Well, we finally get to it. All this time, this is what Bernard has really been arguing. All the convolutions, contortions, circling, and looping could have been prevented if only at the very first, it would have been asserted: The universe is a casually closed system, therefore…” So now, let us look at that assertion. Is anything that follows such a “therefore” based upon settled science? Is it a fact, like the earth-is-round sort of fact? Is it even a widely agreed upon assertion in physics and the philosophy of science world? If one doesn’t believe the universe to be causally closed, does such a view clash with science? The other challenge Bernard has put forth has to do with our brains and whether or not, given evolution and natural selection, our brains can track or align with moral/spiritual knowledge. So, let’s just put all this to rest.
Before I go any further, I want to make something very clear. To everything I write further in this post, to the links, to the quotes, I know there are reasonable counters and responses. There will be people who disagree and have reasonable reasons for doing so. Because someone can cite other authorities and so on is a foregone conclusion—I know they can, and, I have probably read most of them. But that only goes to prove my point here. What we have heard over and over is that certain beliefs or certain ways at arriving at religious or philosophical conclusions clash with “science”. What will become very clear, and is the point of this post, is that any supposed “clash” is not with science (or empirical facts) but with differing philosophies, narratives, or world-views. Any imagined clash is with the way we should “see” or interpret the empirical facts and findings of science. When it comes to meaning and how any fact fits within a holistic narrative/world-view, science is silent. That isn’t even the place of science or its sphere of expertise. To think it is, is called scientism.
Thus, before anyone gets bogged down in some counter fact or authority- please remember the point of the post. I know there are reasonable countering arguments; anyone familiar with this discussion knows that. So before there are any knee-jerk, time wasting responses regarding what the science or facts “really” are and mean and why everyone else’s view is wrong, they must respond to this point: My claim is this—none of these areas are settled science. These are disputed areas and the differences are philosophical not scientific. To assert this boils down to a clash with science, is just factually incorrect.
First we will look at the challenge from physics or the causal closure argument. For some back ground to these questions and topics, we first need to look at something called causal determinism. For that, this link (neutral academic source) will help us. I would suggest that anyone interested, read the entire essay. But first, very early on in Bernard’s argument, he told us the following:
“- Physical states change in such a way that is consistent with the fundamental equations of physics. So, for any current physical state, the arrangement is consistent with the prior physical state. This is essentially a deterministic system, give or take the random fluctuations described at the quantum level.”
Interestingly enough, before we even get to quantum mechanics, in classical mechanics alone there is room for indeterminism, so we need to ask if the above is even an accepted premise of current physics, not in general, but as it relates to the context of this discussion. From the link noted above:
“John Earman’s Primer on Determinism (1986) remains the richest storehouse of information on the truth or falsity of determinism in various physical theories, from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics and general relativity. (See also his recent update on the subject, “Aspects of Determinism in Modern Physics” (2007)). Here I will give only a brief discussion of some key issues, referring the reader to Earman (1986) and other resources for more detail. Figuring out whether well-established theories are deterministic or not (or to what extent, if they fall only a bit short) does not do much to help us know whether our world is really governed by deterministic laws…”
“Despite the common belief that classical mechanics (the theory that inspired Laplace in his articulation of determinism) is perfectly deterministic, in fact the theory is rife with possibilities for determinism to break down.”
What we can take away from the quotes above and the entire essay (and many more like it), as a whole, is that whether or not there is causal determinism is most definitely not a settled matter of science/physics, and certainly not philosophy. It. Just. Is. Not. In fact this is noted in the preface of the essay on the subject:
“In both of these general areas there is no agreement over whether determinism is true (or even whether it can be known true or false), and what the import for human agency would be in either case.”
So next let’s move to this link regarding causal closure in general. Again, with Bernard’s premise above in view, we read:
“My response to the causal closure argument assumes Feynman’s and Chalmers’ iffy picture of micro-entities that, in addition to being iffy, is also deterministic in the sense that no effect will occur in any micro-entity unless some causal event determines or necessitates that effect to take place. Might there not, however, be random (non-deterministic) changes in the system of micro-entities as well as the deterministic ones? In other words, while sometimes a neuron fires because it gets deterministic causal input from the neurons with which it is connected, at other times it fires at random (without any deterministic cause), perhaps as a result of random quantum fluctuations in a chaotic system that are magnified at the neuronal level.
