Carrier and Wanchick debate: Argument from Mind-Brain Dysteleology

In the Carrier-Wanchick debate, Carrier gives an argument for naturalism from the fact that minds are embodied in brains. As part of the setup, he writes:

If BT [Biblical theism] is true, then (a) a brainless mind is possible, (b) God could have imbued humans with one, (c) no mind exists that was not deliberately created or allowed by God, and (d) in choosing what to do or allow, God would have obeyed the same moral code that a majority of Christians obey.

Following this, he argues that, if Biblical theism is true, it would be more likely that we have minds without brains and would be a better state of affairs if we had minds without brains. Since we see the opposite, this is evidence for naturalism and against theism.

Wanchick responds by saying that

AMBD quickly derails itself too, as Carrier claims that God could’ve created us with immaterial “brainless minds” (BMs). This entails that human minds are disembodied in some possible world (PW); consequently, human minds are possibly disembodied in every PW. But if anything can possibly exist disembodied, it is not a material substance, since material substances can’t exist without matter. Therefore, human minds are immaterial substances. But since CN [Carrier naturalism] requires that consciousness arises only from a “complex physical system,” CN is false and theism is bolstered.

Wanchick is making a mistake about the structure and nature of Carrier’s argument. Carrier is arguing that if CN is true, then “consciousness arises only from a ‘complex physical system,’” while Wanchick is interpreting the argument to mean that “consciousness arises only from a ‘complex physical system’” is a necessary truth independent of CN. Likewise, Carrier is not arguing for the logical impossibility of disembodied minds, yet Wanchick takes Carrier’s argument to be self-refuting because Carrier says that, if BT is true, there could be disembodied minds.

The mere logical possibility of minds based in “spiritual substance” rather than matter doesn’t entail that minds are necessarily not material, contrary to Wanchick’s statement that “if anything can possibly exist disembodied, it is not a material substance, since material substances can’t exist without matter.” A building can be made out of a variety of different materials; the fact that it could have been built from wood doesn’t mean that it is therefore not built from bricks. The building is more than the raw materials–it is also dependent upon the particular arrangement of the materials–but this kind of supervenience is not problematic for a physicalist and doesn’t require a supernatural theory of buildings.

Note that Carrier spoke of “brainless minds,” not “disembodied minds.” He doesn’t argue that this distinction makes a difference, but I would argue that the functionality of a mind has to be imbued into some kind of substance (which need not necessarily be a biological brain), and that BT has no account or theory of any kind to offer about what “spiritual substance” is or how minds could be instantiated in it. I’m inclined to the view that talk of “spiritual substance” is nonsense and that the notion of a disembodied mind is, in fact, incoherent, and thus that if BT entails such a thing, that the proper inference is a modus tollens–that BT is therefore false.

For this reason, I don’t particularly care for Carrier’s argument, and would prefer Wanchick’s restatement in terms of Perfect Minds rather than Brainless Minds (or disembodied minds). Wanchick states that God does follow the Golden Rule and would want his creations to have perfect minds, and that “God would do this [create all children with perfect minds].” He then goes on to say that, under the rules of the debate, Carrier cannot use this alternative argument, but he doesn’t say how he would respond to it–it is quite clear that human beings do not have perfect minds, so Wanchick must have some additional explanation for imperfection. I presume he would offer an argument in terms of original sin.

About Jim Lippard
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08888268884113053649 Hiero5ant

    “This entails that human minds are disembodied in some possible world (PW); consequently, human minds are possibly disembodied in every PW. But if anything can possibly exist disembodied, it is not a material substance, since material substances can’t exist without matter. Therefore, human minds are immaterial substances.”

    This is the same argument he made here.

    Can someone help me out on this? It really, really, really, really looks for all the world like he’s arguing

    1) It’s possible that X.
    .:C) It’s necessary that X.

