Thursday, March 5, 2009

He'll argue with me, but he won't tell me about it.



As you might see if you check the comments on my post, "Aquinas and Plantinga, part 1", there has been no comment from Kenneth Hynek about debating the issue. However, he did write a post, “Everything grows clear in the reflections from the Infinite,” where he addresses me:

No doubt the likes of recent commentator Norman Doering will object to the proposition that there is something inherently Christian about the Western scientific notion that rational inquiry will be rewarded with rational information, but it must still be said: at the core of modern science, the belief is still very much alive that it is only by seeking that we shall find, and only by knocking that we will see things opened unto us…and that our seeking will be rewarded with findings, that our knocking will be rewarded with openings.

As a matter of fact I do object to the claim that there is something inherently Christian about the "Western scientific notion" that rational inquiry will be rewarded with rational information. The idea that Rational inquiry will be rewarded with rational information is human, not Christian. I think I can demonstrate the falsity of his claim by pointing out that it was Pagan Greeks who really got the process of scientific inquiry off the ground for the West:






And while the West was slumbering through a scientific dark age after Christian culture had demolished Greek science Muslims had a big contribution to make. And India had some remarkable scientists.

"I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has continued to put out of sight our obligations to the Muhammadans (Muslims). Surely they cannot be much longer hidden. Injustice founded on religious rancour and national conceit cannot be perpetuated forever. The Arab has left his intellectual impress on Europe. He has indelibly written it on the heavens as any one may see who reads the names of the stars on a common celestial globe."
-- John William Draper in the "Intellectual Development of Europe"




The claim that Western science owes, perhaps its entire existence, to the Biblical underpinnings of Western society is seriously exaggerated to say the least. His claim that supernatural revelation, as registered in the Bible, is germane to science is unsupported.

It was under the influence of the arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that a real renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe. After steadily sinking lower and lower into barbarism, it had reached the darkest depths of ignorance and degradation when cities of the Saracenic world, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, and Toledo, were growing centers of civilization and intellectual activity. It was there that the new life arose which was to grow into new phase of human evolution. From the time when the influence of their culture made itself felt, began the stirring of new life.

It was under their successors at Oxford School (that is, successors to the Muslims of Spain) that Roger Bacon learned Arabic and Arabic Sciences. Neither Roger Bacon nor later namesake has any title to be credited with having introduced the experimental method. Roger Bacon was no more than one of apostles of Muslim Science and Method to Christian Europe; and he never wearied of declaring that knowledge of Arabic and Arabic Sciences was for his contemporaries the only way to true knowledge. Discussion as to who was the originator of the experimental method....are part of the colossal misinterpretation of the origins of European civilization. The experimental method of Arabs was by Bacon's time widespread and eagerly cultivated throughout Europe.
-- Robert Briffault in the "Making of Humanity"

Modern science does not depend on the assumptions that the universe itself is rational, only that it is intelligible to rational minds and that is not really an assumption, that was demonstrated long before Christianity existed.

Also, on the blog post where I left my previous comment Kenneth Hynek decided to insult me after he declined the debate while continuing to argue his point:

...when you ask this:

Why must a “First Cause” be simple or immutable? And what does simplicity and immutability even mean in this context?

You demonstrate not only that the works of Plantinga and Aquinas are several degrees above your pay grade (I am speaking here of the difference in pay grade between janitor and CEO, in fact), but also demonstrate that your own position — whatever it is — is fundamentally unmoored from a basic understanding of reason itself.

Actually, I think it's Mr. Hynek who perhaps doesn't grasp what reason is and that he has chosen this insult option because he knows he can't explain his assertion that a “First Cause” must be simple and immutable. Though I must confess that I'm no big reader of Plantinga or Aquinas and I often don't have a clue as to why they make the screwy assertions they make.

