Monday, July 27, 2015

More back & forth with Blake!

Blake amended his post with another response to me (scroll down for Part 2).  He's gone straight for the meat and I shall return the favor in kind!

Necessary Beings & Theism

Blake says:
"I wouldn’t quite try to get to theism from NBE; that’s too bold even for on overzealous apologist like me! The relevance of NBE to theism is that it was one of theism’s entailments. With NBE confirmed, theism is to some degree less risky now--there are fewer ways for it to go wrong. At least in type, confirming < NBE > is to < God exists > as confirming < aliens exist > is to < red aliens exist >. I don’t think atheism had any such entailment, but either way, this makes theism more modest than it otherwise would have been. In Bayesian terms, doing this plays an important role in boosting theism’s “intrinsic probability."
 I can agree somewhat, in that I think theism is more unlikely than pure naturalism, since theism is a very particular subset of "supernaturalism" which per our conversation before is simply the claim that the fundamental nature of reality is mental instead of physical. So yes, if you're going to do the Bayesian game, then I can see the relevance of this step, though it's very minimal compared to what you were doing in the debate (ie. I still have strong issues with the arguments about NBE being personal, etc).

On the other hand, I don't see how it does very much of anything for you in an argument against atheism given that atheism is perfectly compatible with a Necessary Being Exists (NBE), though we'd probably prefer to say "Necessary Thing Exists".

That Big Bang Tho...

I wanted to address this part of what Blake said from the otherwise sensible next section:

"Even if it is not, recall that I discussed four reasons for thinking the Universe (or Big Bang) is not necessary, and so could not be the necessary entity in question:
  1. The hypothesis that the Universe is necessary is too ad hoc.
  2. The hypothesis won’t be justified by reason.
  3. It is easy to conceive of the Universe failing to exist.
  4. The idea requires a lot of complexity."
I think you've got a few things very wrong here. 

First, the proverbial naturalist isn't going to think the actual Big-Bang is necessary. What they're going to think necessarily exists is some form of Fundamental Physical Stuff (FPS). Now we're not exactly sure what this FPS really is, but our best current guess is the Physical Stuff described by Quantum Mechanics, so lets call this Fundamental Quantum Stuff (FQS, because if I keep writing FPS I may end up talking about Doom).

Now one of the things we do know about FQS is that we have a number of theories that say if we imagine some very simple initial conditions for FQS, it will eventually give rise to either a space-time like our big-bang, or a multiverse of space-times/big bangs.

Now our proverbial naturalist could consider each of these Big Bangs as either necessary or contingent, depending on whether or not one believes Quantum Mechanics to be either deterministic, hence everything becomes necessary or non-deterministic - hence we can get contingent universes from a necessary FQS.

  1. I'd strongly disagree with your idea that this is ad-hoc, or any more ad-hoc than the dichotomies of naturalism vs. supernaturalism are in describing the fundamental nature of reality.  We can just as easily describe other options like a psycho-physical monad that has properties of both the physical and the mental which is fundamental and then gives rise to the universe we see. 
  2. Following this, I think the idea that some FQS exists is just as justified by reason as any god-hypothesis would be.
  3. It is similarly easy to conceive of reality without a god existing. Or a reality without god or a physical universe existing (ie. a philosophical state of nothing).
  4. The idea isn't as complex as you make it out to be, since we're not assuming the Big Bang, but a FQS.  This is no more complex than your actual hypothesis, I'm just debating my full hypothesis while you're staying at the basic level of "fundamnetal-mind" vs. "fundamental-stuff".  
Remember, you don't just think that the "relatively simple fundamental-mind" exists.  You think a triune-god that is three persons in one being that is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, which is also timeless and space-less exists.  When I start talking about FQS, I'm loading in my more complex hypothesis, more akin to yours.  We're both adding in auxiliaries into our hypothesis eventually, I'm just doing it up front.

And that S5 tho....