    Is his argument as breathtakingly asinine as it sounds? Can anyone, sympathetic or otherwise, explain any possible interpretation of his argument that isn’t as nakedly fallacious?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    Thanks for the reference–that is indeed the same argument, with both sides going into more detail about their positions.

    Wanchick is apparently an essentialist, believing that what makes something an X is having a set of essential properties that make it an X, with other properties being accidental. He believes that Carrier is arguing that minds are essentially material, on the one hand (though it seems clear to me that Carrier does not hold this position), and, on the other, holding that since there could be a possible world in which (it is logically possible that) minds are disembodied, that minds are not essentially material. That’s what he sees as a contradiction in Carrier’s position.

    Carrier, however, is maintaining that it is a particular pattern (or, perhaps more clearly, a particular structure of components that causally interact in the right way) which makes minds. So long as the substance(s) in which a mind is instantiated have the appropriate causal/functional relationships, you’ve got that mind.

    Wanchick isn’t arguing from “it is possible that X” to “it is necessary that X”–rather, he’s arguing from “it is possible that not-X” to “it is NOT necessary that X.” He’s using that argument form where X is “minds are material.” His mistake is that Carrier is not arguing that minds are essentially (and necessarily, logically) material.

    If you read the metal vs. cheese stop sign analogy in the discussion you cite, Wanchick errs when he says that “The materials are essential to the respective stop signs.” What makes a stop sign a stop sign is not the material it is made out of, that is an accidental property.

    Now, what Wanchick may want to argue is that what makes a stop sign *a particular* stop sign *does* include what it’s made of, and any other composition would not be *that* stop sign. That’s an argument about numerical identity vs. qualitative identity (with minds, add personal identity to the list). Carrier could agree or disagree that a *particular* instantiated mind is not numerically identical to the same pattern instantiated in a different substance. If he disagreed, he’d say that, although there may be a possible world with disembodied minds, *we* could not be disembodied minds. If he agreed, he’d say that we could be disembodied minds (or instantiated into different substances), and could maintain that hypothesized mechanisms such as “uploading” or transhuman transformation into cyborgs or machines could occur while preserving our personal identity. This ties into the question of how personal identity is maintained over time (which you saw came up in the thread you referred to).

    I think the issue here is not that Wanchick has made an asinine argument, but that Carrier and Wanchick (neither of whom is a philosopher) have not engaged each others’ arguments at a sufficient philosophical depth to recognize and communicate about the underlying issues of essentialism and identity that produce their disagreement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    Overnight, it occurred to me that I left out an important notion of identity relevant to this discussion–trans-world identity. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my copy of John Pollock’s _Foundations of Philosophical Semantics_ book which was the basis of the course I took in philosophical logic about 15 years ago, but if there’s a professional philosopher reading this who is well-versed in the subject, I’m sure they could quickly point out more specifically than I did in my previous comment the nature of the disagreement here between Carrier and Wanchick.

    I do still have my copy of David Lewis’ _On the Plurality of Worlds_; it could be that Wanchick is assuming a view called haecceitism (that there is an underlying *thisness* associated with a single individual across possible worlds, a position endorsed by Plantinga) while Carrier is an anti-haecceitist (a position Lewis argues for in his book and which seems more plausible to me, though I am not an advocate of Lewis’ overall view about possible worlds).

    Haecceitism has to deal with issues like, in a possible world in which I had a twin (given how twins come into existence in 1% of pregnancies, it’s not difficult to see how the egg cell that became me could have fissioned into twins), which twin is me in that possible world?

    Lewis offers an alternative in terms of counterparts (similar in some respects to Nozick’s “closest continuer” notion of personal identity that he defends in his book _Philosophical Explanations_)–there is no saying that a particular person in a possible world is numerically identical to me, rather, there may or may not be a *counterpart* to me that is qualitatively similar enough.

    I know that Pollock discussed these issues in his book, but I am afraid I do not remember the details of his position except that he advocated a possible world semantics based on maximal possible states of affairs.

