Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On the intellectual honesty of atheism

Ilion, whose handle is inseparable from the phrase "intellectually dishonest", recently linked to a post he claims present the proof that atheists are indeed intellectually dishonest. The proof itself is somewhat out-of-order. Below the fold, I'll try putting it together in a more traditional fashion as well as looking at the various axioms, to judge the soundness of the proof. Those who wish to see the original form can use the link.

Everything in the indented section, except for the outline numbers, is a direct quote from Ilion's post. I am trying to sort out axioms (A) from logically proven propositions based on those axioms (P). When statements are basically repetitions of other statements, they may be given the same outline number, or deleted.
A1) When an entity reasons, it chooses to move from one thought or concept to another based on (its understanding of) the content of the concepts and of the logical relationship between them.

A2) GIVEN the reality of the natural/physical/material world, IF atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, THEN everything which exists and/or transpires must be wholly reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes.

A3) This "everything" (which exists and must be wholly

P1) IF atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, THEN this movement from (what we call) thought to though (which activity or change-of-mental-state we call 'reasoning') *has* to be caused by, and must be wholly explicable in terms of, state-changes of matter. That is, it is not the content of, and logical relationship between, two thoughts which prompts a reasoning entity to move from the one thought to the other, but rather it is some change-of-state of some matter which determines that an entity "thinks" any particular "thought" when it does.

P2) ... there exist entities and events in the world which are not wholly reducible, without remainder, to purely physical/material states and causes,

P3) ... the denial that 'God is' is a false proposition.

Well, this is somewhat incomplete, but the completion seems straightforward. Let's put this in a prepositional calculus form. First, I'll lay out the bare argument.

Z = "atheism is true"
C(x) = "x changes based on the content of concepts and logical relationships"
R(x) = "x reasons"
F(x) = "x exists or changes solely on the basis of material causes"
T(x) = "x is a mind"
E(x) = "x exists"

Then, I'll rewrite Ilion's statements above.
A1) R(x) ⇒ C(x)
A2) Z ⇒ ∀x(E(x)⇒F(x))
A3) T(x) ⇒ E(x)
P1) Z ⇒ ∀x(R(x)⇒F(x))
P2) ~∀xF(x)
P3) ~Z

Let's add a couple of axioms needed to fill this out, which I suspect were meant to be implied.
B1) ∃x(T(x) & R(x))
B2) C(x) ⇒ ~F(x)

The (shortened) proof is in the table below. Note that this proof does not work without B1 and B2.
1ZAssumed for contradiction
2∀x(E(x)⇒F(x))1, A2
3T(c) & R(c)B1
5E(c)B1, A3
6F(c)1, B1, A2, A3
8C(c)B1, A1
9~F(c)B1, A1, B2
10F(c) & ~F(c)1, A1, A2, A3, B1, B2
11~ZA1, A2, A3, B1, B2

This proof is valid. The soundness of this proof is questionable on more than one front (Elizabeth Liddle questioned a different axiom); I want to look at B2. If a change is based in part on concepts and/or logical relationships (CLR, for short), does that imply it is not based solely on material causes? I disagree. I would say that changes based on CLR are actually based solely on material causes.

My position is that CLR are patterned-yet-material reactions in the brain to material stimuli. We react with the same pattern of brain reactions to similar stimuli, and name these reactions the process of reasoning. Different people will likely store different physical patterns, but they will create the same behavior when reasoning.

So, as opposed to C(x) ⇒ ~F(x), I would say C(x) ⇒ F(x), rendering the proof unworkable. Naturally, should Ilion offer alternative versions of B1/B2, I'll take another look.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Response to a post by The OFloinn

The OFloinn's blog doesn't allow me to comment, and he had a post, pointed out to me by another commentator, that I wanted to offer a couple of small comments on, below the fold. As Thomastic writers go, he's got a light-hearted style that makes him an easy read. I give him credit for that. Since this is a Thomasian poster/blog/argument, I'll be trying to frame this in Thomasian terms, to the best of my limited ability.

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale. One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin. One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

I agree modern genetics doesn’t say much about the Fall, but it has a much harder time filling in with modern anthropology. For the Fall to be true, it requires that Adam and Eve live far enough back that they can be ancestors of all humans, possess sufficient Intellect to understand and communicate concerning the concepts required of them, and possess sufficient Will to deliberately reject those concepts. So, we have people with an operative language. However, the archeological record shows that humans were using writing technology to track numbers abstractly some 24,000 years before they used similar technology to track verbal concepts abstractly. That's a long time to wait to apply an existing technology in a new way.

Evolution points to the answer. Darwin tells us that at some point an ape that was not quite a man gave birth to a man that was no longer quite an ape.

First, note the inherent sexism. It's a man that gets the ability first, according to the narrative.

