A seamless garment with no holes: human persons and the failure of naturalism

Last year, the release of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology saw a lot of attention. And quite rightly. The Companion marshalled some of most cutting-edge work in the field of the philosophy of religion and showed why natural theology is fast becoming an exciting scholarly domain again. But in the shadow of the Companion‘s release, another of Moreland’s works was published: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. Although it might not have got the same amount of attention, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei also represented an important entry in the contest of ideas and a powerful defense of theism. In it, Moreland argues for the theistic position by way of a stinging attack on naturalism and its failure to answer the problem of consciousness and account for the basic facts of human experience, such as free will, rationality, and intrinsic value.

The problem of consciousness is a deep mystery for philosophers and neuroscientists. This problem is the dilemma of how conscious states (thoughts, feelings, perceptions) arise from physical brain states. Ned Block, the American philosopher at NYU, has said that “researchers are stumped” and that we have “no conception” that enables us to explain subjective experience or conscious life. Colin McGinn, a professor at the University of Miami in the philosophy of mind, says that the emergence of consciousness “strikes us as miraculous, eerie, even faintly comic”. Even if we are sure that they arise from brains, we do not know the sorts of connections that conscious states (such as “seeing a tree”) have with brain states (such as “there are neurons firing at point A in the brain”). Hard materialists like Daniel Dennett have argued that conscious states are nothing more than brain states and brain behaviour, but Moreland argues that in both science and philosophy, a strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self has been breaking down since the mid-1980s.

For Christianity, the existence of such features basic to human experience are not metaphysically strange or inexplicable. For if in the beginning existed a supremely self-aware Being, then it is not difficult to see how consciousness could emerge. And if Christianity were true, Moreland also suggests one would predict that alternative worldviews whose basic entity or entities are not spiritual would find these things we take for granted recalcitrant – that is, hard to explain or explain away. In his book, Moreland shows that this is exactly the case with philosophical naturalism. Because naturalism posits particles at the beginning, one cannot adequately account for consciousness without mounting other reductive or eliminative strategies to explain their emergence. In The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, Moreland looks at these strategies and shows why they fail. Moreland therefore concludes that consciousness, freedom, rationality, a unified/simple self, equal and intrinsic value, and moral action of a certain sort, are all rebutting defeaters for naturalism and evidence for Judeo-Christian monotheism.

Bill Vallicella has written an excellent and thorough review of Moreland’s book, giving a summary of Moreland’s discussion of naturalism and his argument from consciousness for the existence of God.

Formally set out, Moreland’s argument looks like this:

1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.

2. There is an explanation for the existence of mental states.

3. Personal explanation is different from natural scientific explanation.

4. The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a personal or natural scientific explanation.

5. The explanation is not a natural scientific one.

Therefore

6. The explanation is a personal one.

7. If the explanation is personal, then it is theistic.

Therefore

8. The explanation [for the existence of mental states] is theistic.

In his review, Vallicella examines each of the premises, cataloguing additional reasons that Moreland offers in support for them. He writes:

Moreland makes a very powerful case, to my mind a crushingly powerful case, that [mental states] do not have a natural-scientific explanation. I would go further and claim that they cannot have such an explanation. (If a naturalist pins his hopes on future science, a science that can do what contemporary science manifestly cannot do, then I say our naturalist does not know what he is talking about when he bandies about the phrase ‘future science.’ He is merely gesturing in the direction of he knows not what. He is simply asseverating that somehow science will someday have all the answers. That’s as ‘theological’ as the assurance that, though now we see through a glass darkly, later we will see face to face. What do faith and hope have to do with science? Furthermore, why should anyone hope to have it proven to him that he is nothing more than a complex physical system?)

While Vallicella acknowledges that there are possible objections to Moreland’s argument (he raises some potential ones himself), he concludes that it renders belief in the Judeo-Christian God reasonable, and when combined with the rest of Moreland’s arguments, demonstrates why theism is more reasonable than naturalism.

It is worth reading his whole review (it can also be found on his own blog here). Also worth looking at is Moreland’s interview about the book on the Evangelical Philosophical Blog from last year (part 1 and 2) and Moreland’s post about the topic on his Amazon blog.

The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, can of course, be picked up on Amazon.

