Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Difficult Questions for Atheists? Part 1

A little while back, my friend UnkleE suggested that I should consider some questions that he believes are problematic for atheism as a worldview. He listed 5 questions, and I want to take them one at a time, so they can each get the focus they deserve.

That said, my initial responses to each of these questions may not be very long. Instead, I’d like to use each of these posts as a launchpad for discussion. I know these are issues that UnkleE (and probably many of you) have thought about at length, and I’d like to consider those arguments as fully as possible without subjecting everyone to my own rambling preamble. So, here’s question 1:

Do we have free will? If so, how? If not how can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

I don’t know.

I’m aware that a number of physicists and other scientists sometimes argue that free will is an illusion. That was shocking to me when I first heard it, but I now realize what they’re saying.

Imagine you could go back in time to a point where a decision was made on something seemingly insignificant. In 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. It’s said that another musician, Tommy Allsup, was going to be on the plane instead of Ritchie Valens, but they flipped a coin for it, and Valens “won.” If you could go back in time and witness that coin flip without interfering, would anything happen differently? Whoever came up with the idea of flipping for it thought of that for very specific reasons that would still be the same if it happened over again. Allsup flipped the coin at a specific level of force, and it flipped through specific atmospheric conditions. Those things would still be the same if you were watching it happen. Valens called “heads,” which he did for specific reasons, even if they were subconscious. In other words, every single thing that happened, even though they were seemingly random, happened in particular ways for particular reasons. If you could replay it over, there’s no reason to think anything would play out differently.

And every decision you’ve ever made, you made for specific reasons, even if the decision was close. If you went back in time and made the decision over again, but only knew the same things you knew at that moment, could you have made any other decision?

There’s no real way to test this, but the thought experiment leads many to conclude that true “free will” is not really possible.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I do think that if you could replay decisions, it’s unlikely they would ever change. But that’s not really what I think of when I think of free will. Just because I made all my decisions for specific reasons and was “powerless,” in a way, to do anything different, that doesn’t mean that I had no control over the decisions. Thought processes were still firing in my brain as I calculated a number of factors, considered past experiences, estimated probabilities, and tried to predict possible outcomes. I might always come to the same conclusion in the same circumstances, but my mind is still very active in the process.

[H]ow can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

I think any choice — any good choice — should be using both. Brain processes deal with information, and that’s all that evidence is, so I see them as being very closely related.

Ultimately, I don’t see how this question causes a problem for atheism. I may have more to say about it in the comment thread, but I’ll need to see the case against atheism filled out a bit more before I can really weigh in on it.

322 thoughts on “Difficult Questions for Atheists? Part 1”

  1. unkleE: If you think that I have “time and again” misunderstood you, why don’t you even bother to point out exactly where my misunderstanding was and clarify what you actually meant instead of ignoring what I said and re-stating your claims over and over? Did you even read what I wrote, or did your eyes “(metaphorically) glaze over” again?

    I’m not just saying “you are wrong!” I carefully explained what I meant and what I think you meant. On the other hand, you say that I’m wrong and that I’m misunderstanding you, without delving into why. Saying that you’re frustrated and typing “No. No. No.” is not addressing anything. If you addressed the issues directly, maybe you wouldn’t be frustrated? Trust me, I wouldn’t want for you to be “misunderstood and frustrated,” but please, don’t paint me with playing the “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” game, as I’m not the one engaging in this; I’m trying to address the issues and arguments directly. To wit: I don’t ignore what you say, quite the contrary, I try to carefully unpack it and pick it apart.

    To the unkleE theorem again (through which, BTW, I was paying you a compliment in saying that you hit on a subtle issue that required careful consideration–a courtesy that you have not extended to me), please explain:

    What exactly do you mean when you say that physical processes could not allow for people to disagree or to give rise such different brains as Dawkins’ and Craig’s?

    On quotations, I will let the readers decide if you’re using them properly, or even in a convincing way. You say that I have “still not understood the different uses of references after [you] have explained it [SIC] 2 or 3 times.” Well, I’ve been using references since I was in graduate school over 25 years ago, and not a single referee has denied me publication because of incorrect use of references, so I think I may just continue using them the way I understand them, but thank you for attempting to explain your own understanding to me.

