Wednesday, 16 September 2015

ANT5: No Explanation Necessary for the Lack of a Reason

ANT's first comment on ANT4:

Hi neopolitan,

The distinction between doxastic and epistemological is important, so I’m glad you brought that up. I thought you might be introducing doxastic uncertainty about self-existence through questioning the veridicality of your ‘selfhood experience’. But it seems this is not what you intended. You intended to introduce doxastic uncertainty with regards to the nature of self which I think is perfectly reasonable.

So in our last few exchanges, I have been asking a question like this – what explains how specific selves associate with specific biophysical conditions? You have interpreted this as presuming substance dualism. This question stems from abstract ideas in my head which are translated rather imperfectly to the world of words and sentences. And it was intended to be neutral towards theories of mind. It assumes that self is core feature of the mind. Therefore, we could replace “associate” with “emerge from” (emergent physicalism), “supervene upon” (supervenient physicalism), and so on. Suppose we tentatively agree on emergent physicalism. The inquiry, at least by intention, assumes that there is a reason why I (self) emerge from these biophysical conditions. What reason could be provided according to naturalism?
I am flirting with the idea that the naturalist could argue the reason is these occurrences are necessary. This would go along with necessitarian views of Laws of Nature. However, it raises a significant problem for the naturalist. The Laws of Nature may be entirely mathematical, but a Law of Self-emergence would add qualitative complexity to the universe, which may extend to infinity. This is rather inconsistent with the simplicity and elegance desired by the naturalist, and rather a bit like wizardry.

Another answer might be there simply is no reason because it is random. Barring the problems with randomness (i.e., may not exist, may require substrate), this solution is problematic. The addition of arbitrary qualitative complexity to the universe potentiates the fine-tuning problem. The stench of fine-tuning is so strong that some have gone as far as to reject Karl Popper’s demarcation criterion and adopt other criteria in order to upgrade multiverse from pseudoscience to science.

Finally, invoking uncertainty about the answer is intellectually humble, but it misses the point of the inquiry. The point is to find at least a hypothetical solution which is consistent with naturalism. The inability to find a hypothetical solution would be a deficiency of naturalism.


My response:


I'm not limiting myself to a presumption of substance dualism (on your part).  This is certainly one valid interpretation of your argument (at least from my perspective), but my major issue is the presumption of some sort of overarching metaphysical structure to the universe.  By this I mean an assumption that there is a meaning to everything that exists outside of our ability to create such a meaning.   This assumption is inherent in your use of the phrase "(this) assumes that there is a reason why I (self) emerge from these biophysical conditions".

I'm all for the idea of an investigation or inquiry to establish the mechanisms by which our sense of self emerges from our associated biophysical conditions, but seeking a reason for this emergence seems to be begging the question.  Even if we were to retreat to a less charged term, say we seek an "explanation" as to why our sense of self emerges from our associated biophysical conditions, this explanation will (generally) still be interpreted as "reason" by the theists and "mechanism" by everyone else.

Note that with any phenomenon or event we could ask for both an explanation (mechanism based) and a reason (intention based).  For example, someone could ask why there is damage to the back of my car.  I could provide an explanation, describing how a vehicle in reverse can be rammed into inanimate objects and going into detail about crumple zones, and I could provide a reason, that I have decided to not fully repair the damage because it's mostly cosmetic.  The thing is, however, that there while will always be an explanation (even if we might not know what it is), there are many cases in which there is no reason.  Is there a reason why the Hoba meteorite fell in Namibia and not in Iowa, or Lincolnshire?  No, there's no reason, but there's an explanation (based on the timing of the rock hitting the atmosphere and it's composition).

It might surprise you, but I don't actually worry too much about categories like "necessary" and "contingent" because I associate the distinction with the antics of apologists.  When in a more generous frame of mind, it occurs to me that that the choices of an intentional being are, by definition, contingent (otherwise no possibility of choice would exist), but even when there is no intention or choice made, I'm not absolutely convinced that any result is necessarily necessary.  (As a rather strong determinist, I am somewhat convinced though.  The doubt creeps in at the quantum level, if the universe really is indeterministic at that level, then if rewind the clock on apparently necessary results and rerun things, we might find that they are not fundamentally necessary.  This would still leave a sort of physical consequentialism: if these conditions and rulesets obtain, then this result will necessarily follow.  Conditional necessity, if you like.)

I don't understand your statement that "(s)elf-emergence would add qualitative complexity to the universe, which may extend to infinity".  I understand that "self-emergence" refers to the emergence of the sense of self from our associated biophysical conditions, but I don't understand what you mean by "qualitative complexity", how it would matter when we are talking about an entirely mathematical universe and what impact such a subjective take on things would have on the worldview of the naturalist.  I do think that the naturalist has no issue with the apparent messiness of, for instance, a tornado, even though that the macroscopic tornado emerges from quite simple and elegant interactions at the microscopic scale.  I don't think that's wizardry at all.

Similarly, I don't understand what you mean by "(t)he addition of arbitrary qualitative complexity to the universe potentiates the fine-tuning problem".  There are differences between indeterminism (which may be the negation of either hard or soft determinism), randomness and arbitrariness.  To me, arbitrary simply means without a reason, without an intent.  An arbitrary decision can be made randomly, but it's not necessarily the case - it can be a personal whim or the decision could be made on the basis of an irrelevant, but not random factor.  Nevertheless, you refer again to "qualitative complexity" and you've brought it in as your objection to both possible lines of reasoning that you ascribe to the naturalist.  By that aside, what do you mean by "potentiates the fine-tuning problem"?

Then you raise the issue of a "hypothetical solution".  A hypothetical solution to what?  The problem of "qualitative complexity"?  The "stench of fine-tuning"?  The lack of an answer to the question "why" in this instance?  Without knowing what our hypothetical solution is supposed to solve, I really don't think that the lack of such a solution is a deficiency on the part of naturalism.