Instead of dealing with Plantinga and Aquinas he is proceeding on his own into the realm of quantum mechanics. To my assertion that "if the first cause is merely a quantum fluctuation, then a quantum fluctuation is God. But quantum fluctuations do not have mental qualities, they don’t have emotions or thoughts," he replied:

Given how little we even understand about the intricacies of quantum fluctuations, your statement is speculation at best, despite your presentation of it as hard fact.

While it's true that I can't be one hundred percent certain that quantum fluctuations don't have emotions or thoughts it's not mere speculation that they don't. After all, Mr. Hynek also can't be sure that the chair he is sitting in doesn't have emotions and thoughts and that it doesn't like the smell of his farts. Would he consider it rational to speculate that his chair resents his farts?

It is rather off the wall to suppose that chairs and quantum fluctuations do have such things. There is simply no good reason, aside from trying to shoehorn in a religious supposition into physics, to assume that a quantum fluctuation has emotions or thoughts. What magical, supernatural replacement for neural circuitry would generate their emotions or thoughts?

In fact, by stating this possibility it is in fact Kenneth Hynek who has demonstrated that it is he who lacks a critical tool of rational scientific thought. That tool is called, rather loosely by its enemies, "the assumption of naturalism," or by its friends, "methodological naturalism."



Does he really want to argue that quantum fluctuations do have emotions and thoughts? Probably not, but he might be trying to claim that they are how God acts in the world.

And while I appreciate that your position is so flimsy to begin with that it requires this kind of sleight of hand, don’t expect me to let said sleight of hand go unremarked upon.

Asserting that quantum fluctuations do not have emotions and thoughts is sleight of hand? Seems like common sense and the assumption of naturalism to me. I could tell Mr. Hynek a lot about the use of methodological naturalism in scientific reasoning, but apparently he can explain nothing about his methods of reasoning.

We know that a quantum fluctuation is a temporary change in the amount of energy at a particular point in space, in apparent violation of the law of conservation of energy. But what does that really tell us? Could a change in energy not be a function of will, albeit a will beyond our ability to comprehend or accurately articulate a description of?

We have ways of testing for mental abilities in animals, perhaps we should have physicists test for this ability in subatomic particles?

In response to my statement: If you think God has mental qualities like “intention,” “knowledge,” “will,” “emotion,” “desire” etc. then how can you even imagine those are simple? You’re talking about some magical form of human-like intelligence that needs no material substrate and of which there is no example to point to. He wrote:

Or I’m talking about something that clunky human language cannot serve to adequately describe, using the clunky human language that is my only means of offering a cogent attempt at a description.

It's not so much, I suspect, a concept that cannot be adequately described as it is an ancient mistake about the source of our mental attributes that religious people refuse to explore rationally. Before neuroscience began to locate mental activity in the brain the ancients assumed that there were "souls" and "spirits" that gave men their mental attributes and animated their bodies. Interestingly, some of the ancient words often translated into soul or spirit in the Bible could also mean wind and breath and ghost. It suggests that the concept of soul and spirit was a biological misunderstanding. The ancients thought that breath, spiritus in Latin, was the force that differentiated a living body from a dead body. Living people breathed, dead people didn't. Breath is a physical event, your breath also exists outside your body momentarily, so spirits can exist outside the body. And you can have spirit possession and invisible ghosts floating about in the air and acting like the wind.

Neuroscience doesn't use the words "spirit" or "soul." Neuroscientists talk about receptors, and neurotransmitters, and electrical circuits, and so forth. Do you think we should go back to talking about spirits?

You assume, I think, a certain blindness to these cosmological forces; from whence do you get this erroneous notion that these forces are in any way blind?

From their statistically predictable regularity. What about the behavior of quantum fluctuations would suggest otherwise?

Could it be, instead, that you feel a deep-seated fear at the idea that things may exist which defy human observation or description?

Maybe you're the one who is afraid?

there’s no way at all we could even begin to have a meaningful discussion, because your position is grounded in several levels of irrationality and unreason. And I, for one, don’t see the need to attempt to forge something meaningful out of something that will only ever rise to the level of a dog’s breakfast.

