Matt’s Human Morality

Matt Dillhunty (president of the Atheist Community of Austin, co-host of “Non-Prophets Radio“, and “The Atheist Experience”) recently debated Father Hans Jacobse (an Antiochian Orthodox Priest) at The University of Maryland on 16th November.  Full video of the event can be found here (although only 6 of the 9 videos have been posted online as this article is published).

As I watched this highly anticipated debate numerous counter points came to mind, and while I am sure Matt would have done a fine job of addressing them all given sufficient time, and the comment section of the Atheist Experience web site is running amok, I thought it might be beneficial to raise them here.

I will not be addressing Matt’s points because, well, I have nothing to add to them, nor can I find any items of disagreement.  I suppose that means he “must be right” (to get that joke, you might have to listen to our interview with Matt earlier this year).

So on to Father Hans Jacobse’s commentary.  What follows are direct quotes made by Father Jacobse during the debate.  I hope they are accurate and maintain the context well enough to avoid being accused of straw mans, misquoting, and taken things “out of context” – but I suspect these thing will happen anyway.

The following quotes all come from the following video:

1:00 “Atheism properly understood allows for no objective existence of anything non material – not made from matter. Philosophical materialism is the philosophical ground of atheism.” – Father Hans Jacobse

So right out of the blocks Hans is operating under a false definition of atheism.  Atheism is the skeptical response to theistic propositions – we do not accept the claims a god exists due to insufficient or inadequate evidence.  This does not exclude the possibility of ethereal realms beyond the physical, although evidence for these also seem to be lacking.  All atheists I have ever spoken to are methodological (not philosophical) materialism.

1:58 “I would argue as an historian that atheism cannot exist except in a Christian society.” – Father Hans Jacobse

This statement is in stark contrast to clear instructions within the Bible, the history of the Christian Church, and the mere fact people all across the globe reject the notions of gods.  I guess Christians ignore passages like this:

“If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.  Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you.  You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst.” - (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

However, historically the Catholic Church (the only Christian faith worth speaking of for centuries) presided over inquisition to uncover and punish heretics.  By coincidence, Jerry Coyne (author of the fabulous book “Why Evolution is True”) posted a few of the torture devices used during the Inquisition in Cartagena, which lasted just over 200 years.

It seems for the best part of 2,000 years Christianity suppressed disbelief through a system of ruthless torture and fear.

2:14 “Does atheism acknowledge the independent existence of the transcendent?” – Father Hans Jacobse

Atheism itself says nothing about the transcendent.  In fact, it says nothing about anything other than “I do not believe your god claims are valid.”  If you want to convince skeptical people of your claims, then the burden of proof is yours to meet.  In the 200 decades since Jesus walked the Earth our religious organisations have routinely failed to meet this challenge.

5:00 “From the view that one holds to transcendent causes then, which would be me, and in my case the God of Abraham within he framework of Orthodox Christianity, that a definition of reality cannot be reduced to matter alone.  That matter is not the source of what defines and shapes our ideas of meaning, aesthetics, justice, and so forth.” – Father Hans Jacobse

Hans is making an interesting claim here, but it’s pointless without evidence to back it up.  I assume he might consider meaning, aesthetics, and justice evidence of the transcendent without realising the circular logic in which he finds himself.  Nevertheless, I believe we can build systems of meaning, aesthetics, justice without appealing to the transcendent.  All that is required are conscious beings capable of making value judgements – and don’t forget, there seems to be no reason to suggest consciousness is not simply an emergent property of the brain.

5:53 “They [atheists] get offended when I state that their moral views are derived from the categories and grammar of the Christian moral tradition.  And necessarily so because Christianity has shaped what we know of Western culture.” – Father Hans Jacobse

I will ignore the killing of heretics, atheists, non-believers, witches, and other enemies of the Church to concentrate of slavery for a moment.  The Bible is clear on the issue of slavery.  It informs you how much you should pay for them, how to properly beat them and what to do should they die from said beatings, how to pass them on to descendants, etc.  These passages were used to support the vile trade in human ownership and suffering, even as Martin Luther King delivered his iconic speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.  Sure King used Biblical passages to support his anti-slavery stance, but what good is the “good book” if it can be used to support both sides?  It seems moral views on slavery (and many other issues) are brought to the book, rather than arise out of it.

6:12 “If an atheist says (for example) that ‘killing is wrong’ that he is not drawing from the first principles of his philosophy – he is borrowing from the precepts first delivered in the texts of Christian scripture.” – Father Hans Jacobse

Like this one?

“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” Jesus, Luke 19:27

Moving on…

6:20 “The narrative of Moses descending from the Mount, which indicates to us that precept, although it is given to us through the mouth of Moses … has a source and origin in the God of Moses. Which is to say it has a transcendent source of origin, something beyond molecules that made of Moses, or even the molecules of the texts that gives us the story.”  – Father Hans Jacobse

I am having trouble distilling Father Jacobse’s logic here.  I am unable to discern a method to tell “transcendently inspired” speech from the mouths of individuals from simply the minds of individuals.  How could we possibly separate these two groups apart?

Moreover, texts are made of matter and words are produced by physical voice boxes vibrating physical molecules in the air, which wind up vibrating the surface of the receivers ear drum to be converted into bio-electric nerve signals to be interpreted by the matrix of neurones within the brain.  Where is the transcendent in this equation?

6:58 “One could also argue that non-Christian cultures also recognised that killing was wrong, and I would agree with this point.  There is no disputing that, but there is not that Christianity has an exclusive claim on moral truths (they don’t), but that other religions still recognise what I consider an elementary fact of the universe – man cannot live by bread alone, which is to say that man is more than the molecules which shape his body.” – Father Hans Jacobse

This is simply a bald faced assertion for which the good Father has provided no evidence whatsoever.  As Christopher Hitchens said in his great book “God is NOT Great”:

“That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” – Christopher Hitchens

Back to Father Hans Jacobse:

7:50 “I believe that truth is a category of existence – a transcendent category of existence.  That is to say that truth exists independent of any comprehension that I may have of it.” – Father Hans Jacobse

Strangely, I find myself ending part one of this dissection kind of agreeing with Father Jacobse.  Truth, if defined as the “true” nature of reality (including any transcendent parts) exists regardless of our awareness, comprehension, or understanding of it.  There are truths regarding reality we have not yet uncovered, and there may well be believes we current hold as true which will ultimately resolve to the utterly false.  The key point is how we should go about discerning what this truth really is.

On one hand we have empirical study, observation, logic, deduction, correlation, causation, and the verification of predictive models.  On the other we have the transcendent word revealed.  I know which one I am backing.

Continue to part 2.

Posted November 19, 2010
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  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

    I was only able to watch the opening speeches yesterday – both had interesting points, and points I would take issue with.. and I certainly don't want to rehash old debates with you, Andrew. However, your post here just makes me have the same response as this. I mean, your use (application) here of the parable of the minas in Luke 19 is an appalling piece of eisegesis of which the likes of Westboro would be proud to have undertaken.. No doubt you will disagree.

  • Andrew

    Andrew F. — I guess my question for your biblical hermeneutic would be the same I'd have for Fr. Jacobse: how would you convince other Christians that *their* interpretive framework is wrong and yours is correct?

    • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

      Well.. first let me say what my hermeneutical framework is.