    The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy on Actualism hits on the topic of haecceities and Plantinga’s account of trans-world identity:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/

    The parts of the entry most relevant to this subject are actual in separate supplementary documents, such as this entry on Plantinga’s notion of an individual essence:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/individual-essence.html

    This one on background assumptions for Plantinga’s account:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/Plantinga-background.html

    And this one on problems with actualism (this link goes directly to the section on problems with Plantinga’s notion of individual essences or haecceities):
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/actualist-problems.html#IndivEssences

    This is probably the sort of philosophy that drives Taner up the wall…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    I must apologize for the surplus of comments here, but I think I’ve overanalyzed in my previous comment–the stop sign example shows that Wanchick is mistaken on *any* of these views. *Even if* he’s taking a Plantinga-style view of trans-world identity, the composition of a particular stop sign at the end of my road in some other possible world (being cheese) vs. the actual world (being metal) is *not* the haecceity or essence of the stop sign. Being made of material substance is not the haecceity or essence of a particular human (for either Wanchick or Carrier). So all of the underlying issues of my last comment should drop out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08888268884113053649 Hiero5ant

    I had considered that there might be some trans-world deontic hullaballoo going on, but that theory is not supported by the text of the debate. The situation really does seem to be an eminently simple one.

    Carrier’s argument for mind-brain dependency is, in a nutshell, “Here is lots and lots and lots of evidence that human minds are embodied. However, being fallible, I could be wrong.” Wanchick’s response is to ignore the evidence and desperately grasp at “I could be wrong” by saying “You admit it’s possible that you’re wrong, therefore you are actually wrong.” It really is simple casuistry designed to dismiss a century of empirical science through a handwave; all this talk about “possible worlds” is a distraction from Carrier’s evidential argument.

    “X is possible in every possible world” is a pleonasm. Actualism, scmactualism; no one with any particular theory of deontic semantics would say something like this as part of a serious modal argument. But the point is that even if Wanchick’s quoted argument wasn’t such a forehead-slappingly bad one, it would still be an evasion because Carrier is making an evidential argument, not a conceptual one. This is understandable, given that contemporary apologetics has an absolute allergy to evidence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02676321490856223383 ts

    “Carrier and Wanchick (neither of whom is a philosopher)”

    Uh, wrong, Carrier has a formal education in philosophy and, given your tortured and point-missing arguments here, is a far more competent philosopher than you are.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02676321490856223383 ts

    “AMBD quickly derails itself too, as Carrier claims that God could’ve created us with immaterial “brainless minds” (BMs). This entails that human minds are disembodied in some possible world (PW);”

    The stunning stupidity of this argument is that Carrier’s claim only holds on the assumption of Wanchick’s worldview, BT. Carrier simply pointed out that the BT God has a brainless mind, therefore brainless minds are possible under BT, and therefore God could have given us brainless minds under BT. Carrier certainly didn’t make an argument from which it follows that we actually have disembodied minds.

    “consequently, human minds are possibly disembodied in every PW. But if anything can possibly exist disembodied, it is not a material substance, since material substances can’t exist without matter. Therefore, human minds are immaterial substances.”

    This is obviously fallacious, since it doesn’t follow from the fact that something is material that it is necessarily material, or that something that isn’t material necessarily isn’t material. For instance, a computer algorithm can exist in a concrete form in an actual computer, or it can be an abstraction.

    But if Wanchick’s argument were valid, then it would follow from the overwhelming evidence of the material nature of human minds that Carrier pointed out, that the BT God could not exist, because the BT God (as defined by Wanchick) has an immaterial mind. Wanchick manages to get everything quite backwards, failing to rebut Carrier’s argument and instead offering a (fallacious) rebuttal of his own position.

    “But since CN [Carrier naturalism] requires that consciousness arises only from a “complex physical system,” CN is false and theism is bolstered.”

    Uh, CN is false if BT is true; it was only on the assumption that BT is true that “Carrier claims that God could’ve created us with immaterial ‘brainless minds’”. Wanchick is utterly clueless.


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