Well, there you go. He is saying that my poor little god-given brain can not comprehend and grasp the vast mysteries that he understands. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a sadomasochist when I asked why they liked such things. I was told something similar to:

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

Just replace the word faith with desire.

28 comments:

ValorPhoenix on Google Talk said...

Immutability just means it does change. Simple is simple.

Occam's Razor would favor such things, but not demand them.

On the link he gives to explain simple and immutability, http://deepsoftime.wordpress.com/2009/01/07/are-a-self-existing-god-and-a-self-existing-universe-parallels/ the links for those words leading to their 'definition' are pages about how God has those properties.

As usual, the religious position is wholly dependent on a special pleading point of view.

normdoering said...

Thanks for your comment ValorPhoenix.

"Immutability just means it does change. Simple is simple."

That can't be right. You meant it doesn't change -- is not mutable; unchangeable; changeless, as the dictionary says.

And even there the context is strange. Everything in the universe is mutable, changing, not even the atomic particles we are made of will last forever. Even time and space can change.

And just saying "simple" isn't good enough. Are we talking some kind of algorithmic simplicity? And do they really want to claim "God is simple minded?"

ValorPhoenix on Google Talk said...

Yeah, the was a typo, immutable = doesn't change.

As for the rest, the stuff he linked to was standard apologetics, specifically dealing with "Is God Immutable?" and "Is God Simple?"

I don't really care to bother with such stuff, I just visited because you asked at PZ's blog. I did find his bald assertion that he had an argument amusing however, particularly since he didn't mention what the argument was at all.

You post here are nicely indepth, but I would have kept to simply pointing out the obvious. Getting detailed and long-winded makes obfuscation all too easy.

normdoering said...

ValorPhoenix wrote:
"...I would have kept to simply pointing out the obvious. Getting detailed and long-winded makes obfuscation all too easy."

I don't think I can do that. I think this necessarily has to be complicated. I did a little reading of Aquinas before breaking to watch Battlestar Galactica and I've noticed that Kenneth Hynek doesn't actually seem to get Aquinas. So, he is being a bit of a fraud in pretending that he does.

The evidence for that is this statement:

"There is the potential for error in attributing certain qualities to the First Cause, which must satisfy (at minimum) two conditions — simplicity and immutability."

Aquinas doesn't actually make the argument Hynek thinks Aquinas does. Aquinas never says the First cause must be simplicity and immutability. At least not in a straight forward fashion. Aquinas argues that there has to be a first cause using, basically, what boils down to the argument that there cannot be an infinite chain of causes and effects, therefore there must be a first cause and then through god-of-the-gaps reasoning assumes that first cause must be God - then argues that God must be simple and immutable, not necessarily the first cause - which is only assumed to be God.

You can have first causes that are not God (a quantum fluctuation).

Weirdly, Hynek started arguing that quantum fluctuations might have mental properties (you can't prove there are no pink unicorns therefore there are pink unicorns reasoning). Thus trying to jump the god-of-the-gaps argument with another variety of specious reasoning not used by Aquinas.

How do you say that, provide evidence for it, and still manage to be short and simple?

ValorPhoenix on Google Talk said...

Do both of course. Have a simple post that links to more in-depth posts that focus on particular subjects.

Readability is good.

Hynek likely won't be swayed by anything here, but one of his readers coming over out of curiosity could be. A giant wall of text studded by youtube videos will likely exceed attention spans and memory capacity.

normdoering said...

I left a comment on the blog that Kenneth Hynek linked, "Michael’s excellent article on self-existent things."

In case you ever run into someone trying to argue via Aquinas you might try this:

Has it ever occurred to you that if your requirements for a First Cause were valid that they would rule out the God described in the Bible?