If we assume for the sake of discussion that neurons do sometimes fire randomly, is it possible to distinguish sharply between those firings that occur randomly and those that occur as the result of being causally determined by a mental event of a soul? After all, the two kinds of firings are alike to the extent that neither has a physically deterministic cause. I believe that it is possible to make this sharp distinction between the two kinds of firings. The way to make the distinction is in terms of contexts that are known, in the case of ourselves, through first-person experience and, in the case of others, through third-person observation. All one need do is ask how plausible it is to maintain that every time a person purposefully chooses to do something such as move his fingers to type, an initial neuron just happens to fire at random (as a result of quantum fluctuations, etc.) with the result that finger movements occur that perfectly mesh with or map onto those that are intended by that person. Because such repeated coincidences would literally be, dare I say, miraculous, the only plausible view is that the neuron must not be firing randomly but because of the causal input from a soul choosing to act for a purpose.”
Now, again, whether one disagrees with the writer or not, what is at issue here is not the science or some fact. This issue is this: How should we view this information, and what might the information tell us in relation to questions about free-will, ethics, God, and the spiritual. But it is absurd to think one could throw out (especially to anyone familiar with these arguments/debates) a premise like Bernard’s as if, one, what the facts or understanding of those facts/theories meant philosophically were widely agreed upon and understood as “science”, and two, as if we still didn’t need to bring such a premise into the philosophy of science discussion where we see much is still disputed by reasonable people.
Finally, we will consider this link (Again, please read the entire essay) and these portions:
‘Miracles are often thought to be problematic, in that God, if he were to perform a miracle, would be involved in ‘breaking,’ going contrary to, abrogating, suspending, a natural law. But given this conception of law, if God were to perform a miracle, it wouldn’t at all involve contravening a natural law. That is because, obviously, any occasion on which God performs a miracle is an occasion when the universe is not causally closed; and the laws say nothing about what happens when the universe is not causally closed. Indeed, on this conception it isn’t even possible that God break a law of nature. (pp. 82-83)’-Plantinga
“As I understand him, Plantinga is saying that a miracle is not a divine suspension of a law of nature, but a divine suspension of causal closure. Conservation and other natural laws apply to isolated or closed systems (78). God cannot intervene without ‘violating’ closure; but that does not amount to a violation of a law since the laws hold only for closed systems. ‘It is entirely possible for God to create a full-grown horse in the middle of Times Square without violating the principle of conservation of energy. That is because the systems including the horse would not be closed or isolated.’” (79)
“But isn’t it a proposition of physics that the physical universe is causally closed, that every cause of a physical event is a physical event and that every effect of a physical event is a physical event? No, says Plantinga. Causal closure is a “metaphysical add-on,” (79) not part of physics. That’s right, as far as I can see. I would add that it is the mistake of scientism to think otherwise.
Whether or not God ever intervenes in the physical world, I do it all the time. It’s called mental causation. That it occurs is a plain fact; that mental causes are not identical to physical causes is not a plain fact, but very persuasively arguable, pace Jaegwon Kim. So if a frail reed such as the Maverick Philosopher can bring about the suspension of causal closure, then God should be able to pull it off as well. (This comparison with mental causation is mine, not Plantinga’s.)”
This essay brings up another issue I don’t think Bernard has dealt with adequately if at all, especially in light of his peculiar brand of agnosticism. If one is open to the possibility God exists, one then has to be open to what that logically entails. One cannot say something like, “Yes, God may exist, but I will now lay down the boundaries of which this God may or may not cross, regardless of that existence.” What? Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way unless one has no conception whatsoever of what, at least the Christian understanding of God, entails.