I take an important issue here:

"A first such thing exists in some possible world (to use philosopher-speak). But notice that the only kind of thing that can cause that first kind of thing/event, is a necessary thing. So if you grant M1 and M2', you grant the possibility of a necessary entity with causal powers. And if you apply that S5 theorem, it gets you a necessary entity in the actual world, which possibly has causal powers. It’s a very cool move with shockingly modest premises!"
There's a very important thing to notice here.  I agree with what you write prior to this in that you can use S5 to get there from there just being a possible world where a caused-contingent thing exists netting you that a necessary thing exists in the actual world.  What I don't agree with is that you're making this very cool move with shockingly modest premises.

To go from the S5 conceptual space to the actual world you're going to need to bring in all sorts of talk with k-semantics (highly controversial) as well as possibly needing some form of modal-realism (also highly controversial).  This is the debate I eluded to earlier regarding why and where I'm more accepting of S5 as uncontroversial, but the idea that whether or not what we derive out of S5 is actually meaningful in the actual world is going to be very contentious.

At the very least it will straddle the proponent of S5/actual world with all sorts of necessary assumptions about modal realism and semantics that are going to be far more counter-intuitive than the S5 axiom alone sounds.

Naturalism & Necessity

"Ah yes, I like this distinction. I think it traces back to Draper. What I was concerned about was the tucking away of “necessary” fundamental physical stuff into the definition of naturalism, which you had done in the original post. I don’t think Rauser does that, nor does Justin Schieber (who I suspect Rauser inherited it from). Draper does not either, as far as I’m aware."

I actually agree, and see the error of my phrasing earlier.  Basically lets try this: the nature of physical vs mental as "fundamental" is going to be different than talking about things being "necessary vs. contingent".  This is because the latter brings in all sorts of other concepts that aren't inherently pertinent to the initial naturalism vs. supernaturalism debate.

The point I wanted to make, but conflated with other issues, is that an atheist is just as fine with a "necessary" something as the theist is.  We also have the option of just going with a brute fundamental physical thing, where as theists generally don't want to go with the brute mental thing option.

Physical stuff on Naturalism

This is where I think you're making a fundamental mistake:
"Well, let’s put in some numbers. If naturalism is defined as the physical being fundamental, then we have to ask about the intrinsic probability of naturalism. Are there any arguments from pure reason that the physical would exist? If you were a perfectly rational individual with no sense perceptions, could you predict that space-matter and physical laws would exist? How? The intrinsic probability might be akin to the intrinsic probability of a flying spaghetti monster (to the hypothetical individual)."
You're trying to introduce some weird set of criteria to judge intrinsic probabilities. A perfectly rational ability with no sense perceptions? You mean if I assume a mind exists to judge the intrinsic probability of whether or not the physical vs. mental is more intrinsically probable that it will think the mind is more probable?  Well no shit, but that metric is going to beg the question against the naturalist.

The entire debate is here because while we can agree we have minds, we also agree that all minds we know of are tied to physical brains. That's why we're questioning whether the fundamental something is either physical or mental in the first place.  There's a reason that in the academic literature on the topic, the a-priori intrinsic probabilities of naturalism vs. supernaturalism at 50/50. 
"On theism, I actually think the likelihood of a physical world would be higher." 
This is where I pull the "are you fucking kidding me?" incredulous stare.  A physical world is more likely on the assumption that just a mind exists vs the assumption that just something physical exists?

Maybe I'm either reading you wrong or you've phrased it badly.  Perhaps you mean that the existence of the physical on the assumption that a mind exists is more likely than the idea that something mental exists on the assumption that something physical exists?

That seems to be the core of the debate though, so I'm not sure why asking that is going to be relevant.

Finally I want to point this one out:

"Theism does not entail the physical, but the physical is not severely improbable on."
Actually I think it is severely improbable on theism, a posteriori, given that we know that all material things all have material causes.  This is why I don't think your argument is going to move the evidential needle very far, both sides have a ton of work to do in order to get to our observations.