      It begins with recognising that the bible is a collection of documents that encompass a wide range of genres, cultures and chronology, yet all are part of a 'big picture' meta-narrative: a progressive revelation of God's plan of redemption. This is very important, and too many mistakes are made by simply ignoring the genre and the kind of literary devices used (e.g. the contemporary American 'Left Behind' fad which simply fails to recognise that Revelation is the ancient genre of Apocolyptic literature which utilises symbolism – take it literally when the author never intended it to be taken so, and you get all kinds of wackiness). There is a difference between a narrative, a poem and an instruction (many mistakes are made when a narrative is wrongly assumed to be instruction). I should note that to recognise that an author is not being literal is not to say that it's not true. When I say that my wife is a rose, I do not mean it literally, that she is a plant – I'm using non-literal language to convey some truth (e.g that's she is very beautiful etc.). We're also not at liberty to simply pick and choose which bits we take literally – we must let the text and the intentions of the author (which are generally apparent) guide that. A further, very important consideration is the context – the immediate and wider textual context (which includes the previous point of recognising genre), things like recognising where a text comes in the flow of thought and in the wider writing of the author (e.g. some writers develop themes and ideas as they go along. See here for an example of the recent Project Reason [sic] infogram that confuses different counsel for different situations as a contradiction – the result of failing to take the context into account) as well as cultural and historical contexts, and also the broader meta-narrative and eschatological contexts. Perhaps the biggest key to the way Christians read the bible (and this is almost always ignored or forgotten when people start quoting OT laws etc.) is that Jesus is the central point of the redemptive meta-narrative, and he himself claimed to be the fulfilment and the whole point of the old testament. That means a Christian should never read the OT without asking how it points to Jesus, and how Jesus has fulfilled it – because that is how Jesus and the Apostles (who were Jewish) treated the OT.

      Basically, what this means, is that when one comes to a biblical text, by thinking through these things, we are asking what the author intended us to take – not simply what does it say, but what does it mean (the oft heard 'says what it means and means what it says' approach ignores, in particular, the genre and literary aspects of texts).

      So then to answer your question, I would argue that my framework best seeks to discover the thoughts of the writer by taking the literary considerations seriously.

      On that point, I recall Andrew Skegg (surely you've got your quota of Andrews here now?) once saying to me that there's no need to take the literature seriously if there's no God – to which I countered that if he doesn't think there's a god, and thus a reason to take the literature seriously, he shouldn't presume to interpret it and tell me what it means. I recall that he agreed – but it appears he either forgot, or I am mistaken in my recollection… ;)

      • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

        Whose says I am taking the fairy tales of the Bible seriously? However, they do have serious repercussions.

        • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

          Whose says I am taking the fairy tales of the Bible seriously?

          Certainly I didn't. Indeed, I implied that you aren't taking the literature (genre etc.) seriously. Your statement here about 'fairy tales' only serves to confirm that.
          (I agree that faulty interpretations can have serious repercussions btw. – an example of which is your wrongful taking of the words of a character in a parable about using talent and money wisely and implying that they are some universal moral 'precept' or instruction made by Jesus.)
          To take the literature seriously is not to say that you must accept as true what the author is saying, it just means you must actually seek to understand what they are saying via taking the literary considerations into account.

          If you don't want to the take the literature seriously, fine – just don't expect me to take your interpretation and claims about the text seriously.

          • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

            I only take the literature slightly seriously because others do and whenever they claim to be Christian I am forced to deal with the text. However, personally I would only see value in the text if it was demonstrated that it was the word of God and this entails demonstrating the existence of God… and we arrive at my usual question of 'so what?' BTW no circular reasoning allowed.

            Would you say with your approach to reading the biblical literature there are no contradictions? Are you also saying the bible is in fact a work of man only and not God? You certainly don't mention God much in your post.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            However, personally I would only see value in the text if it was demonstrated that it was the word of God …

            I don't think taking the literature seriously relies on valuing it.

            Would you say with your approach to reading the biblical literature there are no contradictions?

            I don't think my hermeneutical approach means that there cannot be contradictions, but I do think it allows us to examine alleged contradictions more fully. (remember there is a difference between apparent and actual contradictions – if it can be resolved, it's not actual). I personally do not recall seeing any actual contradictions (though I have not looked at the entire list in the recent infogram; the handful that I have looked at from that betrayed a severe lack of literary understanding, and you don't need to drink the whole bottle to know that it's vinegar! I'm not sure if you've seen the infogram of the 630000 cross references in the bible, on which I suspect the contradictions one was inspired?)

            Are you also saying the bible is in fact a work of man only and not God?

            No, I do believe the bible is the inspired word of God – but note that I didn't say 'words' of God. The doctrine of biblical inspiration has, afaik, understood God to have spoken using the style and personality of human writers. My post was pointing out the importance of understanding what these writers mean – that is the same whether you believe they were inspired by God or not. You don't need to hold to inspiration or inerrancy to take the literature seriously as I described above.

          • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

            Returning to whether an atheist should attempt to interpret the meaning of the text, why not? If one is to engage a Christian honestly on the grounds of their faith how could they not do so by attempting to understand the messages of the bible? However, if the bible is meant to be the message of salvation from God shouldn't it be perceivable by those who do not believe? You don't broadcast propaganda in a language, form and context the targets don't understand or is this actually how the Christian God works?

            Forgive me (irony lol) but it all seems rather feeble for the Christian God to operate this way.

            (Has the post limit changed? Seems awfully short)

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Returning to whether an atheist should attempt to interpret the meaning of the text, why not? If one is to engage a Christian honestly on the grounds of their faith how could they not do so by attempting to understand the messages of the bible?

            Well I didn't say an atheist shouldn't attempt to interpret meaning of a text. I said they shouldn't if they're not willing to take the literature seriously (which is not the same as accepting the truth of what it says). The problem I find is that too many atheists (or perhaps more fairly, anti-theists) don't actually try to understand the message of the bible – they misunderstand it via faulty hermeneutics and assumptions etc.

            However, if the bible is meant to be the message of salvation from God shouldn't it be perceivable by those who do not believe? You don't broadcast propaganda in a language, form and context the targets don't understand or is this actually how the Christian God works?

            I don't think it's propaganda, I think it's meta-narrative. And I would suggest that we can (and many of us do) understand it. Obviously, there are some parts which are more difficult than others, due to things like cultural and literary shifts etc.

          • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

            I don't think it's propaganda, I think it's meta-narrative. And I would suggest that we can (and many of us do) understand it. Obviously, there are some parts which are more difficult than others, due to things like cultural and literary shifts etc.

            You missed the point, it still seems feeble to me.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Wasn't your point that it's difficult to perceive? I disagree that it is. It seems feeble to you.. ok. It doesn't to me.

            Of course, Hebrew and Greek were not languages the original readers didn't understand. And thanks to the proficiency of modern translation, and historical research, it's not beyond our reach either. Perhaps God has a higher view of the human intelligence than we do. In any case, billions of people over the last couple of millennia, of all different cultures and languages have not found too much problem in understanding the message.

  • cafeeine

    Andrew, small quibble, as I haven't even read the post yet, but Matt's a technically co-host in Non-Prophets (ironically so, since its hosted at his house)

    • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

      Thanks. Fixed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

    I'm curious Askegg, how would you define consciousness or concepts entertained by consciousness in terms of methodoligical naturalism. You mention it once here as an emergent property of the brain and we only have evidence a material brain is required to produce consciousness but this doesn't avoid the classification issue – is it material (matter and energy) or immaterial (not matter or energy) in its property?