The questions can miracles happen, can our prayers be recognized, are we souls, is there life after death, is morality objective, are all subsidiary to the greater question: Does God exist? By definition, if God exists, then all those things are possible or true, by logic alone. So to claim one is agnostic as to God’s existence, but not agnostic regarding miracles, or not agnostic regarding whether we could ever know anything about this God or experience this God, is to assert a logical impossibility. Obviously if the premise is: “God may exist”, then the conclusions “miracles would then be possible” and it would also be possible to know something of this God, are logical ones. By definition (what the name “God” means and implies) and logic, the conclusions just noted would follow the premise: “God may exist.” Conversely, this conclusion, “We cannot know anything about this God or experience this God” cannot logically follow from the premise, “God may exist.”
Further, it would entail a belief that even if this God did exist, this being’s very creation was more powerful than this Being and able to shut this Being out. This is logically impossible, if we are speaking of the Christian God and not some straw-man or a god that is more like a super-hero than the infinite “ground of all being”.
Putting that problem of logic aside (which atheists do not commit, but only someone claiming a split sort of agnosticism like Bernard’s) and getting back to this link and Plantinga, I very much agree with this statement:
Putting that problem of logic aside (which atheists do not commit, but only someone claiming a split sort of agnosticism like Bernard’s) and getting back to this link and Plantinga, I very much agree with this statement:
“No, says Plantinga. Causal closure is a ‘metaphysical add-on,’ (79) not part of physics. That’s right, as far as I can see. I would add that it is the mistake of scientism to think otherwise.”
Again, the only issue at hand here is this: I don’t care if you agree with me. I may be wrong. Plantinga may be wrong. You may be wrong. What one cannot say however, with any degree of accuracy or, in fact, integrity, is that the claim: (the universe is casually closed) is a matter of settled science and fact. Thus, to the claim the universe is not casually closed, one may disagree, but to tell us such an assertion clashes with science is to admit one is ignorant of both science and philosophy.
Additionally, we come to this link, also from Stanford:
“The Completeness of the Physical: Every physical effect has a sufficient physical cause. When you trace the causal history of any physical effect—that is, of anything physical that has a cause—you will never need to appeal to anything non-physical. The physical universe contains within itself the resources for a full causal explanation of any of its (caused) elements, and in this sense is “complete”. The point applies, then, to whatever might occur to or within our bodies. Any instance of bodily behavior has a sufficient physical cause, which itself has a sufficient physical cause, and so on. In tracing the causal history of what we do, we need never appeal to what’s non-physical…” (Sec. 2.4)
Such is exactly what Bernard has been asserting. But after noting the above, the writer goes on to ask:
“For simplicity, let us stay with the principle [as noted above] as formulated at the outset. Why think that it’s true? Perhaps it is a conceptual truth: for an effect to be physical is, at least in part, for it to have a physical cause. This defense turns on the proper analysis of the concept physical, itself the subject of a contentious literature (see physicalism). Here we just note that the principle does not seem analytic; it appears to be a substantive, empirical claim about the causal structure of the universe… We will look at challenges to Completeness in a moment, but note for now that the premise by itself does not preclude the efficacy of souls. Even if every physical effect has a sufficient physical cause, some physical effects might have non-physical causes as well…”
“…Others argue that physical science, far from supporting the principle [the one noted above, the same one Bernard is asserting], may in fact undermine [emphasis added] it. Hendry (2006) finds indications of “downward causation” in chemistry, while Stapp (2005) culls evidence from contemporary physics suggesting that there are, contrary to Completeness, causal gaps in the physical world, gaps filled in by the mental (see also Sturgeon 1998; Davies 2006). Emergentists in general deny the principle, either on scientific grounds or by appeal to our conscious experiences of agency (see emergent properties, esp. §4). And although the death of emergentism has been declared more than once on empirical grounds (McLaughlin 1992; Papineau 2000), the view continues to attract philosophers and scientists. (See, e.g., the contributions to Clayton and Davies 2006; Bedau and Humphreys 2008; Macdonald and Macdonald 2010.)”