God, Bodies, and the Moral Arena

I'm going to collapse your two sections into one here since they're very related.

You say:

"I don’t think love necessitates a body. The idea is that, whether in fiction or reality, many of the greatest goods are best realized in the context of a physical domain."
 Emphasis mine.

You can not hold this and hold to a form of Divine Command Theory, or hold that "Goodness is ontologically equivalent with god's nature". 

You define god as the greatest possible being, who is also timeless & space-less (ie. not embodied).  Therefore the greatest goods are not best realized in the context of a physical domain per your own definitions!

This is why I don't inherently feel like I'm making a new argument against theism so much as I am saying there are indeed problems tied to your view.

"Even if we limit ourselves just to love (which I didn’t do), the ways to express love in parent-child relationships, among friends at school and work, in learning medicine etc. to help others… the possibilities are exponentially increased in a moral arena."
Then you're saying that we as mere humans can express love in ways that god inherently can't, or couldn't until he gave part of himself a body in Jesus.  Did he get "better" at loving once he became embodied? Or did the intra-trinity love lack a certain set of values because it wasn't embodied before the creation of space-time? If so how does that square with the idea of god being defined as the greatest possible being, that theology also traditionally holds as also unchanging.

The upshot is this: you can't say there's values to be found in a community of believers if you also use the nature of an immaterial, unembodied being as your entire basis for goodness and values as entities in themselves! 

At least you can't do this without also creating a set of values and goodness that exists apart from, or is not necessarily grounded in the nature of your god, which is going to be extremely non-standard.  In which case I can probably run the same kind of argument against those kinds of values that you run against atheists when you make the traditional moral argument (assuming you would defend such an argument).

You have a final issue here:

"And remember how modest the premise was. I don’t need theism to predict a moral arena. You can say the likelihood of a physical world on theism is .0001% if you want. The argument still runs with stunning success if your numbers are on atheism are significantly lower, which they should be."
There's a few things.

Per my initial comments, I think the existence of a moral arena is more likely on theism than on atheism. So it is some evidence for theism.

I also think the existence of the physical is more likely on naturalism than on theism. So it is likewise more evidence for atheism.

I think your numbers game is irrelevant since I can run the same kinds of questions through for the existence of the physical vs. not, but even if I don't take that approach, I have the plethora of responses available to the design argument.  That's really what you're left with, a design argument.

Minds and Brains

I think you've gone off quite badly here:

"The point is that, of all the psycho-physical laws there could have been, how interesting is it that they are such that they put minds in contexts where they are in a moral arena, and only in contexts where they are in a moral arena."

There's a few things to unpack here.

A naturalist is going to hold to some kind of view that the mind emerges from a complex brain. It is the only way to get a mind on naturalism, which denies the existence of a fundamental mind-like-stuff.

Once we have the evolution of brains-like-ours at all, there is necessarily going to be a moral arena of sorts, per game theory.

Finally, to say that minds are only in the context of a moral arena is to commit you to say that animals don't have minds at all, which I think is clearly false, or you're going to hold that animals are in a moral arena, which is going to bring up theological problems (ie. Was there a bonobo Jesus?).

The existence of what very much appears to be minds in at least our primate cousins, and a herd morality of sorts in a host of species that also appear to have minds, seems to form a problem for your view that minds only exist in a moral arena in the actual world.

So no, it's not surprising that minds are existing "attached to" brains vs. electrons on naturalism. It may be an issue if one is a naturalist that also thinks there's some kind of mind-stuff, but then we get into really odd views like panpsychism and the like as other responses.

The atheist/naturalist is going to hold that mind-stuff doesn't exist and what we call a mind is just an emergent phenomenon of the brain.  We may not have a good explanation for that yet, but there's no compelling reason to think that such an explanation is impossible in principle. Or at least there isn't one that isn't extremely controversial in the field of philosophy of mind.


