard data. Anyone doing a google search about mutations should notice that the noticeable results are generally unpleasant. Yet somehow, in spite of the tangible evidence, the idea that random replication screw-ups actually build hyper-complex things prevails. I think that if you really dig into the many questions you think have been answered, what you’ll find is speculation piled on top of assumptions.

    Concerning billions of years, there was a time when the genes and controls behind any specialized system, and accompanying subsystems, did not exist. There is always a time parenthesis, and curiously enough, all we see are what you could call finished products.

    ===

    eric,

    “you didn’t even bother to look to see what empirical evidence might show….This work has produced hundreds if not thousands of peer-reviewed publications discussing the empirical evidence for the origin and evolution of snake venom”

    There are, numerous papers written and published about all kinds of things. But in the two that you linked to, could you pull out some examples of empirical evidence?

  75. #75 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    June 2, 2015

    couchloc,

    No, I do not dislike philosophers at all. This is a very specific issue.

    It would be helpful if you could specify which formulation of the “hard problem” you consider to be at the same time unanswerable by science and (this is important) answerable by something that isn’t science, because otherwise we are guaranteed to talk past each other.

    Again, “what does it feel like to be a bat” is not a question that is answerable full stop. Religion won’t provide an answer, theology won’t provide an answer, philosophy won’t provide an answer, although at least some philosophers are damn proud that one of them came up with the question. But is it an interesting question in the first place? I at least don’t really see what we would even get out of it there was an answer to be had. Perhaps it was never meant to be answerable, fair enough, but then it doesn’t serve to show the limitations of science any more than the limitations of all reasoning.

    On the other hand, after we have defined what we mean with consciousness (and here philosophy has a big role to play), the really interesting questions are on the lines of “what part of the brain produces consciousness?”, “how does the brain produce consciousness?”, “is it a gradient so that you can be 30% conscious, or is it something that an organism either has or hasn’t?”, “are ravens conscious, and if so, are they conscious in the same way as we are?” and suchlike. And all those questions are ultimately empirical and will not and cannot be addressed by writing a philosophical essay, much less by writing a theological one.

    What annoys me is that when I was previously pointed towards two philosophical works commonly considered seminal on the issue (one of them the blasted bat paper), they were written in such an extremely obscurantist and obfuscating manner that it didn’t even become clear what the authors meant with the most important terms they were throwing around.

    And yes, I have read philosophy that is actually clearly written and helpful; Hume and Mackay come to mind.

  76. #76 Kel
    June 2, 2015

    “What do you mean by “contingent”?”
    The dictionary definition of contingent suffices – ‘dependent on circumstances’.

    Evolution is a highly contingent process. If we think of an allele that arises that gives a mammal thicker hair, then that might help the animal thrive in a cooler climate, but struggle in a warmer one. Two populations of the same species over time would have different alleles that deal with the local conditions that animal lives in. Hence, the process is highly contingent.

    One vivid illustration is mimicry of life. There are butterflies, for example, that are poisonous to eat. These butterflies have distinct markings to warn off would-be predators. There are also non-poisonous butterflies with similar markings. Why? Because if would-be predators see the markings, they would think the meal is poisoned and avoid it. But that can only occur where it is true that would happen. So the particular markings are contingent on the markings of the actual poisonous butterfly. This same pattern can be seen in the eggs of the cuckoos depending on which bird they lay eggs in the nest of. It’s of no survival value to mimic a bird it doesn’t lay eggs in, but does for birds they do.

    In other words, what works for the evolutionary view is what works in the here-and-now. And over history, what material there is to work with its shaped by what helped the organisms ‘win’ in the struggle for existence in generations past. So evolution is a highly-contingent process, and understanding any organism now requires understanding both its current environment as well as its evolutionary history – both contingent elements.

  77. #77 couchloc
    June 2, 2015

    Alex SL,

    If I have misread you my apologies. In this context I am merely defending Ruse’s claim that science cannot solve the problem of consciousness. I don’t believe this requires me to show that the problem is answerable by something that isn’t science; Ruse only needs to show that the problem is scientifically “open” for his purposes. I think there’s something to say about what the answer is, in fact, but I won’t discuss that here.

    Focusing on this more limited point I don’t see that the issue is settled/or settlable by science. Merely focusing on this thread suggests there is wide disagreement about how to explain consciousness. You suggest the answer is empirical and about finding “how does the brain produce consciousness.” R. Wein thinks the problem is really a conceptual matter (philosophical) and concerns concepts. Barash thinks the solution is inconceivable and he has no idea. S. Harris thinks there is no neuroscientific account that works and we’ll understand more through examining our thoughts. I think it is sufficient in this setting for me to merely point out that there is no consensus on the matter. Given the wide range of views being offered, it is unclear which should be preferred. For you to suggest “the answer is empirical” is merely to raise your voice in a large and varied crowd of theories about what the answer is. Even from within science there’s no agreement because Barash and Harris (and Eccles, Penrose, Koch, Witten, Crick!) disagree on the answer. That is enough for a reasonable person to conclude the issue is open. I’ll add that I happen to think Nagel is pretty clear on the matter (I have read some of his earlier work, I suppose). But I won’t delve into the details of his views here since I don’t think that’s needed. In my view he is not being deliberately unclear but merely trying to get at the truth as best he can.

  78. #78 Kel
    June 2, 2015

    “the problem is really a conceptual matter (philosophical) and concerns concepts.”
    An issue here is that scientists are just as much in the business of solving conceptual matters as philosophers are. So appealing to the problem being conceptual isn’t an argument against scientists being qualified to handle the problem. Philosophers may be better at certain kinds of conceptual thinking and have a better arsenal of tools at their disposal, but I wouldn’t think it fair on scientists to exclude them categorically in this manner.

    In this case in particular, it’s hard to see what in principle could exclude scientific reasoning from playing a part in the solution to consciousness. Once all the neuroscience is understood, is there any argument that would demonstrate categorically that consciousness still wouldn’t be? If not, then we have no reason to say science can’t say something about the phenomenon. At best, we could say that current science cannot make headway, but our lack of understanding about the nature of consciousness cuts both ways. That since we lack an understanding of what consciousness is, we lack the ability to categorise the problem.

    150 years ago, we lacked a scientific understanding of the nature of time. Advances in late 19th and early 20th century physics changed that. 200 years ago, we lacked an understanding of organising principles in nature. Mid 19th century natural science changed that. These were conceptual advances made by scientists doing science. So it’s hard to say that science can’t be what progresses a needed conceptual advance.

  79. #79 Richard Wein
    United Kingdom
    June 3, 2015

    couchloc:

    R. Wein thinks the problem [of consciousness] is really a conceptual matter (philosophical) and concerns concepts.

    That doesn’t do justice to what I wrote. It’s the kind of dichotomising view that I rejected. (No offence taken or intended. It’s not easy to get past the dichotomising, essentialistic way of reading language that comes to us naturally.)

    Kel:

    An issue here is that scientists are just as much in the business of solving conceptual matters as philosophers are. So appealing to the problem being conceptual isn’t an argument against scientists being qualified to handle the problem. Philosophers may be better at certain kinds of conceptual thinking and have a better arsenal of tools at their disposal, but I wouldn’t think it fair on scientists to exclude them categorically in this manner.

    I basically agree, though I would be wary of saying “just as much”, since this could be taken as denying any difference of degree. Scientific language tends to be relatively precise, and the meanings of scientific terms tend to be pretty much fixed by the ways that they’re used. For example, I don’t think there’s much of a conceptual problem with the word “atom”. The word “species” is rather more fuzzy, but still far clearer than many of the words philosophers struggle over. That said…

    1. The distinction between conceptual matters and substantive matters can itself be fuzzy. When physicists explain the behaviour of atoms in terms of sub-atomic particles and/or quantum physics, are they just engaging in substantive explanation, or are they also clarifying the meaning of the word “atom”? (I would classify this mostly as substantive explanation.)

    2. The questions philosophers address tend to be much more in need of conceptual clarification than those of scientists, but it doesn’t follow that philosophers sufficiently see the need for conceptual clarification, let alone that they’re good at it. Some philosophers are good, but generally I would say that philosophers are themselves pretty conceptually confused, or “bewitched by language” to paraphrase Wittgenstein. (“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”)

  80. #80 eric
    June 3, 2015

    Phil:

    There are, numerous papers written and published about all kinds of things. But in the two that you linked to, could you pull out some examples of empirical evidence?

    Nope, read them yourself. You ask for info on evolution, we give you some. I ask you for your alternative scientific mechanism, you ignore the request. Repeat, over and over. Tell me your alternative scientific mechanism for the origin of species. How did it happen, and how can we test your idea? Then I’ll consider writing more on this subject. After all, its kinda a waste of my time: we both know you’ll demand a level of data that is ridiculously unreasonable, like what you already did (a number count of every mutation between some ancient nonvenomous ancestor snake and current venomous ones).

  81. #81 eric
    June 3, 2015

    couchloc @77:

    I am merely defending Ruse’s claim that science cannot solve the problem of consciousness. I don’t believe this requires me to show that the problem is answerable by something that isn’t science

    Sorry to butt in but that seems ridiculously narrow. Ruse has a purpose for making that claim, and that purpose is to defend a role for theology. You really aren’t defending Ruse’s substantive argument if you defend a claim he uses as a premise, but don’t defend the conclusion he draws from that premise. Claiming science can’t solve X, with no “therefore…” attached to it, draws a giant “so what?” from me. Why should I care about your de minimus claim if its not associated with a proposed alternative for solving X? And I agree with Kel that the ‘can’t solve X’ formulation is something of a snipe hunt; we can find out a lot about X, and if what we find doesn’t meet some philosopher’s requirements for explaining consciousness, well, this is about as important to me as the fact that no matter what evolutionary scientists discover, it will never meet Phil’s requirements for demonstrating evolution.

  82. #82 couchloc
    June 3, 2015

    Unfortunately I don’t have time to reply to all the comments raised, some of which make valid points. I’m working now and have already commented too much on this thread. Let me merely say that I think the problem isn’t really solved by all the possibilities being mentioned. I don’t have time to go through the whole set of reasons why some think consciousness doesn’t have a scientific answer. This is why I have pointed towards scientists like Barash and S. Harris who themselves accept the hard problem. As Barash wrote in his piece (who is a scientist, Eric, not someone with a “philosopher’s requirements for explaining consciousness”): “It’s a hard [problem] indeed, so hard that despite an immense amount of research attention devoted to neurobiology, and despite great advances in our knowledge, I don’t believe we are significantly closer to bridging the gap between that which is physical, anatomical and electro-neurochemical, and what is subjectively experienced by all of us….”

    Most of what one needs to know about the problem is contained in this passage. Barash thinks with Nagel there is no good way to understand how appealing to neurological states can explain the subjective properties of our mental states. You can reply (as Kel does) that science evolves over time and in the past has solved its problems. That’s fine in its way, but realize this is an inductive argument from the past history of science, and inductive arguments aren’t guaranteed to have true conclusions. Science is not guaranteed to be able to solve all its problems and there are a long list of difficulties in the area of consciousness. Barash himself has also replied to this suggestion when he says: “To be sure, there are lots of other hard problems, such as the perennial one of reconciling quantum theory with relativity, whether life exists on other planets, how action can occur at a distance…. But in these and other cases, I can at least envisage possible solutions…. the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it.” This seems right to me and why I think some of the suggestions made don’t get to the bottom of the issue. I realize this isn’t entirely satisfactory as a reply to each of your points, but that’s the best I can do right now. Bye.