Does any of the above sound like settled scientific fact to anyone? Of course not. Anyone familiar with the discussions in these areas knows that. Also, we notice in the above the mistake Bernard commonly makes. He assumes that just noting regularity means, or should be interpreted to mean, the universe is causally closed. Well, it doesn’t. That is a philosophical add-on. So, Bernard’s physics and causal closure challenge fail. They fail in proving we cannot know anything about the spiritual and they fail when being asserted as scientific fact and proving a clash. They also fail in the sense I have never made an argument about anything spiritual “getting in” our brains/minds in the first place. Christians believe our minds, our conscious selves, to be spirit already and always. We then believe our minds/brains can learn more about the spiritual through the sources (existence) and means (education/holistic process) available to all of us. Thus, Bernard’s challenge in this area just fails all the way around.
Now we will look at the challenge from evolution or natural selection. Here was another one of Bernard’s early premises (and remember- his entire argument rests on these premises) and it is an evolutionary/natural selection challenge:
“- The process that has shaped the physical human brain is that of evolution. Design features have been shaped as the result of differential survival rates over time.”
What Bernard then took the above premise to mean, in the context of our discussion, was this:
“How did selection produce a brain with architecture that is responsive to non-pragmatic truths? Why not try to answer that?”-Bernard
“So, the question becomes, how could we have evolved, under selection, brain architecture that responds to non-pragmatic truths?”-Bernard
“Specifically, the evolved brain appears to leave no mechanism by which we could reliably track moral truths.” –Bernard
“My argument is based upon selection. It states, if we accept that selection is the process behind brain design, then this necessarily limits our notion of the ability of the brain to perform certain functions. Specifically, we should not expect the brain to be designed to carry out complex tasks for which there is no pragmatic trade-off.” –Bernard
So let’s look at this premise and what Bernard thinks we should conclude or infer from it. To do that, let’s reference again, this familiar essay from a neutral academic source and see how Bernard’s premises and statements square with what the current thinking is on that issue, which is also based upon the same biology and science available to all of us. So let’s contrast the following with Bernard’s above premise and statements:
“So far, we have focused on scientific projects that treat morality in the empirical sense as calling simply for causal explanation, as by appeal to evolutionary influences. This is unexceptionable with regard to the origins of the general human capacity for moral judgment: clearly some causal explanation is required, and an evolutionary explanation is plausible. But things are much more complicated when we consider the explanation of the actual content of moral judgment, feeling and behavior.
For example, human beings have (and share with other primates) a strong, emotionally-laden sense of basic fairness, resentment of cheaters, and a desire that they be punished, all of which finds expression in both cultural norms and individual moral judgments. You might experience such feelings if you’ve been the victim of a scam, morally condemning the perpetrators, and this might seem a good candidate for causal explanation in terms of evolved psychological traits [this would go for our feelings/thoughts of love too, by the way].
However, here is the pertinent “caution” to the above:
Caution is needed here, however. Our moral judgments [or ethics—which would go to torture or any ethical matter] and resulting behaviors [which would include love] cannot just be assumed to be mere causal upshots of some such biological and psychological forces, on a par with the cooperative activity of bees or the resentment felt by capuchin monkeys over unequal rewards for equal work. When a rational agent makes a judgment, whether in the sphere of morality or in such areas as science, mathematics or philosophy, the proper question is not in the first instance what caused that judgment to occur [thus having nothing to do with brain states or “alignment”], but what reasons the person had for making it—for thinking it to be true. It is those reasons that typically constitute an explanation of the judgment. They explain by bringing out what the person took (rightly or wrongly) to be the justification for the belief in question—the considerations showing the belief likely to be true. All of this complicates the explanatory project in relation to the thoughts, feelings and actions of rational agents.” (Sec 2.4)
And of course, that love and morality are “merely causal upshots” is exactly what Bernard assumes, throwing any such caution to the wind as it were.
And then we come to these pertinent points in the essay:
“At one extreme, someone might deny that the autonomy assumption applies to the moral domain at all: we either lack these capacities in the domain of moral thought, or at least never exercise them. Such a claim seems to have little plausibility, however. Why should it be that human intelligence and innovation know virtually no bounds in other domains—as illustrated by feats of autonomous inquiry and creativity in quantum field theory, algebraic topology, modal metaphysics, or symphonic composition—and yet when it comes to moral thinking [emphasis added] we remain stuck in ruts carved out for us by evolution, slavishly following patterns of thought prescribed for us by evolved, domain-specific mechanisms, with all of our cultural developments providing mere variations on those themes?