    You defended your quotes by saying that they’re not fallacious as long as the authors are in fact “experts.” I point out Albert Einstein, and now you agree that, well, he’s not a actually an expert after all. Old Al has now been downgraded to a “non-expert,” but it doesn’t matter because you were only using him as an “example,” a sort of a “case,” really, to be analyzed through his quote. Hmmm, OK. And again you seem to be implying that you only claimed that all these authors experienced “dissonance,” even though you actually referred to and defined “cognitive dissonance.” Is just “dissonance” different? Am I misunderstanding again? Because this is not what you originally said; you now appear to be softening your claim and not acknowledging what your stronger claim actually was:

    You claimed that these authors were experiencing the psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” and that, consequently, they were “embracing comforting delusions!” Are you now rolling this back to a less ambitious, if undefined, claim of just “dissonance”? Are you now saying that you were not quoting “experts,” after all, but just psychoanalyzing some “non-expert” authors via isolated quotes?

    If non-experts is all that’s needed, I volunteer to offer myself as a case for you to psychoanalyze: I am convinced, for a variety of reasons, that LFW does NOT exist and, almost certainly, cannot possibly exist. Since I recognize my “feeling” of LFW for the illusion that it is, I do NOT experience “cognitive dissonance.”

    With apologies to Billy Crystal and Robert deNiro, 🙂 will you please “Psychoanalyze That” to explain how it does not refute your psychoanalysis of all those authors, and to demonstrate how I am, in fact, “embracing a comforting delusion”?

    Like

  2. Out of curiosity, as I am not one for such in-depth, heavy philosophy, but wouldn’t an omnipotent/omniscient being/deity be a Determinist?
    Just asking …

    That is pretty much the question of predestination, which is much argued in religious circles.

    Like

  3. That is pretty much the question of predestination, which is much argued in religious circles.

    Therefore, wouldn’t unklee essentially be arguing against his own god?

    Like

  4. Travis: On your statement that “ontological truth and “what works” [are] epistemically indistinguishable,” I understand your pragmatism and I completely agree that the logic behind it is all perfectly self-consistent.

    However, I think it’s useful to keep ontology and epistemology separate to prevent people from doing a “two-step” shuffle where, when they cannot disagree with a resolution of perceived problems in one area, they jump to perceived problems in the other other area, and when that is addressed, they go back to the first, and around and around we go. This equivocation is not useful.

    For example, when someone claims that “physical systems that generate cognition cannot exist” (meaning that “existence” is not possible) and when they cannot disagree with your example that AI and Machine Learning demonstrate that physical processes can, in fact, produce logical processes (“existence” is actually possible after all), they switch to “well, but the programmer designed it” (“existence” might be possible, but “origin” is not possible). And when the “design” problem is addressed (“origin” is actually possible), they go back to “the designer couldn’t exist because physical systems that generate logic cannot exist” (“origin” is not possible because “existence” could not be possible without “origin”). Repeat circularity.

    The first question is “Can physical processes yield cognition?” This is a question of “ontology,” in other words, it’s a question of: Can they “exist” in the first place? The second question is: Assuming that they do exist, how did they get there? This is a question of “epistemology,” in other words, it’s a question about our ability to know or understand about the “origins” that can give rise to these physical processes (are they gods, Natural Selection, aliens, magic, random chance, etc.).

    This is the two-step “dance” that we keep witnessing here:

    ————————————————–
    1. “Physical processes that give rise to logical processes cannot exist.” (“Existence” is the problem.)

    Response to 1: “Counter-examples: AI and Machine Learning exist.” (Addressing the “existence” question.)

    2. “Sure, physical processes that give rise to logical processes can exist, but that’s because they’re designed and programmed by intelligent programmers.” (“Existence” wasn’t the problem after all, “origins” is the problem.)

    Response to 2: “Intelligent programmers are not needed for biological cognition, Natural Selection is the “designer” and “programmer” in that case” (Addressing the “origins” question.)