    To me I'd say such things are not material but nonetheless a evidence-based component of reality. To me (and I think Matt Dillahunty, althought I haven't watched the videos yet but I recall him saying something akin to this in discussing the TAG debate he had) would describe such things as transcendent. However, I doubt my notion of transcendent is equivalent to Father Hans Jacobse’s, to me concepts and consciousness transcend matter and energy (emerge as a property if you will) but are not strictly matter and energy.

    • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

      To me, consciousness is the self actualising representations of purely naturalistic brain chemistry (is that word salad?). Our brains are an enormous array of interacting neurones within which we develop concepts of self and other models of reality. We certainly have a sense we are somehow separate from the confines our our cranium, so in this manner you might say it is "transcendent", but I do not hold it is somehow immaterial. Every indication we have shows the consciousness is affected by physical damage, chemical interactions, electrical impulses, and even magnetism (the "god helmet" is an interesting example of this).

      To your last point – consciousness is stored (if you will) as a pattern in a physical object (the brain) in a similar manner to computer code being stored as magnetic states on a hard drive platter, or as bio-electrical impulses in a brain. I do not believe you can separate one from the other any more than smashing a computer retains transcendent software.

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

        Every indication we have shows the consciousness is affected by physical damage, chemical interactions, electrical impulses, and even magnetism

        But that is not to say that it is 'only' physical, is it? I don't see how being connected to and 'emergent' from a physical process automatically means that it can be reduced 'only' to that.
        Do you hold to Dennet's position which I understand he put forward in "Consciousness Explained" (or, according to Ward, as most philosophers call it 'Consciousness explained away' :p) – that conscious states are 'nothing more than ' brain states and brain-behaviour?
        If so, what do you make of the point that we could very easily have brain-states and behaviour without any conscious states?

        • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

          I did not say consciousness is "only" physical, I said "every indication shows". You are quite entitled to believe consciousness is a "spirit" interacting with a physical brain, but until you can demonstrate how to tell this model apart from "merely a physical brain" then I see no reason to add this "spirit" component. Occam's razor does away with this superfluous element.

          As a side note, if you maintain this one brain/one spirit model, then you must account for split brain cases where one half of the brain is theist, the other atheist ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFJPtVRlI64 ). Are there two souls in the body? Should we perform a exorcism to get rid of one?

          Yes, I agree with Dennet (although I have not read that book). A brain is a requirement for a consciousness, but does not guarantee one.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            I did not say consciousness is "only" physical

            No, but it's pretty clear from what you write, that this is your view. Indeed, you go on to say that you agree with Dennett's view. Your wielding of Occam's razor here against 'superfluous' elements both demonstrates this, and is begging the question.

            I proffered no such spirit/brain model, I simply point out what I see as the inadequacy of your and Dennett's reductionism here. I recognise that there is an enormous amount we simply do not know about consciousness, and while I acknowledge that it is certainly connected to ad influenced by the physical brain, the fact that you can have a brain without consciousness (as you acknowledge) indicates that there is something more to the equation, otherwise, why doesn't a brain guarantee consciousness?. Also, whatever one wishes to make of reports of NDEs, (even if we don't accept the 'out of body' bit) we have to recognise that whatever happened, it is a form of consciousness, and this has been aeged to take place in cases where there patient was clinically brain dead – at the very least, that raises questions.

            Further, I find the reductionist view you appear to support ultimately very deterministic – decisions and will are ultimately an illusion, and nothing but chemical reactions – 'dancing to DNA' and all that.

            The video was interesting, though it seems strange that he would assume that a split brain = two brains. Rather, it would simply be two half brains, and we know that different halves have different functions. It seems reasonable enough that a split personality / consciousness would exhibit different traits with no sense of cohesion. But I'm of course no neurologist.. interesting to note, though, that he concedes his research didn't send shockwaves – I wonder what other neurologists make of it.

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            “No, but it's pretty clear from what you write, that this is your view.”

            It sure is, but I remain open to the idea of souls, spirits, or some other transcendental entities. All you need to do is demonstrate such things.

            “Your wielding of Occam's razor here against 'superfluous' elements both demonstrates this, and is begging the question.”

            Or I could be like you and make simple bald faced assertions then accuse anyone of asking for evidence of “being biased and adhering to materialistic dogmas”.

            “I recognise that there is an enormous amount we simply do not know about consciousness…”

            So you’re also proposing an argument from ignorance.

            “… the fact that you can have a brain without consciousness (as you acknowledge) indicates that there is something more to the equation. Otherwise, why doesn't a brain guarantee consciousness?”

            No, it indicates a brain in necessary but not a guarantee. A Ferrari is a car, but not all cars have the same capacities.

            “Also, whatever one wishes to make of reports of NDEs..”

            What of them?

            “… whatever happened, it is a form of consciousness…”

            And all experiences still occur within the brain. Where’s the problem?

            “Further, I find the reductionist view you appear to support ultimately very deterministic – decisions and will are ultimately an illusion, and nothing but chemical reactions – 'dancing to DNA' and all that.”

            Those are the implications. So what? Your aversion to the them does not make them untrue. This is an argument from consequences.

            “It seems reasonable enough that a split personality / consciousness would exhibit different traits with no sense of cohesion.”

            Are you forgetting how the soul fits in here? Does the soul believe in a god or not? Surely if the patient had one soul, then both halves of the brain would essentially believe similar notions?

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            It sure is

            Then why make such a fuss that you didn't say that?

            All you need to do is demonstrate such things.

            Yes, and we've been down this path many a times, and we both know that despite your numerous objections, in practical terms you mean empirical / material demonstration (or something that is exactly like that, whatever that means!). I've no desire to get caught up in your circular web of trying to prove the non-material via a material methodology. ;)
            Besides, seeing as I'm not actually 'proposing' anything apart from why I don't buy your reductionism (and I have explained why) I don't see that this is relevant.

            Or I could be like you and make simple bald faced assertions then accuse anyone of asking for evidence of “being biased and adhering to materialistic dogmas”.

            I again, I'm not making any assertions, I'm questioning your reductionism. And if you could provide a link to that quote, I would be grateful.

            So you’re also proposing an argument from ignorance.

            Nope, wrong again – I'm still not proposing an argument.

            No, it indicates a brain in necessary but not a guarantee. A Ferrari is a car, but not all cars have the same capacities.

            I think you're making a poor comparison here.Not all makes and models of cars have the same capacity – but ALL cars, when working, travel. A combustion engine will do what combustion engines do. The point, then, remains: if we have two brains, which are essentially the same stuff, why should one have consciousness and another not? If consciousness were really 'nothing but' brain states, I don't see that there should be any difference between them (yes I realise we are all slightly different in terms of chemical balance etc, but our brains are essentially the same build – the same kind of machine, e.g. car, if you like, even if the make and model is slightly different). Maybe you just don't see a problem here.. ok, fine. (and by 'fine' I mean that I see enough reason to not hold to your reductionism here, but you obviously don't, and I don't have the time or inclination to argue about that further, sorry. At the very least, I hope my questions will cause you to consider the issues they raise rather make you feel cornered to defend a point.)

            And all experiences still occur within the brain. Where’s the problem?