ANT's second response on ANT4:


I agree with you that “a true gift would be the provision of evidence that would support a belief. . .” Also, I totally agree with you that it is important to distinguish between beliefs and knowledge, and we could further subdivide based on the level of uncertainty as you stated.

What is imposed upon me is not the belief itself, rather a kind of internal evidence which must be weighed like all other evidences. This means intelligence is indispensible. So what I meant to contrast were two processes that lead to belief. One is dominated by acquiring data and analyzing it to make the best conclusion. It is meritocratic and favors the curious, wealthy, and socially apt. The other is dominated by provision from outside forces wherein the individual’s abilities are not a major factor. The important factor is the individual’s acceptance of provision. This is the difference between merit and grace in Christianity.

If the imposition were belief itself, I think we would run into the problems you raise. It would be strange discovering within oneself a new belief!

“I agree that a good belief would not lead to harm, but I note that ‘harm’ here is undefined. . .” and “What I am aiming at here is that belief as a good gift would not only be good in the moral sense, but it would also have to be veridical. . .”

All good points.

“I don’t really understand why this faith, which is the problem we started with, should be rewarded – because ‘faith’ appears to be no more than belief with insufficient evidence.”

By faith, I don’t mean doctrinal belief, rather faith defined as trust. Bottom line, if the Christian deity is as far reaching as they say, and demonstrating trust is important, there must be opportunities to demonstrate trust for all people of all worldviews.

“I could stomach the idea that your deity might reward people for what good they do in their lives, irrespective of what faith they have or whether they have faith at all, but as soon as you admit that as a possibility, the whole motivation for being a theist drops away. . .”

I don’t think this kind of belief will save anyone. This does dissolve the motivation to adopt religion in order to gain salvation. Or does it? I think it depends on what exactly God is calling the individual to believe. We all have unique life situations, and maybe some are called to be lifelong skeptics. For some, perhaps a good version of Islam. For some, perhaps a good version of Judaism. I don’t think this scenario diminishes the value of truth, rather it is a fact of living in an evil world with deceptions and yet God knows what to expect of individuals and can call us in unique ways.

My response:

Hi again,

I must admit that I don't comprehend this internal evidence if it isn't belief.  In your Letter to Atheists, you wrote:

"one night I was listening to a debate about the resurrection of Jesus and was somehow convinced Jesus really did rise from the dead and this event led to the rise of Christianity. Given the degree of skepticism that I had developed, a deep questioning of everything, I was greatly surprised by being convinced! This new belief in Jesus created a spirituality in me. On top of this, to make sense out of Jesus I believed in God. I partook in this spirituality unencumbered for some time."

Now you might say that this is "conviction" rather than "belief", but I don't think there is a huge difference between the two terms and it nevertheless sounds like you are relating a tale in which you had a belief (or conviction) imposed on you.  Perhaps I have misinterpreted your testimony here.

The grace you are talking about is pretty much precisely this imposition of belief that I question while noting that I don't actually believe that it is truly an imposition of belief at all.  I also note that some theists, or perhaps more accurately some Christians, tie themselves into knots about this grace concept - believing that even their belief in god, their faith, is itself a gift from god and that it is not belief that gets you into heaven but the grace of god.  (Danny was the proponent of this idea during a discussion one Friday evening.  I put to him that it was therefore possible that he, the believer, might possibly not go to heaven and I, the non-believer, might be taken instead.  He considered it technically possible, but stated blandly that he knew he was going to heaven.  Why?  Because he has faith.  Back then I just decided that there was no point in any serious attempt to progress the discussion and that I should be polite, resisting my urge to label this type of thinking appropriately.  Nowadays, I would point out that the point of theology that he had failed to mention was that faith in god is generally considered necessary but not sufficient to get into heaven, so infidels like myself can still be excluded.)

In a similar vein to my response to your first comment, the type of faith that you referring to is a major question beggar.  In Atheists are Evil, I took the unusual step of translating and transcribing the lyrics from a Swedish song, Du Måste Finnas ("You Must Exist" or "You Must Be There"), from the musical Kristina från Duvemåla.  In it Kristina is undergoing an existential crisis by proxy, a crisis of faith.  Something that strikes me in this song is that Kristina has placed her faith, your sort of faith - trusting faith, in a god.  A god that she is now starting to doubt the existence of.  This seems terribly back to front to me.  I have your sort of trusting faith in certain people on this planet, but I am pretty certain that they exist.  To have this sort of faith in your god, however, is secondary to what I consider to be the more standard sort of faith, doctrinal faith as you put it.  First believe that your god exists, then you at least believe that you have something to trust.

I understand the allure of some sort of universalism, in which believing a form of theism (does it have to be Abrahamic, or can we include Hindus and others in this club?) qualifies you for posthumous rewards.  But we are right back at the nature of a good belief again.  You noted that I made a good point when I said that "belief as a good gift would not only be good in the moral sense, but it would also have to be veridical", but a short while later you were tentatively espousing the benefits of non-veridical belief (because not all of Judaism and all of Christianity and all of Islam can be true simultaneously).

And, finally … an evil world?  Once more, I struggle with understanding you here.  What sort of god do you have in mind, one who is capable of making a perfect world but has failed to make it?  Or one who is not capable of making a perfect world?  As you have written elsewhere, the problem of evil is no small problem for the theist (although you see it as a challenge to the moral character of your god while I see it as evidence of the non-viability of the very concept of your god, in part because I think that your god fails the moral character challenge).

I resolve the problem of evil by removing intent from the consideration.  All the suffering in the world could only be evil if there were a divine being who is capable of preventing it yet doesn't.  With no god in my calculations, there is no evil.

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