  83. #83 Michael Fugate
    June 3, 2015

    Much of the time I want to say a pox on both their houses – one side is presuming to tell everyone else how to practice their religion (atheists like Ruse, science organizations like the AAAS, NAS and NCSE) and the other is telling everyone not to practice religion at all. It is hubris on a grand scale. Neither side is willing to put their hypotheses about effective teaching strategies to a test. In light of the recent scandal over changing minds on marriage equality, we desperately need well designed and executed studies on how best to educate. It would seem that science organization would have the resources to do this, but we get nonsense like the AAAS’s DoSER and the NCSE’s “How to Read the Bible”.

  84. #84 eric
    June 3, 2015

    couchloc:

    As Barash wrote in his piece (who is a scientist, Eric, not someone with a “philosopher’s requirements for explaining consciousness…

    Different people must decide for themselves if they think an explanation is “sufficient” for some goal or not. If your goal is operative or practical (i.e., concerned with modeling and predicting how different empirical phenomena affect consciousness), I’m fairly confident that science will lead to a greater understanding and achievement of that goal in the future. For other goals, science’s mileage may vary. I think however, even at this early stage, there is very strong evidence that neural signaling produces experience, even if how is still up in the air. And to answer the dualists, the that answer is sufficient to say they’re (tentatively, subject to future revision based on data updates, etc…) wrong.

    “…the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it.”

    If you were just experiencing neurological signals with no added subjectivity component, what would you expect that to feel like? IOW, if not this feeling, then what feeling?

    Secondly, unless you are willing to go the (horrific) Cartesian route and claim all non-sentient animals are automata, it seems to me your hard problem of consciousness actually has nothing to do with consciousness. It has to do with subjective experiencing regardless of whether sentience is involved. Either you say that bat has no experience at all (which in the past lead to horrific animal abuse), or you say that bat is sentient (which seems to run contrary to evidence), or you admit this is not a hard problem related to sentience at all.

  85. #85 Kel
    June 3, 2015

    “That’s fine in its way, but realize this is an inductive argument from the past history of science, and inductive arguments aren’t guaranteed to have true conclusions.”
    Well, yes. But my argument wasn’t that we have a guarantee of true conclusions, but that we cannot exclude science a priori simply by labelling something as conceptual.

    The other argument (that experience is so queer that it’s hard to see how in principle it could be reconciled) is more forceful than simply focusing on the fact that it’s a conceptual matter. But to this, I would expect advances in science and in philosophy to have a say – as they already do now. Are we as lost on what the mind is as we were 200 years ago before there was the theory of evolution? Are we as lost as we were 100 years ago before we had any understanding of computers? Are we as lost as 50 years ago before science started to understand how the brain worked?

    I would think that we have plenty of reasons to think the problem has been advanced by a better scientific understanding already. That we have ways of understanding how the brain works that in-turn sheds light on the problems of consciousness. It’s true we don’t have a good answer yet, but it would be mistaken, I think, to say that science isn’t advancing on this question. Neuroscience, biology, and psychology all cannot be making advances on the nature of our being while leaving the problem of consciousness entirely alone.

  86. #86 Phil
    June 3, 2015

    eric,

    “Nope, read them yourself.”

    This is pretty much what I was expecting. The word empirical doesn’t mean published in a paper. It means “based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic”. I doubt the articles you refer to actually deal with empirical evidence.
    But then, who in fact, is actually going to notice that they don’t?

    “you’ll demand a level of data that is ridiculously unreasonable, like what you already did (a number count of every mutation between some ancient nonvenomous ancestor snake and current venomous ones).”

    No, I wouldn’t demand that, and have not. What I’ve asked for is a basic outline that considers at least some of the things involved, like parallel accidental development. Do you recognize why this is important?

    I realize that it is difficult. Perhaps it is not even conceivable. But if you can’t even imagine how your theoretical mechanism works, it should tip you off that it probably doesn’t. (Contrary to a well-known declaration, evolution is not smarter than you.) It should also make you aware of how far away your beliefs are from empirical evidence.

  87. #87 JimV
    United States
    June 4, 2015

    I see we’re not making any progress at a consensus of views, in particular on the issue of subjective vs. mechanical nature of consciousness. I tried to separate these issues in my previous comment. The mechanical issue of how brains work seems similar to me to the mechanical problem of giving medieval minds modern laptops to study and figure out how they work. It would take time (generations) and effort but the methods of science would eventually work, if people thought the question was important.

    On the subjective issue, consider the color red. We know that light consists of different frequencies and that our retinas have different kinds of photo-sensitive cells that respond to different frequencies (we could go much deeper into how they do this), and that this is how we perceive the color red. The subjective issue is why does red look like red instead of green. My reaction to this is, why is this a problem? It’s just a given property of this universe, like gravity and quantum mechanics. What more can be said about this, by philosophy or religion or anything else?

    I suppose some will say “red is red because god made it that way”. I have never understood (given the lack of scientific evidence for a god) why this is a better explanation than “red is red because that is how that frequency range of light appears to eyes and brains like ours in this universe.”

  88. #88 JimV
    June 4, 2015

    I also remain subjectively disappointed in people who argue against the theory of evolution based on a) considering there is something magic about intelligence, ignoring all the evidence that it is just the evolution algorithm (trial and error plus memory) at work in a different form; and b) using the Lottery Fallacy to argue against any and all specific traits developed by biological evolution.

    I read recently about a paper that estimates, based on mutation rates and mutational difference between related species, that it takes about 2 million years for a species to bifurcate into two separate species. There are some who disagree with some of the conclusions of the paper, and not all genetic development occurs by bifurcation of species, but I will use the 2 million value as an estimate to consider what major genetic changes could occur over 4 billion years of life on earth (I think 3.89 billion is the largest estimate I have seen, but these will be rough numbers).

    Starting with one species in the first 2 million years, there could be two in the next 2 million years, 4 in the next, and so on, or about 2^2000 species (or major genetic developments) by now – not all of which would have survived. 2^10 is 1024, or about 1000, so 2^2000 is about 1000^200 (this approximation will probably get me back to 3.89 billion or below), or 10^600. So any species we see today had at least 10^600 to 1 odds against it. (I recognize that a much more accurate number would include negative effects of a species dying out before bifurcation and positive effects of major genetic changes within a species and that the 2 million estimate seems high to some, and finally that there are many different ways that a species could have bifurcated, not just two – so I think that my number is actually very conservative.) Practically zero chance. Spectacularly unlikely. Could not have happened randomly. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Lottery Fallacy.

  89. #89 eric
    June 4, 2015

    Phil:

    I doubt the articles you refer to actually deal with empirical evidence.

    From one of the abstracts I gave you: “Through advances in ‘omic’ technologies, venom composition data have recently become available for several venomous lineages, revealing considerable complexity in the processes responsible for generating the genetic and functional diversity observed in many venoms.”

    Look, you just kinda proved my point. You are obviously not even reading the abstracts of the links I cite, so I have no real reason to go to the trouble of giving more than abstracts.

  90. #90 Michael Fugate
    June 4, 2015

    Just last week in Nature’s news feature, one can read of reef fish signalling and cooperating to hunt prey – groupers and morays. If one had sufficient biological background, one would note how small and uncomplicated a fish brain is in comparison to a human brain. Given this, why would anyone question that consciousness evolved and is a mere product of physics, chemistry and biology – needing no cosmic mind or other supernatural cause. Don’t let ignorance of nature lead you into “God of the Gaps” thinking as several seemingly intelligent individuals have been so led.

  91. #91 eric
    June 4, 2015

    @87:

    The subjective issue is why does red look like red instead of green. My reaction to this is, why is this a problem?

    Moreover, we would be asking the same question if red did look like green. So in some sense its not a meaningful question, because we would ask ‘why this experience and not some other’ no matter what our experience was. Its almost anthropic-principle-like in that respect (whatever universe you find yourself in, you can ask why this universe and not some other).

  92. #92 Phil
    June 4, 2015

    eric,

    “Through advances in ‘omic’ technologies, venom composition data have recently become available for several venomous lineages, revealing considerable complexity in the processes responsible for generating the genetic and functional diversity observed in many venoms.”

    Perfect. Now, look close. They have data about the composition of venom. And this data reveals that the processes responsible for generating the functional diversity in many venoms must be considerably complex. So what is the empirical evidence concerning those processes?

    You said that there are “hundreds if not thousands of peer-reviewed publications discussing the empirical evidence for the origin and evolution of snake venom”. So, what is the empirical evidence for the origins, and the evolution? Not the composition of the venom, and not the complexity of the processes, but the processes themselves…the showboats being random replication errors and natural selection?

    The first paper you linked to opens with this statement:

    “The evolutionary origin and diversification of the reptilian venom system is described.”

    So did they actually describe those things, and introduce evidence that is verifiable by observation and experience, rather than theory? If not, then they just told you what they believe.

  93. #93 Verbose Stoic
    June 5, 2015

    I’m not claiming otherwise. It wasn’t about dispensing with personal experience, but the opposite – that the personal experiences of believers would not be given their proper weighting by someone who lacked those experiences.

    Uh, isn’t that pretty much a worry that people who don’t have those experiences will dispense with them when considering what religion is? If it is critical to religion to have those sorts of experiences, then even if you don’t have them you still ought to be able to note that those are indeed critical to religion. I’m not sure what would cause you to give it less weight unless you’re only going from your own experience … but since here we’d be talking about people who are either not religious or are even atheistic, it’s clear that trying to generalize only from your own experience won’t work. Essentially, what I’d be talking about here is kinda like what Dennett wants to do, except I wouldn’t limit it to a naturalized approach.

    My highlighting of the experiential was to say that an outsider might not be able to grasp the personal significance of the experiences when doing their analysis; that certain points of significance would be more easily cast aside when they don’t fit compared with someone who had their belief bound up in that experience.

    And if they’re right that the experience is not essential, then that it is significant to them isn’t something to worry about . And if it really is significant, we really ought to be able to decide that without having to experience it ourselves, no?

    I won’t make that claim about philosophy (though it sometimes has that problem – there are still philosophers who hold to Idealism)

    As an aside, the reasons that some philosophers might hold to idealism is because of issues when you try to go to something else. It is not an unreasonable argument to say that all we can actually experience are essentially ideas, indistinguishable from what we experience in dreams, and so we don’t need to posit some kind of “matter” to explain it, and so Occam’s Razor says slice away the material. Usually when philosophy can’t answer a question, it’s because the answers all have problems.

    We have such a divergence of belief even among a single religion that it’s difficult to see how one could tease out the right methods of forming truth beliefs for the religion.

    But Ruse, here, isn’t really talking about “How do we find out what the right religion is?”, but just about what it is, what its domain is, and what its methods are. Most of your comments are about deciding what religion is right, but Ruse is — obviously — not advocating that by what he’s doing we’ll be able to figure that out. At most, he’s saying that science is not the way to do that because what is critical to religion is not what’s scientifically testable.

