Intention, Intelligence and Teleology

On the left is a photograph of a real snowflake.  Most people would agree that it was not created intentionally, except possibly in the rather esoteric sense of being the foreseen result of the properties of water atoms in an intentionally designed universe in which water atoms were designed to have those properties.  But I think most people here, ID proponents and ID critics alike, would consider that the “design” (in the sense of “pattern”) of this snowflake is neither random nor teleological.  Nor, however, is it predictable in detail.  Famously “no two snowflakes are alike”, yet all snowflakes have six-fold rotational symmetry.  They are, to put it another way, the products of both “law” (the natural law that governs the crystalisation of water molecules) and “chance” (stochastic variation in humidity and temperature that affect the rate of growth of each arm of the crystal as it grows). We need not, to continue in Dembski’s “Explanatory Filter” framework, infer “Design”.

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Unyielding Despair

Gregory has made the connection more than once between atheism and despair. But he wasn’t the first.

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

– Bertrand Russell. A Free Man’s Worship

I’m thankful that my foundation is not one of unyielding despair.

The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with with a problem of pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves.

– Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means

I am also thankful that I do not believe that there is no valid reason why I personally should not do as I want to do, and that my friends have no desire to seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves.

Dictionary halting problem makes A=A fallible

It would seem superficially this is correct

A=A, necessarily and infallibly true

but it is false for non-trivial A and where the EQUAL SIGN means equal in essence, not just equal in description. This is a consequence of the dictionary and halting problem that has been well demonstrated by first rate mathematical logicians and computer scientists (like Alonzo Church who was a devout Christian) who actually work with formal languages vs. people clinging to antiquated and non-rigorous theological notions.
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Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR)

The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason or cause. This simple demand for thoroughgoing intelligibility yields some of the boldest and most challenging theses in the history of metaphysics and epistemology. In this entry we begin with explaining the Principle, and then turn to the history of the debates around it.

Principle of Sufficient Reason

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n a piece posted on the Discovery Institute website, responding to bad publicity surrounding the Wedge Document , the author or authors write:

Far from attacking science (as has been claimed), we are instead challenging scientific materialism –  the simplistic philosophy or world-view that claims that all of reality can be reduced to, or derived from, matter and energy alone. We believe that this is a defense of sound science.

So there we have a one definition of “scientific” materialism: “the world-view that claims that all of reality can be reduced to, or derived from, matter and energy alone”.

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Feser’s First Way: an argument proving God’s existence?

This post arises out of an exchange between me and one Matt Sheean at Ed Feser’s blog. I got involved there because there have been some exchanges, at times quite amusing and colourful, between Feser (assisted by some of his regular commenters) and Vincent Torley, well known to UD readers as perhaps the less unacceptable face of ID, in that he comes across as a nice guy on a personal level. Both Feser and Torley are both staunch Catholics, a religion that I find pretty objectionable (above all for it’s interference in private life and thought, the readiness of its leaders to tell others how to behave, oppression of women and minorities.. but I digress). In an earlier post at Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley kindly transcribed some of Feser’s presentation (admittedly to a young, lay audience) of his version of Aquinus’ “First Way”. I was asked to summarise my impression of the video and agreed. Hence this post. Continue reading


Some of the discussion on the “Edward Feser and Vincent Torley” thread seems to have drifted way off topic.  So I’m starting a new thread for further discussion on realism.

I’ll just quote part of a recent comment by BruceS:

1. A complete description of the world is a scientific description (or has a large component that is a scientific description).

2. Science is in principle reducible to physics.

3. Physics requires mathematics.

4. Mathematics is “unreasonably effective” when used in physics, which is saying that somehow the world is describable by mathematical concepts.

5. The (parts of the) any two separate complete description of the world (eg by us and some alien species) in mathematical physics will hence involve the same (or at least mathematically equivalent) concepts.

I realize all of these statements are quite questionable, although I would have thought that #3, the need for mathematics in physics, would have been among the least questionable premises!

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Quine, Alston and Hall On What There Is

As we have been discussing ontology as it refers to hidden variables and multiple worlds, I thought there might be some interest in this excerpt from my Hall book, The Roots of Representationism.  It focuses on a shift in Quine’s position subsequent to “On What There Is,” but I think it touches on some of the broader questions of ontology and how one ought to investigate it as well. Continue reading

Stuck between a rock and an immaterial place

Kairosfocus has a new OP at UD entitled Putting the mind back on the table for discussion. His argument begins thus:

Starting with the principle that rocks have no dreams:

Reciprocating Bill points out that since KF denies physicalism, he has no principled basis for denying the consciousness of rocks:

If the physical states exhibited by brains, but absent in rocks, don’t account for human dreams (contemplation, etc.) then you’ve no basis for claiming rocks are devoid of dreams – at least not on the basis of the physical states present in brains and absent in rocks. Given that, on what basis do you claim that rocks don’t dream?

Needless to say, KF is squirming to avoid the question.

I’ve got popcorn in the microwave.  Pull up a chair.