I agree with you that you started more fires than can be handled, and apparently I've only fanned the flames with this post. :)

It's odd that this has caught me at the right kind of time, normally I lack the time lately to put out content for these topics.  Work and parenting/family time just eat up a lot, plus I actually have other hobbies that end up being neglected when I'm giving my precious brain cycles to silly things like philosophy! :P


  1. We’ll need to Skype sometime, for sure!

    Sorry for the brevity here. Your points deserve much longer responses. If/when we Skype I’d argue for several things. Here are just a few:
    (a) NBE supports theism over atheism because theism entails it; atheism does not. Mere “compatibility” is not the issue.
    (b) There has been a misunderstanding of point on intrinsic probabilities. Forget the rational individual (a heuristic device); I’m telling you to consider whether, by reason alone, i.e. prior to any evidence, one can argue/predict that naturalism (as you’ve defined) is true. I.e., that space, matter, complex physics would exist (or anything like them). Answer: no. It’s intrinsic likelihood is low.
    (c) I do not agree that “all minds we know of are tied to brains.” This is question-begging imo, and widely rejected across cultures and time. Same goes for “we know that all material things all have material causes.”
    (d) You’re absolutely right about the “incredulous stare” point, I momentarily forgot you had built in physical stuff into naturalism. My bad!
    (e) This is false: x has all goods>. There is a long discussion of compossibility here, God=good theory, dispositionally expressed properties, and other stuff. Also, the most worship-worthy possible being is not identical to the most valuable state(s) of affairs, if there is such a thing.
    (f) Yes, the naturalist will think the mind emerges only from complex brains (or brain-like things), but this is as unpredicted and ad hoc as hypotheses come. Like, the ad hocness literally couldn’t be worse. (Mere logical compatibility, again, is virtually irrelevant.)
    (f) I think animals are in a moral arena; they are in the relevant community (though I didn’t notice this until you asked). Set aside the possibility that animals engage in soul-making themselves (see Dougherty’s latest book); they are entities we can help/hurt, act responsibly towards etc. Don’ t understand the Bonobo Jesus point, lol.

    Again, you deserve a much better written response, but we’re both super busy at the moment I know. Thanks again for this excellent dialogue! I’m serious about that Skype conversation if you’re interested some time.

    1. Fix: (e) This is false: x is the greatest possible being IMPLIES x has all goods.

    2. I'm going to refrain from responding point by point, because otherwise we'll be at this forever and I think we're both a bit busy.

      I did want to clear up a few things.

      (b) I think the intrinsic probability (a priori) of naturalism vs supernaturalism is effectively even. I also don't think there's going to be a way to assess this that isn't going to beg the question one way or the other.

      (c) I should use more careful wording. "All minds we can observe are tied to brains". You're right I can't say "that we know of" without begging the question. My point will still stand given the revised premise, unless you want to say we've observed an unembodied mind.

      (f) If you think animals are in a moral arena, I'm rather shocked. Do you think animals can sin against god, or do you just mean they're in the moral arena in so far as they are things that hold at least some moral value that we humans as moral agents can be evaluated on how we treat them?

      As far as as Skype or hangout session, lets keep that open sometime. Work and family take up most of my time these days, and lately I've found the need to really engage in my more "fun" hobbies like gaming with friends when I can find my rare free time.

  2. you can't apply Bayes to God. Carrier's use of Bayes is a silly gimmick.

    Carrier and the Bayes Craze

    It specifically can't be used to argue
    God is improbable. Here is my exchange on that with Jeff Lowder.

    part 2

  3. Trying to access the probability of naturalism is daft since the argument is that natural is contingent upon SN. How are you going to access the probability of a contingent universe with no necessity to produce it? The idea of SN as a juxtaposed realm is not the Christian concept, it's a modern science concept.