Philosophy of religion is mostly not taken seriously in mainstream philosophy

In my very first semester in college, in my very first philosophy course, there was a unit on arguments for and against the existence of God. An article by Swinburne was assigned as the rebuttal to an atheist’s article on the problem of evil. However, the professor skipped lecturing on Swinburne.

When I asked him why in his office hours, his response was basically, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Why put Swinburne on the syllabus, then? Well, previous years, he’d had a different article by William Alston in that slot, but it had been terrible too.

A couple years later, I asked a different professor about philosophy of religion, and he said the main thing to know about it was that it was a low-status specialty. He also had unkind things to say about theistic responses to the problem of evil, specifically mentioning Swinburne, and expressed disappointment at the number of grad students at his previous university who had been theists. Shouldn’t they know better by their age? seemed to be his attitude.

He did mention that he thought Plantinga’s ontological argument was worth looking at. This was something I’d encounter again, Plantinga as an exception to the general rule about philosophy of religion being a waste of time, but at other times I encountered philosophers who didn’t think much of Plantinga either.

Then I went off to graduate school at Notre Dame. This was the number one philosophy of religion department in the world, where Plantinga was the starring figure, and most of the other top professors were deeply religious. You might think I’d get a totally opposite view of philosophy of religion there, but the situation was more complicated than that.

While lots of people at Notre Dame were personally fans of philosophy of religion, they knew its status in the broader profession. Religious grad students were warned that if they did their dissertations in philosophy of religion, they’d be unemployable. I once heard a professor rant about how unfair it was that other philosophers were dismissive of Plantinga because of things he’d said about evolution.

This is something that amateur philosophy of religion buffs are likely to miss, although you can find hints of it in online discussions if you look closely. When atheist philosopher Keith Parsons declared he was calling it quits a few years ago, he wrote:

I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest; I don’t think there is a Bernie Madoff in the bunch. I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it.

Brian Leiter, commenting on the story, said that, “My anecdotal impression is that this attitude towards philosophy of religion… may be fairly widely shared, though primarily among philosophers who have not devoted as much time to the literature and the issues as Professor Parsons.” The discussion at Leiter’s blog largely took for granted philosophy of religion’s low reputation within the discipline, and argued over whether it was justified.

Or, here’s theistic philosopher of religion Randal Rauser’s description of a stereotypical philosophy department:

The philosophy department is chock full of analytic philosophers (Heidegger is considered a bad joke) who are atheists. The last graduate student who was openly Christian only survived because she opted to write her thesis on environmental ethics. The departmental head recently referred to philosophy of religion as a complete waste of time.

The example is presented fictitiously, but in my experience it’s at most slightly exaggerated. Oh, and in the last few years even philosophers of religion have been doing a fair amount of hand-wringing over their sub-discipline looking too much like religious apologetics.

I say all this because Peter Boghossian has recently gotten a lot of flak for a tweet where he said:


Now, I don’t know many philosophers who would say that publishing in philosophy absolutely disqualifies you from doing good work in other areas. But there are nevertheless plenty of philosophers who think publishing in philosophy of religion is a waste of time at best, and potentially a bad sign about someone. Boghossian’s critics seem unaware of this, which is ironic since many of them are the sort to act superior over others’ supposed ignorance of philosophy of religion.

The assumption among philosophy of religion fans seems to be that the opinions of philosophers who aren’t specialists in the sub-discipline don’t count. But it has to be possible for experts in a given discipline to have views on the worth of sub-disciplines they haven’t published in. Otherwise, most psychologists would be barred from having opinions on parapsychology. Why is philosophy of religion any different?

  • Luke Breuer

    Isn’t it worthwhile to ask why opinions are this way? I’d also be careful with the argumentum ad populum; just look at what physicists at the end of the nineteenth century had to say. It is particularly instructive to read books like Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self, and Mortimer Adler’s Ten Philosophical Mistakes, to see what damage is done by some of the premises philosophers hold to, which allow them to have their current statistical opinion of the philosophy of religion. You see, it doesn’t matter if the other guy’s position has weaknesses, if your own does, as well.

    It would be valuable, for example, to present an analogue of John Searle’s Chinese room—which was an atom bomb to the consciousness/understanding/meaning discussion—for the philosophy of religion. Is there some seminal paper, or a few seminal papers, which put a lot of philosophy of religion into question? Or is it more of a general prejudice that is nonlocal and hard to pin down? The latter form of anti-PhilRelig seems very non-scholarly.

    P.S. Boghossian does not have a PhD in philosophy. Actually, according to A Manual press material:

    Dr. Peter Boghossian is a full-time faculty member in Portland State University’s philosophy department. He was thrown out of the doctoral program in the University of New Mexico’s philosophy department.

    Why are we respecting Peter Boghossian’s thoughts on philosophy? He is not an expert in philosophy.

    P.P.S. See Peter Boghossian ostracizing atheist/agnostic philosophers, which lists atheist/agnostic philosophers who also need to sit at the Children’s Table.

    • Whiskyjack

      I think the atom bomb on philosophy of religion was dropped a few centuries ago by Hume.

      • Luke Breuer

        And yet, his conception of ‘natural law’ was very questionable (see The Computational Theory of the Laws of Nature), and his conception of ‘miracle’ was also very questionable (see Leibniz’s theistic case against Humean miracles). Hume by no means settled things.

        • Whiskyjack

          Leibniz presupposed a perfect god who had preordained everything. Unless you make a similar presupposition, I don’t see how his arguments gain any traction against Hume.

          • Luke Breuer

            So because someone said something you think is false, you get to dismiss everything he said?

          • Whiskyjack

            No, it is because Leibniz’s arguments depend on things like divine perfection, divine benevolence and divine rationality. Those are pretty major assumptions to make, and his arguments depend on them. Personally, I haven’t been able to take Leibniz seriously since reading Monadology.

          • Luke Breuer

            Ahh, so Leibniz cannot make any assumptions whatsoever about miracles, and yet Hume can. Ok.

          • Whiskyjack

            Hume doesn’t make any assumptions about miracles, except that they are very rare and would require a lot of evidence to validate them. His specific claims are about people: that they may lie or be mistaken.
            I have first-hand experience with people lying or being mistaken. I have no experience or reason to believe that Liebniz’s god exists. Liebniz’s arguments also rely on Aristotelian notions of substance, which are unsupportable given our current best understanding of physics.

          • Luke Breuer

            Hume doesn’t make any assumptions about miracles, except that they are very rare and would require a lot of evidence to validate them.

            ‘except that’—Hume is assuming an objective universal prior probability, with zero justification for it.

            Liebniz’s arguments also rely on Aristotelian notions of substance, which are unsupportable given our current best understanding of physics.

            Are you referring to Structural Realism? Or perhaps to the fact that currently, physics has no ontology (leading to the many interpretations of quantum mechanics)?

          • Whiskyjack

            The fact that a miracle is unlikely or unusual is part of the definition of the word, not an unwarranted presupposition. As such, it does not require justification, any more than a presupposition of a bachelor being unmarried is unwarranted. If miracles happened all the time, they wouldn’t be called miracles.
            I understand that there is no consensus on the interpretation of quantum mechanics. That does absolutely nothing to support an Aristotelian metaphysics.

          • Luke Breuer

            You’ve addressed one claim of Hume’s, but another is that miracles “would require a lot of evidence to validate them”. Precisely how much evidence is required depends on one’s universal prior probability + subsequent updates. So, whence comes that universal prior probability?

          • Whiskyjack

            I think Hume’s maxim
            A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence”
            encapsulates his outlook quite nicely. Since there is no convincing empirical evidence of miracles (or the supernatural, in general,) requiring evidence proportionate to the magnitude of the claim is reasonable. I expect a lot more evidence for a claim of seeing a unicorn over that required for a claim of seeing a horse.

          • Luke Breuer

            But your universal prior cannot come from ‘the evidence’, and neither can it be a 100% uninformative prior (the principle of indifference), given that this equates to radical skepticism, and radical skepticism cannot be escaped via observation. Remember, percepts are assimilated in this way (according to Bayesian inference):

                 posterior = prior updated by percept

            So, once again, whence comes that universal prior probability?

        • Ray

          Also worth adding. Hume’s argument in “of miracles” does not crucially depend upon his exact definition of the concept of “natural law.” All that is needed is that miracles are unpredictable and significantly rarer than errors in eyewitness testimony of the sort generally used to support said miracles.

        • spitzs

          Phrasing it as an argument against Humean miracles is kind of weird, since the argument was created and worth making before Hume wrote anything. It’s a criticism of a theistic concept of miracles,one which Hume simply criticized differently. The concept still survives today, but either way you’re stuck with “miracles” getting kicked from two sides, plus all of the other kicks that went unmentioned.

          The argument made for some other kind of “miracles” on the other hand, is just speculation on how they could occur and doesn’t really support miraculous claims in any way, nor have the centuries that followed provided any vindication for those suspicions. Of course, the concept of miracles itself is designed to avoid explanation as the mysterious works of a strange being doesn’t actually describe anything identifiable.If you have “evidence” of a miracle, then the being is no longer strange, and the method no longer mysterious; explanations at most simply demonstrate the foolishness of specific appeals to miraculous occurrences. The closest anyone is getting to a “miracle” is to find something they can’t explain and never learn how it happened. Then they can assume there are as many invisible hands pushing things around as they like.

          The fear of evidence is generally only partial, of course. People can’t speculate themselves into becoming immortals, so they’re pretty often counting on direct evidence to support their beliefs.They will actually become immortals, they will actually be living in heaven; they can fantasize about actually meeting their old loved ones, or talking to angels or interacting with the gods themselves and even taunt other people with threats of genuine torment they’ve cooked up; some fires, mental anguish, loneliness, or maybe just a real death while the chosen ones live forever. No need for invisible hands there. When alive, “miracles” and strange mysterious natures hide everything that makes religious beliefs true behind a veil of ignorance. In death, that veil is replaced with a newer far more superior protection from any need to support their beliefs or respond to criticism:

          the fact that they’re dead.

          • Luke Breuer

            The closest anyone is getting to a “miracle” is to find something they can’t explain and never learn how it happened.

            This simply is not the case. See A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles to see a response to your stated claims. On Kenneth Pearce’s interpretation of Leibniz, a miracle is merely an action whereby you learn the final cause before the efficient cause. You learn the why before the how. This method of understanding is very common when it comes to interacting with persons. Nobody says the ‘how’ will be forever learned. Proverbs 25:2 has “It is the glory of God to conceal things, / but the glory of kings is to search things out.” Permanent hiddenness? Where’s that?

          • allan

            What is the best evidenced miracle of which you are aware?