Second, even more surely than you can count on scientists to make bad philosophical statements, you can count on philosophers to make bad scientific statements. Evolution tells us that humans are apes. There is no sensible evolutionary organization of apes that excludes humans. You can separate humans from a group containing chimpanzees and bonobos, or from gorillas, evolutionarily. If you want to put chimpanzees and gorillas (or chimpanzees and any other species besides the bonobos) into the same evolutionary grouping, humans will belong there.

Further, this is even true in Thomasian terms. My understanding is that one school thinks that living things can participate in many forms, in which case humans participate in the form of Ape. Another school would say each thing has its own form, and that terms like "ape" are categories of forms. Again, by any reasonable definition (that is, one not specifically designed to exclude humans) of this collection, humans will be categorized as apes.

Yet when the Coynes of the world want to tell us 'what Christians believe,' they agitate over the idiosyncratic beliefs of Bill and Ted's Excellent Bible Shack, whose teachings go back to last Tuesday. Go figure.

People respond to the religions of their culture, and the US is dominated by those last Tuesdayers.

There is an argument similar to Zeno's Paradox of Dichotomy that holds that sapient man arose by slow, gradual increments. That is, arguing from the continuum rather than from the quanta.

This completely overlooks the argument from the plane, or n-space. Pregnancy entails separate steps (for example, arrival in the uterus and fertilization of the ovum). Sapience consists of different aspects (generalization, separation of immediate stimulus from remembered stimulus, separation of pattern from individual instances), all of which are possessed by mammals in differing degrees.

Now, "a little bit sapient" is like "a little bit pregnant." It may be only a little, but it is a lot more than not sapient at all. There is, after all, no first number after zero, and however small the sapience, one can always cut it in half and claim that that much less sapience preceded it. But however long and gradual is the screwing-in of the light bulb, the light is either on or off.

There is no good reason to think positive numbers or light bulbs represent good models of sapience.

It is not clear how Dr. Coyne envisions the same sapient mutation arising simultaneously in 10,000 ape-men.

There is no reason to think the physical mutations that allowed sapience where followed by immediate sapience, either. Sapience comes at least in part from a learning the process of being sapient. The physical tools for sapience could have been present for a million years or more before the cultural tools for sapience began to develop. It that happened, even under the on/off model of sapience offered, sapience would have spread inside of a population of 10,000 with a couple of generations, with kids learning it from adults who were not their parents or from the other kids they played with.

Except, The OFloinn allows his metaphysics, founded in religious beliefs, to prevent him from considering this possibility. Original can't be passed from playmate to playmate, it must pass parent-to-child. Therefore sapience must pass the same way.

The anathemas of the Council of Trent mention only Adam.

It's not Eve's fault, she was just a woman.

And so we might imagine Adam sitting around the campfire after an exciting hunt and remembering the bison they had chased and the moment of truth and he suddenly utters the hunting cry that signifies "bison here!" A cry that is in principle no different from those made by other animals, and possibly his fire-mates look about in alarm for the bison the cry signifies.

We might imagine a bee, looking for a new location for a hive, see the location for it, and then returning to the hive and doing a special dance that all the other bees interpret as telling them about the new hive. Except, we have actually observed it, as well.

But in all likelihood, his ability to speak in abstractions -- to speak of 'bison' rather than any particular bison -- is coterminous with his sapience.

So, will the OFloinn venture that bees are sapient? I find it unlikely.

But Adam is different. Having a rational human form in addition to his sensitive animal form, he is capable of knowing the good.

Sure, he just has three words, but he knows what it means to be good.

But for Adam to know the good means that Adam is now capable of turning away from the good.

Notice that "capable of knowing the good" has transformed into "know the good" in the blink of an eye. I wonder if Adam had time to draw a breath in between?

Well, that's enough for one post. The rest is not much different.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'll be wearing black

My employers (both the day and the teaching job) are commemorating the Twin Towers Tragedy tomorrow by encouraging people to wear red, white and blue. I'll be wearing black. I don't judge anyone else for the colors they choose to wear. However, for me wearing the flag colors is for celebrating. It's for days like Flag Day or Independence Day. I don't see anything celebratory for the Twin Towers Tragedy. I mourn for the victims, respect the heroes (such as the first-responders), and denigrate the attackers. I don't associate respect or denigration with any particular color, but black is the color of mourning for me, and thus it will be the color I wear.

If politicians really want to commemorate the occasion, do it by covering the costs of cancer among the first responders. Maybe we can't show any individual cancer is connected to the response effort, but we know they are, as a group, victims to an elevated rate of cancer to a degree that is statistically significant. The worst that happens is we spend a little extra money treating cancer in heroes when they did not receive that cancer directly linked to that particular day of heroism. I can't affect the passage of those laws, but I can and will wear black for those heroes, as well.

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