    3. “I am incredulous that Natural Selection can be a “designer” because a “designer” has to have “cognition,” and as I said in 1. above, physical processes that give rise to cognition cannot exist.” (“Origins” wasn’t the problem after all, “existence” is still the problem, because, you see, “origins” was the problem all along because “existence” was the problem…)

    Repeat circularity over and over…
    ————————————————–

    So when you address “existence” they attempt to refute it with “origins.” When you address “origins,” they attempt to refute that back with “existence,” which in turn was refuted with “origins,” and around we go. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. unkleE: I don’t know that “half agreeing” is even possible, but I’ll take it (for now). 🙂

    AR: “1) An author’s psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the belief that brought him to experience that “cognitive dissonance” in the first place.”

    unkleE: “I only half agree with each. (1) I think a person can have cognitive dissonance whether their beliefs are actually true or not, but the person has to believe they are true –”

    OK, the person has to be aware that they “believe to be true” two or more self-contradicting propositions (this is your statement after the unnecessary “but” since we agree on this, so no “but” is needed; I stated this way back). And, you agree with me that “cognitive dissonance” can happen “whether their beliefs are actually true or not,” (this is your statement before the “but”) or, in other words, “cognitive dissonance” has nothing to do with whether the beliefs are true or not, which is exactly 1). So where is the “partial” agreement with 1)?

    As written, your statement is in full agreement with 1).

    AR: “2) If someone has a belief that causes them “cognitive dissonance” and they subsequently realize that the belief is an illusion, their “cognitive dissonance” disappears.”

    UnkleE: “and I’m guessing that more of our beliefs are true than not, so I think the truth of a belief will have an impact on the level of dissonance. For this reason, I don’t fully accept (2) either. Their dissonance may well decrease, but their “realisation” may also be wrong, and real life may still hit them over the head at times.”

    ???? You’re entitled to your “guess,” but I’m not willing to accept that “more of our beliefs are true than not,” nor that this is even a quantifiable, answerable, consistent across people, nor even a meaningful, comparison. Besides, if a belief in a proposition makes that proposition more likely to be true than not, then why does that maxim not apply to our belief that something is an illusion? But anyway, whether a belief in a proposition makes the proposition more likely to be true, is neither here nor there.

    This is because you are confusing beliefs with their content, and belief that something is an illusion, with it actually being an illusion. Again: Proposition p can be true or not true. If I believe that p is true, this does not say anything about the truth value of p. It says that I have a belief that p is true. My belief that p is true, can be true or it can be false. And if you still insist that the belief makes p more likely to be true, then a belief in p</strong = “A statement is an illusion” would also be more likely to be true than not, using your “guess.” So “life may well hit them less over the head” than otherwise.

    It does not matter that their “realisation” may be wrong, what matters is that they believe it to be right! In other words, they believe that one of the apparently self-contradicting propositions is not actually true, but an “illusion,” so in their minds, they’re no longer aware that there is a contradiction, regardless of whether they might be correct or not! So the “cognitive illusion” is no longer there, and “life” makes more sense.

    So, as written, your “half” agreement with 1) is actually full agreement, and your “lack of full acceptance” of 2) is a non-sequitur because you’re confusing beliefs with truths, and a “realization” that something is an illusion with the “fact” that it is an illusion.

    BTW unkleE, I wanted to clarify that I’m not “frustrated” by any of this. I just address arguments (never people) and “call ’em as I see ’em,” all the while recognizing full well that I could be wrong. 🙂

    Like

  6. Hi Travis, as I said, I’m reluctant to keep flogging what appears to be a dead horse, but I am also reluctant to deny us both the opportunity to develop our own understanding and respond to each others’, so I’ll give it at least one more try. But I’m away again overnight, so give me a little time. Thanks.

    Like

  7. Hi Limey,

    I readily believe that you think you are managing just fine, and that means you don’t see any problem. But it may still be that there are logical inconsistencies in your thinking and behaviour. For a start, most people, and the law, believe moral responsibility requires enough freedom to have acted in a different way in the same circumstances, which determinism doesn’t provide. So if you ever hold anyone morally accountable, or use words like “should” or “ought”, you may be thinking inconsistently even though you may not think you are.

    But if you are happy the way you are, I’m not trying to change you, just offering you something to think about. Thanks.