The very fact of human self-consciousness makes such a picture unlikely: for as soon as we are told that our thinking is constrained along evolutionarily given paths, our very awareness of those influences provides the opening to imagine and to pursue new possibilities. If you are told, for example, that you are evolutionarily conditioned to favor your group heavily over outsiders in your moral judgments, you are able, as a reflective agent, to take this very fact into account in your subsequent moral reflection, deciding that this favoring is unwarranted and thus coming to a new, more egalitarian moral view.” (Sec 2.5)
And here is more:
“On the face of it, the mere fact that natural selection would not have ‘designed’ our moral faculties to track moral truths accurately (as it plausibly designed our perceptual faculties to track facts about medium sized objects in typical human environments) is not obviously problematic. There are, after all, lots of cases where we seem to be able to grasp genuine truths even though those truths play no role in the story of how our basic mental capacities evolved. We are able to grasp truths of quantum field theory or higher dimensional topology or, for that matter, philosophy [emphasis added] (or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate) even though those truths had nothing to do with why the basic mental capacities underlying these abilities evolved in Pleistocene hominins… Philosophers who endorse some form of moral realism [my position] have typically believed that we’ve done the same thing in grasping moral truths.” (Sec 4.1)
Bernard has tried to argue that this “truth tracking” ability (which is what I think he means by “alignment”) only goes to areas of mathematical or empirical knowledge and could only serve pragmatic needs, i.e. survival. This is clearly false as it goes to philosophical knowledge and very abstract knowledge as well. This is so obvious that the Stanford source notes we must include this type of knowledge, because of the very discussion at hand: “or so we are assuming in even engaging in this debate…” Thus, it is a self-defeating argument to suggest this truth tracking ability only goes to empirical or mathematical knowledge, as one is making a philosophical argument (neither a mathematical nor empirical argument) to pronounce the very assertion! Further this also goes to the issues of music, song, poetry, literature, art, romantic/self-sacrificing love, or beauty as none of those areas have ever convincingly been shown, or proved, to serve only, or just, pragmatic or survival needs.
Additionally, there is this from the same Stanford essay:
“These issues remain challenging and controversial. But the controversies are as much ongoing philosophical ones as scientific ones and it is therefore unlikely that scientific results will settle them. Science will plainly not settle, for example, whether or not there are moral truths; and if there are, they will likely play an explanatory role with regard to at least some of our moral beliefs—something we will miss if we approach these issues from an exclusively scientific point of view.” (Sec 2.5)
Bernard also made a lot of hay regarding brain states and their being properly aligned. In that area, speaking specifically to claimed religious experiences, the only area brain states would be pertinent, we come to this link, also, a Stanford source:
“There are general problems with all kinds of naturalistic explanations as defeaters [for those claiming religious experiences]. First of all, as Gellman (2001) points out, most such explanations (like the psychoanalytic and socio-political ones) are put forward as hypotheses, not as established facts. The proponent assumes that the experiences are not veridical, then casts around for an explanation. This is not true of the neurological explanations, but they face another kind of weakness noted by Ellwood (1999): every experience, whatever its source, is accompanied by a corresponding neurological state. To argue that the experience is illusory because there is a corresponding brain state is fallacious. The same reasoning would lead us to conclude that sensory experiences are illusory, since in each sensory experience, there is some corresponding neurological state that is just like the state that occurs in the corresponding hallucination. The proponent of the naturalistic explanation as a defeater owes us some reason to believe that his or her argument is not just another skeptical argument from the veil of perception.”
What Bernard doesn’t seem to understand is that corresponding brain states are present for every experience and throughout every process of reasoning as one considers and reflects upon the information we all have, regardless of what we eventually end up concluding regarding that information. Even if we conclude all ethics are subjective or that we cannot know anything about God or the spiritual (or the opposite), there is a corresponding brain state. There are corresponding brain states either way. Additionally, if we conclude our felt experience of wonder at the night sky, or birth of our first child, is nothing more than a process of neurons firing in our brains and subsequent physiological changes, or if we conclude we are experiencing something more than just our physical reaction, there are accompanying brains states with each conclusion and experience. The fact brain states correspond to our felt experiences and reasoning does not then address the truthfulness or falseness of those philosophical conclusions or experiences. Those are entirely different questions. This is a straight away error of logic and also a misunderstanding of what brain states can tell us and what they cannot.