Notes:

“God, Naturalism and the Foundations of Morality” by Paul Copan in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, ed. Robert Stewart. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

35 replies
  1. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Moreland makes a very powerful case, to my mind a crushingly powerful case, that [mental states] do not have a natural-scientific explanation.

    This is a god-of-the-gaps argument. Or metaphysics-of-the-gaps. And:

    What do faith and hope have to do with science?

    I have a lot of faith that science will close this gap. Faith based on history. And:

    (If a naturalist pins his hopes on future science, a science that can do what contemporary science manifestly cannot do, then I say our naturalist does not know what he is talking about when he bandies about the phrase ‘future science.’ He is merely gesturing in the direction of he knows not what. He is simply asseverating that somehow science will someday have all the answers.

    It is merely prudent to think that science will continue to give us answers, while metaphysics continues to delude us down ridiculous paths. It is metaphysics that is gesturing in unknown directions; or rather, flailing in unknown directions.

    Faith in science is rightly placed. For science has relentlessly given us answers and shown that non-science explanations are foolish. Indeed, it takes a great deal more fath to beleive that non-physical mental states exist.

    Would anyone here make the positive claim that science will forever be at a loss to explain mental states because mental states are non-physical?

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    This is a god-of-the-gaps argument. Or metaphysics-of-the-gaps.

    Your saying this merely demonstrates that you either haven’t read, or haven’t understood, the argument being made. It is distinctly not a God of the gaps argument. That kind of argument says, basically, “non-theistic worldviews haven’t been able to explain this (yet); therefore God did it; therefore philosophical naturalism is false.” There’s nothing valid or sound about that, and the fact that you think someone of Moreland’s caliber is resorting to such arguments says a lot about you.

    The kind of argument being made here is like this: “Consciousness etc cannot, in principle, be accounted for in naturalistic terms; therefore, it must be accounted for in non-naturalistic terms; therefore, philosophical naturalism is false.”

    If you continue to post such ill-considered, frankly inept comments, you will be banned.

  3. Simon
    Simon says:

    Dominic,

    I’m struggling to see how that isn’t just a more complex version of the god of the gaps argument. How is saying that mental states cannot in principle be explained in material terms different from saying we don’t know? The use of “in principle” here appears to be a mere abstraction – a philosophical layer put on top.

    This is especially the case when all evidence from neuroscience daily contributes towards materialistic understanding of higher mental states – from emotions to behaviour to consciousness itself.

    But granted, I have not read the book. I probably should, but frankly I haven’t seen a dualistic account of mental states worth reading. They all suffer the same problems as they have always had since Descartes’ time.

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    The difference is that one is an appeal to ignorance, and one is an appeal to the nature of the facts.

    To say that mental events are irreducibly non-material is hardly a controversial position. Rather, it’s patently obvious. It is the materialist position which is controversial. Controversial, and absurd, when you start to get down to brass tacks and list the properties of mental events. You know, like intentionality and truth and first-personness and whatnot. Properties which are plainly not material, and which cannot be “explained” in material terms without obviating them altogether.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I’m struggling to see how that isn’t just a more complex version of the god of the gaps argument.

    Incidentally, a “god-of-the-gaps argument” isn’t an informal fallacy. However, an appeal to ignorance is, and god-of-the-gaps arguments usually incorporate an appeal to ignorance.

    My main point is this: The difference between an argument that uses an appeal to ignorance and one that does not is easily discerned. One says, “I don’t see how x can be possible, therefore not-x” – this would be an appeal to ignorance. The other says, “I can see how x is impossible, therefore not-x.” – this is not an appeal to ignorance.

    Incidentally again, committing this informal fallacy does not show x to be true, but it does not show x to be false either.

  6. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    The kind of argument being made here is like this: “Consciousness etc cannot, in principle, be accounted for in naturalistic terms; therefore, it must be accounted for in non-naturalistic terms; therefore, philosophical naturalism is false.”

    Yes, I understand this. And this is still very much a gaps argument. Just because one is promoting the gaps to being in principle not fillable does not make it not a gaps argument; it still relies, completely, upon the real gaps. The claim that Consciousness cannot, in principle, be accounted for in naturalistic terms is still but a claim about the gaps. Ergo, a ‘gaps’ argument; specifically the gaps in naturalsim.

    If you continue to post such ill-considered, frankly inept comments, you will be banned.

    But I can see how the above does threaten your worldview, leading to your pre-emptive aggression. Which didn’t work.