    Like

  8. AR,
    There may be an element of truth to the circularity you identified but I would prefer to give Eric the benefit of the doubt. Though he has said that he is not presupposing that logic (ground-consequent reasoning) transcends nature I think this is actually what is happening and is how the circularity you identified is avoided. So the version I see being put forth is saying that physical systems only operate on cause-and-effect (not ground-consequent) but can produce ground-consequent outcomes if they are designed to do so by something which possesses ground-consequent faculties. The implication is that those physical systems are only ground-consequent systems by virtue of design and that natural systems would not arrive at this mode of operation because their development is strictly driven by cause-and-effect and lacks an impetus to produce ground-consequent systems. Ergo, systems which can execute and design ground-consequent systems are not strictly natural.

    If ground-consequent logic was actually something that was clearly independent of cause-and-effect then I think this could be a compelling argument, but I fail to see why ground-consequent should be deemed as such. I find that things like Bayesian networks fit quite nicely with natural selection to yield ground-consequent processes. So I perceive that the fly in the ointment is an assumption about the ontology of ground-consequent logic, but I’m also happy to be shown how I’m wrong.

    Like

  9. “So if you ever hold anyone morally accountable, or use words like “should” or “ought”, you may be thinking inconsistently”

    You should realise that should and ought are subjective opinions, something that determinism allows us to have. You ought to have realised by now that having an opinion is a perfectly acceptable way to live and is not at all contradicted by determinism.

    “But if you are happy the way you are, I’m not trying to change you, just offering you something to think about. ”

    And I am offering you the same thing back, myself and many others are totally fine with the fact that determinism does not cause the problems you claim it does. Think on that!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Limey: You may think that you’re managing fine in your home and at work, but there may be inconsistencies in your thinking and behavior. For starters, most bricklayers and the entire field of Architecture require that the ground not be moving when they built buildings, something that the non-stationary Earth hypothesis doesn’t provide. So if you ever go up and down stairs, or ever use words like “7th floor, please” while in an elevator, you may be thinking inconsistently even though you may not think you are.

    Something to think about. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hi Travis,

    ”I would like to stick with what you feel is your main point …. Have I properly summarized the difficulty you’re trying to present? If so, how is my response deficient?”

    Yes, you have correctly identified my main points, but I believe your response is deficient because (1) I don’t think it addresses the problem in a realistic way, (2) I think “epistemically indistinguishable” is quite insufficient, and therefore (3) your view is a statement of “faith”, or what you hope is true, rather than something which is clearly true – i.e. we know the answer we want (we feel like we have free will and that it is important) and we know the starting point (naturalism) and so naturalists tend to gloss over the steps to get from A to Z.

    Of course you understand (I hope) that I am not attributing bad motives to you. I accept that you are totally genuine in your thinking and that you have put considerable thought and reading into this matter. But just as you think people can generally think and act as if we have free will when we don’t, so I think you are thinking you have justification when in fact you don’t.

    I am glad to proceed a little further, even though I feel it may be time to give up the topic, to see if we can nut out why we differ in more detail. I have four suggestions for discussion (I think 1 & 3 are minor, 2 & 4 are major).

    1. You and others often mention supernaturalism, dualism, etc, but I am NOT talking about those things. I am only talking about the implications of atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism, which is the subject of Nate’s post. I am suggesting that there are problems for these views. Whether there are problems for any other views is a separate issue which we could discuss later.

    2. I think you gloss over the problems of cause and effect processes producing ground and consequence reasoning via natural selection, without explaining them in enough detail to show they can reliably deliver what you think they do. I think there are several barriers your explanation has to overcome.

    Natural selection is based on survival to reproduce in numbers, not on cognitive abilities, and many other factors are involved, not just cognition. e.g. at the lowest level of logic (e.g. fight or flight), stopping to think may be the WORST survival strategy, and speed of reaction and running may be far more important.

    We may feel that this is sufficient, but when we get to higher cognition, we may be a long way removed from survival, and there may be no reproduction advantage in having advanced mathematical and logic skills – nerds may attract less mates than an Adonis. Yet you have to establish not only that high level cognition can sometimes develop via natural selection, but that it has developed reliably. Just saying you think it can happen is surely not sufficient. I think it is reasonable to say that cognition assists survival (i.e. it is reliable more often than unreliable), but it is a huge leap from that to say that cause-effect processes produce higher cognitive faculties that are as reliable as we know them to be. Natural selection can work on small probabilistic advantages, but human cognition requires much more reliability than that.