Here’s how:

You say: “…the First Cause must be simple, or have no division into parts, because parts can only be related to one another by some principle extrinsic to the parts themselves to which all the parts have a relation — …”

That argues against the God of the Bible because by your definition of parts that can only be related to one another by some principle extrinsic to the parts themselves would include all the mental attributes the ancient Bible writers projected onto the God they created in their own image. It argues against the First Cause having any kind of mind because all those mental abilities are relational. To think is to think about something, as you do when you think about what caused the universe. To know is to know about something that can only be extrinsic to you. ultimately thinking and knowing are a relationship to the extrinsic things you think and know about. To desire is to desire something extrinsic and without desire there can be no will.

You can’t just say those parts are material only and then replace all their thingness with pseudo-things like neo-Platonic essences to serve your purposes of having non-material parts, not when they echo the properties of the material world. Essences are things too, taking up the same mental niche as the things they are essences of.

Without those mental traits you can’t have the God described by the Bible. That God gets angry at sin (a very relational thing) who punishes, who rewards (relational to something extrinsic again unless we’re God).

And when you say: “So whenever the First Cause is reached, it must be absolutely simple” you demonstrate that your thinking on this can’t be valid because the most absolutely simple, no relationship, no change, “thing” we can imagine is not God, but nothing. And since nothing can come from nothing - being immutable and all - and we observe that there is indeed something, then we must conclude that there is no such thing as nothing which is the simplest and most immutable “thing” we can imagine.

And if the simplest and most immutable thing doesn’t cut it, then your requirement that it be the First Cause fails.

Russell Blackford said...

I'm not sure that it's worth arguing with someone who takes that tone. I haven't read the original thread, but when someone resorts to insults and claims of superiority in the way this guy seems to have done ... well, it's (a) not very impressive and (b) it poisons the discussion. If it happened to me, I'd be inclined to warn him to be civil and maybe even to ban him from my blog. No one has a right to talk to me uncivilly in my own living room or my own blog - if someone wants to insult me they can go elsewhere and do it.

Be that as it may, I take it you are talking about The Second Way? That is a notoriously weak argument.

The argument works something like this. Apologies to Graham Oppy from whom I've adapted this, with elaboration of my own:

1. Some things are caused. (Premise: a seemingly uncontroversial empirical claim.)
2. Things that are caused are caused by things other than themselves. (Premise: a plausible claim based, perhaps, on our concept of causation, or perhaps on experience.)
3. There are no circles of causes. (Premise: this is perhaps implicit in the whole argument, though Aquinas does not deal with it; in any event, perhaps it's an acceptable assumption, though, as it's difficult to imagine a circle of causes.)
4. There are no infinite regresses of causes. (Premise.)
5. Interim conclusion 1.: There are some (i.e one or more) First Causes, i.e. things that do not have causes. (From 1, 2, 3 and 4.)
6. If there are some First Causes, there is no more than one first cause. (Premise)
7. Interim conclusion 2.: There is exactly one First Cause. (From 5 and 6.)
8. If there is exactly one First Cause, that First Cause is God. (Premise.)
9. God exists (From 7 and 8)

This is deductively valid, or can be tightened up and made so. But it is not clear that we should accept 4. Even if we do accept 4., I see absolutely no reason to accept either 6. or 8.

Once we know that at least one thing is uncaused (and is in that sense a First Cause), why assume that there is just one thing that is so special as to be the only thing that is uncaused? It might be claimed that Occam's Razor demands a restriction on the number of entities postulated, but that is a misapplication of Occam's Razor. The idea that there is just one First Cause is postulating a more special entity than is postulated in the conclusion that there is some class of uncaused entities. If there is a kind of uncaused thing, then for all we know things of this kind are continually coming into existence. All we know is that they are not the day-to-day human-scale things that we typically observe. But they could be things that are very small or very distant or too large for us to comprehend as a whole, or other things that are not easily observed.

Surely if we conclude that one or more things are not caused it would be good to see if we can find out what they are - at what point do causal chains actually run out? Why assume in advance that we'll find just one thing, or even just one class of things?