    That being said, how ELSE do you plan to go about figuring out which religion is right, what revelations we should accept, etc, etc if not by philosophical examination? If you claim that these are in principle intractable, then how do you even know that any religion is wrong?

    Perhaps you know of the right way to make theology tractable, or have at least an outline of how theology could be tractable.

    So, relating to Ruse’s actual project, as a first blush:

    We have three primary religious approaches:

    1) Experiential: Someone either has an experience — like a frozen waterfall — that seems divine, or experiences a revelation, and their religious beliefs are based on that.

    2) Natural Theology: Someone looks at how the world is — often through science — and derives a need for a God from that, and their religious beliefs are based on that.

    3) Philosophical Theology: Someone makes a philosophical argument that requires a God, and bases their religious beliefs on that.

    There may be some overlap among certain people, but this seems to cover all of the bases (let me know what you think it misses). Given this, are these making actual truth claims that are irreconcilable with science?

    For 1), they don’t really make claims about the world, and so are only trying to explain or relate to their experience, and so ought to change that interpretation if it contradicts ANY proven fact, scientific or no. Revelations COULD cause an issue … but it’s a relatively easy argument to say that revelations can’t contradict established fact, and so if you think you had a revelation that does that, you didn’t really have one (which is the basis of the infallibility of the Pope). The argument would be that God would not reveal something to you that would contravene fact … but it is possible that you misinterpreted the revelation.

    2) Since it bases its conclusions on science, if science says that something is false, then your natural theology needs to adjust to that.

    3) Philosophy, again, ought not contradict known facts, so if a philosophical theology contradicts science, the philosophical theology should adjust for that.

    In all of these cases, there’s no real conflict with science because none of these make that sort of strong truth claim. That being said, the existence of God is indeed a truth claim, but the nature of that God is theological, not scientific. Thus, in general, science ought to report the facts but refrain from trying to tell theology what those facts mean for God, while theology then should look at what the facts mean for their theology and not argue over the facts (if they are established facts).

    How does that sound?

    Oh, and on concepts in general:

    An issue here is that scientists are just as much in the business of solving conceptual matters as philosophers are.

    Well, no, not really. Scientists DO do conceptual analysis, but in general they aren’t interested in solving conceptual problems. They are primarily interested in explaining instances — ie the things we see in this world/universe — and so they do conceptual analysis only enough to get a good explanation of those, and then leave it there. This leads to very instance-specific concepts, which run into issues if you’re trying to go beyond the instances you’ve seen (or that might be possible in this world/universe). Philosophy is the opposite: they care about instances only insofar as they held to clarify the concepts, leaving deeper concepts that aren’t always all that much use for looking at the ones we find in this world/universe. Science’s approach works well for the sorts of studies it does … which are the sorts of studies that philosophy was, in general, happy to offload to science so that they could look at what they considered to be the REALLY interesting questions.

    This is why science has trouble with the normative, as that is about oughts and not about ises, and science is great at finding out ises and not so great at finding out oughts. Its approach also struggles with the subjective, since it can’t actually do really meaningful and testable empirical work on that, which is why most scientific accounts of consciousness tend to leave out qualia and dismiss that as an uninteresting component, while philosophical approaches often take that as defining what it means to be conscious.

    On that note, one question that a neurological approach cannot answer about consciousness is the one raised about Data in “A Measure of a Man”: Is Data conscious? He acts conscious, but has no real neurons. How could neuroscience solve the question of whether something that does not have neurons is conscious or not?

  94. #94 Verbose Stoic
    June 5, 2015

    Sorry, that previous comment was to Kel …

  95. #95 eric
    June 5, 2015

    Phil:

    The first paper you linked to opens with this statement:

    “The evolutionary origin and diversification of the reptilian venom system is described.”

    So did they actually describe those things

    Why don’t you read the paper and find out. See, this is why I’m pretty much done. You demand evidence, we give it, and then you refuse to read it. We ask you to tell us your alternative scientific hypothesis, and you refuse to give it. At this point I’m taking my grandma’s advice about leading the horse to water.

  96. #96 eric
    June 5, 2015

    VS:

    That being said, how ELSE do you plan to go about figuring out which religion is right, what revelations we should accept, etc, etc if not by philosophical examination?

    You ask them for testable predictions (along with a control group), and you evaluate whether any of them get things right more often and more consistently than chance or the control group results would predict. Because why should I believe your revelations are accurate about souls and afterlives etc. if they aren’t more accurate than chance about other things?

    But if you don’t like that, then the bible has an answer for how: you have a miracle-off. Ex 7: 10-13. Get reps from each religion in a room, have them throw down their staffs and turn them into snakes. If multiple religions succeed at the miracle, you determine the right religion by seeing which snake eats the others. Now I know the response here: that’s preposterous! Religions can’t produce miracles like that! To which I reply: that is absolutely right, they can’t.

  97. #97 Verbose Stoic
    June 5, 2015

    eric,

    Since Kel’s point was that some of the problems are intractable/untestable/unproveable, the only response to your comment is: How do you know that those methods can solve those problems if you don’t go and figure out what religion is, what is essential about it, and what the right way to approach those sorts of questions is?

  98. #98 eric
    June 5, 2015

    How do you know that those methods can solve those problems if you don’t go and figure out what religion is, what is essential about it, and what the right way to approach those sorts of questions is?

    Why do I have to figure out what religion (writ large) is? Why do all religions need to share some essential nature? I can ask a religious person the tenets and essential things about their faith, and take their response at face value in describing what’s essential about their faith. If a protestant YECer tells me a real, literal A&E and fall from grace is essential to their faith, then I take it at face value that it is. I don’t try and convince them that reading Genesis literally is doing religion wrong. That its outside the essential magisteria. After we’ve got the relevant info on their faith, then I can ask whether their faith is consistent with science (it isn’t) and whether their faith can help answer Ruse’s four questions (YECism provides answers, but no way of telling accuracy and no methodology anyone external to the faith will likely accept).

    You seem to be worried about describing the set, when the important question involves whether any individual members of the set can provide valuable answers to questions (such as Ruse’s four questions). Now I admit, if you could come up with some characterization of the entire set which would answer that question once, for all members, that would be really nice. So if, as a philosopher, you want to work on figuring out whether such a characteristic exists and what it is, go for it. In the meantime, we don’t need to know this set-wide characteristic in order to tee up individual members of the set, ask what their characteristics are, and figure out whether that member provides either a useful method or answer to those questions. If the individual member religion we’re discussing uses the revelatory method, then the answer is (tentatively, subject to revision, etc.) no; that method does not seem to work for any test we can run on it.

    You could also use internal ways to approach those questions (ask the religion the best way to determine that religion’s validity – thus, the snake test). While these internal methods can be useful (if you can’t pass your own test, that’s a pretty good indication you’re wrong), a ‘pass’ probably isn’t convincing to outsiders, so external ways of testing method and results – such as philosophy and science – may be preferable. If a religion is empirically accurate it could be right or wrong, but if its empirically inaccurate, its wrong. So accuracy seems to be a reasonable first pass test. Some theologies will neither pass nor fail, if they say nothing whatsoever empirically testable. That’s okay too, its still a good first-pass test because we can still rank them: accurates > say nothings > inaccurates…and point out that for any question: accurate anythings (both theology and non-theology) > say nothing theologies.

  99. #99 Michael Fugate
    June 5, 2015

    The philosopher’s job is to figure out how religions determine what is true. It is to make explicit the methods of knowing for religions. If revelation or the so-called “religious experience” is the “data” of religion, then we need details of how these are utilized in the religious endeavor.

  100. #100 Phil
    June 5, 2015

    eric,

    “Why don’t you read the paper and find out. See, this is why I’m pretty much done.”

    This evasion shows why discussions like this should be conducted in public school classrooms.

    There is no empirical evidence in the papers regarding the processes that resulted in snake venom, or anything else. All they offer is a bunch of evolutionary double-talk. Couching a few facts in a whirlwind of jargon is not enlightening. It is deceitful.

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t expect to find water at a mirage. You have been taken in.

  101. #101 Michael Fugate
    June 5, 2015

    Our good buddy Kenny Ham is the poster boy of YECism. He loves chanting “Were you there” in an attempt to drown out evolution claiming a fundamental difference between so-called historical and observational science. But eyewitness testimony is no better and often worse than other testimony e.g. rock layers, carbon dating, DNA sequences and the like. First Kenny-boy has to know that the reporter of Genesis was 1) talking to the actual creator, 2) if it was the creator, it was telling the truth (we know humans lie and misremember), 3) if the truth,it was meant to be literal truth and not symbolic, 4) the reporter reported the story as told, 5) subsequent retellings of the story were correctly transcribed and translated (ever played “telephone”?), and….

    Even if the creator were truthful – there is a huge human element that we know are often not – either purposefully or accidentally.

    What is clear is that even before Darwin, the flood had been thoroughly discredited by devout Christian scientists (e.g. Hugh Miller). If one actually studies nature, then the answer is obvious – but one does have to study and not just read AiG, ICR and the like.

  102. #102 Kel
    June 5, 2015

    Phil, there’s a Wikipedia article explaining how snake venom evolved. What do you find problematic about it?

    Also, what significance do you think snake venom highlights? Is there any other parallel, such as the evolution of the eye, that may highlight the problem better? Or is there something significant about snake venom in particular?

  103. #103 Kel
    June 5, 2015

    “Is Data conscious? He acts conscious, but has no real neurons.”
    Data is a fictional character, so exploring whether Data is conscious isn’t going to do much more than pump our intuition.

    Though even if Data is conscious, it wouldn’t take away from the neurological understanding of consciousness, as we as fleshy human beings evidentially do have brain activity at consciousness. I see no reason to exclude that neuroscientists could help understand consciousness even if consciousness doesn’t necessitate neurology. It’s still a biological phenomenon…

    “This is why science has trouble with the normative, as that is about oughts and not about ises, and science is great at finding out ises and not so great at finding out oughts.”
    I’d personally say the reason science gets in trouble with oughts is that there are no oughts.

    “Given this, are these making actual truth claims that are irreconcilable with science?”
    Yes:
    “they don’t really make claims about the world, and so are only trying to explain or relate to their experience”
    Are there experiences somehow not claims about the world itself? Can there possibly be Revelation without having in our power the ability to detect and reveal revelation?

    “2) Since it bases its conclusions on science, if science says that something is false, then your natural theology needs to adjust to that.
    3) Philosophy, again, ought not contradict known facts, so if a philosophical theology contradicts science, the philosophical theology should adjust for that.”
    At what point does this become a problem for theology? With our understanding of order as an emergent process, of agency as a physical process, and of a universe that is vast and indifferent to human life, can theology continually accommodate scientific understanding without losing itself?

  104. #104 Michael Fugate
    June 5, 2015

    A better question to ask is whether other organisms are conscious. Why think it is uniquely human?

  105. #105 Phil
    June 6, 2015

    Kel,

    “Phil, there’s a Wikipedia article explaining how snake venom evolved. What do you find problematic about it?”

    It is interesting, but it in no way explains how snake venom evolved.

    “what significance do you think snake venom highlights? Is there any other parallel, such as the evolution of the eye, that may highlight the problem better?”

    Any biological system or feature that you care to name would do. I like the snake venom example because it involves lots of understandable support systems, and because it is about a system designed to deal with other animals. That alone, is an enormous complication.