    (I think it is telling that the example both you and Dennett give is a computer, which is deliberately designed by a designer using criteria directly relevant to the desired end result, whereas natural selection is not deliberate, has no teleology and is based on a criterion (survival to reproduce) that isn’t the one we are interested in. The two are not analogous at all if naturalism is true.)

    3. You say ”the recognition of ontological truth and “what works” are epistemically indistinguishable”, but I don’t think this is true (if I understand it correctly), it lacks sufficient justification/explanation and I don’t think it is relevant. An earth-centric cosmology “worked” for thousands of years, and societies all over the world could predict solstices, seasons etc, but it was wrong. I am arguing about what is true, not what works or how we can feel good about things.

    4. The punch line is how we argue truth today. If determinism is true, grounds never produce consequences, or anything else. Only causes/events produce other events, and they have apparent consequences connected to them in whatever way the theory we hold says. So the reason why people disagree is not because they don’t see ground consequence differently, but because they experience cause and effect differently. And if the connection between ground-consequence and cause and effect is less than highly reliable, as I’ve suggested in #2, and the other person’s processes are different to ours (because human cognition is not fully reliable if determinism is true), then we have no clear way to demonstrate anything logical.

    Further, argument isn’t a matter of explaining why a person is wrong and them seeing it, it is a matter of each of us having different and not fully reliable connections between cause-effect and ground consequence and so coming to different conclusions on some matters. Determinism makes logical argument useless unless you can demonstrate how natural selection produces reliable cognitive faculties, not just ones statistically conducive to survival.

    So that’s where I see your view as lacking, in actually describing the processes you invoke and showing they can really work reliably enough. Thanks.

    Like

  12. Hi AR,

    I appreciate that you have tried to answer the issues I raised, but I’m sorry, you have only confirmed in my mind that we are on different pages and our discussion has become unproductive. So I’m not going to try to explain yet again why I think that, and will withdraw from our discussion as I foreshadowed. Thank you for your time.

    Like

  13. unkleE: This changes nothing, as there never was a “discussion” between you and me here. You never addressed any of my objections to your “problems” and only kept re-stating the same “problems” over and over with half-hearted dismissals of any objections. With responses like “my eyes glaze over,” “too many words,” “No. No. No.,” “I’m frustrated,” “you misunderstand me,” without any explanation, you only demonstrate that you don’t want to engage the issues when someone mounts a thoughtful challenge against your confused and flawed statements. Statements, I might add, infused with large doses of condescension, like your last comment to Limey about what he actually may “think,” and telling people that they embrace “comforting delusions,” or that their positions are based on “faith,” with breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

    I am here at Nate’s pleasure, and I will continue to comment as I see fit–including on your own comments–unless Nate asks me to stop. And again, whether you respond or not won’t change much of anything, as non-response has been your “approach” so far. My comments are forceful because I have little tolerance for what I perceive as nonsense and will point it out when I see it. I’m never impolite, nor do I tell people what they’re “thinking,” as I always try to address arguments, not personalities.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. 1. You and others often mention supernaturalism, dualism, etc, but I am NOT talking about those things. I am only talking about the implications of atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism, which is the subject of Nate’s post. I am suggesting that there are problems for these views. Whether there are problems for any other views is a separate issue which we could discuss later.

    This is where unklee’s argument/s always begin to come across as disingenuous.
    He is trying to assert the untenability of the things that encompass a non-theist world as if his theist worldview is inconsequentioal.

    It is ridiculous to argue about the implications of atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism unless the reason for arguing about them is mentioned.

    And this is also why those who engage him end up spitting feathers because it does not take too long before he is dismissing every point offered.
    ”Oh, it’s not like this (or that) …”
    ”I am not arguing this (or that )…”
    ”We are on different pages ….”
    ” I think you gloss over the problems of cause and effect processes ”
    ”So I don’t see anywhere that …..”
    ”I’m sorry, but I think this is not a relevant example.”

    etc etc ad nauseum

    He wouldn’t even have an argument to make if it were not for his god-belief. All told, he ends up coming across as an obstreperous and ridiculous old fart.

    Like

  15. Eric,
    There’s a lot there I could respond to but I don’t want us to get tangled up in a bunch of tangent threads so I want to focus on the major issues; but I need some more clarification.