And even if there is just one thing that is uncaused, why should that thing bear any resemblance to the Christian God, which has many properties (personality, non-physicality, omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence, love of wine, hatred of shellfish, etc.) that have nothing to do with the argument? The one and only First Cause would be something special, since there would only be one of it. But it could be some kind of ultimate causal thing that is, for example, totally impersonal and physical. Even if causes run out eventually, with just one thing at the bottom, we don't know in advance what that thing will be like.

memphisto said...

You guys sure do write purdy, but I see little reason that either side of the debate is anything more that intellectual ping pong and as far as the amount of evidence supporting either supposition you might as well play actual ping pong to determine an answer.

For instance, the whole “first cause is intelligent” (i.e. God), “first cause was a quantum fluctuation”, or “God caused a quantum fluctuation to initiate primal cause for this universe” argument reminds me of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin since we don’t know if there is a creator (God), if the primal moment in the beginning of this universe was an actual first cause (or just the local first clause), or why the universe is the way it is to allow for creation through quantum fluctuation. It may be fun, but it’s fruitless.

On the subject of whether science is an outgrowth of Christian beliefs, that at least is historically absurd. It is just another instance of a part of modern Christianity trying to take credit for everything they see around them that they perceive to be worthwhile. Their current actions to attempt to undermine science while at the same time taking credit for it is just more evidence that they have no fealty to logic or reality. Likewise, their claim that democracy is a natural outgrowth of Christian principles, in spite of no evidence of any in the bible. Or their current dogma about abortion in spite of the bible being totally unconcerned about fetuses. Modern Christianity seem built on the paradoxical combination or abject fear and overwhelming hubris.

normdoering said...

memphisto wrote:
"...argument reminds me of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin since we don’t know ..."

Interesting that you bring up the old dig about medieval philosophers arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Thomas Aquinas almost did argue that and his answer would be that an infinite number of angels can dance on the head of a pin. Here's the quote:

"Some, however, have been deceived in this matter. For some who were unable to go beyond the reach of their imaginations supposed the indivisibility of the angel to be like that of a point; consequently they thought that an angel could be only in a place which is a point. But they were manifestly deceived, because a point is something indivisible, yet having its situation; whereas the angel is indivisible, and beyond the genus of quantity and situation. Consequently there is no occasion for determining in his regard one indivisible place as to situation: any place which is either divisible or indivisible, great or small suffices, according as to his own free-will he applies his power to a great or to a small body. So the entire body to which he is applied by his power, corresponds as one place to him."

Some have been deceived in this matter? How would anyone know anything like that about angels based on the information given in the Bible?

Russell Blackford said...

I understood that the angels on a head of pin thing was a thought experiment about whether there can be an actual infinity of thigs, as opposed to a merely potential infinity. I.e., it's not a thought experiment in angelology but in pre-Cantorian mathematics. I've never gone back to the source, but I think I read this a long time ago in something by Rudy Rucker. In that case, the medieval thinkers who used this thought experiment have an underdeservedly bad rep for doing so.

Even now, perfectly atheistic philosophers make use of the properties of God in thought experiments, e.g. about personal identity (if God created a perfect copy of you would it be you?). So Rucker (if it was Rucker) could well be right about this.

normdoering said...

Russell Blackford wrote:
"I understood that the angels on a head of pin thing was a thought experiment about whether there can be an actual infinity of things, as opposed to a merely potential infinity. I.e., it's not a thought experiment in angelology but in pre-Cantorian mathematics."

The reputation of medieval philosophers was probably influenced by a lot of things. And where ever the angels-dancing-on-pins metaphor came from, it sure does seem to apply to Aquinas's take on angelology.

You can see for yourself if you go here: Summa Theologica, Part I (Prima Pars), by Thomas Aquinas and do a global search for "the Substance of the Angels Absolutely Considered"

There's a huge section devoted to angelology.

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