            Except that in many cases, the brain is flat-lining – that's the problem for your claim that 'all experiences still occur within the brain'.

            Those are the implications. So what? Your aversion to the them does not make them untrue. This is an argument from consequences.

            I didn't say it made it untrue. But that does not mean we cannot ask if that explanation really makes sense of our experiences. It also brings to bear on moral issues, such as personal responsibility etc.
            In any case, I only brought it up because I had gathered that you were not a determinist, but maybe you are.

            Are you forgetting how the soul fits in here? Does the soul believe in a god or not? Surely if the patient had one soul, then both halves of the brain would essentially believe similar notions?

            You're the one who brought up souls, so you tell me! I was talking about consciousness.

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            “…we both know that despite your numerous objections, in practical terms you mean empirical / material demonstration…”

            Can you name ANY other endeavour in which you would accept transcendental causes and reasons?

            Hypothetical: I state there are actual real live fairies in my garden. Whn asked to produce evidence for them I simply state you are asking for empirical and material evidence for transcendental beings, but I KNOW they exist because the flowers bloom. This is exactly how I see your argument.

            “… I don't buy your reductionism (and I have explained why) I don't see that this is relevant.”

            Because you don’t believe anything can be built from components. A car is not a car because it is made from car molecules.

            “I think you're making a poor comparison here. Not all makes and models of cars have the same capacity – but ALL cars, when working, travel.”

            And all brains operate the bodies they are in, but only a few can manage 300 kilometres per hour.

            “If we have two brains, which are essentially the same stuff, why should one have consciousness and another not?”

            Because they are essentially the same stuff, but nowhere near the same. A car essentially has four wheels, an engine, and a seat, but they are by no means equally capable. I am surprised you don’t understand this simple distinction.

            “Yes I realise we are all slightly different in terms of chemical balance etc, but our brains are essentially the same build – the same kind of machine…”

            And cars are the same “kind” of machine in that they get you from A to B, but they are certainly not equal.

            “Except that in many cases, the brain is flat-lining …”

            Are you assuming NDE’s actually occur during flat line brain function? How do you know this?

            “I only brought it up because I had gathered that you were not a determinist, but maybe you are.”

            I am, but we shall save that for another time.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Your fairies comparison is completely specious. I'm not arguing for transcendental causes – I'm arguing that human consciousness cannot necessarily be reduced 'only' to chemicals within the brain. Sadly you've just demonstrated by that statement that you have a very distorted view of my argument.

            Because you don’t believe anything can be built from components. A car is not a car because it is made from car molecules.

            When did I say that?

            Regarding your comments about vehicular capability – I do understand what you're saying, it's just that I think you're comparing apples and oranges. (your distinction may well be 'simple' but it's a flawed comparison). If the question was about why some minds are 'smarter' than others, then your comparison might be apt. But I'm not talking about how fast the car gets from point A to B, but that it has the ability to do the 'getting' in the first place. It doesn't matter if you have a Ferrari or a VW, if the crank shaft is connected to the piston(s) etc. then it will move – how fast is irrelevant.

            So my question remains – if we have two brains that you agree are basically the same stuff (in the same way that a VW and a Ferrari are basically the same thing – chassis, engine, wheels, with different capacities but same essential ability) then why can one 'go' and the other not? Why does one brain have the 'ability' and the other not? (again, nothing to do with the speed at which they 'go'). If you have a chassis, engine, wheels and the crank shaft to connect it all – it will 'go'. So then why doesn't a brain 'guarantee' consciousness?

            In fact, the real problem is that I don't think there really is anything analogous to consciousness – apart from the fact that there is still so much we don't know about how it works, and to what extent it's emergence is connected to the brain etc.

            The question is, then, why doesn't a brain guarantee consciousness? What is the difference between a brain that gives consciousness and one that doesn't? If it is reducible to the brain ('capacity' for 'speed' is irrelevant as I showed), why doesn't a brain always give us consciousness? To say it doesn't guarantee it seems to betray the point that there's something else in the mix regarding consciousness, which isn't necessarily reducible to physics and chemistry.

            Are you assuming NDE’s actually occur during flat line brain function? How do you know this?

            There's plenty of accounts of people have NDEs and OBEs while clinically dead, with no brain activity.
            See here & here. (I'm not saying I necessarily accept that they are actual out-of-body experiences, I'm merely pointing out the difficulty such apparent consciousness – memories made while lacking brain activity – raises for your position).

            I suppose, assuming you don't just dismiss it out of hand, that you might argue that there is brain activity, the machines just didn't pick it up – possible, but pretty much a circular argument until you can show otherwise. I think, though, that it's reason to question reductionist assumptions – combined with the fact that, as I've said, there is so much we don't know about consciousness and how it works and how it emerges from the brain etc.

            I am, but we shall save that for another time.

            How interesting – I must have misread the motivation for your previous comments about wishing to write about determinism (if I recall correctly, it was in relation to Calvinistic theology?). When you get around to writing about it, I'd be most interested to see how you justify personal moral responsibility and justice within a deterministic framework (if indeed you do!).

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            “I'm arguing that human consciousness cannot necessarily be reduced 'only' to chemicals within the brain.”

            Right, which means it’s something that is not made from chemicals, and given everything in our experience is based on these substances you must be positing something non-physical. Hence, my fairies comparison is accurate.

            “If the question was about why some minds are 'smarter' than others, then your comparison might be apt.”

            Not all animals are “smart”, and many of them seem to fail both our innate sense of and the best objective scientific tests we have to determine consciousness.

            “It doesn't matter if you have a Ferrari or a VW, if the crank shaft is connected to the piston(s) etc. then it will move – how fast is irrelevant.”

            No analogy is perfect, however it is sufficient to point out some brains seem to be capable of things others are not – just like cars.

            “Why does one brain have the 'ability' and the other not?”

            Because not all animal brains ARE the same. Seriously, it’s not that difficult.

            “So then why doesn't a brain 'guarantee' consciousness?”

            Because it seem many animals do not seem to have one. Here’s a simple question for you (although the details are murky and I am sure you will leap all over it) – where does your consciousness go when you are in a deep sleep? Not dreaming, not half awake; truly deeply asleep. Do you have any thoughts? Any sense of self? It seems the process of consciousness largely collapses while we are asleep.

            “The question is, then, why doesn't a brain guarantee consciousness? What is the difference between a brain that gives consciousness and one that doesn't?”

            Very good questions. How do you propose we go about answering them?

            “If it is reducible to the brain ('capacity' for 'speed' is irrelevant as I showed)…”

            You mention this a number of times – I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what I am saying. When I mentioned speed I was not referring to the processing speed of a brain. I am not proposing all animals have the same brains with different CPU speeds. I was merely pointing out that some brains seem to have abilities that others lack.

            “Why doesn't a brain always give us consciousness?”

            Already answered.

            “To say it doesn't guarantee it seems to betray the point that there's something else in the mix regarding consciousness, which isn't necessarily reducible to physics and chemistry.”

            This is analogous to saying “there must be something about a Ferrari beyond wheels, seats, and an engine because it can travel over 300 km/h, while other cars cannot.” It’s not these differences which are important in this case, it’s how the already existing properties are employed. If anything must be added, why must it be “non chemical”? Do I need to add “non chemical” components to my computer to give it the ability to transform trillions of polygons per second?