    First, I want to make sure we’re on the same page with regard the distinction between cause-effect reasons and ground-consequent reasons. I assume that this language is rooted in CS Lewis’s adoption of the terms in his argument from reason, where he makes the distinction by highlighting two different ways we use the word “because”. For example, in the case of billiard balls, we can say “The 8-ball moved because it was struck by the cue ball” (cause-effect) or we can say “The 8-ball must have been struck by the cue ball because the 8-ball moved” (ground-consequent). The first case explains the 8-ball moving (effect) in terms of the cue ball striking it (cause). The second case infers from the observation that the 8-ball moved (ground) to the conclusion that it had been struck by the cue ball (consequent). So what we’re talking about with ground-consequent reasoning is the act of inference. Is this an agreeable description?

    Second, in your #2 you said

    I think it is reasonable to say that cognition assists survival (i.e. it is reliable more often than unreliable), but it is a huge leap from that to say that cause-effect processes produce higher cognitive faculties that are as reliable as we know them to be. Natural selection can work on small probabilistic advantages, but human cognition requires much more reliability than that.

    and in your #4 you said

    If determinism is true, grounds never produce consequences, or anything else. Only causes/events produce other events, and they have apparent consequences connected to them in whatever way the theory we hold says. … the connection between ground-consequence and cause and effect is less than highly reliable, as I’ve suggested in #2

    I’m confused because #2 implies that this reasoning can exist naturally and be selected for (albeit unreliably) while #4 seems to say that ground-consequent reasoning is impossible within determinism (“grounds never produce consequences” and consequences are only “apparent”). Which is it? Are you contesting the possibility or the reliability of ground-consequent reasoning under natural processes? The answer is pretty significant to the direction of the discussion.

    Like

  16. Hi Travis, thanks for checking. I’m sorry that I’m not always clear.

    “First, I want to make sure we’re on the same page with regard the distinction between cause-effect reasons and ground-consequent reasons”

    Yes, I got the words from CS Lewis (quoted in another book I was reading). I am distinguishing the physical process (cause leads to effect via the laws of physics) and the logical process (ground leads to consequence via the laws of inference).

    “I’m confused because #2 implies that this reasoning can exist naturally and be selected for (albeit unreliably) while #4 seems to say that ground-consequent reasoning is impossible within determinism (“grounds never produce consequences” and consequences are only “apparent”). Which is it? Are you contesting the possibility or the reliability of ground-consequent reasoning under natural processes?”

    I’m saying that there can be no direct ground-consequence reasoning with determinism, because everything, including our cognitive processes, is determined by the laws of physics (cause-effect). No ground every changed anything. Event 1 (cause) led to both event 2 (effect) and ground 1 (as an epiphenomenon or as another aspect of event 1), and then event 2 led to consequence 2. But ground 1 didn’t lead to consequence 2. I’ll try to produce a crude diagram (not sure if everything will line up right):

    Ground 1 Consequence 1
    ^ ^
    | |
    Event 1——————- > Event 2

    There is no arrow between ground 1 and consequence 2. That isn’t possible in determinism – the arrows can only go as shown. We can’t do logic directly under determinism, we can only experience cause and effect in our brain and hope/believe that they correlate or lead to accurate inference.

    Does that explain?

    Like

  17. It didn’t work! (Should have known HTML doesn’t show multiple spaces.) When typed in, there was a gap between ground and consequence, and the two up arrows lined up. But I hope you get the idea.

    Like

  18. Thanks Eric. Do I understand correctly then that you are saying that systems which we agree are deterministic (e.g., computers) cannot actually execute ground-consequent reasoning (logic) but can only mimic the execution of logical processes through cause-effect processes? If so, how is it that this claim is not assuming that logic is transcendent? If logic does not transcend the physical world then there would be no reason to say that deterministic (physical) systems cannot actually execute logic.

    Like

  19. Hi Travis,

    “you are saying that systems which we agree are deterministic (e.g., computers) cannot actually execute ground-consequent reasoning (logic) but can only mimic the execution of logical processes through cause-effect processes?”