    This is a paragraph from one of the papers Eric linked to (also referred to in the Wikipedia article) you referred to. I will just paste it without commentary. If you can’t see what is wrong, I probably won’t be able to explain it.

    “Many venom toxins are thought to evolve via the ‘birth and death’ process of gene evolution,by which a gene encoding a normal ‘physiological’ body protein, usually one involved in key regulatory processes or bioactivity, is duplicated and a duplicate copy selectively expressed in the venom gland. These ancestral physiological proteins appear to be expressed in a variety of different tissue types and exhibit diverse ancestral activities. Once a particular gene has been recruited into the venom gland, additional gene duplication often occurs, coupled with protein neo- and/or subfunctionalization, typically resulting in large multi locus gene families that encode toxins exhibiting a variety of functional activities and potencies.Until recently, this recruitment process of toxins into the venom gland had been assumed to be a rare, one-way process. However, recent phylogenetic analyses of toxin gene homologs expressed in other tissues provide evidence that toxins can be ‘reverse recruited’ from the venom gland for a role in physiological tissues, whereas other toxin types appear to be coexpressed in the venom gland and other tissues.These findings provide a framework to investigate the distinction between ‘toxins’ and ‘non-toxins’, which is currently poorly known. In addition to tracing the evolution of new protein functions within gene families, elucidating the mechanisms that control the location and extent of toxin gene family expression will provide a fascinating basis for understanding the evolutionary dynamics of proteins produced for internal (the physiology of the animal) and external (venom) functions.”
    http://www.academia.edu/3712729/Complex_cocktails_the_evolutionary_novelty_of_venoms

    There are several such exciting moments in the paper.

  106. #106 Kel
    June 6, 2015

    “Any biological system or feature that you care to name would do. ”
    What about the evolution of the eye?
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/evolution-of-the-eye/

    “That alone, is an enormous complication.”
    And what do you think is the significance of this when it comes to current evolutionary theory? After all, we do see gradual adaptation in populations already. What do you think we would see after millions of years?

  107. #107 Phil
    June 6, 2015

    Kel,

    The SA article isn’t about how eyes evolved. It is just another ideological tract, nothing to do with science, and everything to do with opposing Creation/Intelligent Design. While the subtitle says “Scientists now have a clear vision of how our notoriously complex eye came to be”, the truth is that they have no such thing. Lamb is only repeating crowd-pleaser declarations.

    “And what do you think is the significance of this when it comes to current evolutionary theory?”

    Current evolutionary theory is about natural selection acting on random DNA replication errors. If you pay close attention, you will notice that fans of the theory do not like to talk about mutations, and for good reason. It doesn’t hold up under scrutiny because it is not a realistic proposal. The article I quoted from above is a prime example. The only time the author(s) even come close to mentioning mutations is to proclaim that:

    “usually one involved in key regulatory processes or bioactivity, is duplicated and a duplicate copy selectively expressed in the venom gland….Once a particular gene has been recruited into the venom gland, additional gene duplication often occurs…”

    This is utter, unsubstantiated, preposterous nonsense. A lot is known about gene duplication, and there is nothing to support the idea that it is a reliable, reoccurring, helpful accident. And what they also don’t bother to mention, is that some similar ridiculous series of events had to occur for many other systems, like hollow fangs.

    “we do see gradual adaptation in populations already”

    Yes, we do. So two general questions are in view:

    Does adaptation realistically extrapolate into major evolution?

    Does adaptation really happen on the basis of random DNA copy errors?

    “What do you think we would see after millions of years?”

    If the TOE is correct, we would see billions of intermediate forms in the fossil record. Gould and Eldredge said that we actually see is stasis and extinction.

    What we should definitely not see, is things like T rex soft tissue, and Hadrosaur collagen.

  108. #108 Kel
    June 6, 2015

    ” If you pay close attention, you will notice that fans of the theory do not like to talk about mutations, and for good reason. It doesn’t hold up under scrutiny because it is not a realistic proposal.”
    This is not the impression I get from reading on current evolutionary theory. Indeed, I just finished reading Andreas Wagner’s Arrival Of The Fittest, which was all about the variation side of things and how such complexity can arise through natural selection.

    And even instances of evolution in action don’t shirk away from mutation. Sean Carroll’s The Making Of The Fittest talks about a number of cases where mutations create new functionality – one being a mutation on the violet opsin gene of a hawk that can see into the ultraviolet.

    “Does adaptation realistically extrapolate into major evolution?”
    Why shouldn’t it? If you run the process over and over, do you expect it to stop? How does that work?

    “Does adaptation really happen on the basis of random DNA copy errors?”
    Evidently, yes it does. It has been observed that adaptation happens this way.

    It’s not the only way since a lot of variation exists already and different environments favour rival alleles. The case of peppered moths in the UK was an example of this – the environment changed and one allele came to dominate over another while the conditions were favourable, then the other allele came back when the conditions reverted.

    “If the TOE is correct, we would see billions of intermediate forms in the fossil record. Gould and Eldredge said that we actually see is stasis and extinction.”
    Both Gould and Eldredge argue that what we see in the fossil record is what we should expect given the standard model of evolution – that punctuated equilibrium is what we should expect given allopatric speciation. So if the two people who came up with Punk Eek say it fits with current evolutionary theory, then why should we expect otherwise?

    If you ask palaeontogists, there are intermediate fossils. If there weren’t, it would be impossible to reconstruct evolutionary histories from the fossil record. But that can and is done – indeed, a question about whale origins and their relatedness to other species was solved because of fossil finds. The record abounds in transitional forms – the patterns of common descent are there! Microfossils in seabeds where the fossils are able to be see continuously over a long period of time show gradual changes in populations. Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True has details of two such fossil records.

    “What we should definitely not see, is things like T rex soft tissue, and Hadrosaur collagen.”
    How do those impact on the theory of evolution?

  109. #109 Michael Fugate
    June 6, 2015

    This shows how completely ignorant Phil is of biology – and yet he keeps demonstrating over and over and over

    Michael Fugate,

    Evolutionary thinking demands that ostriches, ducks and budgerigars be related because they are all birds. On the surface, that might make sense. But when if you really put some thought into it, and try to imagination DNA replication errors whittling an ancestral form into extreme specialties, it doesn’t make sense at all. Any reasonable estimate about how many mutations separate exquisitely adapted forms (which is all we really see) has to be an enormous number. If you honestly apply all the factors involved, it is not a workable idea. It’s just dumb.

    And they are closely related by any measure – genes, proteins morphology, any thing you can measure. They were determined to be closely related by the creationist Linnaeus. But Phil is not fooled by evidence – oh no! he has the Bible! What an idiot.

  110. #110 Michael Fugate
    June 6, 2015

    The choice is between common ancestry or God’s whim – you decide.

  111. #111 Phil
    June 7, 2015

    Michael Fugate,

    “The choice is between common ancestry or God’s whim – you decide.”

    That’s pretty close Michael. Billions of accidents that could not possibly have happened vs. a super-intellect that you don’t like. I guess it is a natural selection vs. chosen deal.

    I have to ask, are you following the news these days? I know you are thrilled about the exhilarating progress on the LBGT+P front, but are you noticing anything else?

    ===

    Kel,

    I will get back to you. I was only familiar with Wagner’s book from the title, but I read some of the reviews. It appears to be a real benchmark, but I want to ask some questions about robustness, and some other things.

  112. #112 Kel
    June 7, 2015

    “Billions of accidents that could not possibly have happened”
    Every time you frame it like this, you are misrepresenting how evolution works.

    Mutations happen in every generation in every organism. So if you have a population over a long period of time, a large number of mutations are inevitable. Whether these mutations get passed onto the next generation, however, is how they relate to reproductive fitness.

    In other words, how the mutations come about doesn’t matter too much – selection is what matters. If it was an intelligent agent making the mutation rather than the general errors that happen during replication, selection would still apply. Deleterious mutations will not get passed down. Mutations that hinder are less likely to get passed down. Mutations that have no effect on selection fitness are no more or less likely to be passed down. Mutations that help are more likely to get passed down. That’s the key factor!

  113. #113 Verbose Stoic
    June 7, 2015

    Kel,

    Data is a fictional character, so exploring whether Data is conscious isn’t going to do much more than pump our intuition.

    Data is a hypothetical example of an artificial intelligence, and we are actively and aggressively trying to create such an artificial intelligence. If we ever succeed, we are definitely going to need to know if that sort of thing is conscious or not, for pretty much the same reasons that the episode explores. Better to start thinking about it now, no?

    Also, this exemplifies why science doesn’t really do conceptual analysis, as your answer here typifies that response: this thing doesn’t really exist, so I don’t have to worry about whether my conceptualizations work for it or not. That’s fine if all you’re doing with concepts is make rough and ready ones that let you build models that describe what you see in the world, but if you want to claim to really understand a concept you have to be able to take ANY posited example and decide whether or not it is an example of that concept or, if you can’t, point out what properties it has that means that it cannot be properly classified.

    To solve conceptual problems, you need to have that level of conceptual awareness, not the kind that science is satisfied with.

    It’s still a biological phenomenon…

    This is precisely what’s in dispute, because if things that are not biological can be conscious, then consciousness is not a biological phenomenon. The neuroscience, then, would only be looking at how it is implemented in humans. Which isn’t a waste of time, but isn’t going to get us to what the concept of consciousness REALLY is either.

    I’d personally say the reason science gets in trouble with oughts is that there are no oughts.

    A bold statement. How do you propose to establish that scientifically or empirically? And, no, saying that they can’t be studied scientifically or empirically and so don’t exist won’t work, because you’d still need to establish a) that they can’t be studied that way and b) that things that can’t be studied that way don’t exist … neither of which can be done scientifically or empirically.

    Are there experiences somehow not claims about the world itself? Can there possibly be Revelation without having in our power the ability to detect and reveal revelation?

    They’re claims about the world in the same way that if you hear a chirp you conclude that a bird made that noise: you have an experience and take the explanation that makes the most sense to you given all you know. If a proven fact contradicts the interpretation, you adjust the interpretation. Beyond that, I’m not sure what fact you think they are saying, because here it almost sounds like you’re talking about the claim that they had a revelation … which hardly seems like a problem for this discussion (after all, if you could demonstrate that they were mistaken about having had a revelation that seems no worse than demonstrating that someone fell for an optical illusion).

    At what point does this become a problem for theology?

    That’s something that philosophy of religion and theology have to decide: how far can things be accommodated without losing the religion itself. And it varies from religion to religion. The key here, though, is that this isn’t a scientific question, but one of theology. Science cannot find a fact and insist that it contradicts a theology/religion without at that point doing theology instead of science. It establishes the facts, but not what those facts mean for philosophy or theology. Thus, there is no conflict there either, as it is up to individual theologies to decide if that fact can be reconciled with their theology or not.

  114. #114 JimV
    United States
    June 7, 2015

    Here’s an interesting bit of background on neuro-scientific research:

    http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/05/29/no-time-like-the-present-for-ai-safety-work/

    “Some people have gotten electrodes implanted in their brains for therapeutic or research purposes. When the electrodes are in certain regions, most notably the lateral hypothalamus, the people become obsessed with stimulating them as much as possible. If you give them the stimulation button, they’ll press it thousands of times per hour; if you try to take the stimulation button away from them, they’ll defend it with desperation and ferocity. Their life and focus narrows to a pinpoint, normal goals like love and money and fame and friendship forgotten in the relentless drive to stimulate the electrode as much as possible.