    It is the materialist position which is controversial. Controversial, and absurd, when you start to get down to brass tacks and list the properties of mental events. You know, like intentionality and truth and first-personness and whatnot. Properties which are plainly not material, and which cannot be “explained” in material terms without obviating them altogether.

    Lol. Every assertion here is completely of-the-gaps.

    My main point is this: The difference between an argument that uses an appeal to ignorance and one that does not is easily discerned. One says, “I don’t see how x can be possible, therefore not-x” – this would be an appeal to ignorance. The other says, “I can see how x is impossible, therefore not-x.” – this is not an appeal to ignorance.

    No sane person could look at consciousness as claim that “x is impossible”. To do so would be require a stunning ignorance of history, science, and most probably a strong desire to promote baseless metaphysical assertions.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    No sane person could look at consciousness as claim that “x is impossible”. To do so would be require a stunning ignorance of history, science, and most probably a strong desire to promote baseless metaphysical assertions.

    That does not respond to the point I made. Makes no clear point itself. And is not an argument besides.

  8. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    and most probably a strong desire to promote baseless metaphysical assertions.

    Such as the baseless metaphysical assertion that humans are fully material beings, or the baseless metaphysical assertion that consciousness must be explicable in fully materialistic terms? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

  9. Simon
    Simon says:

    Dom,

    “It is the materialist position which is controversial.”

    Uhm…how many scientists do you know studying the brain? How can you possibly support that claim?

    Go track down any decent neuroscience or cognitive neuropsych journals and see how many articles in the past 10 years have referred to a non-material entities w.r.t mental states.

  10. Simon
    Simon says:

    First answer my question please of how you can support the claim that materialism/physicalism is controversial when it comes to explaining mental states/brain functioning.

    You’re asking what the opinion of neuroscientists has to do with the question of how the brain functions? That’s exactly the same as asking what chemists would know of chemicals, or biologists of biology. (I wouldn’t be surprised if you asked the latter actually).

    What other group of professionals are more capable of explaining how the brain functions? Theologians? Philosophers?

    They’re great at speculating ideas, especially the philosophers. But for any progress towards understanding they have to incorporate actual findings of brain functioning in order to have any relevance today.

    This is all very bizarre, it’s like a time warp up in here sometimes…

  11. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Such as the baseless metaphysical assertion that humans are fully material beings, or the baseless metaphysical assertion that consciousness must be explicable in fully materialistic terms? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    I do not really consider these metaphysical assertions. Ultimately there is nothing meta- about them.
    But there is a vast history of phenomena considered to be impossible to breach, which were then found to be completely materialistic. And for the metaphysical claims here we have……not a sausage of evidence, such that these gaps-arguments are all that there is to resort to.

  12. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    My main point is this: The difference between an argument that uses an appeal to ignorance and one that does not is easily discerned. One says, “I don’t see how x can be possible, therefore not-x” – this would be an appeal to ignorance. The other says, “I can see how x is impossible, therefore not-x.” – this is not an appeal to ignorance.

    You cannot know that x is impossible without eliminating every possible materialistic mechanism, just as we strictly should be agnostic about Russell’s teapot. But it’s not reasonable to believe in Russell’s teapot. So reasonable-ness comes into it. Which means we are in the realm of “I don’t see” not the realm of “x is impossible”. And so there is no difference; these arguments are still appeals to ignorance.

  13. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Other Simon,

    You cannot know that x is impossible without eliminating every possible materialistic mechanism, just as we strictly should be agnostic about Russell’s teapot. But it’s not reasonable to believe in Russell’s teapot. So reasonable-ness comes into it. Which means we are in the realm of “I don’t see” not the realm of “x is impossible”. And so there is no difference; these arguments are still appeals to ignorance.

    “You cannot know that x is impossible without eliminating every possible materialistic mechanism” is a false premise and “just as we strictly should be agnostic about Russell’s teapot” is a incongruous analogy.

  14. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    First answer my question please of how you can support the claim that materialism/physicalism is controversial when it comes to explaining mental states/brain functioning.

    Why should I repeat myself just because your reading comprehension is the gutter? I explained this in my second comment on this thread.

    You’re asking what the opinion of neuroscientists has to do with the question of how the brain functions?