    At the lowest level, that is clearly true. A computer works by moving electrical currents or voltages around circuits, and they are manifestly physically determined cause-effect processes. Now the computer has been designed so that those cause-effect processes produce results that conform to our understanding of logic (or of anything else we wish to calculate or simulate). And provided it has been programmed without bugs, it does what it is designed to do. But it could have been programmed to do bad logic or inference, and the computer would operate just as well, oblivious to the bad logic. It is just the same with a program designed to reproduced a photo at half or double scale, or one which calculates monthly accounts – it will give the desired result if it is programmed correctly, otherwise it won’t.

    It all depends on whether the programming reproduces the desired outcome. Do you disagree with that?

    “If so, how is it that this claim is not assuming that logic is transcendent?”

    I’m not sure I’m understanding you here, but I don’t think I’m assuming anything. I’m saying simply that the way we usually think, and are required to think if we want to be rational, cannot easily be explained by determinism.

    ” If logic does not transcend the physical world then there would be no reason to say that deterministic (physical) systems cannot actually execute logic.”

    This is the key, I think!

    Your conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premise There are 2 possible conclusions. If logic doesn’t somehow transcend the physical world then either (1) there would be no reason to say that deterministic (physical) systems cannot actually execute logic, or (2) unless determinism is false, we wouldn’t be able to do logic.

    I think your proposition is the common response by determinists – we do logic, so deterministic systems MUST be able to do logic. The second option is unacceptable, because it points out an inconsistency in determinism and physicalism.

    So how do we choose between the two options I proposed? The obvious way is to show the mechanism by which a deterministic system can produce logical inference. That is what I have been asking you for, but I don’t think it can be shown that reliable inference can come that way.

    Like

  20. Eric,
    I think we’re on the same page. To be clear, we’re acknowledging that either:
    1) Inference is a physical process and so can be actually realized in a physical deterministic system, or
    2) Inference is an inherently non-deterministic process and so cannot be realized in a physical deterministic system.
    Agreed?

    As I understand, you’re saying that both options are valid but we should favor #2 because it is not clear how truth-directed inference can naturally arise in a physical deterministic system. Agreed?

    I prefer #1 and am willing to present a more precise case for the physical realization of inference (i.e., going beyond the prior comments about how selection would favor proper interaction with the environment) but it’s late and that will have to wait.

    As a prelude, I wonder if you would agree that prediction (as traditionally understood) is an act of inference (ground-consequent reasoning) with regard to the future. In other words, prediction is a temporally constrained mode of inference. Consequently, inference can also be understood as a predictive process without temporal constraints. Is this an agreeable association?

    Like

  21. @Travis
    Again, in this scenario, like every other, for unklee it ultimately boils down to one thing, goddidit.
    That’s really all there is.
    And, of course, not just any god, but his god, Yahweh.
    So I can pretty much guarantee that the argument will never reach a point where unklee will acknowledge let alone concede the point.
    As AR eventually noted, as so many have done before hand, we are dealing with someone who truly is not in the slightest looking to explore perfectly logical and viable options to his theistic worldview and when he has been shown how his view is untenable he resorts to thinly-veiled condescension while apologizing for being condescending and then continues in a similar vein; as he has been doing for years, sometimes omitting the veil almost entirely. ( I was, quite frankly surprised it took AR so long to figure out it was going on, but then he probably had a little more faith(sic) at the outset. I’ll bet dollars to donuts he’s well and truly learned that lesson! ) *Sigh*.

    The only ‘plus’ of engaging one such as unklee is that there just might be Christian fence-sitters who will realise just how banal his arguments truly are, and if one could collect all the arguments into a blog post it would be immediately clear that his cleverly cultured obstreperousness is only matched by his eye-watering apologetic hypocrisy.
    However, bearing in mind his modus operandi , it is unlikely there are too many ordinary Christians who are skilled enough to follow the intricate cherry-picking; cherry-Picking that could well be worthy of a seat at the table of the William Lane Craig Nobs of the Year award ceremony.

    Like

  22. Hi Travis,

    You certainly ask some interesting and unexpected (to me) questions! I always appreciate discussing with you for this reason. But it also means I have to be careful in answering these questions, because they aren’t always things I’ve thought directly about – I wonder whether I need my lawyer with me? 🙂

    ”I think we’re on the same page. To be clear, we’re acknowledging that either:
    1) Inference is a physical process and so can be actually realized in a physical deterministic system, or
    2) Inference is an inherently non-deterministic process and so cannot be realized in a physical deterministic system.
    Agreed?”

    I think I agree here. (So far so good!)

    ”As I understand, you’re saying that both options are valid but we should favor #2 because it is not clear how truth-directed inference can naturally arise in a physical deterministic system. Agreed?”

    I would be a little stronger than that. I doubt the first option is valid, but I’m not prepared to say it isn’t yet. But in terms of our discussion, I’m happy to agree.

    ”As a prelude, I wonder if you would agree that prediction (as traditionally understood) is an act of inference (ground-consequent reasoning) with regard to the future. In other words, prediction is a temporally constrained mode of inference. Consequently, inference can also be understood as a predictive process without temporal constraints. Is this an agreeable association?”

    This is the interesting question, because I’ve never thought about it before, and it doesn’t seem to be a natural association. Prediction could be guesswork (i.e. random, if there are genuinely random events), and it can definitely be cause-effect. For example, diagnostic hand held “computers” can diagnose faults in modern cars (i.e. predict where the mechanic should begin) – of course there’s some ground-consequence built into the decision tree for the diagnostics, but that was designed to be there.

    But if we are talking about human prediction, then I think I’d see it as at least sometimes, probably often, the result of ground-consequence thinking. But equally sometimes the result of cause-effect thinking – e.g. our natural reaction to flinch as something flies towards our face. In that case we don’t have time for ground-consequence thinking necessarily, it is an unconscious reaction.

    I’m not trying to hedge, I’m just thinking it through. I think I’m happy to go with that for now.

    Like

  23. Ark,
    I don’t often respond to your interjections, but in this case it was directed to me and, to be honest, you’re right. Eric probably isn’t going to change his mind in direct response to this discussion, and I’m probably not going to either. But I like to think that I engage in these exchanges for more than the anticipated dopamine hit that comes with winning an argument. If nothing else, we will each have been exposed to new (or at least newly formulated) viewpoints and will have gone through the exercise of more thoroughly examining the views we hold. If done with graciousness and an open mind then I think that we, and hopefully other readers, are better off for having done so and will probably acquire a greater respect for (or at least a more accurate understanding of) an alternative view, which is the best way to correct mistakes in our own views. I happen to think that the world could use more examples of irenic discussion and that there are more pluses to these engagements than you posit.

    Oh, and thanks for expanding my vocabulary. I had to look up obstreperous when you used it the other day. I suspect you are fully aware that you calling somebody else obstreperous is the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black, so I hope you’re not offended by that; I couldn’t help but note the observation. Carry on.

    Like

  24. @ Travis.
    I’ll take obstreperous, no problem!
    🙂
    I am pleased you found no reason to challenge the assertion of unklee being condescending.

    As for grace, or lack thereof …. well, after so many years you will forgive me if I have lost almost all feeling of graciousness toward unklee … see previous paragraph, and I would be willing to wager a large number of commenters here would feel similar … now including AR!
    So much for the Christian among us winning ”hearts and minds”, eh? 🙂

    If done with graciousness and an open mind then I think that we, and hopefully other readers, are better off for having done so and will probably acquire a greater respect for (or at least a more accurate understanding of) an alternative view, which is the best way to correct mistakes in our own views. I happen to think that the world could use more examples of irenic discussion and that there are more pluses to these engagements than you posit.

    Yes … quite!
    This goes back nicely to the whole moderate Christian thing once again, and with unklee trying to insert his brand of pseudo-intellectualism while allowing the ”Theory of Goddidit” to piggy-back.
    It can never be resolved.
    If one truly wanted a better understanding of the philosophical perspectives where it related to religion, and specifically Christianity then one could enroll at a college or take an online course in a relaxed, and truly productive environment rather than wade through the cherry-picked rose fertilizer presented by someone such as unklee.
    Not that I think you are not doing a sterling job. You are!
    But this is why I comment in the manner in which I do and leave the scholarly approach to you and others who are more adept.
    And if you get your dopamine hit then all the good. But knowing unklee, you will be left frustrated in the end, and while you may be inclined to cry out ,”Oh Jesus H. Christ!” in a bitter twist of irony, unklee would have already ”pulled out”, leaving you on the brink once more, I’m afraid.
    But fear not … you will have been Royally Screwed … only … you weren’t; if you get my meaning?
    Peace.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s