    This fits pretty well with what we know of neuroscience. The brain (OVERSIMPLIFICATION WARNING) represents reward as electrical voltage at a couple of reward centers, then does whatever tends to maximize that reward. Normally this works pretty well; when you fulfill a biological drive like food or sex, the reward center responds with little bursts of reinforcement, and so you continue fulfilling your biological drives. But stimulating the reward center directly with an electrode increases it much more than waiting for your brain to send little bursts of stimulation the natural way, so this activity is by definition the most rewarding possible. A person presented with the opportunity to stimulate the reward center directly will forget about all those indirect ways of getting reward like “living a happy life” and just press the button attached to the electrode as much as possible.”

    I wonder what religion and theology will make of this. Sounds mechanical to me.

    I would separate the issue of AI consciousness into two parts:

    1) Can it memorize data, use hard-wired algorithms, learn new algorithms for new experiences by trial and error, and contain reward/punishment routines to reinforce/discourage certain behaviors. I think so. Why not? (Except for the mechanical difficulty of matching the processing speed and power of our nano-tech brains with transistors, which will require many more generations of Moore’s Law.)

    2) Will it experience the scent of a rose or the color red the same way we do? I doubt it, but it will have some internal way to distinguish such things. What will these experiences of distinguishment feel like to it? Don’t know, don’t think that is very important.

  115. #115 Michael Fugate
    June 7, 2015

    Hey Phil, What does creationism predict about the similarity of organisms? What? Nothing? Intellectual vapidity? Why am I not surprised.
    What does evolution predict? Common ancestry. Organisms will be similar. That we can trace the number of mutations between any two organisms is evidence for common ancestry – no matter how many. Organisms share genes and even non-coding regions. Guess who loses Phil? You.

  116. #116 Phil
    June 7, 2015

    Michael Fugate,

    “What does evolution predict?”

    It predicts evolution, which all too often doesn’t occur:
    “Morphometric parameters of interphase nuclei match those of extant Osmundaceae, indicating that the genome size of these reputed “living fossils” has remained unchanged over at least 180 million years—a paramount example of evolutionary stasis.”
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6177/1376

    It doesn’t really predict with any particular reliability either:
    “The genes of organisms that look very different are surprisingly similar. For example, human DNA sequences are over 95% identical to chimpanzee sequences and around 50% identical to banana sequences.”
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/evolution/what-is-the-evidence/morphology/dna-molecules/

    You can look up genetic comparisons and find all kinds of anomalous realities that snuff the predictive power of your theory…chromosome counts, etc. And don’t forget, the entire community was captivated by the idea of junk DNA, because it matched evolutionary predictions. This, of course, has turned out to be a major blunder, one initiated by the same guy who brought the iconic and treasured gene duplication idea to the altar.

  117. #117 eric
    June 8, 2015

    VS @113:

    saying that they can’t be studied scientifically or empirically and so don’t exist won’t work, because you’d still need to establish a) that they can’t be studied that way and b) that things that can’t be studied that way don’t exist … neither of which can be done scientifically or empirically.

    You seemed to have turned the burden of proof around here; its not up to us to prove some unknown X doesn’t exist, its up to X-proponents to show evidence that it does. Why should claims of objective more properties be treated any differently than bigfoot? Show evidence these things exist.

    Secondly, don’t proponents of objective morality not just claim it exists in principle, but that we humans can determine what is moral right now, using human faculties we have available? If so, that’s a testable claim, and one that seems to be undermined by the temporal and cultural variation in what humans see as moral. At best, you must admit that if we can access some objective morality, our access is horribly unreliable.

    This second claim also brings up a problem of mechanism. Where’s the sense humans use to detect this objective property of actions or objects? How do we detect it? Why can’t we replicate this sense with artificial instruments? The notion (of objective morality) seems to be steering close to dualism, as we have a pretty good grasp of the sorts of material sensory inputs humans have, and there is nothing that seems to be related to detecting the moral worthiness of an action. So VS, if morality exist and is detectable by humans, what sensory mechanism do proponents claim we use to detect it?

  118. #118 eric
    June 8, 2015

    Science cannot find a fact and insist that it contradicts a theology/religion without at that point doing theology instead of science. It establishes the facts, but not what those facts mean for philosophy or theology. Thus, there is no conflict there either, as it is up to individual theologies to decide if that fact can be reconciled with their theology or not.

    I agree it is up to the individual believer to decide what belief-claims are ‘in’ their religion. But once they’ve decided these things, I don’t think it requires one ‘do theology’ to compare them to observation. The same would be true for theological claims that are open to deductive analysis via symbolic logic: it may be up to the theologian or believer to decide which statements they theologically adhere to, but once they decide that, a philosopher can analyze them via symbolic logic without ‘doing theology.’ In both the empirical science and deductive philosophy cases, doing the analysis does not require one to be an insider or make insider claims about what the faith says. I don’t know what your theology says about the age of the earth. But once you tell me your theology says “its not more than 10k years old,” I can certainly point out that this contradicts scientific estimates of the age of the earth without ‘doing’ theology.

    I suppose we could parse all theology-related points conditionally (“if your religion were to claim the earth was not more than 10k years old, then this claim would be inconsistent with…”). But that gets tiresome and shouldn’t really be necessary as long as both the believer and outside analyst strive to treat the belief-claims honestly.

  119. #119 Michael Fugate
    June 8, 2015

    Here are some questions:

    Are transcendent experiences encounters with god(s)?
    Are they the only way we can “know” god(s)?
    What qualifies as a transcendent experience?
    If they can be encounters with god(s), are all of them necessarily so?
    If only some, how do we determine which are true encounters?

  120. #120 Verbose Stoic
    June 8, 2015

    eric,

    You seemed to have turned the burden of proof around here; its not up to us to prove some unknown X doesn’t exist, its up to X-proponents to show evidence that it does.

    Ah, this again. First, let me remind you of Kel’s actual comment:

    I’d personally say the reason science gets in trouble with oughts is that there are no oughts.

    If we say that science can’t handle the normative, and the reply is that it only can’t do that is because that doesn’t exist, then that does seem to be something that that person needs to demonstrate. If you say “X doesn’t exist, so your argument fails”, you really do need to justify why you say that X doesn’t exist … and why anyone should believe you.

    Second, in the case of morality, to say “Oughts don’t exist” and then move — as you do, even though Kel at least hasn’t yet — to a claim that the burden of proof is on the person claiming that something exists is playing a word game. When we talk about oughts and the normative and morality, what we are saying is not that objective morality “exists”, but instead that morality is objective. To counter that, you can either claim that morality is subjective — as your arguments attempt to do — or claim that MORALITY doesn’t exist. Since there clearly is something that we all understand and CALL morality intuitively, and since we can actually test people on how well they can distinguish the two, there are a lot of issues to overcome for someone who wants to claim that there’s no such thing, at all, as morality. But those who claim that morality is subjective are making just as much of a claim about the nature of morality as those who claim that it is objective.

    Secondly, don’t proponents of objective morality not just claim it exists in principle, but that we humans can determine what is moral right now, using human faculties we have available?

    The claim is that we, as humans, are moral agents and so are CAPABLE of determining what is or isn’t moral, in the same way that we are intelligent agents and so are capable of determining the way the empirical world is and what the laws of nature are. That is not to say that we are, in fact, always right about that.

    Where’s the sense humans use to detect this objective property of actions or objects? How do we detect it? Why can’t we replicate this sense with artificial instruments?

    Only the most extreme of moral realists would argue that we somehow “sense” what is moral and what is not, or that morality is in fact a thing that can be so sensed. This is such an extreme view that I can’t even think of anyone who DOES make that claim. In general, objective moral rules are seen as existing and as objective in the same way as natural laws are, except that those laws are normative and not descriptive, so we can’t just generalize from a number of cases, but instead have to derive them from what it means to be moral at all. In short, we have to do conceptual analysis on morality to get them, not merely an empirical analysis.

    I agree it is up to the individual believer to decide what belief-claims are ‘in’ their religion.

    Interestingly, you’ve agreed with something that I never said. I said to the individual THEOLOGY, not the individual believer. You, again, are trying to attack the folk view of religion with a formal academic process, which is going to let you “disprove” their view by finding contradictions … but finding contradictions in folk views is like shooting fish in a barrel. You wouldn’t say anything, for example, about Catholicism by finding one Catholic and debating with them; you’d need to go to the formal theology, which they have.

    I don’t know what your theology says about the age of the earth. But once you tell me your theology says “its not more than 10k years old,” I can certainly point out that this contradicts scientific estimates of the age of the earth without ‘doing’ theology.

    Well, first, you would indeed be engaging in a theological discussion because you’re starting from what their theology says. Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean that it isn’t theology, just as someone pointing out to a scientist that their theory is contradicted by every day observations is indeed still doing science no matter how obvious the observation is. Second, the really interesting part is what happens WHEN you point that fact out. Does that sink the religion? Is that really a strong commitment of it? Can the science be accommodated? And that is, in fact, at least philosophy of religion, if not theology. It’s certainly not science.

  121. #121 Kel
    June 8, 2015

    “A bold statement. How do you propose to establish that scientifically or empirically?”
    Though they aren’t scientific, the argument from queerness and that morality is an evolved adaptation for getting on in a group make a defeasible case against the notion of oughts.

    “Second, in the case of morality, to say “Oughts don’t exist” and then move — as you do, even though Kel at least hasn’t yet — to a claim that the burden of proof is on the person claiming that something exists is playing a word game.”
    In this case, I fully agree with you. It’s my burden of proof to meet.

  122. #122 JimV
    United States
    June 8, 2015

    “the entire community was captivated by the idea of junk DNA, because it matched evolutionary predictions. This, of course, has turned out to be a major blunder…”

    This is so wrong – and so easily provably wrong by anyone willing to consult scientific and historical sources which can be found on the Internet in about ten seconds – that it discredits the individual as well as his arguments. The only possible excuse is that statements by unqualified journalists and/or pundits are being taken as fact without checking them. Otherwise for sheer obstinate wrongness it is on a level with Holocaust denial.

    Briefly, the facts are that many evolutionary biologists, probably the majority when the issue of non-coding DNA was first discovered, thought that some functions for non-coding DNA would be discovered, since they thought that natural selection should prune useless DNA to reduce cell weight and hence energy cost. Some regulatory functions for non-coding DNA were quickly found, 30-50 years ago. Over time, opinions were swayed to the notion of “neutral evolution” which is that neutral mutations happen so rapidly that they cannot be effectively pruned, and play a major role in evolutionary development, especially speciation. So far the jury is still out, but not more than 20% of typical genomes have so far been found to have either coding or regulatory function. Claims for the ENCODE project were wildly overblown in the press and in blogs, equating chemical function (which most genes have, whether it does anything useful or not) to regulatory function.

    From now on I will no longer seek to engage the maker of such crazy claims, as it seems to be a “junk” (i.e., useless) activity.

  123. #123 Phil
    June 8, 2015

    JimV,

    There is a great deal of embarrassment about junk DNA, and a great deal of unwarranted hostility towards ENCODE. Both are envious, petty reactions from people who never quite upgraded to Neo-Darwinism, much less anything rational.