    Your singular ineptness at understanding your opponent’s position continues to impress. I never mentioned the functioning of the brain. This thread is manifestly about human ontology; not human physiology. What particular expertise, could you tell us, do neuroscientists have in the field of ontology?

    I do not really consider these metaphysical assertions. Ultimately there is nothing meta- about them.

    As for you, Other Simon, in that case, there’s nothing “meta” about their denials, either. Yet you previously said that their denials are “baseless metaphysical assertions”. So which is it?

    But there is a vast history of phenomena considered to be impossible to breach, which were then found to be completely materialistic.

    Maybe you’d like to give a few examples of this “vast history”. Examples, of course, which are actually analogous. Examples, in other words, where philosophers said that in principle something must be non-physical, and then it turned out to be fully physical after all.

  15. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Simon,

    You’re asking what the opinion of neuroscientists has to do with the question of how the brain functions?

    The “issue at hand” that Bnonn is obviously referring to is not brain function. If it was your point would be well taken. The issue at hand is the nature of the mind, specifically its materiality or immaterially. And this is something neuroscientists have little concern for.

    I know this because I had a lengthy conversation not long ago with someone on the cusp of completing her PhD. in neuroscience. I was surprised to find out that this question on the nature of the mind was completely new to her, she never having heard even a whisper of anything on the topic. I understood this to mean that though this field on the surface naturally looks like it belongs to neuroscientists, in actual fact they are not at all versed-indeed indifferent to-these philosophical matters on the nature of the mind, nor do they have sufficient diagnostic tools to make decisive and authoritative remarks.

  16. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    What does the opinion of neuroscientists (who are probably mostly materialists) have to do with the issue at hand?

    Absolutely everything!! Is it surprising that [mostly] materialists are the ones making progress in understanding the mind/brain while the non-materialists are not, while arguing for the reign of ignorance? No!

  17. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    “You cannot know that x is impossible without eliminating every possible materialistic mechanism” is a false premise and “just as we strictly should be agnostic about Russell’s teapot” is a incongruous analogy.

    You need to explan this, you can’t just claim it. It’s simple: If a person can’t claim that “there absolutely is no teapot”, then they also cannot claim that “x is absolutely impossible”.

  18. Simon
    Simon says:

    Dom,

    Sorry going to have to take you to task here as I don’t feel you adequately explained how materialism is controversial in your second comment. In this comment all that could be taken for an explanation, due to sheer volume of text, was…

    Controversial, and absurd, when you start to get down to brass tacks and list the properties of mental events. You know, like intentionality and truth and first-personness and whatnot. Properties which are plainly not material, and which cannot be “explained” in material terms without obviating them altogether.

    How does this show that materialism as an idea is controversial? It only barely suggests that you personally find it controversial, which of course means absolutely nothing as you’re one person. Where are the statistics? Amongst anyone studying the brain it is hardly controversial at all – it is by and large the dominant, and currently most workable, position.

    You point out some properties of mental events that don’t seem to be reducible in physical terms, e.g. intentionality and truth. However, to go down this road you would have to actual define what you actually mean by such terms…you know, operationally define them. You can’t just say they’re “plainly not material”.

    This thread is manifestly about human ontology; not human physiology. What particular expertise, could you tell us, do neuroscientists have in the field of ontology?

    You used the concepts of consciousness and mental events. They are very much within the realm of neuroscience. Quite simply, Neuroscience/psychology is the study of the brain, and consciousness and mental events are underpinned by brain activity/function. Even if you propose a degree of non-material mind you must accept the veracity of this.

    I’m not sure what you mean exactly in regards to ontology here? I see that as the study of the nature of the existence of reality of all things, the brain included. And how could we have a discussion about “consciousness” and “mental states” without involving human physiology? That would absurd surely, given a simple change to your physiological state can dramatically change your conscious one.

  19. Simon
    Simon says:

    Stuart,

    You’re going to have to be more clear on what you mean by “the mind”.

    Also, like Other Simon points out, the brain sciences are a broad field. Covering all the way from molecular biochemistry to studies of consciousness. “The mind” as commonly defined is certainly well within the bounds, regardless of your anecdote, although I’d need to know the details of what she was meaning :)

  20. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    Amongst anyone studying the brain it is hardly controversial at all

    People who manifestly have not read the article should refrain from commenting on it.

    “1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.”

    Example?

    A belief held to be true about a proposition.