          • Luke Breuer

            Honestly, from my current understanding of history—which needs a lot of improvement—it would be the origin and growth of charity in the world. See my response to B. over on DC, where I do some quoting on the matter of charity arising as a new thing, not found in Greek philosophy. I’ll add to quotations from sociologist Peter Berger’s A Far Glory:

            One of the core values of any Christian morality is the irreplaceable worth of the human individual, from which flows the entire modern conception of human rights. Yet this core value is inseparable from the whole course of Western civilization and of Western civilization only. (74)

            The Dutch historian Jan Romein coined the phrase “the common human pattern” to denote some features of society and culture that can be found throughout history. The modern West deviates sharply from this common pattern, not least in the character and degree of individuation. This is the sound empirical foundation for the claim that Western individualism is an aberration; the common pattern has the individual tightly bonded within his community. (101)

            Nicholas Wolterstorff also has something to say about this issue in Justice: Rights and Wrongs. He is discussing Jesus’ “new command” to love your neighbor as yourself; one can see the claim of ‘newness’ in Jn 13:34-35 and 1 Jn 2:7-11. Why is it new? Well, back in Lev 19:18, we have “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. But that was a tribal love; there was still a very distinct “us vs. them” all over the OT. The book of Jonah is a paradigmatic example, with Jonah’s nationalism showing up in 2:8-9. The NT explains the great mystery that is the breaking down of the “us vs. them”; Eph 2:11-22 contains a glorious description (remember that Paul, a Jew is writing to the Ephesians, who are largely Gentiles). Anyhow, Wolterstorff notes that this NT commandment, this new commandment, is very much at odds with the Greeks:

            The love command, thus understood, is incompatible with eudaimonism. Eudaimonism allows love of the other into one’s life, but only if that love passes the test of contributing to one’s own life being well-lived. (189)

            This may seem like a very abstract miracle. Perhaps you wanted a juicy resurrection or some other act of power. The thing is, those don’t change the world in and of themselves. Something has to build on them and snowball, until the respect of every human’s life is amplified. What else possibly qualifies as “mattering” in the final equation? Jesus Christ inverted the standard power structure (see Mt 20:20-28, Jn 13:1-20), arguing that the strong are to build up the weak instead of take from them, a la Ezek 34. You will perhaps note that this is an ever-present struggle: will power be used to dominate or enhance? Before Jesus, I’m not sure there was even the debate. It seems miraculous to me that a debate about the topic ever started.

          • allan

            “Perhaps you wanted a juicy resurrection or some other act of power.” Yes, something like that.

          • Luke Breuer

            Who cares? Suppose Jesus was raised from the dead. Who cares? It only matters if it impacts us now, in a meaningful way. Maybe an alien raised Jesus. Maybe that miracle you want is only one done by an alien, or maybe just via really good special effects, or maybe by secret advanced technology. Actually, Jesus predicted miracle-workers other than Jesus or agents of God:

            Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. (Mt 24:23-25)

            So, irony of ironies, you might accept a future miracle which I would reject. Why? Because the only way to evaluate miracles is via final causes—via discerned purpose. After all, we cannot figure out how they’re done, at least at the time, by definition. So we’d be stuck in something like the V (2009 TV series) realm, wondering if we should trust the worker of miracles. How they did it (efficient cause)? Irrelevant. What they’re going to do with it (final cause)? Extremely relevant.

            I trust the kind of person who would launch the miraculous turn of events I described above. Someone who can merely magically restore an amputated limb? Pshaw. That’s an excellent way to gain followers, Goa’uld- or Devil’s Due-style.

      • Dante

        I think Paley defused that bomb before it even hit.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        I have read Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which was published well before Darwin’s The Origin of Species, with a particular eye for the argument from biological design. Hume’s characters advance a number of arguments in favour of Creationist design which by Darwin’s time were known to be false. Example: that no species has been known to go extinct.

    • Ray

      I’d also be careful with the argumentum ad populum; just look at what physicists at the end of the nineteenth century had to say.

      About those late 19th century physicists — the popular belief that they thought physics was almost done seems wrong. As far as I can tell it’s based almost entirely on the following quote from Albert Michelson:

      The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new
      discoveries is exceedingly remote.

      Even this quote isn’t nearly so stark in context. The point he’s trying to make is that you need really precise measurement to make new discoveries, since the laws we already have work quite well under ordinary circumstances. Indeed he goes on to say:

      Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of
      experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions.

      Even so, this does not appear at all representative of late 19th century/ early 20th century thought:

      see e.g. the following quotes, from arguably more prominent physicists of the late 19th century:

      In a few minutes there was no doubt about it. Rays were coming from the tube which had a luminescent effect upon the paper. I tried it successfully at greater and greater distances, even at two metres. It seemed at first a new kind of invisible light. It was clearly something new, something unrecorded.

      Wilhelm Roentgen (April 1896)

      This characteristic of modern experiments — that they consist principally of measurements — is so prominent, that the
      opinion seems to have got abroad, that in a few years all the great
      physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and that the
      only occupation which will then be left to men of science will be to
      carry on these measurements to another place of decimals. …

      But we have no right to think thus of the unsearchable riches of
      creation, or of the untried fertility of those fresh minds into which
      these riches will continue to be poured.

      James Clerk Maxwell (1871)

      Without encroaching upon grounds appertaining to the theologian and the philosopher, the domain of natural sciences is surely broad enough to satisfy the wildest ambition of its devotees. In other
      departments of human life and interest, true progress is rather an
      article of faith than a rational belief; but in science a retrograde
      movements is, from the nature of the case, almost impossible. Increasing
      knowledge brings with it increasing power, and great as are the
      triumphs of the present century, we may well believe that they are but a
      foretaste of what discovery and invention have yet in store for
      mankind.

      Lord Rayleigh (1884)

      Note, I truncated these a bit, but they can be found in their entirety on wikiquote.

      • Luke Breuer

        Ahh, thanks for the details—it has long been on my list to investigate this issue more closely. Now, you’ve given me a taste, but that’s not the same as a proper, unbiased sampling. What’s the closest you’ve encountered to such a sampling?

        I have a bit of reticence to completely believe you, due to a friend of mine who was warded away from studying physics on the basis that it was mostly ‘done’—in the 1970s! I know this is but an anecdote, but it illustrates that the spirit of Albert Michelson’s claim was alive at least in some of academia.

        As for some more evidence that the Michelson-attitude is more prevalent than you may think, I point you to Sean Carroll’s recent Quantum Mechanics Smackdown, where he argues:

        My job, of course, will be to defend the honor of the Everett (many-worlds) formulation. I’ve done a lot less serious research on this issue than the other folks, but I will make up for that disadvantage by supporting the theory that is actually true.

        To be precise, Sean Carroll is arguing that the quantum wavefunction is not just a picture of the thing, but the thing itself. In other words, Ceci est une pipe. You can also look at his De Sitter Space Without Quantum Fluctuations, or the FQXi conference talk he gave called “Fluctuations in de Sitter Space” (available on YouTube).

        Yet another line of evidence is from Massimo Pigliucci, with one instance being Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex. I’ve argued that Einstein was most definitely a philosopher. There’s also Pigliucci’s HuffPost Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Value of Philosophy. Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics discusses how physicists could easily work themselves into a hole that reproduces the “Whelp, we’ve probably figured out about everything we can” hole that Michaelson describes. For more philosophy-hatred, see Philosophy Now‘s Hawking contra Philosophy.

        Anyhow, as you can see I find this topic fascinating and want to learn much more about it! There’s yet a different angle which fascinates me, which comes from a sociologist who is studying my wife’s lab and is particularly interested in how the barriers to deep interdisciplinary research are stunting the growth of scientific knowledge. I’ve had first-hand experience with this, seeing how terrible the computer science (software architecture) and poor applied math knowledge stunt biophysics and biochemistry research. Science could easily grind to a slow crawl due to terrible philosophy and terrible ideas of how science ought to work. This would be bad, and I want to learn as much as I can about it to thwart it from being even a possible problem.

        • Ray

          Now, you’ve given me a taste, but that’s not the same as a proper, unbiased sampling. What’s the closest you’ve encountered to such a sampling?

          Well, what I did was basically check all the wikiquote entries for Nobel prize winners from 1900-1905 (I also checked Maxwell, since he was arguably the most prominent late 19th century physicist — but didn’t live long enough to get a Nobel,) to see if anything looked relevant. There were a few other quotes I could have used, too. I’m not aware of actual surveys, though.

          I have a bit of reticence to completely believe you, due to a friend of mine who was warded away from studying physics on the basis that it was
          mostly ‘done’—in the 1970s! I know this is but an anecdote, but it illustrates that the spirit of Albert Michelson’s claim was alive at least in some of academia.

          The claim that physics was mostly done in 1970 is a different and much more defensible claim than the
          claim that physics was mostly done in 1904.

          See this and follow up posts. Basically, no discovery in fundamental physics since the mid 1930s has been relevant to any discipline other than cosmology/galactic scale astrophysics and particle physics itself. “Fundamental” is a key word here. (e.g. they didn’t know how to make transistors back in the 1930s, but the way transistors work can be adequately described using quantum electrodynamics as formulated in 1928.)

          That said, there were big conceptual issues in fundamental physics that weren’t cleared up until the mid 1960s, so it wasn’t until then that enough was understood to make claims along these lines with reasonable confidence. Indeed you can find Feynman making an almost identical claim to Sean in his 1964 messenger lecture (lecture 7: finding new laws.)

          • Luke Breuer

            Basically, no discovery in fundamental physics since the mid 1930s has been relevant to any discipline other than cosmology/galactic scale astrophysics and particle physics itself.

            So, I’ve seen Carroll’s post and it strikes me as extremely short-sighted: if a technological reality like the one imagined in Star Trek ever comes about, Carroll will be wrong, or at best, irrelevant. I’m also an anti-reductionist (see Pigliucci on emergence), so I don’t particularly care if it’ll be a while before we can make use of more fundamental physics. Right now, fantastic advances are being made in condensed matter physics and nanotechnology; who’s to say that those won’t provoke deeper understanding of fundamental physics that will be very much relevant for what will become everyday life?

            P.S. I recently skimmed Feynman’s The Character of Physical Law. Fun fact: he was skeptical of flying saucers “based on science”; the father of a current Caltech faculty member, who was on some thesis committees with Feynman, had a flying saucer patent, which worked. But I digress. :-)

          • Ray

            I’ve seen Carroll’s post and it strikes me as extremely short-sighted: if a technological reality like the one imagined in Star Trek ever comes about, Carroll will be wrong, or at best, irrelevant.

            So Carroll’s assertions are falsifiable and unfalsified. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. As a side note, I would think the Fermi paradox should be taken as strong evidence against the feasibility of a Star Trek type future.

            In more detail Carroll’s argument isn’t just that no strongly coupled low energy physics has been observed, it’s that we’ve done experiments that could detect any such physics, unless quantum field theory is completely wrong.