    Before the Human Genome Project, the gene estimates for humans generally ranged between 80,000 and 150,000. The HGP revealed those to be grossly inflated, and it also lead to research into the valley of the shadow of complications, whereby genes are now known to code for multiple proteins, courtesy of the evolutionary junkyard.

    Don’t lose sight of the fact that all the TOE can blame this on is random DNA screw-ups and natural selection, and good luck with that sappy idea. There is no place to hide from the data that comes in almost weekly about the astonishing complexity in the junk regions.

    I know…billions of years worth of evolutionary trials and errors can do anything.

  124. #124 eric
    June 9, 2015

    VS:

    If we say that science can’t handle the normative, and the reply is that it only can’t do that is because that doesn’t exist, then that does seem to be something that that person needs to demonstrate. If you say “X doesn’t exist, so your argument fails”, you really do need to justify why you say that X doesn’t exist

    Like with bigfoot, I think the burden of proof is always on the entity-claimer – even when the denier is the one making the assertion. Why? Because the other way leads to belief in an infinite number of contradictory entities. We pragmatically cannot and do not assume every new entity claim is true until disproof is discovered. Moreover, for both bigfoot and objective morals, the fact that humans have been searching for them for hundreds of years and never turned up anything concrete, anything reproducible, means the most rational (tentative, subject to revision with new evidence, etc…) conclusion is that that entity doesn’t exist. For the moment, objective morals have all the evidence supporting them that leprechauns do. So we should treat them both with equal skepticism.

    When we talk about oughts and the normative and morality, what we are saying is not that objective morality “exists”, but instead that morality is objective

    I think the latter implies the former, but maybe we are using the term ‘objective morality’ differently. I use that term to refer to the notion that actions or things have some property which exists independently of human (or other sentient agent) judgment. Like charge for a particle or momentum for a collection of particles (or, since you use natural laws as an analogy later, the fact that a system always obeys conservation of momentum laws). Is that what you mean by it?

    Since there clearly is something that we all understand and CALL morality intuitively

    If you mean there is some action all humans (and all aliens) would agree is moral or immoral, I’m somewhat skeptical. If you mean we can all agree there is this category of ideas, I don’t see anything very deep about this (even if its true). Humans agreeing on how to categorize or pigeonhole ideas does not mean that the categories have some metaphysical existence. We also agree on the category ‘triathlon’ as a type of race. Does that mean the concept triathlon is objective? That there is an independent triathlon-ness in certain races, and aliens from outer space could point a detector at various races and say “yep, that one there has triathlon-ness, this other one doesn’t”?

    In short, we have to do conceptual analysis on morality to get them, not merely an empirical analysis.

    The lack of convergence is still telling whether you’re doing a direct detection or a conceptual analysis. The fact that systems like utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative do not converge on the same conclusions means you are probably measuring (the philosophical equivalent of) N-rays. If morality was objective, different and systematically independent conceptual analyses of the subject would converge on what that objective answer was. They don’t.

    You wouldn’t say anything, for example, about Catholicism by finding one Catholic and debating with them; you’d need to go to the formal theology, which they have.

    And which I’ve referred to: see #7. Not only is Ruse wrong in saying religion can’t offer quasi-scientific answers, but the quasi-scientific answers offered by the Pope in a formal pronouncement on Catholic doctrine is inconsistent with modern science.

    Second, the really interesting part is what happens WHEN you point that fact out. Does that sink the religion? Is that really a strong commitment of it? Can the science be accommodated?

    I imagine different believers will respond differently. Regardless of how believers respond to it, the point itself serves to show that Ruse and Gould and the like are wrong; the magisteria overlap.

  125. #125 Phil
    June 9, 2015

    Kel,

    I read several reviews of Wagner’s book. It seems to me that what he does is look at the mutations/selection from a different angle, and introduces two more concepts, robustness and evolvability. These are supposed to bridge a weak spot that evolutionists can never confront. This guy, seemingly relieved by new concepts, was actually pretty honest about the problem:

    “The title references the most difficult challenge to understanding evolution: not how innovations are selected, but how innovations arise to be selected. The default assumption of “random” mutations has never been really satisfactory, explanatory, nor even well supported by evidence. Evolution is blind, but it doesn’t seem “random”.”
    https://robertmcgrath.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/book-review-arrival-of-the-fittest-by-andreas-wagner/

    This reminds me of Ohno and gene duplication. Decades passed without anyone ever being able to ask questions about how in hell new genes would appear. When he proposed existing genes being accidentally copied, and accidentally modified to accidentally serve a new purpose, the whole community relaxed, completely satisfied by yet another piss-poor, unrealistic idea.

    Wagner will, no doubt, satisfy lots of people. But he is not dealing with hard data about actual evolution. He is just gauzing over the potholes. For a bottom line, his new conceptual enlightenments are just that, concepts. Robustness and evolvability, even if they are real, had to be the result of DNA replication errors, which are random, like it or not.

    “Sean Carroll’s The Making Of The Fittest talks about a number of cases where mutations create new functionality – one being a mutation on the violet opsin gene of a hawk that can see into the ultraviolet.”

    Carroll’s heraldry is built on gene dupes, errors that require many additional, unlikely mutations. Did he mention the alterations in signal transduction and image translation which happens in the brain?

    “a question about whale origins and their relatedness to other species was solved because of fossil finds”

    Look at the dates, and the locations. The only relatedness exists in the mind of people like Thewissen an Gingerich. There is nothing to link the fossils together but fairy tales about mutations.

    “Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True has details of two such fossil records.”

    You need to move away from the clergy and get rough on the science. If you aren’t asking questions, you are just practicing the religion.

    “How do [T rex soft tissue, and Hadrosaur collagen] impact on the theory of evolution?”

    They shouldn’t be there. The dating is wrong. They show that the community will discard everything known about fossil preservation to protect the theory.

  126. #126 Verbose Stoic
    June 10, 2015

    Kel,

    I looked up the “Argument from Queerness”, and now finally understand what eric was going on about! But it’s still a bad argument that treats moral values as things, which pretty much no one thinks they are. Few if any claim that we get moral knowledge through perception, and even those that do would probably be talking about that in a Platonic Forms way than in anything we see in the world. Moral truths can be seen, for the most part, as conceptual truths, similar to that of mathematics. Pretty much all oughts, it seems to me, are conceptual truths, truths that say that if you are striving to be a member of a certain conceptual class, you ought to do X, or ought to have X qualities. This even applies to, for example, to the normative claims about building a deck vs building front steps: there is a set of conceptual properties that determine whether you have a deck or steps, and if you want to build a deck then you ought to include those properties. That there may be some gray areas in this — see, for example, the famous heap problems — doesn’t invalidate the idea that because we can tell the difference between a deck and front steps that there must, then, be a conceptual difference between them.

    The same applies to morality. Because we can distinguish between them, there is a difference between a conventional rule and a moral one. Thus, we can then decide what that is, and if we do or do wish to act on the moral ones and not just have conventions.

    This follows on to the evolutionary argument. Either the concept of morality is needed and useful for that — which explains how we evolved that capacity — or we could have gotten by with merely conventional rules and didn’t need morality. But none of that changes what morality is, if the conceptual analysis works out.

    eric,

    Like with bigfoot, I think the burden of proof is always on the entity-claimer – even when the denier is the one making the assertion. Why? Because the other way leads to belief in an infinite number of contradictory entities. We pragmatically cannot and do not assume every new entity claim is true until disproof is discovered.

    No one is asking you to assume it’s true. We’re merely asking you to stop insisting that it’s false when you don’t have sufficient evidence for that claim. The burden of proof is on the person making the claim. I accept mine, Kel accepts his, so please accept yours.

    I use that term to refer to the notion that actions or things have some property which exists independently of human (or other sentient agent) judgment.

    So, before I answer, to you, do mathematical principles like “1+1=2” exist independently of human judgement?

    We also agree on the category ‘triathlon’ as a type of race. Does that mean the concept triathlon is objective? That there is an independent triathlon-ness in certain races, and aliens from outer space could point a detector at various races and say “yep, that one there has triathlon-ness, this other one doesn’t”?

    I think that an alien species, once they became aware of what a triathlon was, could definitely look at races and determine which are triathlons and which are not, just as they could look at a sport being played and determine which is baseball and which is ice hockey. There’s no “detector” needed, just an understanding of the concept and the ability to observe the purported instance. Again, you treat these things like THINGS, and very complicated and odd ones at that. They aren’t. They’re concepts.

    The fact that systems like utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative do not converge on the same conclusions means you are probably measuring (the philosophical equivalent of) N-rays. If morality was objective, different and systematically independent conceptual analyses of the subject would converge on what that objective answer was. They don’t.

    Well, the history of philosophy says that, well, that doesn’t happen for actual conceptual analysis (as opposed to what science does when it does conceptual analysis). Look, the reason the two don’t converge is because for them we aren’t and can’t just look at a thing really hard in different ways and write down what we observe. We have to start from a principle and work out a system to describe it. Why haven’t we “converged” so far? Because all of these end up, at some point, promoting an idea that our intuitions scream is horribly immoral, and yet follows from the moral starting point. In short, it’s our sense that morality is objective that ends up screaming that the developed view is incorrect. And our moral intuitions always scream against us considering morality to be subjective or relativistic as well. So arguing on the basis of a “lack of convergence” fails because the lack there is not because it is reasonable to think that morality as a concept is not objective, but instead because it is, in fact, a really, really, really hard question.

    Not only is Ruse wrong in saying religion can’t offer quasi-scientific answers, but the quasi-scientific answers offered by the Pope in a formal pronouncement on Catholic doctrine is inconsistent with modern science.

    Except that Ruse is saying that when religion does that, they’re overstepping their bounds … and given that papal infallibility explicitly does not apply to matters of fact, he’d certainly have a point wrt Catholicism.

    I imagine different believers will respond differently. Regardless of how believers respond to it, the point itself serves to show that Ruse and Gould and the like are wrong; the magisteria overlap.

    NOMA, it seems to me, does not preclude matters of fact impacting a religious view, which is all you have here, What it would imply is that matters of fact belong to science, and matters of morals/faith belong to religion, and any impact that those have on the other have to be settled internally by that view, and can’t be imposed externally. Essentially, if science discovers something as a matter of fact, it is not the place of religion to tell science that it is wrong because of their religious presumptions, but it is not the place of science to tell religion what that fact means or what impact it must have on the religion. Thus, you have to do a lot more to prove that Ruse is wrong.

  127. #127 Kel
    June 10, 2015

    “You need to move away from the clergy and get rough on the science.”
    That is not a response to “here’s a source for the claim”. If scientists aren’t the source of what’s scientifically valid, then just what do you accept?

  128. #128 eric
    June 10, 2015

    VS [multiple quotes about math, triathlon, and conceptual truths]: I agree morality can be deductive; you can come up with axioms or premises, plus operations/functions, and then everyone (human or alien) who uses the operations correctly on the axioms should get the same, reproducible, outputs.