  21. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    For those of you genuinely wondering about the “gaps” allegation (rather than those of you just here to get off your talking points), here’s a quote from philosopher of mind Victor Reppert, who has done a lot to advance the theistic argument from reason (quoted from http://afterall.net/quotes/491468):

    So, I would maintain that there are gaps and there are gaps. It is not just pointing to an unsolved engineering problem in nature. First of all, the categories of the mental and the physical are logically incompatible categories. You start attributing mental properties to physics and you might end up being told that you are no longer describing the physical at all. Purpose, normativity, intentionality, or aboutness, all these things are not supposed to be brought in to the physical descriptions of things, at least at the most basic level of analysis.

    Let us consider the gap between the propositional content of thought and the physical description of the brain. My claim is that no matter in how much detail you describe the physical state of the brain (and the environment), the propositional content of thought will invariably be undetermined. … As I see it, it is not a matter of getting a physical description that will work. In my view, the logicoconceptual gap is always going to be there regardless of how extensively you describe the physical. As I said earlier, bridging the chasm is not going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. … [T]he “God of the gaps” or even a “soul of the gaps” response to the argument from reason does not work. I am not saying that we just cannot figure out right now why the mental states involved in rational inference are really physical, I am suggesting on principled grounds that a careful reflection on the nature of mind and matter will invariably reveal that there is a logical gap between them that in principle cannot be bridged without fudging categories.

  22. Simon
    Simon says:

    Right Dom, so you’re not going to back up your statements.

    And from that quote from Victor you posted I roughly get…

    – mental and physical are logically incompatible/different [this is a big assumption]

    – due to some kind of principle, they’ll always be distinct, regardless of whether we can explain everything in physical terms.

    This essentially seems to be saying that for some magic undefined reason (i.e. principle) there will always be dualism. So if we built a brain out of material and it was indistinguishable from any other human brain in every conceivable way, this guy would still say it’s missing something.

  23. Simon
    Simon says:

    Dom,

    A belief held to be true about a proposition.

    You think a belief is a genuinely non-physical mental state? Does this also mean purely non-physical? As in 100% non-physical? I’d imagine you wouldn’t say that, right? What does “genuinely” mean in your mind?

    So, thought experiment time…if I could change your beliefs by physically manipulating your brain through drugs or something else, how would you explain this?

  24. Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Dominic Bnonn Tennant says:

    You think a belief is a genuinely non-physical mental state? Does this also mean purely non-physical?

    I think you’re going to have a hard time describing intentionality and truth in physical terms. They are, by definition, not physical properties.

    So, thought experiment time…if I could change your beliefs by physically manipulating your brain through drugs or something else, how would you explain this?

    In the same way that I would explain how my perception of color changes when I put on sunglasses. Are you seriously implying that correlation implies identity?

  25. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Your comment and link make it clear you conflate a first order discipline with a second order discipline.

    Enlighten me.

  26. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    I am suggesting on principled grounds that a careful reflection on the nature of mind and matter will invariably reveal that there is a logical gap between them…

    Where is this pricipled ground and careful reflection? I have come to the opposite conclusion upon principled grounds and careful reflection, as have countless others!

    You start attributing mental properties to physics and you might end up being told that you are no longer describing the physical at all. Purpose, normativity, intentionality, or aboutness, all these things are not supposed to be brought in to the physical descriptions of things, at least at the most basic level of analysis.

    I am reminded of the social insects; termites and ants. Termites will build mounds which are air conditioned. None of the termites explicitly know that they are building in the fashion that they are building in order to make their mound cooler; they are just obeying their genes and phenotypical behaviour; they are just following physics. But there is definitely an overall purpose which can be summed up as ‘air conditioning’.
    If you ignore the specifics of pheremones and hormones and stimuli (physics) acting upon individual ants and treat the colony as one object (as we do the mind) it is perfectly valid to state that the colony has as a purpose ‘air conditioning’.
    “But they are just individual ants following physics” I often find myself objecting. This is true, of course. They are just individual ants following physics. But it is just as true to state that they are a colony whose purpose [partly] is ‘air conditioning’.

    In this way I think a mind can have purpose and all sorts of mental properties while still being just physics. But, of course, a lot more complex than an ant colony.