            “There's plenty of accounts of people have NDEs and OBEs while clinically dead, with no brain activity.”

            I see you misunderstood again. Show these people experienced these things *while* having no brain activity. It seems quite possible they experience them as the brain is shutting down, or starting back up again.

            “… as I've said, there is so much we don't know about consciousness and how it works and how it emerges from the brain etc.”

            This does not mean we get to make up any old crap to explain things. Why not simply say “I don’t know”?

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            I see the problem is that you've misunderstood and are thinking in terms of animal brains (and which non-conscious animals with brains are you referring to anyway?), I am thinking in terms of human brains – perhaps that was not clear. Perhaps you could answer the the 'why' question in that context?

            You also seem to still be under the mistaken assumption that I'm proposing or explaining something ('making up crap' as you put it) when I am not.

            Indeed, what makes a Ferrari a Ferrari and not a Toyota is, I would suggest, somewhat meta-physical – no amount of physics and chemistry can tell you it's a Ferrari designed by Pinaforina – you need more information to get that. But that's a tangent.

            which means it’s something that is not made from chemicals,

            No – I said not reducible 'only' to chemicals. A building is made from bricks and mortar but it is not 'only' bricks and mortar, and not all bricks and mortar are a building.

            where does your consciousness go when you are in a deep sleep? Not dreaming, not half awake; truly deeply asleep. Do you have any thoughts? Any sense of self? It seems the process of consciousness largely collapses while we are asleep.

            How do you know you're in a deep sleep if you're completely unaware of it? Are you referring to REM sleep? The brain certainly doesn't stop activity during sleep, and we remember very little of what we dream about. In fact, that we don't remember something is not to say that we were never conscious. I agree, it's all too murky, which is why I think you jump to reductionist conclusions all too soon.

            If anything must be added, why must it be “non chemical”? Do I need to add “non chemical” components to my computer to give it the ability to transform trillions of polygons per second?

            Again, I'm only talking about human brains – so why might one, with basically the same chemical structure have consciousness and another not? And last I checked – computers don't have consciousness – so the physics and chemicals of a computer don't give rise to consciousness there.

            The basic problem remains that while human consciousness arises out of human brains, it does not appear to do so necessarily, nor do we even really know much about how it does. We know that changes in brain state can effect consciousness, but I think it is altogether far too premature to reduce it 'only' to chemistry. No doubt you don't share that view. Fine. There's no imperative for us to agree.

            But then.. it's 'only' the chemicals in your brain determining that you'll have such a conclusions, and the chemicals in mine determining that I'll have this one, right? :P (sorry, couldn't resist.. but then, you did lower the tone by talking about fairies)

          • askegg

            “I see the problem is that you've misunderstood and are thinking in terms of animal brains (and which non-conscious animals with brains are you referring to anyway?)…”

            I am not misunderstood myself, it is you who has misunderstood me. Don not assume that all brains are human – this is a mistake. I am hesitant to answer this question since it opens up another can of worms regarding the entity we call “self” and how we determine if other beings have this sense or not. Suffice to say that I can reasonably inductively conclude other humans have similar experiences to my own, but I am not convinced this can be extended to all animals with brains. Perhaps I will expand on this in a future post.

            “You also seem to still be under the mistaken assumption that I'm proposing or explaining something …”

            You seem to be proposing consciousness does not reduce down to “just” chemical reactions within the brain. Is this not a proposition?

            “Indeed, what makes a Ferrari a Ferrari and not a Toyota is, I would suggest, somewhat meta-physical…”

            Metaphysics has nothing to do with it. Both entities are purely physical forms which share a sufficient number of characteristics which allows us to label them “cars”. Moreover, these “cars” are capable of performing different tasks due to their inherent different physical constructions. Just as a Ferrari can reach speeds of 300 kph, it cannot traverse bush tracks as capably as a Land Rover. In the same manner, different brains have different abilities.

            “A building is made from bricks and mortar but it is not 'only' bricks and mortar, and not all bricks and mortar are a building.”

            Thank you for proving my point. Just as all bricks do not produce buildings, all brains do not produce consciousness. Have you ever seen a Venn diagram?

            “How do you know you're in a deep sleep if you're completely unaware of it?”

            Bingo! Where does your consciousness go? I would maintain your brain ceases those functions which maintain consciousness while you are in deep sleep, but it does not cease all operation as you imply. (why do you insist on the extremes of thinking?)

            “I agree, it's all too murky, which is why I think you jump to reductionist conclusions all too soon.”

            If you think my reductionist conclusions are premature, then provide evidence against them.

            “If anything must be added, why must it be “non chemical”?

            Because you are stating consciousness does not arise from chemicals. Honesty, this sort of comment make you think you are a very clever troll.

            “Again, I'm only talking about human brains – so why might one, with basically the same chemical structure have consciousness and another not?”

            Because “basically the same chemical structure” and EXACTLY the same chemical structures are not the same thing. It is trivial to effect consciousness with chemicals, drugs, alcohol, medicines, electrical impulses, surgery, injury, and magnetic forces. These are all physical forces affecting a physical (and highly complex) bio-chemical structure.

            “And last I checked – computers don't have consciousness – so the physics and chemicals of a computer don't give rise to consciousness there.”

            What the fuck?! Did I say a computer had a conscious? Not all bricks make buildings, not all physical structures make brains.

            “The basic problem remains that while human consciousness arises out of human brains, it does not appear to do so necessarily, nor do we even really know much about how it does.”

            Not ALL human brains produce consciousness, just as not ALL cars are Ferraris, or ALL bricks part of buildings. However, we DO know that all human consciousness is associated with a human brain. Affect the brain with chemical, electrical, or physical forces and we affect consciousness. Remove the brain and we remove any sign of consciousness. I have not seen a consciousness without an associated brain. Are we getting it yet?

            “We know that changes in brain state can effect consciousness, but I think it is altogether far too premature to reduce it 'only' to chemistry.”

            And once again you totally fail to put forward a competing model. Classic argument from ignorance.

          • Cynskeptical

            Part 1

            Your fairies comparison is completely specious. I'm not arguing for transcendental causes – I'm arguing that human consciousness cannot necessarily be reduced 'only' to chemicals within the brain. Sadly you've just demonstrated by that statement that you have a very distorted view of my argument.

            You can argue all you like that consciousness cannot be necessarily reduced to only chemicals within the brain, however we do not fully 100% understand the brain. It is one of if not the most complex forms that we know of. And until you can fully understand it, then your assertions that something transcendental could be the cause is currently just wishful thinking.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            however we do not fully 100% understand the brain. It is one of if not the most complex forms that we know of. And until you can fully understand it, then your assertions that something transcendental could be the cause is currently just wishful thinking.

            If I was suggesting something 'transcendental' is the cause, your objection would be justified. As it happens, I'm not arguing for a transcendental cause – as I keep saying, I'm arguing that, because of the lack of understanding you cite, that it is too soon (and really a philosophical presumption) to say that consciousness can be reduced 'only' to chemicals in the brain. To use your argument then, ' until you can fully understand it, then your assertions' about material reductionism are just assumptions. Indeed, you seem to agree with this, actually, as further on your write:

            A reductionist argument can only go so far when in relation to how the brain works. Why? Because we simple do now know yet fully how the brain works

            Materialism is not the only school of thought in regards to the philosophy of mind, and the debate still rages, so it would be prudent not to claim victory just yet.