    Is that objective? Well under some definitions it can be. If, for example, your premises are based on fact rather than some internal preference. I’m not sure that’s the case for moral systems: what factual basis is there for the utilitarian premise that maximizing utility is good? What fact is the categorical imperative based on? If we act on some rule which could not be universally applied…what happens? Does the universe hit us with an asteroid? Are we hypocrites…and if so, does that mean the categorical imperative rests on the premise that hypocrisy is bad? There seem to be no facts here. Reasonable premises, sure, but they aren’t grounded in any external thing. Just human intuitions about what is good.

    They’re also not objective in the way we use the word to refer to properties such as charge or momentum: the results of moral reasoning are highly dependent on the system (premises and rules) you choose, and these, again, do not really converge. Your discussion about convergence doesn’t really treat the issue, either. The convergence problem is not that a given system (such as utilitarianism) doesn’t converge with all of our intuitions. The convergence problem is also not that we have conflicting intuitions. The convergence problem is that utilitarianism gives different answers as to what is right and wrong than the categorical imperative, which gives different answers than virtue ethics, and so on, and so on. If all these moral systems were measuring some objective property of actions, then they would yield the same right-or-wrong answer to every scenario. They don’t; an action that is right under virtue ethics can be wrong under utilitarianism, and vice versa. That is a very good indication you have a subjective quality. What is “moral” is fully dependent on the axioms and functions you choose in your moral system, and has no external reality beyond those choices.

    So in response to your question about math, I would say mathematics is deductive. Its objective in that if you teach humans and aliens the meanings of the symbols and the functions and ask a math question, they should all get the same answer. However, numbers and mathematical operations (such as addition) have no objective existence the way, say, mass does. How we count is subjective; there are many different ways to do it and one is not fundamentally more objectively right than any other. Our function choices are also subjective; humans have picked addition, subtraction, etc.. because they are useful. These functions have no objective existence, hold no special metaphysical place. They are useful problem-solving conventions.
    If you want to say “good is maximizing utility” is objective the same way “addition is calculating the total of two amounts” is objective, I’m okay with that. If you want to say that your fist approaching my face has some objective moral quality to it the same way your fist has momentum, I’m not okay with that.

    Except that Ruse is saying that when religion does that, they’re overstepping their bounds … and given that papal infallibility explicitly does not apply to matters of fact, he’d certainly have a point wrt Catholicism.

    How is it overstepping the bounds of Catholicism for the Pope to determine (or elucidate) Catholic theology regarding the reality of Adam and Eve for/to the laity? Are you privy to what God tells the Pope, able to say with authority that no, statements about a physical Adam and Eve are not the sorts of revelations God makes to the Pope?

    Believers often claim that Gods reveal matters of fact. Which puts us in the position of rejecting NOMA or making a No True Revelation argument.As I said in @73, NOMA kinda assumes religions are human social constructs, and not based on communication between God or Gods and humans. That seems to me to be one side (my side!) taking as an assumption the conclusion they should be arguing. The right way to proceed is to allow that religion could be based on such communications, and so religious revelation can “legitimately” include literally any content at all. Then if you want to argue that religions should stick to moral/values claims because this communication stuff is just bunk and religion is really a tool of humans like – and complimentary to – science, you can do that. But you won’t be presuming it, which is NOMA’s problem.

  129. #129 Verbose Stoic
    June 10, 2015

    eric,

    I find it both amusing and bemusing that after you asked me if morality was independent of human judgement as if that term itself was a key and obvious term in determining if morality was objective … you never actually ever answered whether or not you considered mathematics as being independent of human judgement. At any rate, I’ll assume that you think it is at least in some of the key ways that we want to talk about objectivity vs subjectivity.

    So, given the comparison to mathematics, I presume that you accept that if someone says that 1 + 1 = 3 and mean that in the context of standard base 10, that we can say that they are in fact completely, totally and demonstrably wrong. So the truth value of that statement doesn’t depend on a set of subjective values: if you’re in standard base 10, 1 + 1 = 3 is false. This means that the statement MIGHT be contextually true — ie depending on mathematical system — but that once you establish the context, we have an absolute, objective, proven truth. Okay so far?

    So, then, if morality is like mathematics then we at least are at the point where we can say “If your moral system is X, then Y is morally wrong” and have that be a true statement. You can’t argue that it is not true about that moral system given the purported starting point.

    Okay, so now let’s examine the difference between systems. So, starting from mathematics again, let me define 10′, a mathematical system exactly like base 10 except that it defines “+” as “subtract the second from the first, and then multiply the two”. So in 10′, 1 + 1 = 0.

    So, imagine that someone is using 10′, and says “1 + 1 = 0”. Someone else says that they’re wrong, as 1 + 1 = 2. The first person replies that they are using 10′. At that point, all the second person can do is concede that they are right, and said nothing wrong. The worst they did was not make their mathematical system clear.

    Now, if this part of the analogy holds, then this would have to make equal sense:

    Someone says “I am using the natural law moral system, and so homosexuality is morally wrong” and no one else would be able to say that they are wrong or incorrect about that, as long as that does follow from the moral system.

    The problem is that, in general, this doesn’t seem to make any sense. One wouldn’t be able to settle a moral dispute over homosexuality by having each side simply point out what moral system they were using, like you can in the mathematical case. While your view, then, might be correct, it certainly is an extraordinary claim about morality … and therefore one that needs demonstration.

    Also, on deduction, here is one very important thing that you are missing:

    All conceptual truths are deductive.

    Because of this, as soon as you say that you accept that morality could be deductively true, you concede the game to me. Remember, I’m saying that moral and normative truths are conceptual truths, and so they have to be deductive … but they are true nonetheless.

    So, on to the convergence problem. What you missed is that, essentially, my claim was that right now the various theories are at least argued to not actually properly express the concept of morality. There’s no problem of convergence for theories that all seem to be improperly expressing the concept or phenomena, because most if not all of them, at that level, are JUST PLAIN WRONG. What you’re doing is the equivalent is complaining about three different scientific theories not all predicting the same outcomes when they are, in fact, three incompatible scientific theories that aren’t confirmed and, in fact, seem to predict some of the empirical data incorrectly. We have no reason to worry about convergence when we are still worrying about whether any of them are RIGHT.

    How is it overstepping the bounds of Catholicism for the Pope to determine (or elucidate) Catholic theology regarding the reality of Adam and Eve for/to the laity? Are you privy to what God tells the Pope, able to say with authority that no, statements about a physical Adam and Eve are not the sorts of revelations God makes to the Pope?

    Because, as I said, papal infallibility says that it doesn’t apply to matters of fact, only matters of faith and morals. If the existence of Adam and Eve is a matter of fact — and you clearly think it is — then we have good reason to say that the Pope’s comments ON THAT overstep his bounds, by the rules of his own theology. Catholicism, then, may well be explicitly a NOMA religion.

    Believers often claim that Gods reveal matters of fact. Which puts us in the position of rejecting NOMA or making a No True Revelation argument.

    By capitalizing it, you treat it like a “No True Scotsman” argument, and thus invalid. But why is it necessarily an invalid argument to say that someone didn’t actually have a revelation due to its content? You can get at it by inconsistency with their own theology, inconsistency of revelations, or even inconsistency with their idea of God. There’s no reason to say that we are forced into a “No True Revelation” argument when we can, based on good arguments, argue that what they had couldn’t actually be a revelation by what it means to be a revelation.

    But you won’t be presuming it, which is NOMA’s problem.

    Ruse and Gould didn’t presume NOMA. They argued for it, based on their views of the purposes of science and religion, and said nothing about whether revelations really happened or not. That you find the arguments unconvincing does not mean that they are merely assuming their arguments or, even worse, that they are assuming something that you think true even though they don’t necessarily think it true and deny that it is an implication of their view.

  130. #130 Phil
    June 10, 2015

    Kel,

    “That is not a response to “here’s a source for the claim”. If scientists aren’t the source of what’s scientifically valid, then just what do you accept?”

    The operative phrase is “what’s scientifically valid”. Scientists are just as subject to bias as anyone else. I don’t think it is all that difficult to tell the difference between what a person actually knows, and what they just like or believe. The former is going to have some empirical basis.

    What do you think about this?

    http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/43204/title/Soft-Tissue-Detected-in-Millennia-Old-Dino-Bones/

  131. #131 eric
    June 11, 2015

    you never actually ever answered whether or not you considered mathematics as being independent of human judgement

    Our counting systems and functions were chosen by humans for their utility (or maybe in some cases out of historical inertia). That choice of which functions to use is not independent of human judgment; it is subjective. AFAIK all mathematical systems are deductive, so they are objective if you’re using ‘objective’ and ‘deductive’ as synonyms. If you don’t think they are synonyms, tell me what additional properties are in the ‘objective’ concept and we’ll discuss whether mathematics meets them.

    Someone says “I am using the natural law moral system, and so homosexuality is morally wrong” and no one else would be able to say that they are wrong or incorrect about that, as long as that does follow from the moral system.

    The problem is that, in general, this doesn’t seem to make any sense. One wouldn’t be able to settle a moral dispute over homosexuality by having each side simply point out what moral system they were using, like you can in the mathematical case.

    That’s exactly right! You’ve just pointed out how morality is subjective in a way mathematics is not. I agree the two are dissimilar on this point and the analogy might not be perfect. But I think you’ve pointed out a problem with the analogy that supports my point, not one that supports yours.

    Also, on deduction, here is one very important thing that you are missing:

    All conceptual truths are deductive.

    Because of this, as soon as you say that you accept that morality could be deductively true, you concede the game to me.

    Again, that depends on whether you’re using “objective” as a synonym for “deductive” or not. If you are, I agree moral systems can be objective. ARE you using them as synonyms? Or do you mean something more by ‘morality is objective’ than just ‘moral systems can be deductive?’

    I’m saying that moral and normative truths are conceptual truths, and so they have to be deductive … but they are true nonetheless

    True in the sense of merely being a valid deduction, or also a sound deduction? Because if you’re going to equate ‘objective’ to ‘deductive,’ then I think the valid vs. sound distinction – which is important when discussing deductions – is going to be important for whether you call some normative claim true.

    I also think you are straying very far away from conventional and vernacular claims about morality being objective. AFAIK most theologians who claim this are not saying anything like “in a given moral system, it can be shown to be deductively valid to conclude blasphemy is immoral.” They are saying “blasphemy is immoral, period, regardless of whether utilitarianism or some other moral system says otherwise.” They are NOT equating ‘objective’ with ‘deductive’ or ‘deductively derived,’ they are equating it with something much closer to a property charge or momentum.

    Because, as I said, papal infallibility says that it doesn’t apply to matters of fact, only matters of faith and morals.

    First, you’re mistaken in your first part because you’re misinterpreting the second part. The doctrine says ‘morals or faith.’ Its an or clause, not requiring that all ex cathedra statement be about normative claims. Faith-statements can include facts that the RCC asserts must be true. Like what’s in the Nicene creed, which includes many claims of revealed fact and yet is simultaneously a statement of faith, because faith can include facts.

    Second, I’d also argue that what counts as ‘legitimate RCC theology’ is much broader than just ex cathedra statements by the Pope. Your narrow interpretation would mean the Gospels are not legitimate RCC theology, which is quite humorous. It is certainly the case that if we move to discuss what counts as ‘legitimate’ Protestant theology, you can’t limit it to a minimum set of statements made by one individual. You’re going to have to allow ‘legitimate theology’ to include statements by wide variety of individual who, yes, may even contradict each other. But maybe that’s an argument best left for another day.

    But why is it necessarily an invalid argument to say that someone didn’t actually have a revelation due to its content?

    Because that is exactly the No True Scotsman fallacy. You don’t support the position “Legitimate theology only makes normative (& similar) claims” by examining revelations and deciding that all the revelations containing fact-claims must be false because they contain fact claims. That’s circular reasoning at its worst.

    You can get at it by inconsistency with their own theology, inconsistency of revelations, or even inconsistency with their idea of God.

    For the first and last, yes, those are ways to avoid the No True Theology fallacy. However NOMA doesn’t say those theologies that say revelations of facts don’t occur should only make normative (& the like) claims. That’s a defensible statement, though somewhat tautological. NOMA says *all* theologies – no exceptions – ought not make fact claims. Even the theologies that claim God can send revelations about facts. And the only way I can see anyone arriving at that conclusion is if they first presume that there can be no possible revelation which includes a fact-claim, not even in principle.

    Ruse and Gould didn’t presume NOMA. They argued for it, based on their views of the purposes of science and religion,

    I didn’t say they presume NOMA. I said NOMA presumes revelations containing fact-claims must be false revelations. That presumption is needed for NOMA to work; otherwise NOMA makes no theological sense.

  132. #132 Verbose Stoic
    June 11, 2015

    eric,

    AFAIK all mathematical systems are deductive, so they are objective if you’re using ‘objective’ and ‘deductive’ as synonyms. If you don’t think they are synonyms, tell me what additional properties are in the ‘objective’ concept and we’ll discuss whether mathematics meets them.

    The person who introduced “deductive” as a meaningful term in this debate … is you. I didn’t, and I think that they are two mostly unrelated concepts, and so not synonyms at all, and I never suggested that they were synonyms, my argument does not depend on them being synonyms, and I have no idea why you seem to be implying that somehow need to demonstrate that they are NOT synonyms to make my point.

    Okay, look, let me outline, briefly, shallowly, the relevant uses of “objective” in the sense that when people say that morality is objective, they generally mean these things at least.

    First is that term that you introduced and keep dodging: independent of human judgement. Which simply means that even if everyone believes otherwise, or even if no one is capable of determining the truth value of the proposition, it still has a known and set truth value. So, for example, 1 + 1 = 2 is true in standard base 10 even if everyone in the world believes that it is false. For morality, the common example would be that murder is morally wrong even if everyone thought that it was moral.

    The other usage is essentially that the truth value of the proposition doesn’t depend on the system or context it’s in. As I said, for mathematics the proposition is true, but only for the mathematical system you’re in. This is because while mathematics is deductive, it’s also axiomatic. Morality is not seen as being axiomatic. So, as I said, if someone claimed to be using natural law theory and said that homosexuality was wrong, if it did follow from that theory people wouldn’t just accept that as ending the debate, but would at a minimum, if they didn’t agree, claim that natural law theory is therefore reflecting morality incorrectly.

    Deductive claims are all objective in the first sense, but as I just said aren’t always objective in the second sense.

    That’s exactly right! You’ve just pointed out how morality is subjective in a way mathematics is not. I agree the two are dissimilar on this point and the analogy might not be perfect. But I think you’ve pointed out a problem with the analogy that supports my point, not one that supports yours.

    Except that you have it backwards: the example shows that mathematics is seen to be SUBJECTIVE in a way that we don’t think morality is, in that the truth value of mathematical propositions is contextual, while that of morality is not. Note that here I DON’T mean that in different situations the truth value of a proposition like “Killing someone is immoral” might be different depending on the situation, because the application of moral principles may indeed take situation into account in determining what is moral, and indeed Utilitarianism does this all the time. But the key is that the main, objective moral principles there are “What is moral is that which maximizes utility” and “Here is the procedure for determining utility”. Thus, those principles are objective, and we determine what is the right action using them, so it is an objective morality, even if the outcome may differ from situation to situation.

    First, you’re mistaken in your first part because you’re misinterpreting the second part. The doctrine says ‘morals or faith.’ Its an or clause, not requiring that all ex cathedra statement be about normative claims. Faith-statements can include facts that the RCC asserts must be true.

    The first part is explicit: papal infallibility cannot apply to STATEMENTS that are matters of fact. Yes, the pope can indeed state that certain facts must be true or else the Catholic faith is undermined, but that would in no way intrude on science in a NOMA discussion.

    Second, I’d also argue that what counts as ‘legitimate RCC theology’ is much broader than just ex cathedra statements by the Pope.

    Sure, since there are so few of them. But those are the only statements that, in theory, cannot be altered or argued against … and they don’t apply to statements of fact. Therefore, there is no reason to think that the rest of the theology is not open to adjustment on the basis of scientific facts as well, and so the theology can indeed adapt to the scientific facts and therefore, in line with Ruse, not seek to overturn facts or assert facts but instead to align the theology with the facts. So if the pope asserts that Adam and Eve literally existed, Ruse could indeed claim that he’s overstepping the bounds of his office … and any other theological claim could also be seen as such. So, the example you raised of a definite conflict is, in fact, not one.

    Because that is exactly the No True Scotsman fallacy. You don’t support the position “Legitimate theology only makes normative (& similar) claims” by examining revelations and deciding that all the revelations containing fact-claims must be false because they contain fact claims. That’s circular reasoning at its worst.

    But that’s not what’s happening. They are saying for other reasons that NOMA holds and so religions are not about discovering matters of fact (using them, perhaps, but not discovering them), people like you are pointing out claims of fact, they reply that if NOMA is true then those aren’t valid religious claims even if the people who make them think they are, and then you insist that their argument is circular. They are not using revelation to make their point, so it isn’t circular. If NOMA is true, then that follows. So either defeat NOMA or show how those revelations MUST be considered validly religious ones even if they are about matters of fact.

  133. #133 Eric MacDonald
    June 12, 2015

    Just a brief response to eric at #69. ‘Rosenberg’ as not a typo, and I was not aware of Rosenhouse’s post at the time. Rosenberg refers to Alex Rosenberg, the radical naturalist, who believes all talk about brains and minds can be reduced to scientific statements (to go no further).

    Interesting, how you take the Bible so literally. Certainly, there are apparently empirical claims made about the God of the Bible’s doings, but these are not taken seriously as empirical data except by fundamentalists, and hardly qualify at empirical proofs or evidence of God’s existence (except for fundamentalists, of course, and atheists endeavouring to make a point).

    I do not think that the NOMA hypothesis, although Coyne uses it, is relevant to the question that Ruse is asking, that is, whether there is logical space for religious believers to to speak in ways that are not inconsistent with science, thus allowing for an accommodationist position, which is all that Ruse is arguing for. Whether religious believers would take this seriously or not (give Ruse’s disbelief) is another question and irrelevant to the accommodationist point that Ruse is making.

    Regarding molecular machines. I think it would be hard to make a one-to-one correlation between molecular events and thoughts, beliefs, and other intentional states. Indeed, since we do not know what consciousness is, and how it is accounted for, there seems to be no scientific evidence that we are, in the requisite sense, molecular machines. Unfortunately, those who take a scientistic viewpoint simply accept this as a matter of faith. The argument goes somewhat like this. ‘Atoms are deterministic entities. Molecules are composed of atoms. Therefore molecules are deterministic. Brains are made of molecules. There is a one-one relationship between brain molecules and mental events. Therefore mental events are deterministic.’ Do you see any gaps in the argument? If you don’t, please explain.

  134. #134 Eric MacDonald
    June 12, 2015

    Not quite true. I was aware of Rosenhouse’s contribution, since Coyne mentions it, but I had not read it until today.

  135. #135 JGC
    June 12, 2015

    I get hung up on the first word of his first question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

    Unless there’s reason to believe it’s highly unlikely there should ever be something instead of nothing (i.e., that the existence of a physical universe of some sort, even if very different than the one we observe, is soemthing we should not have expected to observe) I see no reason to ascribe its existence to goal orientation or deliberate intent–to posit there must be a “why” to its existence.

    I feel it’s more appropriate to frame the question in terms of “How?” as “How did the universe that demonstrably does exist arise?”

    When Isee something like a mountain range, after all, I don’t ask “Why is this here (for what purpose did it arise)?” what purpose does it serve?)?” but “How did this come to be here?”–a question that will lead eventually to a practical understanding of tectonic uplift and subduction, etc..

  136. #136 sean samis
    June 12, 2015

    JGC @135,

    I agree. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” has become a question for bored philosophers. In English, ‘why’ can speak to purpose or cause. The latter is for cosmologists, the former for theologians.

    Cosmologists have a pretty solid answer to the cause; Theologians are plagued by an abundance of conflicting “answers”.

    IMHO, For the rest of us, this idle question is best served with beer and pretzels.

    sean s.

  137. #137 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 12, 2015

    Eric MacDonald–

    I do not think that the NOMA hypothesis, although Coyne uses it, is relevant to the question that Ruse is asking, that is, whether there is logical space for religious believers to to speak in ways that are not inconsistent with science, thus allowing for an accommodationist position, which is all that Ruse is arguing for. Whether religious believers would take this seriously or not (give Ruse’s disbelief) is another question and irrelevant to the accommodationist point that Ruse is making.

    That there is logical space for believers to make assertions without being directly contradicted by science is so trivial and obvious that you hardly need fourteen pages in an academic journal to make the point. The problem is that Ruse seems to think that establishing the existence of this logical space is all that is needed to reconcile science and religion. The reality, though, is that all the hard work of reconciliation is still ahead of you after you acknowledge it.

    Ruse himself discusses NOMA, and treats it as though it is the sensible default position that everyone ought to hold. He criticizes Gould only for unreasonably restricting religion’s domain to moral questions alone.

    Certainly, there are apparently empirical claims made about the God of the Bible’s doings, but these are not taken seriously as empirical data except by fundamentalists, and hardly qualify at empirical proofs or evidence of God’s existence (except for fundamentalists, of course, and atheists endeavouring to make a point).

    Most evangelicals are not fundamentalists, but they accept Biblical inerrancy nonetheless. They certainly do take the accounts in the Bible to be empirical data about God’s interactions with humans, and about what He wants from us. And they also generally believe that God’s existence can be established empirically, arguing along the lines of the ID folks.

  138. #138 Richard Wein
    United Kingdom
    June 14, 2015

    Eric MacDonald mentions Coyne’s assertion that we are molecular machines. It’s not clear just how we should take Coyne’s assertion, but I would take it as asserting something like a physicalist or anti-dualist position. At the molecular level of abstraction there are just molecules. No mysterious additional non-physical stuff is needed.

    A physicalist position certainly doesn’t require us to say that there is “a one-to-one correlation between molecular events and thoughts, beliefs, and other intentional states”. There isn’t a one-to-one correlation between molecular events and moves made by a chess-playing computer, or the state of such a computer being in check. Is that supposed to be a problem for the physicalist too? We model reality with many different levels and types of abstraction. The molecular level is just one (and not the lowest one). The intentional level of abstraction is another. When we model reality in terms of beliefs, etc, we are adopting what Dennett calls “the intentional stance”.

    If you’re going to call people “scientistic” for being physicalists, then I think you would have to accuse Ruse of “scientism” too.

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