            The argument basically goes as follows — there’s an observed symmetry of nature such that the rate of interaction between ordinary matter and the hypothetical objects of NEW PHYSICS is the same rate as the rate of production of said NEW PHYSICS objects in the annihilation of ordinary matter particle-antiparticle pairs.This principle has been extensively tested in particle colliders, perhaps most dramatically in the prediction of the properties of the newly discovered Higgs Boson.

            This is quite distinct from the situation in the late 19th century when it was quite obvious that we didn’t understand the small scale structure of matter (blackbody radiation, spectral lines, chemistry, life, “do atoms exist?” was still considered an open question etc.) and perhaps less obvious, but still fairly extensively discussed, that we did not have strong experimental verification of the behavior of matter at high relative velocity compared to the speed of light.

            The point is in the previous physics revolutions of the early 20th century, the parameters that defined the domain of applicability of the old theories were not obscure quantities, but rather straightforward combinations of mass, length, and time. If the current understanding of physics is wrong in a similarly parametrized way, we know what is and isn’t disallowed by experiment, and anything plausibly relevant to everyday life is disallowed.

            On the flying saucers thing, I hope that was just a joke, but if you’re being serious: Feynman was quite clear what he meant by his skepticism of flying saucers. He was dismissing the likelihood of flying saucers on Earth, designed by extraterrestrial intelligence. Flying saucers designed by human physics professors do not constitute a refutation of Feynman’s skepticism.

          • Luke Breuer

            In more detail Carroll’s argument isn’t just that no strongly coupled low energy physics has been observed, it’s that we’ve done experiments that could detect any such physics, unless quantum field theory is completely wrong.

            Well, I know Carroll is banking on the Everett interpretation being true. (See his FQXi “Fluctuations in de Sitter Space”.) If we could make quantum coherence happen at room temperature at macro scale (which it might), I could imagine new physics being discovered. There’s all sorts of quantum squeezing going on; maybe some non-locality stuff will be discovered which lets us know some [nonlocal] substructure to quantum state, which provides us new ways to manipulate matter in everyday life. As far as I know this is possible, but I’m not a physicist. I’m just so skeptical of people who make “we’ve figured everything out”-type claims; it just smells so arrogant. Too many times, this kind of thinking stunts progress.

            On the flying saucers thing, I hope that was just a joke,

            Mostly; I had to fly through chapter 7, as the library book was due that day. I just think it’s really funny that the father of one of the faculty on some of Feynman’s thesis committees was making real flying saucers and demonstrating them to the US military.

          • Ray

            On your links: I’m not sure what squeezed states are supposed to have to do with your argument — they basically represent quantum systems behaving in as classical a manner as possible given their dimensions. That said, I think it’s probably more urgent to point out that, while Penrose has done a lot of good work in other areas, his thesis from “the emperor’s new mind,” “shadows of the mind,” etc. which the link you provided is a continuation of is pretty much pure crackpottery. In brief:

            1) Microtubules are nanometer scale structures — if you want to call that macroscopic, that’s your business, but its a far cry from mental processes which have been shown to be associated with brain processes occurring over a range of several centimeters.

            2) Experiments only support that quantum effects need to be taken into account in modeling the behavior of microtubules.This is not the same as establishing that quantum computation is going on.

            3)If you believe Penrose’s Godelian argument (most mathematical logicians consider it fatally flawed), mental processes would be non Turing Computable. Quantum computers don’t do anything a Turing machine can’t do — they just do a few things, like factoring, much faster than a classical Turing machine would. Thus, you can’t even use standard quantum mechanics/ quantum information theory to account for what Penrose is trying to account for.

            4)Even the claim that people are quantum computers would have much more dramatic effects than vague conceptual features of mathematical understanding — e.g. people would be able to factor 100 digit numbers in their heads and that sort of thing. People do not act like factoring oracles, let alone halting oracles.

            5) In order to account for the claimed non-computable mental processes involved in consciousness, Penrose and Hameroff speculate that the true theory of quantum gravity is radically unlike the usual proposed theories of quantum gravity in the literature, in such a way that it can accommodate hypercomputation (which as I’ve already noted is not well motivated by actual human behavior.) This proposal is by the authors’ own admission neither supported by experimental evidence, nor even described by a fully developed mathematical theory. It is complete idle speculation.

            6) I pretty much knew all of the above before following your link through to the journal article, although the link confirms my suspicions, but what really horrified me was that Penrose had reduced himself to happily accepting praise from the likes of self help guru and quack extraordinaire Deepak Chopra.

            It is entirely possible that there will be fundamentally new physics discoveries — it’s even vaguely conceivable, though by no means likely — that such physics discoveries will be exploitable under ordinary conditions. That said, speculations which have been independently rejected by the vast majority of mathematical logicians, philosophers, computer scientists, neurologists, and physicists aren’t the most promising source for such new discoveries.

          • Luke Breuer

            On your links: I’m not sure what squeezed states are supposed to have to do with your argument

            They represent one possible way of digging beneath HUP. We also have awesome stuff like interaction-free measurements and entanglement-aided microscopy. None of these in and of themselves represent a breaking free from current understandings of fundamental physics, but they do involve getting ‘near’ the limits that fundamental physics currently presents to us.

            That said, I think it’s probably more urgent to point out that, while Penrose has done a lot of good work in other areas, his thesis from “the emperor’s new mind,” “shadows of the mind,” etc. which the link you provided is a continuation of is pretty much pure crackpottery.

            It’s just fascinating that you have a need to call his work “pure crackpottery”; it reminds me of Scott Aaronson’s threat to resign from FQXi if Joy Christian is not given the boot. I’m not predicating much at all on Penrose’s work; if anything, I’m merely pushing back against what I see as incredible arrogance on Sean Carroll’s part. You see, I’ve learned to be skeptical of anyone who claims he/she has something “all figured out”, unless that ‘something’ is a known-finite formal system.

            Let’s dig into something I previously mentioned, that Carroll thinks that the Everett interpretation of the quantum wavefunction is not just a picture of the thing, but directly corresponds to the thing, itself. I know faculty at Caltech (Carroll’s institution) who are questioning this very assumption, and making progress. I cannot say more in detail (unpublished results), but what I can say is that adamant statements that the picture of the thing is the thing are the roadblocks of science to which Max Planck alluded when he said, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

            I’d like you to establish the precise nature of the ‘threat’ I am presenting, such that Penrose needs to be called a crackpot, Joy Christian needs to lose his funding, etc. Note that my viewpoint is not that of Penrose or Christian. I’m merely questioning Carroll’s Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood. What is ‘dangerous’ about this? Is there perhaps a worry that too much money will go to people who aren’t doing what you would stamp as officially ‘science’?

            This reminds me of those who have to viciously argue against alien abductions. I prefer to simply say, “Look, I don’t feel a need to disbelieve your experiences, but if you want me to change anything about how I act or believe based on them, you’ll have to give me enough evidence such that I personally consider it ‘sufficient’.” I have no need to look down on other people. I just don’t.

          • Ray

            I’d like you to establish the precise nature of the ‘threat’ I am presenting, such that Penrose needs to be called a crackpot,

            You said you didn’t know much physics. I figured you might be interested in learning more. Knowing how to avoid wasting your time on things that are almost certainly wrong, and not particularly illuminating regarding the correct state of affairs is a useful skill to develop towards that end. As for the term “crackpot,” it is a useful term for separating almost-certainly fruitless and unenlightening speculations from speculations that are probably wrong, but promising enough to be worth considering (e.g. Hartle-Hawking Cosmology, Loop Quantum Gravity, MOND/TeVeS, the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model etc.)

            As for Joy Christian. I am unfamiliar with his research. Given the description from Aaronson it sounds pretty bad, and while one physicist’s opinion isn’t decisive, I probably won’t waste my time looking further into his work unless someone demonstrably cluefull about such things gives me reason to believe it is interesting. In any event, Aaronson has every right to choose what professional bodies he will associate with, and no researcher has an inherent right to be funded. One might argue that funding bodies have a duty not to pass up proposals for promising research — but I’ve seen no reason to believe that Christian’s research is promising, and obviously with a limited budget, funding bodies must pass up some research. (There’s also a case to be made for professional organizations explicitly refusing to be associated with bad research, so that association with said organizations can become a reliable signal of research quality, thereby making professional organizations a useful resource for scientists and science enthusiasts who want to avoid having their time wasted.)

          • Luke Breuer

            Knowing how to avoid wasting your time on things that are almost certainly wrong

            You see, it’s this “almost certainly wrong” which worries me. Do you know this?

          • josh

            You see, it’s this “almost certainly wrong” which worries me. Do you know this?

            Almost certainly.

          • Ray

            yes

          • Luke Breuer

            I would love to see an extended justification of just how you know it, and just how you’ve attempted to falsify it, but that might be an arduous road with you not seeing much potential fruit coming from it. Here’s one perhaps-interesting route: what precisely, would you have to change in your belief structure, for Penrose to be correct? That is, for there to be warm quantum coherence somehow involved in consciousness, while maintaining what we observe (nobody factoring 100-digit numbers in their heads, with an obligatory reference to Cube). I should think that given your “almost certainly wrong”, a lot would have to change, for Penrose to be correct. But perhaps this is incorrect?

          • Ray

            what precisely, would you have to change in your belief structure, for Penrose to be correct? That is, for there to be warm quantum coherence somehow involved in consciousness

            I generally don’t treat theses that need to be qualified by such vague qualifiers as “somehow” as being precise enough to count as serious intellectual contributions. Even if such claims are correct, they pretty much amount to cold reading.

            That said, I can’t think of a plausible reading, even of the weakened claim, that I think is true. So perhaps I should list results that, while not fully establishing your weakened version of Penrose’s thesis might lend it some plausibility:

            1) Building a large scale quantum computer (e.g. a factoring oracle) out of microtubules suspended in aqueous solution at room temperature. This would at least demonstrate that large scale quantum superpositions at the required scales were plausible under the relevant conditions. Alternatively if Penrose and Hameroff were to actually give a precise mathematical description of the coherent state they think the microtubules are in, that could be tested (and by the way, as I said previously I don’t think a single microtubule is a large enough system for their purposes — so the quantum state had better involve several microtubules separated by centimeter scale distances.)

            That said, you’re still leaving out the most important bit: demonstrating that such a superposition, even if present in the brain, has any essential role in consciousness — large scale quantum superpositions are by no means unfamiliar to physicists (superconductors, superfluid helium etc.) But, while those systems do some very interesting things, passing the Turing test isn’t one of them.

            2)In contrast, if anything like the BlueBrain project ends up working, the quantum mind hypothesis is even deader than it was to begin with, since such success would directly demonstrate the classical simulatability of the mind. From what I know of neuroscience, which is admittedly less than I know of physics and computability theory, even the more modest current successes of classically modeling neural circuits are enough to cast serious doubts on Penrose’s thesis.