Now, these are only a handful of sourced I’ve cited. Clearly, this is a blog post and not an exhaustive academic reply. However, I’ve cited enough to get a sense of where the current conversation is as to the science and philosophical thinking surrounding these issues. What then can we reasonably conclude?
First of all, we can conclude that these points go to both the recent discussions of love and what love means and to the prior discussions regarding objective morality (and Bernard’s apparent obsession with torture examples), so these points encompass both those discussions.
Second, we can conclude that both of Bernard’s premises, understood within the context of the conversation, are highly, highly debatable. Moreover, they themselves, one could argue, possibly clash with science (as noted in the one entry). In fact, we should note it has been Bernard who has told us he couldn’t agree in some areas as to the Stanford source noted herein regarding natural selection and our brains or the neutral academic source (IEP) cited here in reference to this post. So it seems painfully ironic Bernard would be the one here telling other people their views clash with science. He may want to worry about his own views first and pull that beam out of his own eye. An ancillary problem for Bernard is that if he just comes out and asserts my sources are wrong, all he does is prove my very point, that these are not settled areas of science. If something is not settled in science, there can be no clash.
Third, we can conclude that Bernard holds beliefs that are not commonly held, one of which is that even if God or the spiritual exist, we can know nothing about either (to note that such is not a commonly held view is quite the under-statement!). This is a faith-based philosophical assertion and one that, while considering the empirical and scientific evidence (as my views do as well), is not proved by the empirical or scientific proof (as mine is not either), as in settled, widely agreed upon, fact. This would also mean that Bernard’s agnosticism is not a matter of “taste” but of faith-based philosophical assertion, which he has confused with “science”.
Fourth, since he feels his views are based upon scientific fact and not just a matter of philosophical disagreement, he must assume those who claim knowledge of the spiritual, or of God, are not telling the truth, delusional, illogical, or ignorant of the science. None are a very tolerant or generous view of the deeply held views of others, especially toward those who know the science (Collins, Polkinghorne, Andrew Pinsent, Stephen Barr, to name just a few) better than he. To claim they are ignorant of the science or their views clash with the science they know better than he is just laughable. It is silly. For instance, I would never question Dawkins’ or Dennett’s understanding of the science, only their philosophical interpretations of the science. To do otherwise, would be like someone who played a little ball in high school sitting in the stands at a major league game and claiming the professional on the field, the one who was drafted and made the team, was ignorant of baseball. One simply has no standing to make such claims—it is petty and immature. Only someone out there on the field, playing at the same level, would have any standing to make such a claim (and, of course, they never would). So then, are all these people just not telling the truth, delusional, illogical, ignorant, or dumb? What? Bernard has never told us. I wonder why? I don’t know; it probably has something to do with “taste”. I would rather a person just be honest–that is my taste.
Finally, and most importantly, to bring this all home, we can conclude that these disagreements are philosophical and not scientific. Thus, as noted already, for anyone to claim that the view asserting morality to be objective, or that love has a spiritual aspect, or that we can know something of the spiritual if it exists, to be views that “clash” with science is to reveal an ignorance of both science and philosophy. I don’t know what else to say, except this: Whether to Bernard or anyone else out there who would assert Christian views clash with science: Sorry, but I don’t think you know what the hell you are talking about.
I think I have now addressed every major objection that Bernard has ever brought up over the many discussions we have now been through. I welcome any response and I apologize up front for any statements or assertions attributed to Bernard that he feels did not convey his position correctly and he is welcome to put any such misunderstandings on my part straight. I will add some caveats however to any responses: I will not respond to any comments that are not accompanied with the quote in the post their comment or question is referring to. Additionally, please read the post carefully, because if I specifically addressed in the post, or one of the sources cited addressed, whatever a comment or question might be referring to, I will simply reply: “See post.”