            I think it does matter how fast the car gets from A to B and this would relate to how fast we achieve results when we take actions that require the use of our brains to take out those actions.

            Yes, but that's not the point at hand, which is about being conscious or not – not how well a conscious person achieves certain results.

            Nice to see that you do acknowledge that although I have to wonder how honest you are about it.

            What's the supposed to mean? At what point have I said anything other than that it's complex and there's much we do not know?

            I think here you fail to realise the complexity of being conscious in the first place, that there are certain levels of consciousness and not all consciousness is at the same level. Much like a Ferrari is a car but not all cars are Ferraris. And again this hint toward the assertion that there is something else in the mix seems a little futile in the face of a lack of understanding of the brain and how it really does work.

            Let me use your argument with one slight adjustment, for it sums up what I am actually arguing:

            I think .. you fail to realise the complexity of being conscious in the first place, that there are certain levels of consciousness and not all consciousness is at the same level. .. this assertion that there is nothing else in the mix seems a little futile in the face of a lack of understanding of the brain and how it really does work.

            The point is, materialist reductionism is a philosophical assumption, not a conclusion – for we simply don't know enough about the brain-mind relationship to assert anything of the kind. You're free to hold that assumption, but just recognise that it is a philosophical position.

            And I doubt very much that consciousness emerges from the brain, that is like saying exhaust emerge from the cars exhaust pipe as a result of the inner workings of the engine, however once they emerge, they do not stick around

            Well, yes, of course, if one is a materialist reductionist, they're not going to accept emergentism as they are conflicting views. See that link for some better analogies.
            Personally, I think this view has more merit and is better placed to deal with so-called brain-mind problem

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            As it happens, I'm not arguing for a transcendental cause – as I keep saying, I'm arguing that, because of the lack of understanding you cite, that it is too soon (and really a philosophical presumption) to say that consciousness can be reduced 'only' to chemicals in the brain.

            That’s an argument from ignorance. I did not say we knew everything about the brain (we don’t), or consciousness (we don’t), but that every indication we have suggests consciousness is a result of a physical brain. No brain, no consciousness.

            Materialism is not the only school of thought in regards to the philosophy of mind, and the debate still rages, so it would be prudent not to claim victory just yet.

            When those other philosophies actually have something we can empirically test against reality, I will consider them. Until then, it’s a waste of time – I only care about what is actually true, not what could possibly be true in the mental wonderings of philosophers.

            I think here you fail to realise the complexity of being conscious in the first place…

            Irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Either being conscious is a function of the brain, or something else (not necessarily transcendental according to you) must be added.

            …and again this hint toward the assertion that there is something else in the mix seems a little futile in the face of a lack of understanding of the brain and how it really does work.

            This is what you are saying: “Since we don’t know everything there is to know about the brain and consciousness, there could be something other than ‘mere matter’ involved in the processes of both.” It’s obviously an argument from ignorance.

            Sure, it just may be that something non-material is involved in consciousness, but I will not draw that conclusion until you can actually demonstrate non-material “substances” are really involved. Unlike you, I actually require evidence before holding an idea as true rather than claiming an idea might because it hasn’t been disproved. You seem to fall into these traps with monotonous regularity.

            The point is, materialist reductionism is a philosophical assumption, not a conclusion – for we simply don't know enough about the brain-mind relationship to assert anything of the kind. You're free to hold that assumption, but just recognise that it is a philosophical position.

            It’s not an assumption – it is a deductive conclusion based on the evidence before me.

            And I doubt very much that consciousness emerges from the brain…

            Your doubt has no bearing on the reality of the situation. I guess I can chalk up an argument from incredulity against you as well.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            You seem to be confused as to the difference between the words 'could be' and 'is'. You seem to fall into this trap with 'monotonous regularity'.

            Sure, it just may be that something non-material is involved in consciousness, but I will not draw that conclusion until you can actually demonstrate non-material “substances” are really involved. Unlike you, I actually require evidence before holding an idea as true rather than claiming an idea might because it hasn’t been disproved.

            Sure, it might be that consciousness is 'nothing but' chemicals in the brain, but until you can actually demonstrate that it is 'nothing but' that, I'm not going to make such a conclusion. It is perfectly valid, due to our lack of knowledge in the area, to be remain open to the possibility that it might not be, especially when there are things (which I have previously referred to – the so-called brain-mind problem) which give cause to question such materialist assumptions and /or conclusions. Last I checked, it was bad science to rule out possibilities before all the evidence is in – worse when there is some apparent conflict as is apparent in the mainstream debate.

            And I doubt very much that consciousness emerges from the brain…

            Your doubt has no bearing on the reality of the situation. I guess I can chalk up an argument from incredulity against you as well.

            I didn't say that, @Cynskeptical did. In fact, it seems to show that you're not reading very carefully (which might perhaps explain your failure to comprehend my actual argument – you seem keener on playing the role of fallacy cop..?). If you were to read what I actually wrote, I was responding to that statement and was on the side of emergentism (that consciousness is an emergent phenomena from the brain) which is different from the physicalism you appear to be promoting (that consciousness, essentially, is the brain).

            You seem to conclude there is no brain-mind problem, they they are basically the same thing, while I think emergentism makes better sense of it. We're both open, due to the lack of complete knowledge, and these are both positions found the mainstream scholarly debate. I think we're both big enough to recognise that our knowledge of what is 'reality' in this instance it's far from cut and dried, don't you?

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            "You seem to be confused as to the difference between the words 'could be' and 'is'."

            There are an infinite number of things which which "could be", and only a minuscule proportional of those actually are. Since I care about what is true, it is important to focus on how to determine the real from shear fantasy. Since I hold reality is something we all share and thus can demonstrate to one another, I maintain empirical evidence highly.

            You are free to believe things that "could be" true as actually being true if you like, but you will never really know if you are correct or not without evidence. And that's the entire fucking point.

            ”… but until you can actually demonstrate that it is 'nothing but' that, I'm not going to make such a conclusion.”

            Sorry, I don’t make a habit of proving negatives.

            “It is perfectly valid, due to our lack of knowledge in the area, to be remain open to the possibility that it might not be…”

            I am open to the idea, but you still require actual EVIDENCE to convince me. Don't be shy – present some, or STFU.

            ““Last I checked, it was bad science to rule out possibilities before all the evidence is in”

            The evidence is in. So far the brain the physical. You are claiming there is something more – let’s see it.

            ”I didn't say that, @Cynskeptical did.

            My apologies.

            “… was on the side of emergentism (that consciousness is an emergent phenomena from the brain) which is different from the physicalism you appear to be promoting (that consciousness, essentially, is the brain)”

            Firstly, your link was broken.

            Second (in case you have somehow missed it), I AM arguing that consciousness IS an emergent property of a physical brain (in a similar sense, a Ferrari’s abilities are emergent properties of it’s physical construction). The two views are by no means mutually incompatible – one my ask “emergent from what?”

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Broken link? sorry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergentism

            I am open to the idea, but you still require actual EVIDENCE to convince me. Don't be shy – present some, or STFU.