            Of course, the claim you’ve asked me to make falsifiable (and isn’t this really Penrose’s job, not mine?) is significantly weaker than the claims Penrose actually makes — quantum field theory is wrong, and wrong in such a way that hypercomputation is possible. Demonstrating you have a hypercomputer isn’t actually possible unless the person verifying your demonstration also has a hypercomputer. That said, hypercomputation is sufficient to efficiently solve worst-case NP-complete problems, and an ordinary computer can efficiently verify that the purported hypercomputer can do that, so that might be a useful proxy.

            Then there is the thornier issue, of what to do about Penrose putting forth claimed deductive arguments (e.g. the Godelian argument) that experts in the relevant fields almost unanimously agree don’t work. I mean, in practice we do use empirical tools to verify the correctness of deductive arguments (both automated theorem provers and mathematicians are physical systems whose reliability is determined empirically) but I don’t know what I would do if an argument which showed every sign of invalidity in the past suddenly started looking valid. That’s the sort of thing that would cast doubt on the reliability of mathematics in general, which is dangerously close to radical skepticism. So I think given your “maintaining what we observe” proviso, even if Penrose is right in his conclusions, and again I strongly doubt that he is, he’s still guilty of putting forward deeply flawed argumentation in order to get there.

            EDIT — perhaps it’s not as dire as radical skepticism. I mean mathematicians, even occasionally large groups of them do make mistakes — but verifying the soundness of a formal argument is not a particularly open-ended task, and the mathematical community as a whole VERY rarely makes mistakes about things as well known as Penrose’s Godelian argument (which is based on earlier arguments by Lucas and Godel himself.) I generally trust the mathematical community to get it right even on things where I haven’t actually examined the proof, (e.g. Fermat’s last theorem and the four color theorem.) and in this case, I’m fairly confident that I personally understand the errors in Penrose’s argument.

          • Luke Breuer

            I generally don’t treat theses that need to be qualified by such vague qualifiers as “somehow” as being precise enough to count as serious intellectual contributions.

            I fear that you set the bar for “serious intellectual contribution” such that it excludes the early formulation of ideas. Neglect the roots or even stomp on them, and they might just stop feeding the rest of the plant.

            the claims Penrose actually makes — quantum field theory is wrong, and wrong in such a way that hypercomputation is possible.

            Does QFT truly rule out hypercomputation?

            Then there is the thornier issue, of what to do about Penrose putting forth claimed deductive arguments (e.g. the Godelian argument) that experts in the relevant fields almost unanimously agree don’t work.

            Yep, this is a problem. But what else is a problem is the tremendous amount of confidence that current understanding of reality will allow us to build a computer AI capable of anything of which a human is capable. And when I say “current understanding”, I really mean sans a paradigm shift. I mean people like those arrogant physicists at the end of the nineteenth century, even though you’ve shown that at least some of the Nobel Laureates weren’t so arrogant.

            One of the funniest things I’ve encountered in the philosophy of science is how Karl Popper completely skips over how hypotheses are generated in his The Logic of Scientific Discovery. A recent conversation with my brother-in-law, who just got his PhD from MIT in machine learning, turned toward our inability to get ML algorithms to do true hypothesis formation. How do we manage that? It doesn’t seem like we do Solomonoff induction.

            Now, perhaps consciousness and/or hypothesis formation isn’t an ultraviolet catastrophe analogue for our time. But what if it is? Then it would appear that some of your confidence is misplaced, in a way similar to those pesky nineteenth century physicists.

            From this, I’m not sure I would advocate any change of method for current consciousness and AI research. I just don’t like it when I encounter attitudes like those of the nineteenth century physicists. I am pretty sure these attitudes are what led to Max Planck saying “Science advances one funeral at a time.” And so, I want to encourage a bit more thinking outside the box; I don’t want to slam down everyone who dares that. And you know what? Oftentimes, the initial formulation of an idea, or even the tenth formulation of an idea, isn’t 100% robust. Do we stomp down everything that isn’t?

          • Ray

            Does QFT truly rule out hypercomputation?

            Yes.

            As for the rest. I will simply point out that the revolutions of early 20th century physics support none of your assertions about the way science works.

            1)They didn’t start out as vague assertions that the Newtownian paradigm might be wrong “somehow.” They started out as mathematical statements (Planck’s fundamental energy quantum and the Lorentz transformations) which were only later realized to represent fundamental departures from the existing paradigm (in both cases by Einstein.)

            2) There was surprisingly little opposition to either relativity or quantum mechanics once they were proposed. Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger, Heisenberg and Dirac all got their Nobel prizes within 20 years of doing their relevant work in Quantum Mechanics. Relativity actually took longer to become fully accepted, but even there, Compton’s 1927 Nobel implicitly assumes that relativity is right, and while Einstein’s 1921 Nobel only explicitly mentions the photoelectric effect, the man was certainly made famous by relativity by that point, so I tend to think the academy was pretty sure that relativity was right, but wanted to hedge their bets.

            3) If you really want an example of late 19th century physicists dragging their feet on perfectly good theory, a much better example would be atomic theory. But here their mistake was exactly the opposite of what you accused Sean Carroll of doing in one of your previous posts — regarding atoms as a useful fiction rather than corresponding to something in reality.

          • Luke Breuer

            Yes.

            cstheory.SE’s Why has hypercomputation research died down? appears to disagree with you. I also know someone who did work with molecular programming for her PhD, including stuff that computes as it builds material, with material building happening exponentially quickly. This is strictly more powerful than a Turing machine.

            But perhaps the issue is about computability vs. uncomputability, and not about what can reasonable be computed in this universe vs. what cannot [with current tech]?

            As for the rest. I will simply point out that the revolutions of early 20th century physics support none of your assertions about the way science works.

            On what basis do you say this? I’m reminded of de Koninck’s The Unity and Diversity of Natural Science—just read the first two pages. It seems like you’re refusing to call anything “valid” until it has passed a certain “approved” stage. How versed are you in how the sausage is actually made? I’ve recently been party to some very interesting research which, if exposed to your typical internet site, would get all sorts of insults hurled at it. And yet, how much research is actually that way when it is extremely young? How much is fuzzy and approximate and filled with wrong ideas that will later be corrected without discarding the thing entirely?

            regarding atoms as a useful fiction rather than corresponding to something in reality.

            This reminds me of Galileo. Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is how ontological constructs help/hurt scientific progress. Galileo was clearly wrong that the orbits were actually circles—they’re ellipses, and Mercury is observably different. And yet, claiming that they were circles helped push us forward. It’s almost like the best route is to pretend that the ontic construct is real, let your brain churn and find the next step, and then remember that you were pretending all along. Does this make any sense?

          • Ray

            SE’s Why has hypercomputation research died down? appears to disagree with you.

            What specifically do you think contradicts my claim that a closed system, of finite volume and energy content, in a relativistic quantum field theory, cannot hypercompute? (The Bekenstein bound only assumes the uncertainty principle and Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence.)

            Keep in mind that just because a hypothetical construct is the subject of published research (even correct published research) does not mean it’s physically realizable (e.g. nondeterministic turing machines have been a staple of complexity theory for years, being the origin of the N in NP-complete problems, without anyone thinking they were physically realizable. And don’t even get me started on well-ordered uncountable sets.)

            Also worth noting, you may think the “closed system” thing is overly restrictive. It really isn’t — given any two timelike-separated points A and B, the intersection of A’s future lightcone and B’s past lightcone is a closed system.

            Finally, there are proposals for hypercomputation relying on weird spacetimes (e.g. an unboundedly long computation outside a rotating black hole can terminate in a bounded proper time, from the perspective of an observer falling into the black hole) but these do not contradict my claim. The computation described above only succeeds conditionally on the configuration of an unboundedly large proper volume of space outside the black hole. In any event, the spacetime inside of a human brain is close enough to being flat for all practical purposes to render this scenario unrealistic.

            I also know someone who did work with molecular programming for her PhD, including stuff that computes as it builds material, with material building happening exponentially quickly. This is strictly more powerful than a Turing machine.

            The first sentence may be right, but probably misleading, conditional on how you answer the question “exponential in what?” The second is almost certainly wrong. To quote wikipedia

            DNA computing is fundamentally similar to parallel computing in that it takes advantage of the many different molecules of DNA to try many different possibilities at once.

            and crucially:

            DNA computing does not provide any new capabilities from the standpoint of computability theory,
            the study of which problems are computationally solvable using different models of computation. For example, if the space required for the solution of a problem grows exponentially with the size of the
            problem (EXPSPACE problems) on von Neumann machines, it still grows exponentially with the size of the problem on DNA machines. For very large EXPSPACE problems, the amount of DNA required is too large to be practical.

            Now, back to what you said:

            On what basis do you say [that the revolutions of early 20th century physics support none of Luke's assertions]? I’m reminded of de Koninck’s The Unity and Diversity of Natural Science—just read the first two pages. It seems like you’re refusing to call anything “valid” until it has passed a certain “approved” stage.

            I’m not really sure what you’re trying to get at with some random Thomist philosopher’s interpretation of a quote by Russell. It might be helpful to have an example from Russell of a philosophical conclusion he reached by the approach outlined in the quoted passage, to see if Russell meant anything like what you and de Koninck want him to mean (i.e. something that would make vague and equivocal writings like those of Penrose and Hameroff or Saint Thomas valuable contributions to the progress of science.) Even so, it would amount to little more than an argument from authority.

            As for your accusation that I am missing some important “unapproved” predecessors to the quantum mechanical and relativistic revolutions. Do you have any specific examples?

            The things I’m aware of that predate Planck and Lorentz are either purely experimental — e.g. the Michelson-Morely experiment and Fraunhoffer lines — or they are concrete and/or mathematical, with no underlying awareness of a threat to the reigning Newtonian paradigm, e.g. Maxwell’s equations — which obey lorentz symmetry, but not Galilean symmetry — and the Chemical law of octets.

            I’m also aware of some philosophers that were quoted approvingly by e.g. Einstein, (Hume and Mach,) but these philosophers are distinctive in doing their best to AVOID metaphysical flights of fancy as it were.

            It’s almost like the best route is to pretend that the ontic construct is real, let your brain churn and find the next step, and then remember that you were pretending all along. Does this make any sense?

            I think this is pretty close to the correct approach. That said, I’m not sure what it means to “pretend” an ontic construct is real. I’m not sure the real/unreal distinction makes sense unless you’ve already defined some ontic construct as being real.

          • Luke Breuer

            What specifically do you think contradicts my claim that a closed system, of finite volume and energy content, in a relativistic quantum field theory, cannot hypercompute?

            I think our disagreement (or miscommunication) has more to due with the concept that ‘hypercomputation’ must utilize infinite bits—precisely the thing that the Bekenstein bound (Scholarpedia!) disallows. My reasoning is this: I’m not convinced we need infinite precision for any particular problem that actually needs solving. Maybe something like an infinite number of steps, or something arbitrarily close to an infinite number of steps (doing EXPTIME in less than exponential time) would suffice. What I’m interested in, here, are technologically possible ways of computing in ways which are vastly more powerful than current technology. Whether that’s finding a way to do NP-complete problems in P-time with quantum computation, using exponential growth media, or something else, I do not know.

            Does Penrose’s argument specifically require an infinite number of bits?

            The second is almost certainly wrong.

            In terms of theoretical computability vs. uncomputability, you are almost certainly correct. But does it matter? See my previous paragraph. I’m not sure we’re talking about the right distinction. In a very important aspect, I do not care about what is ‘theoretically possible’, if there is no way in hell that it’s possible to do with engineering, in this universe.

            Let me give you an example, to show you that I have some insight into Turing completeness and CS in general. These days, we are experiencing an incredible growth in complexity of computer system. If we do not handle this complexity properly, we set ourselves an asymptote in terms of what we can do. Alan Kay described this beautifully in his 1997 OOPSLA keynote “The computer revolution hasn’t happened yet”. Totally new ways of thinking about computation are going to be required if we want to get anywhere close the computational abilities of even a single cell. Massive, single Turing machines is not the way. Rice’s theorem makes that quite clear, and I’m more than a little surprised that people haven’t realized the full import of it and looked for different routes in such a way that said ‘different routes’ show up in industry, instead of being locked up in ivory towers, never to truly make the common programmer’s life significantly better.

            As for your accusation that I am missing some important “unapproved” predecessors to the quantum mechanical and relativistic revolutions. Do you have any specific examples?

            No; I do not know the history well enough. I am aware of current bleeding-edge research that violates some of the principles you seem to think ought to be enforced on scientific research. I am, however, not at liberty to talk about them right now. It’d be fun to co-author a book about them if they turn out to be fruitful, though! The participants in this research have to be careful for two reasons: (1) not to be scooped; (2) not to be derided and laughed at by the general scientific and quasi-scientific community. I’m 100% serious.

            That said, I’m not sure what it means to “pretend” an ontic construct is real.

            We’ve identified a dual danger:

                 (A) treat the ontic construct as merely an appearance
                 (B) treat the ontoc construct as fully true

            You pointed out (A) with respect to atomic physics; I pointed out (B) with respect to something that stymied work toward quantum physics. Option (B) commits the famous map-territory fallacy, of assuming that a picture of the thing is the thing. So when I say to “pretend”, I mean to act as if (B)—perhaps in the ‘tentative’, Popperian fashion—while simultaneously knowing that (A), perhaps sans the ‘merely’.

          • Ray

            Does Penrose’s argument specifically require an infinite number of bits?

            Penrose isn’t particularly clear what he’s claiming, but it is definitely a computability theory (will it halt in a finite time) argument and not a complexity theory (how large is that finite time as a function of the input size) argument. So lets see if any function whose memory complexity is bounded for all inputs is non-Turing computible:

            Any function whose memory complexity is a finitely valued function of its input size has a time complexity at most exponentially worse (this is basically just the recurrence theorem), therefore still a finitely valued function of its input size. Therefore, for any input, the function halts after a finite time, i.e. it is Turing computible.

            Totally new ways of thinking about computation are going to be required if we want to get anywhere close the computational abilities of even a single cell. Massive, single Turing machines is not the way. Rice’s theorem makes that quite clear

            And here is where you make it clear that you do not understand Turing Completeness or CS in general. Do you have any evidence that a single cell can solve the halting problem? Because that’s what getting around Rice’s theorem would mean — an extremely radical claim. And no, neither massively, but finitely, parallel computing nor quantum computing will do the trick (BQP is contained within PSpace and all PSpace problems are Turing decidable, unlike the halting problem.)

            I pointed out (B) with respect to something that stymied work toward quantum physics.

            You asserted that there was something wrong with Carroll holding to the Everett interpretation, because it follows option (B) too closely. I don’t recall you ever demonstrating that it stymied work towards quantum physics.

            Option (B) commits the famous map-territory fallacy, of assuming that a picture of the thing is the thing.

            Not necessarily. “X is a true description of Y” is not the same as “X is Y.” This is a good thing, because if it was, I would point out that you were committing the same fallacy by claiming to know statement (A) to be a true description of reality.

          • Luke Breuer

            Penrose isn’t particularly clear what he’s claiming, but it is definitely a computability theory (will it halt in a finite time) argument

            As long as you properly limit the Turing machine (e.g. make it bound to a finite number of states and slots), you can actually know whether it halts, by seeing if it starts to repeat. You see, in the real world, people generally aren’t concerned with arbitrary Turing machines, but specific ones. Once you make computation specific in the right way, you actually can start proving things.

            And here is where you make it clear that you do not understand Turing Completeness or CS in general. Do you have any evidence that a single cell can solve the halting problem?

            My very intentional emphasis in my last comment was not on hypercomputation being able to solve uncomputable problems, but being able to solve currently intractable problems. Your [apparent] assumption that I am an idiot is starting to cause us to talk past each other.

            You asserted that there was something wrong with Carroll holding to the Everett interpretation, because it follows option (B) too closely. I don’t recall you ever demonstrating that it stymied work towards quantum physics.

            No, we’ll have to wait for that—if it happens. The nineteenth century physicists described by Albert Michelson had to wait, as well. They were ‘right’ for a while.

            Not necessarily. “X is a true description of Y” is not the same as “X is Y.”

            “X is a true description of Y” is underdetermined: do you mean to also say “There is nothing about Y which is not captured by X”?

          • Ray

            As long as you properly limit the Turing machine (e.g. make it bound to a
            finite number of states and slots), you can actually know whether it
            halts, by seeing if it starts to repeat.

            That’s not a Turing Machine, it’s a finite automaton. Clearly not what Penrose was talking about.

            My very intentional emphasis in my last comment was not on hypercomputation being able to solve uncomputable problems, but being able to solve currently intractable problems.

            Then Rice’s theorem isn’t applicable. Why did you mention it?

            “X is a true description of Y” is underdetermined: do you mean to also say “There is nothing about Y which is not captured by X”

            “captured by” is ambiguous. If by the latter you mean “there are efficiently computable rules of inference by which every true statement about Y can be deduced from a true statement about X,” I don’t see the problem.

            Of course if X is a smaller subsystem of Y, there probably needs to be some restrictions on the class of true statements about Y, X claims to capture. But both MWI and Sean’s assertion about the standard model do make such restrictions. Neither claims to specify initial conditions, just how the current state could be deduced from the initial conditions, if you knew them. That’s already enough to avoid a trivial refutation, but in addition, claims of the standard model’s correctness are restricted to low energy phenomena strongly coupled to ordinary matter, and MWI doesn’t even specify a Hamiltonian, it just says there is one. Sean’s claims might in principle still be wrong, but I see no plausible general principle which would make it less arrogant to claim Sean was wrong than to claim he was right. It just comes down to priors and evidence.

          • Luke Breuer

            That’s not a Turing Machine, it’s a finite automaton. Clearly not what Penrose was talking about.

            You appear to be much more sure on this than I. From my perspective, what is needed is something much faster than naïve Solomonoff induction. We need to be able to rapidly build better and better models of reality with more sophisticated axiomatizations, always on the lookout for (a) contradictions; (b) observations that cannot be proven true by the axiomatization. That’s the behaviorist description. Whether in order to do this we must be hypercomputers, I don’t know.

            Perhaps the crux of the argument—about hypercomputation requiring an infinite number of bits—is something where I just don’t have an opinion? After all, I am not well-versed in Penrose’s specific thoughts on this matter, although I’ve perused a few websites on the matter, including reading some of Lucas’ writings. Largely, I’ve just thought about the general problem of formulating hypotheses, and what would be required to do so in a tractable manner. I like Feynman’s saying: “What I cannot create, I cannot understand.” Perhaps I was, however, creating something other than what Penrose was creating.

            Then Rice’s theorem isn’t applicable. Why did you mention it?

            Because the insane amount of complexity in software today is, in my opinion, in large part due to the failure to keep Turing machines small and the connections between them non-Turing-complete. As far as I can tell, it is not a promising way to structure most computation. If we ever put a robot colony on the Moon, much of the computation that happens better be less powerful than TC.

            Remember, I’m not talking about performing uncomputable operations, here; I’m talking about answering more questions that we want to answer and building more things that we want to build, things which are currently blocked by a failure to understand how to architect software properly. This includes building an AI.

            “captured by” is ambiguous. If by the latter you mean “there are efficiently computable rules of inference by which every true statement about Y can be deduced from a true statement about X,” I don’t see the problem.

            I doubt it is possible to know such a Y, when we’re talking about actual reality instead of some approximation. “The picture of a thing is not the thing” is, in my view, equivalent to “The picture of a thing is not isomorphic to the thing”. You seem to be claiming that there is a knowable isomorphism. If it’s not knowable, I’m not sure what the point is of claiming it exists. Supposing you do mean “knowable” (or maybe it doesn’t matter?), then your position seems downright Atomist. Your atoms are merely Bekenstein bound bits.

          • Ray

            “The picture of a thing is not the thing” is, in my view, equivalent to “The picture of a thing is not isomorphic to the thing”

            This seems a very implausible reading. I’m not sure what the point of the word “isomorphic” is, if two distinct objects cannot be isomorphic.

            The latter may be true in practice, but like I said before neither of the supposedly arrogant claims Sean makes assumes it isn’t. You don’t see Sean for example saying “I don’t know a complete set of initial conditions for the observable universe, therefore there are no such initial conditions.”

            No, the usual map territory confusion happens when there are rules of inference connecting (a subset of) the true statements about X to (a subset of) the true statements about Y, but the fallacious reasoner assumes a particular trivial form for those rules of inference which would only make sense if X was identical to Y. Usually, the incorrectly assumed rule is simply taking true sentences that contain ‘X’ and replacing them with identical sentences substituting ‘Y’ for ‘X’.

            e.g.

            1) If the universe is comprehensible, it is logically possible for a mind to create a completely accurate map of it. (pretty much true by definition)
            2) It is logically impossible for a mind to create anything which is not dependent upon a mind (also, pretty much true by definition)
            3) it is logically impossible for a map of the universe to be completely accurate, if true sentences about the map are not also true sentences about the universe. (here’s the fallacy)
            4)If the universe is not dependent upon a mind, it is logically impossible for my mind to create a completely accurate map of it. (since 2 requires the map to be dependent upon a mind, while 3 forbids the map from being dependent upon a mind by modus tollens.)
            5) Therefore, if the universe is comprehensible, it is dependent upon a mind. (modus tollens again)

            *Yes — this is meant as a parody of Thomism.

            If it’s not knowable, I’m not sure what the point is of claiming it exists.

            logical consistency. Same reason we claim that there exists a googolth prime number, even though we don’t, and probably never will, know it. You probably could come up with a formalism for describing what we know about nature that didn’t have this implication, but it would be unwieldy, and I doubt that any particular physical insight would be gained by denying the possibility of a complete mathematical description of the universe.

            Supposing you do mean “knowable” (or maybe it doesn’t matter?), then your position seems downright Atomist. Your atoms are merely Bekenstein bound bits.

            Is “Atomist” meant as an insult? I certainly don’t take it that way, and I truly doubt Sean would, given what’s written in the top-right corner of his blog.

          • Luke Breuer

            This seems a very implausible reading. I’m not sure what the point of the word “isomorphic” is, if two distinct objects cannot be isomorphic.

            Heh, this is starting to get dangerously close to Plato’s Forms, which don’t even need an isomorphism, since the same form would be in a person’s mind as would be in the object. I’m going to have to ask you what makes your last statement in the following not an isomorphism:

            LB: Option (B) commits the famous map-territory fallacy, of assuming that a picture of the thing is the thing.

            R: Not necessarily. “X is a true description of Y” is not the same as “X is Y.”

            LB: “X is a true description of Y” is underdetermined: do you mean to also say “There is nothing about Y which is not captured by X”

            R: “captured by” is ambiguous. If by the latter you mean “there are efficiently computable rules of inference by which every true statement about Y can be deduced from a true statement about X,” I don’t see the problem.

            Surely we’re treating Y as a bundle and X is merely the complete set of properties, encoded somehow?

            *Yes — this is meant as a parody of Thomism.

            Sadly, I’m not sufficiently up on my Thomism to fully appreciate it. :-/ I am reading Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, but that of course only scratches the surface. I’m also pretty skeptical about his actus purus philosophical God.

            logical consistency. Same reason we claim that there exists a googolth prime number, even though we don’t, and probably never will, know it.

            I don’t see how these are sufficiently similar. What, precisely, are we predicating upon there being a googolth prime number? On the other hand, Carroll seems to be predicating a lot on his… belief in bundle theory, if I understand it properly. (Jonathan Pearce introduced me to the idea.)

            Is “Atomist” meant as an insult?

            Nope, I’m just suspicious of anyone who thinks there’s a knowable ‘bottom’ level which is so far away from what is knowable for us, now. It’s an issue of taking scientific conceptions of reality now, and projecting them hundreds of years into the future, as if they’ll stay sufficiently unchanged for the claims now to still be true. I just see that as an incredibly iffy operation. I could even see lots of people believing that ‘bottom’ level, kind of like how many people swallowed a nominalist Aristotelianism whole and had to regurgitate Aristotelianism pretty completely in order to move forward.

          • Ray

            I’m going to have to ask you what makes your last statement in the following not an isomorphism:

            I think you’re misconstruing me. I’m saying your reading of what constitutes a map-territory fallacy is wrong. “The map is not the territory” is not equivalent. I’m saying that claiming X is isomorphic to Y does not commit the map-territory fallacy.

            (I don’t think my last statement is quite saying X and Y are isomorphic, either. Maybe if you also asserted that Y completely captures X. But as I said above, I don’ think isomorphism gets you to the map-territory fallacy, in the first place.)

            Surely we’re treating Y as a bundle and X is merely the complete set of properties, encoded somehow?

            Not necessarily. Unless a “bundle” refers to anything you can make true statements about.

            On the other hand, Carroll seems to be predicating a lot on his… belief in bundle theory, if I understand it properly.

            I’m afraid you’ll have to map out how Carroll’s beliefs require bundle theory, because I don’t see it. Also, while we’re at it I would like to point out that a lot of your reasoning amounts to “something this guy said kind of reminds me of this or the other fallacy.” Keep in mind that fallacies are not just any incorrect deduction, but specifically those incorrect deductions that are tempting because they look kind of like valid reasoning. By the same token, mere resemblance to fallacious reasoning is expected, even if the reasoning is good.

          • Luke Breuer

            I’m saying that claiming X is isomorphic to Y does not commit the map-territory fallacy.

            And I am. So perhaps this is merely our disagreement. By the way, ‘isomorphism’ is perhaps too strong. X can be one-to-one and onto Y. But it’d be dicey for X to falsely describe some things about Y; preventing this brings us back to full isomorphism. I suppose there might be a way to not require one-to-one, but I don’t see what the point would be.

            Not necessarily. Unless a “bundle” refers to anything you can make true statements about.

            The idea of a knowable bundle is in distinct contrast to Kant’s thing-in-itself. It’s the difference between “the thing is these enumerable properties” and “the thing has these properties, and also might have others”. Nonlocal state really affects this issue, by the way. (If you don’t have Bernard d’Espagnat’s On Physics and Philosophy, I highly suggest it.)

            I’m afraid you’ll have to map out how Carroll’s beliefs require bundle theory, because I don’t see it.

            It’s not so much as ‘require’, as that Carroll’s belief that the wavefunction (or density operator) completely captures the thing appears to require nothing stronger than bundle theory. A possible way to break this assumption is nonlinear time-evolution of quantum state; see 1997 On (Non)Linear Quantum Mechanics, page 2.

            Also, while we’re at it I would like to point out that a lot of your reasoning amounts to “something this guy said kind of reminds me of this or the other fallacy.”

            Yeah, and part of discussion discovers whether it actually does match that fallacy. What you describe is often done to me by others. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. Further discussion is required. I simply see it as a service to my interlocutor to tell him/her where I intend to go.

          • Ray

            see 1997 On (Non)Linear Quantum Mechanics, page 2.

            You do realize that the way that paper constructs a consistent non-linear quantum mechanics is by re-expressing standard linear quantum mechanics in different language (i.e. by creating a formalism isomorphic to linear quantum mechanics.) To quote the paper:

            Secondly, we should emphasize that we have not been able to describe a complete and satisfactory nonlinear theory that is not gauge equivalent to linear quantum mechanics.

          • Luke Breuer

            Yeah, the first thing you do if you’re going to come up with a new theory is make it subsume a well-established extant theory. Establishing equivalency with the option to grow to subsumption seems pretty valid, to me.

          • Ray

            Establishing equivalency with the option to grow to subsumption seems pretty valid, to me.

            Indeed, but by the paper’s own admission, it does not succeed in establishing an option to grow to subsumption. Quantum mechanics looks *a lot * harder to modify than classical mechanics.

          • Luke Breuer

            What would be the fun if it weren’t? :-p

          • PStryder

            >Here’s one perhaps-interesting route: what precisely, would you have to change in your belief structure, for Penrose to be correct?

            This question perfectly illustrates my issues – My belief structure would not have to change to make Penrose right. I will change my belief structure if Penrose can demonstrate he is right.

            What would make Penrose right would be demonstrating that his ideas are actually representative of reality. Reality doesn’t care what I, Penrose, or any of us believe.

          • Luke Breuer

            Someone who refuses to engage in hypotheticals will be unable to do much in the way of scientific research. Which is fine—not everyone is cut out for scientific research.

          • PStryder

            I don’t get this response. I’m not refusing to engage in a hypothetical. I’m saying you are asking the wrong question by asking what would have to change in my belief structure to make Penrose right. You should be asking how can Penrose demonstrate that he is right?

          • Luke Breuer

            I see both questions as valid.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            … if a technological reality like the one imagined in Star Trek ever comes about…

            Fiction, how does it work?

            If only someone would bother describing The Physics of Star Trek and explain why it isn’t at all consistent with what we know about the real universe.

          • Luke Breuer

            Yep, because Star Trek has at least one error, Sean Carroll is correct in his Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      John Searle’s Chinese room—which was an atom bomb to the consciousness/understanding/meaning discussion…

      (roll-eyes) If something of the caliber of the Chinese room argument would be an improvement for the philosophy of religion, it is in a sorry state indeed.

      • Luke Breuer

        This appears to say more about you than the Chinese room argument or the philosophy of religion.

  • ZenDruid

    Even with Plantinga’s exposition of modular logic, it’s difficult to take anything serious that begins with something like “Imagine a god….”

    But what do I know anyway. I’m uneducated.

  • Whiskyjack

    Having done a philosophy degree, and having taken two Philosophy of Religion courses, I can say that (from that limited sample) they were the two worst courses I took. Both professors were ardent theists – one Christian and the other Jewish – who seemed more interested in convincing students to believe than in presenting a dispassionate evaluation of the arguments for and against the existence of god.

    • MNb

      I have followed the blogs of two Dutch philosophers of religion; moreover I have read their theses. They both totally fail to present a dispassionate evaluation of those arguments. What makes me sick is that one of them has a degree in math as well; he still doesn’t (want to?) recognize why the fine-tuning argument fails.

      • Dante

        Many serious phjysicists with Phd’s like Davies , Polkinghorne …etc, think the fine-tuning arguments do not fail. So perhaps its you who are in error about whether the fine-tuning argument works.

        • josh

          That’s not many.

        • MNb

          Or maybe these Phd’s are wrong. Quite a few Phd’s, both in physics and philosophy, seem to think so. Yes, I know Polkinghorne has one in physics too. He left the field in the early 80′s.
          Or perhaps you’re pulling of an appeal to authority.

          • Dante

            I was responding to ” one of them has a degree in math as well; he still doesn’t (want to?) recognize why the fine-tuning argument fails.”

      • Luke Breuer

        They both totally fail to present a dispassionate evaluation of those arguments. What makes me sick

        It sounds like you wouldn’t know what “a dispassionate evaluation” is, if stuff like this is making you “sick”.

        • MNb

          It sounds like to you.
          To me it sounds like you don’t know what a metaphor is.

          • Luke Breuer

            I was not talking about sickness of the physical stomach.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I once heard a professor rant about how unfair it was that other philosophers were dismissive of Plantinga because of things he’d said about evolution.

    Considering things Plantinga said about Dawkins writing outside his area of expertise, Plantinga deserves all the scorn and ridicule he gets for that.

  • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

    I saw an anecdote but I didn’t actually see any hard evidence for the claim of the title of the piece. Is there any? A couple of opinions don’t constitute a consensus. And of course, some very serious atheist/agnostic philosophers disagree with this view – Peter Millican, Quentin Smith, Graham Oppy, Michael Tooley, Daniel Came, Nicholas Everitt, Paul Draper and many others. And Boghossian appears to be suggesting all those philosophers belong on the kid’s table (along with Russell, Mackie, Flew, Law et. al.). Good luck to him if he thinks he can dismiss all these fine philosophers with a mere tweet.

    Here’s Nicholas Everitt taking a very different view for example:

    “When I was a philosophy student, I once told my tutor that I would like to write an essay on the existence of God. ‘My interest in my maker ceased when I read Hume’s ‘Dialogues’, he loftily replied, leaving me in no doubt that my interest should be similarly short-lived. I never wrote the essay, but nor, in spite of Hume’s ‘Dialogues’, did I lose the interest. Since those distant days, the philosophy of religion has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance. In those bad old days, with a few honourable exceptions, it was dominated by the woolly pieties and crass objections of third-rate thinkers. Since then, the field has been taken over by by imaginitive, creative thinkers who are themselves cutting-edge contributors in other areas of philosophy. These philosophers have brought with them an array of the sharpest weapons in the armoury of analytic philosophy. This combination of able thinkers and sophisticated techniques has transformed the field in the last few decades.”

    “The topic of God is a huge philosophical river junction, a confluence into which flow streams from metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, epistemology, the philosophy of science, moral philosophy, and the philosophy of logic, and of course from the history of philosophy.”

    Nicholas Everitt ‘The non-existence of God’ pp.xiii, xiv

    • ncovington89

      Quentin Smith once wrote an article (“The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism”) on how many Christians had come into academia through the sponsorship of religious institutions, and about how he thought naturalists ought to engage them to show them that they are wrong. My own opinion is that philosophy of religion is not a waste of time (after all, it’s perfectly legitimate to wonder if there is a god) but nonetheless most philosophy of religion (especially on the pro-god side of the argument) is poor quality. If anything, philosophers ought to write something on philosophy of religion every now and again in order to show what crap the other side is to laypeople, kind of like when evolutionary biologists write a book on what crap creationism is.

      • Luke Breuer

        most philosophy of religion (especially on the pro-god side of the argument) is poor quality.

        Most anything is poor quality.

      • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

        I’m glad you mostly agree.

        Smith, however, in that article you point to actually states that theistic arguments are not on the whole of poor quality but rather the atheist responses to them so far have been poor quality. I find myself agreeing with him even though things have improved a bit for atheists since he wrote it.

        What is unbearable is this patronizing view of Boghossian’s who thinks he knows better than all these very fine atheist philosophers (who I have serious doubts he’s even bothered reading). Talk about shooting oneself in the foot!

        • ncovington89

          @Episcopius, if I recall correctly Quentin Smith said that most philosophers weren’t prepared to defend naturalism against the new invasion of Christian philosophers. I have no idea if he thought this because of in-print conversations that had taken place or if that was just his personal impression.

          For my part, I haven’t seen much from the Christian side of the fence that was compelling or difficult to answer. I think the atheist community was taken by surprise with the revivification of the arguments for the resurrection, but after sober examination those arguments seem dead in the water.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            I wouldn’t be so quick as to jump to that conclusion myself. I think the probable cases made by various Christians is stronger than most realize – N.T. Wright, the McGrew’s, Habermas, Swinburne – they’re all pretty intimidating arguments if read properly and seriously. But it’s not like that’s the only argument by any means. Most Christian philosophers tend to take a cumulative case approach to the evidence so there are many other arguments as well (such as the moral argument etc.). For myself I cannot find any atheistic hypothesis which attempts to answer these philosophical problems as well as Christianity. But, having said that, I’m not claiming all forms of atheism are irrational. It’s just some atheists (like Boghossian) who need a wake up call.

          • josh

            “…they’re all pretty intimidating arguments if read properly and seriously.”

            They’re really not. Most Christian philosophers take a cumulative approach for the same reason as Duane Gish.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            Most Christian philosophers tend to take a cumulative case approach to
            the evidence so there are many other arguments as well (such as the
            moral argument etc.). For myself I cannot find any atheistic hypothesis
            which attempts to answer these philosophical problems as well as
            Christianity.

            The moral argument? Seriously? One of the first problems would be the Christian having to explain away the terrible morality to be found in the Bible. If you wanted to backtrack and take a more generic theist approach, I don’t see any theist explanation which is more likely than an evolutionary explanation.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            Yes. Seriously. Well I can think of at least about 15 accounts of that issue in scholarship worthy of very serious interaction. I would suggest ‘Divine Evil? The Moral Character of the God of Abraham’ edited by Bergmann, Murray and Rea, ‘Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality’ by Baggett and Walls, and Christopher Wright’s ‘OT Ethics for the People of God’ for starters. So I see no good reason to “backtrack” there in the slightest and certainly not to an “evolutionary explanation.”

          • allan

            ” I can think of at least about 15 accounts of that issue in scholarship worthy of very serious interaction” To the outsider that’s the game christian theologians are engaged in. Fifteen ways to wriggle out of the Canaanite Genocide does not come anywhere near making it morally justifiable to a non christian. Or do you know of any non christian who takes any of the arguments seriously?

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            If there was only one good scholarly account that would be enough. Yes there are numerous non-Christian scholars who don’t think these accounts are anywhere as bad as New Atheists make them out to be. There’s a ton of references in the first book I mentioned but one really good example is Christine Hayes.

          • allan

            I’ve searched for a commentary from Christine Hayes on the Canaanite Genocide but can’t find anything. Is there a link you can point to? A link to a non believer who thinks theologians have come up with a plausible moral explanation for the Canaanite Genocide .

          • allan

            Still waiting for a link to a non believer who thinks theologians have come up with a plausible moral explanation for the Canaanite Genocide .

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            Sorry for the delay – I’m in and out of hospital at the moment that’s why.

            It was a series of lectures primarily on OT law by Christine Hayes that were put on itunes by Yale University some years back. Don’t know if they’re still available I’m afraid.

            Again, I would highly recommend the book ‘Divine Evil: The Moral Character of the God of Abraham’ since that book is a conversation between several top theistic and non-theistic philosophers / theologians on this issue.

            In there you even find someone as strongly atheistic as Louise Anthony making some concessions to Eleonore Stump and Paul Draper admitting “Eleonore Stump’s approach to the issue of the character of the biblical God is as nuanced as it is thought-provoking.” (He and her are using the example of Samuel and the Amalekites.) You even find Louise Anthony making some interesting concessions to the Wolterstorff / Brueggemann proposal on reading Joshua properly. She even appears to suggest that a hagiographic reading of Joshua is supported by some evidence but admits she is not a good enough biblical scholar to be able to tell.

            There are also some very interesting agreements about some fictional elements of the conquest accounts where both atheist and theist philosophers agree with each other (eg. that the evidence does not support that the Canaanites were ever wiped out as a people group).

            Anyway, in my opinion, that is probably the most thought-provoking book I’ve read on the subject since it’s a genuine interaction on the subject without all the emotive elements New Atheists try to throw in.

            All the best.

          • jillian

            I’m detecting a certain amount of complete and total objectivity and a total lack of grounding upon any huge leaps of unfounded prejudicial presuppositions in the titles of those books. I think the “God of Abraham” and the “OT Ethics” parts are what set off my “man, like, these dudes are like totally objective and completely logically solid and even-handed” alarm buzzers going off. I’m sure they all offer some deeply profound and robust thingies or other. No funny stuff going on at all, I’m sure.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            Amazing how you think the title of a book discredits its arguments! I guess that means I don’t have to read the book called ‘Atheism: A Philosophical Justification’ then either? Do you go to book reviews and give your opinion on the book based on the titles alone and people take you seriously? ;)

          • jillian

            Well when they somehow manage to narrow everything all down to one specific true™ religion for no good reason, it’s a safe bet they are full of it. :D Something not right in Denmark lol.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            I think you should read these accounts rather than trying to find a way of rationalizing why you shouldn’t bother. I doubt you’d have much respect for any theist who has not bothered reading any atheists.

          • jillian

            Yes I’m trying so desperately to rationalize why I shouldn’t bother. Good call.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            Good luck with that then. ;)

          • ncovington89

            I agree that Boghossian was out of line.

            However, I think Wright, the McGrews, Habermas and Swinburne are thoroughly unconvincing. Their writings can *look* intimidating if you don’t know anything about new testament scholarship or philosophy, but if you take the time draw out all the assumptions their arguments make and evaluate the credibility of said assumptions, the whole thing falls apart.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            I’d love to see your response to them if you have one then? (They are themselves all experts in these fields of course so it appears obvious that it’s not a question of inexperience in the field!)

          • ncovington89

            I’ve written a lengthy post on the McGrews’ article here:
            http://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2012/09/16/critique-of-argument-from-miracles/

            At a more general level, the reason that resurrection apologetics fail is that the evidence for the resurrection is not extraordinary, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’ve fleshed out this line of thinking and given details on that here:
            http://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2012/10/09/why-jesus-wasnt-raised-nutshell/

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            Good. I look forward to reading. Thanks.

          • ncovington89

            Sure. Feel free to comment on the links and let me know what you think.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            I will do. Is that all you’ve written on the subject or do you have any direct responses to Wright et. al.?

          • ncovington89

            Oh yes, I respond to several of Wright’s arguments (and just about every argument that I know of that defends the resurrection) in my book “Extraordinary Claims, Extraordinary Evidence, and the Resurrection of Jesus.” (it’s on amazon, author ‘Nicholas Covington’). Or better yet: if you email me I will send you a pdf of the book. My email is the same as my username at yahoo.

          • allan

            “N.T. Wright, the McGrew’s, Habermas, Swinburne – they’re all pretty intimidating arguments if read properly and seriously.” Seriously? Outside your bubble the ‘evidence’ is non existent. It usually starts with ‘lets take the gospels as accurate accounts of what actually happened’. Stephen Law accurately portrayed the ‘evidence’ as ‘laughably weak’. Was it Wright or Swinburne (as quoted by WLC) who said there was a 98% certainty that the resurrection occurred? Madness.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            I think the atheist community was taken by surprise with the revivification of the arguments for the resurrection…

            Surprised, yes. Impressed, no.

    • PStryder

      My issue is as simple as “You cannot argue a god into existence. Show me some evidence.”

      I imagine I am going to be accused of ‘scientism’ (whatever that is) but I contend that we know enough about the universe that there is no where left for God to hide. If there was a god, science would have discovered it by now.

      • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

        Well if you are claiming that science is the only kind of evidence then you are arguing against virtually all epistemological scholarship so I really don’t think that’s worth taking too seriously. Your duty is to overthrow the whole subject of epistemology and philosophy of science to be taken seriously.

        • PStryder

          No, that is not my argument. My argument is:

          1: No amount of sound arguments can make a god exist.
          2: Granting the assumption that a god exists and affects our universe, there will be some sign of his existence that is discernible by methodological naturalism. (Science, scientific method – pick the term you like best.)

          3: With the discovery of the Higgs boson, there is no force or particle left to find that has the ability to have an effect on the natural world without being detectable.
          4: Science should have detected a god that affects the natural world by now.

          I also reject the existence of the supernatural by definition.

          (Please keep in mind, I am a layman at best, and this is not a formal argument in scholarly language. Just trying to expound on my point, since I don’t think you understood me.)

          I have no issue with philosophy, I simply demand evidence (as opposed to mere argumentation) when asserting the existence of an entity. Especially when said entity is asserted to take actions that directly affect the material, natural world.

          • http://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/ Episcopius

            1. I know of no theist who argues that any argument makes God exist.
            2. I think there are but they will ultimately be philosophical arguments using empirical findings.
            3. I see no reason to believe that.
            4. I see no reason why. It’s not looking for God so why would it find something it’s not looking for.

            Well then I don’t think you have a very good reason for rejecting the supernatural based merely on an a priori definition.

            Most Christians are evidentialists of some kind so they do think there are good explanations and evidence for being Christians.

          • PStryder

            re: you not seeing any reason to believe 3 (and 4) – I suggest Sean Carroll’s lecture ”

            Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality” from Skepticon 5. He explains it very very well.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

            The supernatural is defined as that which exists or operates outside of ‘nature’, the physical laws, time and space, etc. There are many definitions that people use almost interchangeably – the salient point is that ‘supernatural’ means something outside or apart from nature.

            I contend that anything that actually “for reallys” exists – MUST be natural. The universe/multiverse/laws of physics (however you want to state it) must allow for the existence of what ever this so-called ‘supernatural’ thing you want to postulate is.

            If it is permissible by the natural laws governing the universe then it is not supernatural, it is simple natural. John Shook tried to make this point in his debate with William Lane Craig and was completely misunderstood.

            ‘Supernatural’ is a word we made up for things that don’t exist – fictional things. By it’s very definition it admits to be not real. That’s why I reject it. (I admit, this is not a very well expressed argument, but I hope you understand what I’m attempting to say.)

          • Dante

            Usually we use terms like supernatural to refer to nonmaterial ,irreducibly mental entities. (Like angels, souls , God). If you want to say those things are natural , go ahead.

      • Luke Breuer

        Do you view ‘God’ as more of an impersonal force, which generally doesn’t hide from people, or a person, who may, if your only purpose is to use him/her, choose to remain invisible to you? I’ve spent lots of time under people’s microscopes as a mere object to be studied, and I must say, it is distinctly unpleasant. I cannot really fault anyone for refusing to be such an object of study.

        • PStryder

          I view god as an incoherent concept in every form.

          If God doesn’t interact with the natural world we inhabit in any detectable way, then what is the difference between such a god and a non-existent god?

          If god DOES affect the natural world in a way we can detect, then we would have found him by now, because our knowledge of the natural world, while not complete, is comprehensive enough that he has no where to hide – unless he never interacts in any way that can be detected. In that case, revert to the statement above.

          • Luke Breuer

            If God doesn’t interact with the natural world we inhabit in any detectable way, then what is the difference between such a god and a non-existent god?

            The key is “in any detectable way”. Does that mean science only? Or does it permit religious experience, despite the great variety (which may not be as contradictory as is often claimed)? If you say that God must be detectable by science, you’ve made him finite, for science only ever deals with models—pictures of things. If God is an infinite being (not describable by finite computer program), then science, when examining a finite part of him, would not call that part ‘God’. Similarly, if I were to scientifically characterize one of your habits, I wouldn’t call that ‘PStryder’, not by a long shot.

            The most science can ever study is Spinoza’s God, which was also Einstein’s God. Science can only ever peel off finite layers of God and characterize those in its standard, analytic, mechanistic fashion. But any finite layer is not ‘God’. Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

            our knowledge of the natural world, while not complete, is comprehensive enough that he has no where to hide

            You sound precisely like those pesky physicists at the end of the nineteenth century.

          • PStryder

            > Or does it permit religious experience, despite the great variety (which may not be as contradictory as is often claimed)?

            Religious ‘experience’ cannot be denied, but that does not mean it maps to any real objective phenomena outside the experiencer’s own head.

            By detectable way I mean ANY way it can be objectively determined something occurred. The problem with ‘religious experience’ is that it’s entirely subjective.

            If it cannot be objectively determined to exist or to have happened, I don’t accept it as real.

          • Luke Breuer

            How does one ‘map’? Take Grapheme–color synesthesia. You probably can never experience it. So how can you believe that it is real, if you are forever cut off from observing the phenomenon, except for some simulation someone provided you (which could also be done for claimed religious experiences)?

          • PStryder

            My response is that the subjective experience is real, but the objective truth of the actual real phenomena does not necessarily match said subjective experience.

            In your example, the colors perceived are actually perceived by the subject, but there are no objective colors represented in the printed letters. Thus, the subjective experience of the colors does not ‘map’ to the reality of the phenomena.

            It all boils down to my contention that there exists an objective reality we all share, but our experience of that reality is subjective. The objective reality does not change because your subjective experience disagrees with other observers. Reality doesn’t care what anyone believes, it just is. (I hope I am being understandable.)

          • Luke Breuer

            Ok, but what if there is a way to map religious experiences? We ought to realize that the most complex experience a human can have is probably the religious experience. So, it seems like we ought to expect the most variance and most context-sensitivity with religious experiences, as compared to anything else—especially highly-controlled scientific research where we can vary precisely one variable at a time.

            My response is that the subjective experience is real, but the objective truth of the actual real phenomena does not necessarily match said subjective experience.

            I don’t think it ever matches perfectly. We can merely get better and better at “see[ing] through a glass, dimly”.

          • PStryder

            I mostly agree. My contention however is that religious experience does not map to any real, objective phenomena outside the subjects own brain.

            You can have a ‘religious experience’, but that does not mean that what you experience is in any way reflective of the nature of reality.

            If you can objectively demonstrate that your experience does reflect reality, I’m willing to listen. However, if the claim is that your religious experience is totally untestable much less demonstrable – I am going to assume it is not objectively real, and likely cannot be objectively real.

            And in my experience and to my knowledge there is no religious experience that can even be tested, as they are all subjective and internal.

          • Luke Breuer

            If you can objectively demonstrate that your experience does reflect reality, I’m willing to listen.

            But how can I do this? For example, how can Grapheme–color synesthesia be objectively demonstrated to you? You simply do not see that way, and there’s no guarantee that merely looking at that image on Wikipedia gives you the quale that someone who actually has the condition experiences. The best that can be done is to reach intersubjective agreement on some approximation. And yet, why can you not reach such an intersubjective agreement re: religious experience?

            However, if the claim is that your religious experience is totally untestable much less demonstrable – I am going to assume it is not objectively real, and likely cannot be objectively real.

            Ahh, so we’ve greatly limited possible religious experiences to those which are on the other side of an impenetrable barrier, kind of like this:

            divine, heavenly revelation
            --------------------------- ← impenetrable barrier
               earthly, human reason

            I think I’d have to agree with you; if there is such a barrier, then there’s nothing I can do with someone else’s religious experience. It can be fully motivating to him/her, but not to me.

            And in my experience and to my knowledge there is no religious experience that can even be tested, as they are all subjective and internal.

            I’ve had only one largely ineffable religious experience (it was the most pain I had ever experienced; I wanted to die), and only a few very small effable ones, which could be easily explained as me merely figuring out better interpretations of scripture with unusually strong conviction. So I might be in agreement with you: if a religious experience only ever benefits the experiencer that’s fine, but I’m looking for religious experiences which can bless other people.

          • Ray

            You sound precisely like those pesky physicists at the end of the nineteenth century.

            Do you have any more evidence for this claim than you did the last time I corrected you on it?

          • Luke Breuer

            No, so I should start saying “as described by Albert Michelson”, until I can find more sources. You didn’t really do a whole lot of correcting though; that a few Nobel prize winners saw through the ridiculous doesn’t mean that many didn’t.

          • Ray

            “as described by Albert Michelson” is probably not enough of a qualification. Michelson attributed that particular opinion to himself, and additionally to “an eminent physicist,” who, according to Robert Milikan was Lord Kelvin.

          • Luke Breuer

            Sigh, you’re really gonna force me to investigate this claim, eh? I’ve been meaning to, but there’s so much I’m reading these days (most recently: F.A. Hayek’s Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason). Well, History of physics § 20th century: Birth of Modern Physics has as its source:

            Agar, Jon (2012), Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond, Cambridge: Polity Press, ISBN 978-0-7456-3469-2.

            Fortunately, the SF Public Library has it, so I will be able to take a look fairly soon. Oh, the expanded version of Michelson’s quotation is curious; here’s Wikiquote: Albert Michelson:

            Before entering into these details, however, it may be well to reply to the very natural question: What would be the use of such extreme refinement in the science of measurement? Very briefly and in general terms the answer would be that in this direction the greater part of all future discovery must lie. The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. Nevertheless, it has been found that there are apparent exceptions to most of these laws, and this is particularly true when the observations are pushed to a limit, i.e., whenever the circumstances of experiment are such that extreme cases can be examined. Such examination almost surely leads, not to the overthrow of the law, but to the discovery of other facts and laws whose action produces the apparent exceptions.

            This actually plays very nicely into my skepticism of Sean Carroll’s confidence in the Everett interpretation providing ontic foundations. You see, the ontic foundations from classical → quantum were hugely shaken. Who is to say that the same won’t happen again? QFT will continue to be extremely precise, in its domain, just like F = ma is extremely precise, in its domain. Nobody [intelligent] is arguing that extant models don’t well-describe extant experiments and extant observations. Instead, it’s that “one level deeper” might look very different from what the current deepest level looks like.

          • Ray

            Fair enough, but that criticism only applies to Sean’s view on the Everett interpretation (although I have a bit more to say about that on the other thread), not to his view on the adequacy of the standard model for describing everyday experience. In fact the following statement from his first article on that point:

            Using the framework of quantum field theory — which we have no reason to doubt in this regime — we can classify the kinds of new particles and forces that could conceivably exist, and go look for them.

            looks almost identical to your statement:

            QFT will continue to be extremely precise, in its domain

          • Luke Breuer

            I’m holding out for new room-temperature abilities coming out of new fundamental physics which e.g. works below the current “noise floor” established by HUP (or, as I prefer: “Heisenberg’s Unsharpness Relation”). For example, we know that some amount of state can be determined locally, but the rest either doesn’t exist (as in, there is fuzz), or it is non-local. Maybe that non-local state can be characterized and used to do new, useful things.

  • Dante

    Hey Hallquist, could you review “The Soul Hypothesis”. You might have valuable stuff to say.

  • Dante

    I’m not sure the parapsychology think is right. Is parapsychology really a subdiscipline of psychology? Perhaps a better analogy would be psychologists in general vs evopsych.

  • Dante

    I feel like phil religion is one of those subdisciplines where you have to be at least broadly sympathetic to religion to fell it is worthwhile. How is the feeling in general towards feminist philosophy or midevil philosophy in general?


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