  27. Damian
    Damian says:

    I’m with Simon on this one Bnonn. Either you lack an understanding of advances in neuroscience over the last couple of decades or you are letting your presuppositions blind you. The brain is incredibly complex but we can observe physical activity when it performs tasks (yes, even as complex as believing) and the brain malfunctions in many different ways from physical stimulus. No, we don’t understand even a smidgeon of its workings yet but so far there has been nothing (I repeat, nothing) that indicates anything other than physical processes.

    Go take some drugs, see just how flexible your internal ‘reality’ becomes under the influence of purely physical stimulus. Observe the behavioural changes in someone with dementia or alzheimer’s (as I have sadly recently had to) and tell me that it’s more than a physical degradation.

    If “1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.” is the basis for this argument then you have a very, very weak argument indeed.

  28. Ayo
    Ayo says:

    The problem I have with typical Indiscernability of Identicals arguments for dualism (like the ones Moreland gives) is that they can easily be reversed on dualism. Just like it can be asked “how can a material object have a property such as intentionality?” it can also be asked “how can an immaterial object have a property such as intentionality?”. Merely showing that the former question does not have an answer does not mean that the latter question does have an answer. I have yet to see any attempt to explain how immaterial objects can have the properties that material objects supposedly can’t. Attempts to reduce the mental to the nonphysical are just as problematic as attempts to reduce it to the physical. Given that immaterial entities have no explanatory advantage, then we should take the economical route and tentatively believe that mental states have an as-yet-undiscovered physical explanation.

    But suppose that there can be no naturalistic explanation for mental states. Why is this an argument for theism? Why can’t there be a more epistemically liberal non-naturalistic atheism which admits of the existence of immaterial entities? Perhaps Moreland has addressed this in his book, but I can’t be bothered to read it right now because I have lots of other books on my list.

  29. Joe
    Joe says:

    3. Personal explanation is different from natural scientific explanation.

    4. The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a personal or natural scientific explanation.

    5. The explanation is not a natural scientific one.

    Does ANYONE ELSE NOT SEE A PROBLEM WITH THIS?

  30. Heather
    Heather says:

    This argument uatlmitely seems to stem from a basic failure to acknowledge that important, real, tangible things can be fuzzy around the edges, that concepts need not have precisely demarcated boundaries in order to be useful. Surely the earth’ is a useful concept, as distinguished from outer space , but it is clear to anyone who considers the matter that there is no clear boundary between the upper atmosphere and outer space, only a gradual dropping off in the density of gas molecules. Likewise, there is no clear boundary between the atmosphere and the earth’s surface, as dust storms, precipitation, the oxidation of minerals, and myriad other messy phenomena illustrate. Are we to say then that the distinction between the earth and outer space is therefore illusory, and that, for instance, it’s absurd to assert that the earth sustains life while outer space does not? That the earth cannot sustain iterated processes (like generations of living organisms) because it has no transcendent identity that remains constant while those processes occur? (Actually, that seems like a fair analogy. The organisms often do change slightly from one generation to the next, precisely because the earth changes). Part of the problem is that people are throwing around abstract idealizations like propositions as if they are the real physical objects of actual reasoning. It seems to me that the actual reasoning that takes place in any person’s mind is at least in some sense a succession of brain states (better yet, a continuity of brain states, within a continually changing brain) which are all quite complex and difficult to represent with a the few bits of information in the string Socrates is a man .Perhaps part of the problem is a matter of speed and scale. A very simple proposition, like x=4 need not take up very much time/space in the brain. When using this proposition to do some reasoning, it seems crazy to believe that x=4 could be allowed to degrade or mutate into y=4 or x=3 without some adverse result on the reasoning. Therefore, the substrate of the x=4 must remain fixed, at least long enough for the proposition’s representation to remain constant for use in the next step (x^2 = 16). x=4 had the same meaning for me when I started and when I finished. However, over longer time scales, and with more complex propositions, it seems equally crazy to say that the proposition stays the same. I could spend a very long time indeed evaluating the proposition I have lived a good life . The same proposition might well come to mean different things to me as I went about the business of living. Is it universally true or universally false ?I can tell I’m getting lost here, and don’t think I could possibly do otherwise. All I really have is an intuition, an intuition that arguments of this kind are made by people who see things as being more discrete than the really are.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] MUST-READ: J.P. Moreland’s argument for theism from consciousness Here’s a post from Thinking Matters New Zealand. […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *