The Argument from You: Jeff Cook

You Prove God’s Existence (Argument #4 for God’s Existence)

Most people think they exist.  Even Descartes, who set out to doubt everything, found he could not rightly doubt his own existence. But some stories, like Materialism, make believing in one’s self problematic.

This may seem ridiculous at first, but notice: Materialism tells us a story of how things are, yet if Materialism is true “where” are “you”? Are “you” your physical body? If you cut off an arm are “you” still “you”? It seems you are. Are “you” your brain and nervous system? This is difficult to establish because if we look closely, the brain reduces to chemicals, those chemicals reduce to atoms, and those atoms reduce to subatomic particles all dancing to the laws of physics. Where are “you” in all that mush?

The cells of your body routinely die and are replaced; your consciousness is interrupted by sleep; we have inaccurate memories: yet “you” still exist over time. These observations pose a problem for a Materialist understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live.

In fact, these observations can be the foundation for an argument for God-belief that might look like this:

1.     “You” exist.

2.     “You” cannot be identified with anything in your physical body.

3.     Given 1 and 2, “you” must be immaterial.

4.     The best explanation of immaterial realities like “you” is an immaterial source that desires to make immaterial things like “you”.

And we call this immaterial source that desires to make things like you “God”.

If we think we really have personal identity, that conviction gives us a good reason to reject Materialism. Personal identity is an anomaly and evidence that the theory/story/metaphysic of Materialism itself is false.

If we hold to premise 3, the step to premise 4 is worthy: contingent immaterial beings like you and me require an immaterial instigator with the will and power to create “you” and “me”—and this instigator we call God.

By now it shouldn’t surprise most of you that I think you can bite the Materialist bullet on all my arguments for God’s existence, and this argument will be no different. (I argue in Everything New that commitments to our metaphysical view arise first from our passions, not our reason, and It seems to me that this argument from personal identity is one of the better reasons to presuppose a view other than Materialism.) If you are emotionally inclined, the option is there for you to deny Premise 1 and hold that “you” don’t exist. But this is a big step. Denying your personal identity not only seems intuitively false, it means your choices, your story, your reality—and the choices, stories, and reality of those you love—are each illusions.

Make that move and life—if we can call it that—is absurd.

Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of the Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes (Zondervan, 2008). He pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • phil_style

    “You” cannot be identified with anything in your physical body.

    Isn’t this assumption based on some old philosophy that is no longer relevant in light of science (i.e substance and form philosophies).

    If consciousness/ self awareness can be shown to be emergent properties from within an information system or network then there is no need for immaterial explanations of the “me”.

  • Tim

    Sigh…

    There is a whole field of philosophy centered around theories of the mind and consciousness. Granted, the reason ultimate questions as to why and how conscious experience exists still reside within the purview of philosophy and not, say, neuroscience, is that we just don’t know. It’s speculative. And we have no known scientific way of finding out as of yet. So philosophical attempts are being made to explore a number of imaginative possibilities.

    Some of these philosophical possibilities involve a transcendent nature of the mind. Some don’t, positing instead some aspect of nature as yet discovered along the lines of the “weirdness” we see in quantum phenomenon. In some materialistic models, consciousness is seen to “effervesce” continually from one’s neural structures, with death causing a ceasing of this fountain of consciousness. Quantum entanglement, or some such analogous principle, is seen as potentially allowing for the unified nature of conscious experience out of an array of otherwise distinct neurological constituent parts.

    We should immediately realize how complicated and beyond our present state of knowledge such musings take us. And so there should be a humility there.

    I myself do consider conscious experience to be a “pointer” to God. But at the same time I recognize that there are material depths to the universe that we have yet to mine. And to proclaim authoritatively that there is nothing left within the universe that could naturally give rise to something like conscious experience is, in my view, just pure hubris. Or otherwise perhaps just sheer ignorance concerning one’s own limitations.

    And so it is hard to know what to make of these bungling syllogistic attempts. Is it that Jeff Cook is unaware of the serious work done and being done by others to address these often complex issues? Or is that the he is aware of the work being done but just turns a blind eye out of apologetic intent? I don’t presume to know what drives Jeff, or what goes through his mind. But I find it frustrating and tiring to continue to see otherwise intelligent people give credence to these absurd attempts at syllogistic “proofs” for God when there are better alternatives available to them.

  • Percival

    Tim #2,
    You said,
    “And to proclaim authoritatively that there is nothing left within the universe that could naturally give rise to something like conscious experience is, in my view, just pure hubris.”

    I think you have misunderstood Jeff Cook’s purposes here. Jeff can speak for himself, but I see this as a kind of survey of thought on the subject historically speaking. It is not an attempt to lay out the latest, most intriguing theories. He realizes some of these go clunk and some have more promise. Even you consider conscious experience to be a pointer to God.

    Jeff,
    This argument #4 is exactly where I am. It is intuitive for me, and I am the kind of person who trusts his intuition to point himself in the right direction. When I get to the place to where I am pointed, I look around and ask, “Am I satisfied with where I have arrived at? Does this world make more sense to me? Does this answer a lot of questions? Yes, yes, and yes. OK, I guess I will live here.” I don’t think I am unusual this way. These proofs are as much about psychology as they are about philosophy. “Emergent properties from an information system” and “effervescent consciousness”? I read enough sci-fi to be intrigued by the ideas, but I don’t find them persuasive to explain me.

  • Andrew

    This is unrelated to the post. I don’t enjoy reading your blog because it has become a beast for my computer. Advertisements & Pop ups all slowing my reading pleasure down. I like to visit but do it less and less.

  • Jim

    @Tim: #2…. I agree, though with less despair. :-) Could you expand on your statement that there are “better alternatives”….You left me hanging there.

  • DMH

    Phil #1 “If consciousness/ self awareness can be shown to be emergent properties from within an information system or network then there is no need for immaterial explanations”

    I’m just an interested dabbler in all these things so not so widely read as others- has this been shown? It seems to me this would be huge.

  • phil_style

    @DMH, no, it has not been “shown”. Folks are still building the conceptual models for this, a lot of it based on systems theory – which is a pretty new science.

    But, in the absence of such an explanation, aren’t we just doing a version of the God-of-the-gaps argument? We can’t explain the mind in entirely physical terms yet.. so we posit the non-material…

    I might be wrong, but that’s where it seems to me we are..

  • Jon G

    Percival @#3

    I totally resonate with your last paragraph.

    Tim @#2

    I sympathize but don’t think you’ve characterized Jeff accurately. I am curious about emergent properties. In the past I’ve heard it described like wetness is an emergent property of water. I don’t know if that would fit your thinking but it seems to me that our consciousness relating to our brains is nothing like wetness relating to water. For one thing wetness is just a descriptive term and has no agency whatsoever. Unless you are throwing out agency, which the materialist is “free” (?!) to do, I don’t see emergence – as I understand it – as a viable solution. Which is why Jeff’s position seems appropriate to me.

    But you are right, I am ignorant of much of the latest research. Can you provide something that would suggest another path of thinking holds more promise for an answer to this than Jeff’s?

  • DMH

    #7 Phil Thanks. Isn’t that what philosophy is all (maybe not all) about- explaining what otherwise seems unexplainable? If we assume we humans will eventually figure out everything then all arguments will be “god of the gaps”.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (1) Phil. You wrote, “If consciousness/ self awareness can be shown to be emergent properties from within an information system or network then there is no need for immaterial explanations of the “me”.”

    Help me out here. It seems that this network you are calling “you” is routinely changing, both cellularly and atomically. This pushes the problem of Theseus’ ship and whether something changing can retain its identity over time.

    Furthermore, it maybe the case that a material combination of chemicals produce consciousness. It is unclear to me how that consciousness in turn guides and manipulates the material body.

    These both seem to me good reason for believing in an immaterial aspect to yourself.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (2). “Sigh” is correct.

    You wrote, “There is a whole field of philosophy centered around theories of the mind and consciousness. Granted, the reason ultimate questions as to why and how conscious experience exists still reside within the purview of philosophy and not, say, neuroscience, is that we just don’t know. It’s speculative. And we have no known scientific way of finding out as of yet. So philosophical attempts are being made to explore a number of imaginative possibilities.”

    This of course is a leap of faith on the part of the materialist, akin to saying, “My story must be true and every evidence against it is therefore irrelevant.”

    You wrote, “In some materialistic models, consciousness is seen to “effervesce” continually from one’s neural structures, with death causing a ceasing of this fountain of consciousness.”

    Again you’d have the problem of how consciousness effects the body here.

    You wrote, “Quantum entanglement, or some such analogous principle, is seen as potentially allowing for the unified nature of conscious experience out of an array of otherwise distinct neurological constituent parts.”

    As above, see Theseus’ ship argument.

    You wrote, “We should immediately realize how complicated and beyond our present state of knowledge such musings take us.”

    Again, this is a non-argument. My contention is that Materialism could not possibly give a good answer to the problem above. You don’t need evidence here. What you need to pitch are possibilities that are not known to be false–and I bet you can’t. As it stands, your argument simply says, “My metaphysical commitment cannot make sense of an observed phenomenon…but just give us a some more time to figure it out.” Certainly that argument fails when theists give it for the problem of evil, and it fails in your statement above.

    You wrote, “To proclaim authoritatively that there is nothing left within the universe that could naturally give rise to something like conscious experience is, in my view, just pure hubris. Or otherwise perhaps just sheer ignorance concerning one’s own limitations.”

    Unless you opt for total skepticism, there are times where deduction is appropriate.

    You wrote, “And so it is hard to know what to make of these bungling syllogistic attempts. Is it that Jeff Cook is unaware of the serious work done and being done by others to address these often complex issues?”

    This is a phantom argument. Display said serious work.

    You wrote, “I don’t presume to know what drives Jeff, or what goes through his mind. But I find it frustrating and tiring to continue to see otherwise intelligent people give credence to these absurd attempts at syllogistic “proofs” for God when there are better alternatives available to them.”

    I would agree with the final claim. I am posting proofs that are stated *simply* for the sake of all readers. But even in the present form you have not yet shown why they fail.

    I’ll look forward to your response. Much love.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    An answer:

    A person is a collection of elements, or a network as phil says. But there is some critical mass, some minimum number of components to make the network “me” or “you”. That minimal number contains some critical elements (like being alive), and some non-critical elements, and while there is no stationary distribution of the elements of the network, there is stationarity, so-to-speak.

    This of course could mean that there are also “grey areas”, where me/you are tottering on the edge of existence, where the critical mass is just about there / just about gone.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (3) Percival. You wrote, “When I get to the place to where I am pointed, I look around and ask, “Am I satisfied with where I have arrived at? Does this world make more sense to me? Does this answer a lot of questions? Yes, yes, and yes.”

    I agree. I don;t think the arguments conclusive (as you said). I think they construct a world I would love to jump in to.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jim (5). Exactly.

  • Adam

    I see two difficulties with premise 2 “You” cannot be identified with anything in your physical body.

    The first one is physical and is merely the observation that people who undergo heart transplants sometimes experience a change in personality. This suggests that “you” have some connection to your physical body.

    The second one is theological. Premise 2 opens the door for a kind of dualism which I don’t think is correct. I see the christian belief being one of incarnation where body and soul exist together and never separately.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (7). Thanks for your comments!

    You wrote, “@DMH, no, it has not been “shown” … But, in the absence of such an explanation, aren’t we just doing a version of the God-of-the-gaps argument? We can’t explain the mind in entirely physical terms yet.. so we posit the non-material.”

    My argument is suggesting that no such answer *could be* forth coming. If Premise 2 holds, no amount of research will get you there.

    Also, you’ll have to show me why it is *never* appropriate to say, “Materialism cannot explain such-and-such, therefore we need a different explanation (like God).” That seems to me an appropriate move. Why is that illegitimate?

  • Morbert

    For consciousness to be part of a compelling argument for God, or even an argument against theism, it must be argued that consciousness cannot be an emergent property of a physical system. As it stands, 3. is a non sequitur. The strongest statement we can make is consciousness cannot be derived from neuroscience. Because of this, the argument is effectively a “God of the Gaps” argument, and a very weak one at that.

  • Morbert

    Sorry, my first sentence should have been “For consciousness to be part of a compelling argument for God, or even an argument against materialism….”. I accidentally wrote theism.

  • phil_style

    @ Jeff,

    Help me out here. It seems that this network you are calling “you” is routinely changing, both cellularly and atomically. This pushes the problem of Theseus’ ship and whether something changing can retain its identity over time

    Well Theseus’ ship is a problem that exists prior to the information age. The issue of information/identity retention within a changing substrate is no longer a philosophical dilemma. I wish philosophy would catch up with science…. are we going to have a debate about substance and form now?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (19). This is not an answer. You are simply saying its wrong without showing why it is wrong. For the sake of those stuck in ancient times, do help us out.

  • Jon G

    Morbert, I want to know why the burden of proof is to show consciousness is not an emergent property. Doesn’t the fact that emergent properties explain consciousness first have to be established? Until then we’re still left with a choice between materialism saying that all that exists is the physical and theism saying that the physical is not all that exists. Until the materialist shows that consciousness is physical, theism seems to have more explanatory power here. No?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klasie (12). You wrote, “A person is a collection of elements, or a network.”

    Do you have an an answer for Theseus’ ship style arguments? It seem, you don’t exist over time.

  • phil_style

    @Jeff, #20.

    The constituent parts of the ship can be changed, but the “ship” itself is actually information stored within our minds. The identity of the ship is information. This information can be retained, irrespective of the substrate on which it relies (various changes to the brain – within limits) or on the basis of re-establishing the relationships between the things it represents (the relationality of the constituent parts of the ship).

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (15). You wrote, “I see two difficulties with premise 2 “You” cannot be identified with anything in your physical body. The first one is physical and is merely the observation that people who undergo heart transplants sometimes experience a change in personality. This suggests that “you” have some connection to your physical body.”

    I’m not arguing you have no connection with your physical body. Your physical body is very much a part of you. But do you think you are a new person if you got a new heart? How do we understand your identity over time if you fundamentally change with such small operations?

    The second one is theological. Premise 2 opens the door for a kind of dualism which I don’t think is correct. I see the christian belief being one of incarnation where body and soul exist together and never separately.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (23). Are “you” just information then? When you love your spouse or your kids, are you simply loving the collection of “ones and zeros”. Does information disagree with other information–where is the personality here?

    Be well.

  • phil_style

    @Jeff, Are “you” just information then?

    Quite possibly. Although, I think putting the work “just” in there is a little unnecessary. Information is wonderful! I could argue; are you “just” a soul then?

    Once again let’s turn to science.
    We can turn personality traits on and off by manipulating parts of the brain. There are plenty of cases from medical history where brain injury has completely reshaped a person’s personality. Other brain injuries can totally reshape someone’s sense of self and yes – even change their likes, dislikes and the things they “love”. How can you love that which you do not remember? Memories are stored in the brain. We can wipe them, re-arrange them and manipulate them. If all the neurological connections (that is, the memories and their associations with other memories through the neural network) in your brain that associated positive feelings for your wife broke down, you would cease to feel the way you do about her.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff,

    My answer is partly in my use of the word stationarity:

    From Challis & Kitney:

    Stationarity, is defined as a quality of a process in which the statistical parameters (mean and standard deviation) of the process do not change with time.

    Now, I use this to make a point, not as an absolute answer.

    Note we are talking about the mean and standard deviation, not every single element. But, I also added, some critical elements cannot be replaced. You cannot take life away, and then give another life back. But there are countless non-critical elements.

    This reminds me of the quip about the German philosopher, who dreamed about a knife without a blade which had no handle. Thus, the concept can exist without the reality. But, does Frodo or Elizabeth Bennet exist? Yet, they have been created conceptually, but they aren’t there. It seems to me that if one were to take your argument seriously, you’d end up with affirming the possibility of a corporeal Frodo, Elizabeth Bennet, and even Dracula :)

    If you take phil’s comment at 26, you’d see that an individual can be changed in terms of behaviour, even memory, but that doesn’t deny their continual existence. Their existence are predicated on biological basis – they are, because they have living cells in a manner of speaking.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (26) How then would you respond to my original claim: “Denying your personal identity not only seems intuitively false, it means your choices, your story, your reality—and the choices, stories, and reality of those you love—are each illusions. Make that move and life—if we can call it that—is absurd.”

    You wrote, “I could argue; are you “just” a soul then?”

    No, I think you are a body, mind, and soul. A soul without a body is a bad thing, just like muscles without bones.

    You wrote, “We can turn personality traits on and off by manipulating parts of the brain.”

    If you have a soul this is false. You are simply affecting the vehicle through which the personality expresses itself. You are damaging the hardware though the voice on the other line may still be talking.

    You wrote, “If all the neurological connections (that is, the memories and their associations with other memories through the neural network) in your brain that associated positive feelings for your wife broke down, you would cease to feel the way you do about her.”

    Again, I would go back to my earlier question, when you love someone, are you in fact loving memories and information?

    Peace

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff, I was thinking about the question you asked Phil: …when you love someone, are you in fact loving memories and information?

    But say your wife harbors some dark secret, which you never find out. You still love her, even with the unknown secret. When the secret comes out, that might change. So in essence, you are loving an impression of her, an image that you have built up, based on general information (who she is, etc) and specific information (her hair, the softness of her skin etc.) That image will change over time. And if she dies before you, you are likely to continue loving – but what are you loving?

    Second thought: Returning to me earlier example, you might develop a deep love for Elizabeth Bennet. But she does not exist. Similary, someone could develop a deep love for Mr Darcy, holding the image of Colin Firth in a wet shirt in their mind :) But, Colin Firth exists as a British actor, not as mr Darcy. In essence, that person would love an image, information, that has no real existence.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klassie (29). I like your thoughts here.

    It seems to me I am loving a combination of her soul, mind, and body which I see as “her.” Of course I may be mistaken in my impressions of who “she” actually “is”, but I’m mistaken about lots of things. Materialism is pitching a metaphysical truth about her that strips her of her very self, and I’m not sure there is anything left to love.

    Let me grant your second point. How does it disprove my contentions above?

    Be well!

  • Dan Arnold

    Jeff,

    I’ve used a similar argument myself, but I think it runs into some difficulties. In this case your premise #2 seems to be quite weak. First off, as you recognize (30), who we are is inextricably tied to our bodies. Not parts of our bodies, but our bodies as a whole. While some essence of who I am may not change if I lose a hand or an eye, if I lose my head you have no emperical reason to say I continue to exist in any way that matters outside the memories of those who have known me. This points to the possibility (some say likelihood) that we are purely physical because that essence of who I am is no longer observable once I die.

    Second, but related, consciousness is not contained in individual cells but is an emergent property of the system of the brain. Over at Cross Examined, (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2012/11/are-we-just-molecules-in-motion/), the analogy is made that just as wetness is an emergent property of water molecules under certain physical conditions but not of an individual molecule, so consciousness is to neurons. Now the argument can be made that this emergent property proves your point but it does not necessarily follow. The field of information theory (and referring to information as simply a collection of 1′s and 0′s portends a lack of understanding of the field) may just as easily provide an explanation as to how the emergent property of consciousness occurs in a complex system such as the human body. DNA is one place that information is transmitted in nature. Memory is an other way in which information is stored although as far as I know, the mechanisms are not well understood at this time. Since consciousness is inextricably tied to memory, so it too falls under the purview of information theory.

    It seems to me that the argument about “you” (or consciousness), as presented, becomes a god of the gaps of argument.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • http://www.twitter.com/aaronlage aaron

    This conversation between Klassie, Phil and Jeff is interesting.

    I would like to insert a question to Phil about the possibility of being merely information. As you say in response to Jeff about being “just information”: (26) “quite possibly”.

    How does one therefore interpret information? What gives information substance? Information in the terms you speak of is itself seemingly immaterial and therefore proves Jeff’s argument.

    For instance, Bach’s musical notes on a page are information. However, their molecular structure printed on the page has no bearing on the actual information which they display. Where does the actual exchange of information lie? How does one quantify it? What if it’s not understood – or worse, misunderstood? Does that somehow cause it to cease to be information? How does one differentiate between those same molecules in a different order on the same page that comprise a written work from Shakespeare? It’s the same molecules.

    There is a big difference between the two – although not chemically. If it were merely information alone in a material sense it would have no effectual difference. They would cause the same passions and responses in every human being just like a computer.

    Put it another way. If “love” and “hate” are merely chemical compounds or exchanged information what is the actual difference between the two? Nothing. Who’s to say one is better or worse? It’s impossible. It’s like saying carbon is better than nitrogen. A pointless argument. We all know there is a big difference between Mother Theresa and Hitler. If each human body has access to the same information as any other human body and merely different amounts of information, or ability to retain information then having any moral code (also information) claiming Hitler was “bad” and Mother Theresa was “good” is irrelevant.

  • Jon G

    If, and for me it’s a BIG if, I were to accept consciousness as an emergent property in the same way that wetness is an emergent property of water molecules…doesn’t this disprove Materialism? Or are we suggesting here that wetness is a physical entity rather than a metaphysical description of the way something is perceived (as being wet)? It seems to me that the materialist must show that wetness physically “exists” and likewise that consciousness physically “exists” for this argument to work otherwise this is a science of the gaps argument.

  • Dan Arnold

    Jon G (33) ,

    I’m not sure why a materialist would have to show that wetness exists when wetness is a property of a mass of water under particular conditions. Wetness does not exist apart from a variety of materials. It is not a thing per se, but a property of a thing. Likewise, the argument is that consciousness is not an independent metaphysical entity, a thing, a soul even, but rather a property of specific materials under specific conditions.

  • Percival

    I’m with Jon on the wetness issue. Wetness is not a property of water and the idea of wetness only exists in our minds as a description of how we perceive something. There is no thing that is wetness. There is water, but only the observer describes it as wet in contrast to how it seems in comparison to other things. This is the classic linguistic fallacy that says if we give something a name, we give it actuality.

  • phil_style

    OK, a couple of things to come back to since the overnight period! I would recommend to anyone interested in this that you start with “I am a Strange Loop” by Douglas Hofstadter – He demonstrates how the properties of self-referential systems, demonstrated most famously in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, can be used to describe the unique properties of minds. Then for a christian physicalist perspective, turn to Nancy Murphy – 2007. (with W. S. Brown) Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?.

    @Aaron, #32. You raise some interesting points about the nature of information. I think you could research this further because the questions you ask have been asked and explored by others. I’m not an information scientists, and haven’t really looked into that in detail. Nancy Murphy’s book I identified above goes into greater detail.

    As for moral culpability (what is good v evil) and the issue of potential moral relativity; You need to satisfy yourself that you’re not falling into the trap of using ancient Greek categories of good and evil (back to substance versus form again) which I think are wholly inappropriate. I don’t believe in absolute morality, and I don’t think God does either (I don’t think God is bound to a moral code). Why not think about relationality, rather than moral absolutes? For the Christian, that which is “good” is that which relates in conformity to the Father is is not?

    Can a material entity be “morally responsible”? Of course it can. It’s like saying carbon is better than nitrogen I disagree. nitrogen and carbon are not self-referential networks. AND they do not (as organised elements) have the mechanisms to exert any kind of top-down causality. Read the sources above to see how self-referential networks can have top-down causality. Theologians might even take this one step further – if they please, the model even has the potential to provide for a mechanism of divine action.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dan (31). You wrote, “consciousness is not contained in individual cells but is an emergent property of the system of the brain.”

    I think this is correct given materialism, and that means materialism advances an Epiphenomenalist view of consciousness.

    But epiphenomenalism is problematic. Consider the four arguments against at Staford’s website: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epiphenomenalism/

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Aaron (32). You wrote, “If “love” and “hate” are merely chemical compounds or exchanged information what is the actual difference between the two? Nothing. Who’s to say one is better or worse? It’s impossible. It’s like saying carbon is better than nitrogen. A pointless argument.”

    It seems this brings us back to arguments from value judgments, ya?
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/10/17/top-ten-arguments-for-god-jeff-cook/

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jon (33). You wrote, “Are we suggesting here that wetness is a physical entity rather than a metaphysical description of the way something is perceived (as being wet)? It seems to me that the materialist must show that wetness physically “exists” and likewise that consciousness physically “exists” for this argument to work otherwise this is a science of the gaps argument.”

    The idea of “emergent properties” seems to rely heavily on language usage, and the very construction of language is a subjective, interpretative enterprise. If “wetnesses” is physically related to the number of water molecules in an area, than it becomes a value judgment as to what constitutes “wetness”. How many water molecules shall be the standard of “wetnesses”?

    Consciousness–however–strikes me as significantly different. The “me” I experience is singular and specific. My identity does not vary, but seems clear and distinct.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Percival (35). Yep. (Didn’t see your answer prior to my post).

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (36). You wrote, “Can a material entity be “morally responsible”? Of course it can.”

    It can, but it cannot give a material account of “moral responsibility.”

    You wrote, “It’s like saying carbon is better than nitrogen I disagree. nitrogen and carbon are not self-referential networks. AND they do not (as organised elements) have the mechanisms to exert any kind of top-down causality.”

    What would you advance as a consistent theory of mind from materialism. I argue above that it must be epiphenomenalism. If this is true, there would be no such “top-down casualty”. That would be an illusion.

    And what sources above are you referring to?

    Peace.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff @ 30: Plato’s cave.

    It means that “her very self”, and even “my own very self” is a mental construct, a form to use Plato’s terminology (I’m not a philosopher, mind you).

    So you met a girl, fell in love with her. “Her” is a combination of physical appearance, mental ability, character etc.

    Option 1: Then she undergoes a change in brain chemistry, and her whole character changes. Now you say – she is not the same person anymore. Except that she physically is, just a minor change in the balance of chemicals occurred. But she no longer firs the mental construct you fell in loved with. She is demonstrably different.

    Option 2: She loses both legs in an accident. You are unlikely to say that she is not the same person anymore – but she demonstrably isn’t. The thing is – you probably attached less weight to the presence / absence of limbs than to her character. Now, gradually, your construct of her changes.

    Option 3: She never existed in a physical form – and her name is Elizabeth Bennett. Yet you think about her, love the words and character traits attributed to her by Jane Austen etc.

    But in all 3 cases, you loved a construct made up of a network of variables – physical appearance (real / imagined), character, etc etc. Thus, the “you” in your argument above is based on a network / set of variables, real or imagined. The argument is thus not watertight.

  • phil_style

    @Jeff – the “sources above” are those in the top para of my post.

    @Klasie.
    I like your comment.
    The “love” example comes up in this type of debate because it’s supposed to emotionally shock. But it carries not more particular strength than any other example. I’m happy to indulge it.

    How do I know who my beloved it? Only through my five senses.
    I know what she looks like
    I know how she sounds
    I know how she feels, smells and cough, cough, tastes.
    I also have all the past memories of information about her coming from these senses.

    It is that portfolio that I “love”, because that portfolio is all I know of her. I cannot love that of her which has not been disclosed to me, via my senses. So is she “real”? Well in order to not go insane, I have to assume that she is. I have to trust the combination and repetitive confirmation of my senses – my information receptors. If I mistrusted these things as fair representations of something external to myself I would probably not survive (unless of course I was right).

    So, another important question is this: Do people with serious impediments to their senses “love” in a different way? If I had never communicated with her (i.e. I had none of the senses of touch, sight or hearing), could I love her? I think (VERY tentatively) that the answer to this might be “no”. I would have no way of getting information about her that was complex enough for me to determine what/ who she was. I only “love” her (or what I think is her) through/ because of the information I hold about her.

  • Morbert

    Jon (21),

    On a general level, claiming theism has explanatory power is problematic in and of itself. We do not have a perfect understanding of emergent phenomena in lasers, or fluids, or a wide variety of non-linear systems. This does not mean theism has more explanatory power in those cases. Or it has explanatory power in a very trivial sense of the word “explanatory”.

    More specifically, consciousness is tendered here as being problematic for materialism. It is not sufficient to point to the fact that we don’t have a complete understanding of consciousness. If that is all that is being highlighted, then it is sufficient for materialists to point out that, while we don’t have a principle which tells us consciousness must necessarily follow from brain activity, we have no reason to believe it wouldn’t. And clearly, empirically, it does.

    Plus, while we might not have a complete understanding of the the relationship between consciousness and brain activity, we still know quite a bit about how awareness is intimately related to brain activity.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klasie (42). You wrote, “It means that “her very self”, and even “my own very self” is a mental construct … So you met a girl, fell in love with her. “Her” is a combination of physical appearance, mental ability, character etc. … In all 3 cases, you loved a construct made up of a network of variables – physical appearance (real / imagined), character, etc etc. Thus, the “you” in your argument above is based on a network / set of variables, real or imagined. The argument is thus not watertight.

    Yep. This seems the only step for the materialist, and I find it a repugnant conclusion that strips everything I care about of value. Now your welcome to make that step as I said in my original post, but I prefer God belief and the accompanying story. It allows the existence of a real “person” and quite a bit more.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (43). You wrote, “How do I know who my beloved it? Only through my five senses. I know what she looks like. I know how she sounds. I know how she feels, smells and cough, cough, tastes. I also have all the past memories of information about her coming from these senses.”

    The problem isn’t epistemological; its metaphysical. It seems to me, your beloved doesn’t exist.

    You wrote, “It is that portfolio that I “love”, because that portfolio is all I know of her. I cannot love that of her which has not been disclosed to me, via my senses. So is she “real”? Well in order to not go insane, I have to assume that she is.”

    True. Materialism, if the implications are embraced, can lead to insanity.

    You asked, “If I had never communicated with her (i.e. I had none of the senses of touch, sight or hearing), could I love her? I think (VERY tentatively) that the answer to this might be “no”. I would have no way of getting information about her that was complex enough for me to determine what/ who she was. I only “love” her (or what I think is her) through/ because of the information I hold about her.”

    Again I the question at hand is metaphysical, not epistemological.

    I like your thoughts a great deal!

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Molbert (44). You wrote, “Consciousness is tendered here as being problematic for materialism. It is not sufficient to point to the fact that we don’t have a complete understanding of consciousness.”

    Personal identity over time is the problem. I think a Materialist can be an epiphenomenalist regarding consciousness.

    You wrote, “If that is all that is being highlighted, then it is sufficient for materialists to point out that, while we don’t have a principle which tells us consciousness must necessarily follow from brain activity, we have no reason to believe it wouldn’t. And clearly, empirically, it does.”

    The question then becomes how does such consciousness affect the body. It is like expecting the light from a lamp to some how direct the lamp itself.

    Peace.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff, it is fine to say what you like. But “like” still doesn’t make a watertight argument for God’s existence.

    Thus, the sentiment passes, but the argument fails.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    It does though. You have to presuppose some things without evidence, and I would argue God belief is something that is something presupposed not proven.

    We do this frequently. For example, why believe your brain works? why believe that other people have minds like yours? why believe there is an actual world and you are not dreaming?

    I would guess your reason to all the following will be: “because I want to.”

    God belief is similiar. Like all big, overarching metaphysical claims, it is something we dive into that colors everything else we believe. And because presuppositions cannot be proven they must be believed, they must be selected through our passions or sentiments–and this strikes me as unavoidable.

    (I write about this in chapter 2 of Everything New if you’re interested: http://amzn.to/SiHezk )

  • Morbert

    Jeff,

    The Materialist position would be that any concept of the mind controlling the brain is ultimately illusory, insofar as a human behaviour can be understood as a sophisticated response to stimulus. If we suppose some hypothetical world with no conscious experiences, materialists would postulate that there would be no difference in terms of behaviour and the appearance of agency. Everything would be the same, right down to this conversation we are having.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Morbert (50). Yep.

    Does that strike you as problematic?

    Klasie (48). See comment 49. I forgot to label it.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    eff,

    You are defaulting to presuppositionalism – and you are denying your own project above, namely proving that God exists. Thus my criticism stands – the argument (following your statement at #49) is inadequate.

    Great discussion though!

    Blessings.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klasie. My task above is outlining what I think the best arguments for God belief are. I personally do not think any of them decisive. But I do like showcasing where materialism leads because I think it cannot escape repugnant conclusions–conclusions worth hoping against and choosing against if the evidence isn’t decisive either way.


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