A Critique of Naturalism

The ‘traditional’ objections to a wholly naturalistic metaphysics, within the modern Western philosophical tradition, involve the vexed notions of freedom and consciousness.   But there is, I think, a much deeper and more interesting line of criticism to naturalism, and that involves the notion of intentionality and its closely correlated notion of normativity.

What is involved in my belief that I’m drinking a beer as I type this?  Well, my belief is about something — namely, the beer that I’m drinking.  But what does this “aboutness” consist of?   It requires, among other things, a commitment that I have undertaken — that I am prepared to respond to the appropriate sorts of challenges and criticisms of my belief.  I’m willing to play the game of giving and asking for reasons, and my willingness to be so treated is central to how others regard me as their epistemic peer.  But there doesn’t seem to be any way that the reason-giving game can be explained entirely in terms of the neurophysiological story of what’s going on inside my cranium.  That neurophysiological story is a story of is the case, and the reason-giving story is essentially a normative story — of what ought to be the case.

And if Hume is right — as he certainly seems to be! — in saying that one cannot derive an ought-statement from an is-statement,and if naturalism is an entirely descriptive/explanatory story that has no room for norms, then in light of the central role that norms play in human life (including their role in belief, desire, perception, and action), it is reasonable to conclude that naturalism cannot be right.

(Of course, it does not follow from this that any version of theism or ‘supernaturalism’ must be right, either.)


God and Identity

When is the YEC God no longer the YEC God?  That question came up in my recent thread on methodological naturalism and accommodationism.  In that thread I argued that science falsifies the YEC God, because it shows definitively that the earth is about a million times older than the YECs believe.  If the earth is old, then the YEC God doesn’t exist. There might still be a God, but not the YEC God, because the YEC God necessarily created the earth a short time ago.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be “the YEC God” at all!

Robin and Petrushka objected because they didn’t see “the YEC God” as being essentially YEC.  In other words, they saw “the YEC God” as referring to a God who would still be the same God even if it turned out that he hadn’t created the universe several thousand years ago.

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What Are Concepts?

There’s a nice little discussion going on at Uncommon Descent (see here) about whether concepts are consistent with naturalism (broadly conceived). Here I want to say a bit about what theories of concepts seem to me to be most promising, and to what extent (if any) they are compatible with naturalism (broadly conceived).

The dominant position in philosophy of language treats concepts as representations: I have a concept of *dog* insofar as I am able to correctly represent all dogs as dogs.   It is crucial that concepts have the right kind of generality — that I am able to classify all particular dogs as exemplifying the same general property — in order to properly credit me with having the concept.  (If I only applied the term “dog” to my dog, it would be right to say that I don’t really have the concept *dog*.)

On the representationalist paradigm, rational thought has a bottom-up structure: terms are applied to particulars, terms are combined to form judgments about particulars, and judgments are combined to form arguments, explanations, and other forms of reasoning.

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Is God a brain in a vat?

From a comment I made last year at UD:

It’s impossible to verify the reliability of a cognitive system from the inside. Why? Because you have to use the cognitive system itself in order to verify its reliability.

If the system isn’t reliable, you might mistakenly conclude that it is!

This even applies to God himself. From the inside, God may think that he’s omniscient and omnipotent. He seems to know everything about reality, and he seems to be able to do anything that is logically possible. But how can he know these things with absolute certainty?

What if there is a higher-level God, or demon, who is deceiving him into thinking that he’s the master of the universe when he really isn’t? How, for that matter, can God be sure that he isn’t a brain in a vat?

He can’t. Defining him as omniscient doesn’t help. Like everyone else, he can only try to determine, from the inside, whether his cognitive apparatus is reliable. He can never be absolutely sure that he isn’t being fooled, or fooling himself.

Science and Metaphysics

A perennial theme of my philosophical peregrinations is the difference between (and relation between) science and metaphysics.   This bears directly on the arguments made by creationists and design proponents.

Design proponents often try to distinguish themselves from both creationists and Darwinists by arguing that they alone are faithful to empiricism — “following the evidence wherever it leads” — whereas both creationists and Darwinists interpret the evidence through the lens of some a priori conceptual framework, a metaphysics.   (I take it to be false, and importantly false, that one can only hold metaphysics in a dogmatic fashion, and that empiricism is the enemy of metaphysics — though of course empiricism is the enemy of dogmatism, if one’s empiricism does not itself become dogmatic.)

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A dilemma for Christians – is there free will in heaven?

Why would an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God knowingly create a world containing the evil we see all around us? That, in a nutshell, is the well-known theological “problem of evil”.

A standard Christian response runs as follows: God, being omnipotent, certainly could have created a world without evil. However, a world without evil would be a world without free will, because free will implies the ability to choose to do evil. In a world without evil, we would effectively be robots preprogrammed to do only the good. God values free will so much that he chooses to grant it to us despite knowing that we will misuse it. In short, God chooses to create a world containing free will, at the expense of some concomitant evil, rather than creating a pristine world full of robots.

Now consider heaven, a perfect place in which there is no evil. Do believers have free will in heaven?

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