            What a shame you're being so antagonistic that you can't bring yourself to see the reasons I have brought up about why I don't buy the reductionist view your originally proposed. Again, you seem to simply fall back on a very narrow, materialist view of evidence and discard philosophical considerations. Telling me to STFU simply betrays your attitude of not wanting to think about those considerations, as if the mainstream debate is irrelevant to you. Ok.. if that's the case…. if you're not interested in actually discussing the issues (and that much is clear by the way you continually and grossly misunderstand my point) then I will sadly STFU.

            It seems very strange to be assailed for simply being open to possibilities in a case where the evidence is far from complete.
            Good day.

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            Right , so you're butt hurt because I stated I am open evidence and asked you to present yours. Rather than actually present it, you take offence to "present some, or STFU" and run away.

            You're a troll.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Andrew, I have tried to present my reasons for not holding to the reductionism you first proposed. You are clearly in no mood for civil, rational discussion about those issues raised, and I've grown tired of you not even understanding me properly. If you want to act like the knight on the bridge in monty python yelling 'that's it, run away' when I'm simply walking away from something that is obviously pointless to continue, feel free.

          • ollieography

            You haven't really presented any real reason for not holding to the reductionist point of view other than to say that you don't agree with it and that there could be more to it than materialistic reductionism. Great so you are open to the idea of there being more than meets the eye when it comes to how the brain and consciousness works. We agree on something. But that is as far as we go on the subject. Andrew, myself and others hold to the idea that so far, from what we know, the brain is from all indications a result of chemical and electrical mixes within the brain. Not the chemical and electrical mixes within the brain and possible a soul as well or possibly anything else you could possibly imagine.
            Most would agree with us on this point, and would only ever add to it something that could be proven with impirical evidence to also have an effect on the brain and the emergent consciousness.

            Is there something else we are missing? Do you have some secret we are to have known about that would change our minds on the matter? Because if you do I am sure not only us, but the wider scientific community would love to hear it.
            Until you do have that something extra special to show us, this is an utterly moot discussion.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            You haven't really presented any real reason for not holding to the reductionist point of view other than to say that you don't agree with it and that there could be more to it than materialistic reductionism.

            Obviously I haven't presented any reasons that you find compelling! That is not to say I haven't presented any. But to say that it's simply that I 'don't agree with it' is not something that I feel accurately reflects my argument.

            Great so you are open to the idea of there being more than meets the eye when it comes to how the brain and consciousness works. We agree on something. But that is as far as we go on the subject.

            Sure, it's as far as I go on the subject – but Andrew seemed to want to go further in advocating the 'nothing but' view.

            so far, from what we know, the brain is from all indications a result of chemical and electrical mixes within the brain. Not the chemical and electrical mixes within the brain and possible a soul as well or possibly anything else you could possibly imagine.

            I said nothing about a 'soul' or 'anything else you could possible imagine'. The point that the mind is effected and emergent from chemicals and electrical mixes etc. is not being contested – that is certainly evidentially true – my argument is, and has always been about inserting the words 'nothing but' in there. And as I keep saying – rejecting one view is not necessarily the same as advocating another view.

            Is there something else we are missing?

            I think you're missing (or perhaps in Andrew's case, simply dismissing) the huge philosophical-scientific debate that is still raging about the issue of how the mind and the brain are connected (the so-called problem of mind). To suggest that such a discussion is 'moot' or even decided in your favour and beyond discussion seems to me to be wilful ignorance, frankly.

            Actually the link that @whydoyouwanttoknow has posted is very good at describing the issues I've been trying to raise- I wish I'd seen that sooner! (I have little desire to rehash this anymore).

            There really has been so much talking past one another here – so much misquoting and verbaling (I'm assuming you've all seen Gettin' Square?) and false accusations of fallacies and even name-calling, it really seems like hardly anyone was actually trying to understand eachother in the first place, which is a real shame.

            Anyway, I probably shouldn't post here after drinking a couple of cups of Glühwein, it only makes me ramble more than ususal!

          • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

            ”… the huge philosophical-scientific debate that is still raging about the issue of how the mind and the brain are connected (the so-called problem of mind).”

            That’s the thing – I see the brain and the mind as exactly the same thing. An analogy is the software of a computer system. The operating system and applications we use do not exist independently of the physical computer itself. The code is stored as magnetic fields on hard drive platters, markings on a DVD surface, or electrical signals on a circuit board.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            That’s the thing – I see the brain and the mind as exactly the same thing.

            Yes, that was obvious. But it's only one view in the mainstream debate, and it's far from cut and dried.

            An analogy is the software of a computer system. The operating system and applications we use do not exist independently of the physical computer itself. The code is stored as magnetic fields on hard drive platters, markings on a DVD surface, or electrical signals on a circuit board.

            Sure – but the software is emergent (greater than the sum of its parts) from the hardware, it is not the hardware. Indeed, you need a programmer (don't worry, I'm not going where you think with that!) for such software to emerge from the hardware – it does not happen automatically.

          • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

            Wow I really started something here :S

            Since I made my position clear at the beginning of this chain I won't restate things (although I note no real discorde with Askegg except with some terms).

            Last I checked, it was bad science to rule out possibilities before all the evidence is in – worse when there is some apparent conflict as is apparent in the mainstream debate.

            Note quite right. It is bad science to over extend your conclusions beyond the evidence, what we are advocating (in what you describe as the 'reductionist position') is simply remaining within the confines of the evidence. Hypothesise away but hypotheses must be tested and evidence against the null-hypothesis must be collected in order to build a plausible cause for the hypothesis.

            It is important to identify insufficient knowledge and this is certainly an apt description of our understanding of consciousness – insufficient. However, the insufficiencies are not enough of a reason to advocate immaterial components. My position was more of a philosophical one regarding emergent properties and their 'transcendence' of material but this doesn't entail or exclude the addition of anything beyond the complexity of material interactions. I simply lack evidence and currently cannot reject the null-hypothesis.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            what we are advocating (in what you describe as the 'reductionist position') is simply remaining within the confines of the evidence.

            I think once you start putting words like 'only' and 'nothing but' in there, you're going beyond the confines of the evidence in this case. (Not that you specifically are putting such words in. My argument was not aimed at you.)

            However, the insufficiencies are not enough of a reason to advocate immaterial components.

            I'm not advocating any immaterial components (can you quote where I have advocated any?) – this is the point that Andrew seems to be missing. By not accepting material reductionism (and I gave my reasons, even if others don't find them convincing – though I'm certainly not alone in my position) I'm no more 'advocating' material components than an atheist who lacks belief is 'advocating' that there are no Gods.

  • Pingback: Godless Business – The Source of Human Morality (part 2)

  • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

    Finally got around to watching the debate now. The Father was most unconvincing, mostly because he was explicit in mentioning when he wasn't arguing against Matt's position and instead went on tirades against 20th century ideologies which were atheist.

    Throw in a dash of disregard for the format and a penchance to preach he was not a good debator despite being a decent orator. I think for the most part Matt treated him with some soft gloves because of the format, had he been a caller on the show a more concise and direct response would have been given I'm sure.

    What I found most perplexing was the Father's notion of truth and the implications on truth of 'narratives' – I struggled to understand what this all meant. What are the narratives responding to? Are we all just living out an elaborate narrative in God's mind? It simply seems to be a vacuous albeit poetic notion of truth and Matt calling it 'reason plus' was generous simply because it lacked the qualifier of 'bullshit' which I'm sure was part of Matt restraining himself because of the format.

    • askegg

      The Father's notion of "truth" being revealed through "narrative" also confused me. I am not quite sure what it meant. At the time I wondered if it was the same point Andrew Finden was raised when referring to "revelation", which I guess means we are playing the story written into "the very fabric of the universe". Whatever the ultimate fate of the universe is god's will, although I have no idea how you could falsify such a position.

  • whydoyouwanttoknow

    All atheists I have ever spoken to are methodological (not philosophical) materialism.

    You've never met an atheist who holds to the view that

    "nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature."

    Surely you've at least read things by atheists who would hold to that view?

    You and / or your readers may find this article interesting as it looks at the current debate about naturalism (and the good Father's argument is one against naturalism more than atheism) and in particular the two problems raised in the discussions here: philosophy of mind, and semantic meaning.

    Father Jacobse lost his way with this one.
    Nice to find your commentary on the debate.

    • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

      I thought his argument was more against Communism (as an atheistic ideology) and falsely Nazism (as an atheistic ideology) without actually addressing the components of these ideologies which actually entailed people deciding on certain actions. What is more is continually equated all atheists (except Matt) with these ideologies which is fallacious too, he never really argued against Matt's position but I admit Matt didn't necessarily make a positive case (which he himself said on the last NonProphets podcast).

      Regarding atheists and the naturalisms. I usually find in practice atheists are effectively philosophical naturalists however when it comes to the limits of human knowledge and deep thought a clearer distinction is drawn and most reveal themselves as methodological naturalists. It just seems as though a point must be reached in order to force the distinction, some people do so more readily than others.

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

        I usually find in practice atheists are effectively philosophical naturalists however when it comes to the limits of human knowledge and deep thought a clearer distinction is drawn and most reveal themselves as methodological naturalists.

        In a way, philosophical, or metaphysical naturalism is the view to the extent in which methodological naturalism (which is a methodology, not a philosophy) should be applied. I mean, all scientific endeavour is, by definition, methodologically naturalist, but as soon as you hold the view that it's the only way to knowledge, that's a philosophical view. I can't imagine too many people here rejecting the statement that nature is sum total of reality (but I'm happy to be proven wrong!). But you're right, at least – in practice, most atheists are effectively philosophical naturalists, though it does seem to me to be a case of having one's cake and eating to act like a philosophical naturalist and then hide behind the technical distinction of being 'only' a methodological one. ;)

        • http://www.facebook.com/anwyll David Gibson

          I can't imagine too many people here rejecting the statement that nature is sum total of reality (but I'm happy to be proven wrong!)

          Probably not but the question of what is included in nature is probably the sticking point.

          though it does seem to me to be a case of having one's cake and eating to act like a philosophical naturalist and then hide behind the technical distinction of being 'only' a methodological one. ;)

          I didn't mean it like that but I guess some people would do that too when you put the epistemological squeeze on them.

          I meant it more in a what you perceive someone's position to be by their actions and behaviour. By this I'd say most of the 'Christians' I know are effectively atheists because they don't do anything which would suggest they are theists of any sort (pray, go to church, etc) except for describe themselves as such and affirm a particular belief but ultimately behave in much the same way as myself and other atheists.

          • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

            Probably not but the question of what is included in nature is probably the sticking point.

            What do you mean by 'sticking point'?

            I'd say most of the 'Christians' I know are effectively atheists because they don't do anything which would suggest they are theists of any sort (pray, go to church, etc) except for describe themselves as such and affirm a particular belief but ultimately behave in much the same way as myself and other atheists.

            No doubt that's a fair observation!

    • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

      Thanks for the link – good stuff!

      I thought this highlights quite well some of the things I've been trying to bring up:

      Modern critics of naturalism often point to (at least) two especially significant problem areas for naturalism. One of them concerns how a naturalistic conception of mind is to handle intentional states—states such as belief, desire, hope, fear, and others that have objects. These are expressed in the form, “X believes that…” or “X hopes that…” and so forth. These are states that are about something. Many mental states are intentional in this way, and this feature of being about something seems to be distinctive of mental states. A state of temperature, or a quantity, or a positive or negative charge, or a valence, or combustion, or the suppression of an immunological response is not about something. These and other states, events, and processes have causes (and effects) but do not have objects. They are not directed at anything in the way that many mental states are. There are difficult questions concerning the nature of intentionality and also the nature and status of the objects of intentional states. Are the latter propositions, or states of affairs, or something else? Many mental states (such as belief) seem to be representational. How is representation to be understood?

      Also, the bit after that about semantic meaning is something that Andrew and I have discussed in the past.

      • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

        Unsurprisingly, I have a problem with this statement:

        "’X believes that…’ or ‘X hopes that…’ and so forth. These are states that are about something. Many mental states are intentional in this way, and this feature of being about something seems to be distinctive of mental states. A state of temperature, or a quantity, or a positive or negative charge, or a valence, or combustion, or the suppression of an immunological response is not about something. These and other states, events, and processes have causes (and effects) but do not have objects. They are not directed at anything in the way that many mental states are.”

        I would say mental states *are* about the combined physical properties of an individual’s brain. Mental states seem to derive from biochemical actions in the brain as neurones spark signals to one another is a massively complex cellular matrix. These are all physical constructs.

        • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

          Mental states seem to derive from biochemical actions in the brain as neurones spark signals to one another

          I have no problem with that statement – in fact, most statements of materialist reductionism when removed of the reductionist language of 'nothing but' etc. is usually uncontroversial.

    • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

      "Surely you've at least read things by atheists who would hold to that view? "

      Yes, and I found him to be unreasonable. http://www.godless.biz/2010/05/12/there-is-no-god

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

        So you don't hold that, and don't know anyone else (bar your 'unreasonable' contact) who holds that nature is sum total of reality, or as @whydoyouwanttoknow put it above: "nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature," ? (Serious question btw)

        • http://www.godless.biz/ askegg

          Honesty, no. Or at least not that I am aware of. My friends tend to be open minded about such things, probably because I am intolerant of closed minds. And no, I don't think it's close minded to ask for evidence in support of ideas – in fact I think it's the exact opposite.

  • Anonymous

    Let me start this by saying that i am a christian. You take the passage from Luke out of context, it is the parable of the ten minas. Taking one line from a parable without any context distorts the meaning. In this parable the lord represents Jesus yes, but his return is after the events in revelations. Biblically no man who is not forgiven may enter the kingdom of heaven, for all have sinned (including the Catholics you mentioned earlier, and me). killing those who opposed him as king is sending those who have not sought god’s forgiveness to hell. I believe that belief is voluntary, there is no way i can compel a  man to believe anything. I can try to convince people, but to compulsion? Jesus practiced a ministry of love, that is how christians ought to be. 

    I just found this article today, so sorry for the year+ comment lag

    • http://godless.biz Andrew Skegg

      Hi there and thanks for your reply.

      The idea that anything can be both all merciful or loving and all just is inherently contradictory.  Justice is the metering out of punishment whereas mercy is the abstaining from punishment.  In addition, judges do not create the laws they are enforcing but interpret them; I am not sure how this could easily translate to a deity who does both.

      The timing of this punishment is largely irrelevant.  Whether it occurs after the destruction of the universe and rapture or before makes little difference in my eyes. The key message is that Yahweh will slay those who will not worship him.  This creates something of a contradiction for me as I could not admire (let alone worship) any King who would do such a thing.

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