Monday, March 25, 2013

Rosenhouse keeps digging


Here’s a conversation that might occur between grown-ups:

Grown-up #1: I haven’t read Nagel’s book or much of the positive commentary on it, but based on what I’ve seen in the popular press it all seems like a lot of absurd intellectual silliness based on caricature and sheer assertion.

Grown-up #2: Jeez, don’t you think you ought to read it before making such sweeping remarks?  You’re hardly going to get a good sense of the content of a set of complex philosophical arguments from a couple of journalistic pieces!

Grown-up #1: Yeah, I guess so.  Fair enough.

And here’s a conversation between a grown-up and Jason Rosenhouse:

Rosenhouse: I haven’t read Nagel’s book or much of the positive commentary on it, but based on what I’ve seen in the popular press it all seems like a lot of absurd intellectual silliness based on caricature and sheer assertion.

Grown-up: Jeez, don’t you think you ought to read it before making such sweeping remarks?  You’re hardly going to get a good sense of the content of a set of complex philosophical arguments from a couple of journalistic pieces!

Rosenhouse: You know, that’s just the kind of stunningly stupid, screeching, petty tantrum that is typical of you! You and your asinine armchair cogitation!  The dogmatism!  The arrogance!  Etc. etc.

That’s the short version, anyway.  For the long version, see Rosenhouse’s original post on Nagel, my reply to it, and the response to my reply he posted today

As you’ll see from the latter, Rosenhouse’s way of dealing with the hole he’s dug for himself is to down a Red Bull or three, sew himself into the seat of a backhoe, fire it up and break off the key.  To his thinking, it is not “arrogant,” “dogmatic,” “stupid,” or “petty” -- to use the language of his latest post -- to make sweeping claims about Nagel and his defenders without having bothered to read what they’ve actually written.  But it is “arrogant,” “dogmatic,” “stupid” and “petty” to object to someone who makes such uninformed sweeping claims.  (At this point it occurs to me that Jimmy Olsen was perhaps not the best choice of illustrations for this post; Bizarro would have been more appropriate.)

For Rosenhouse it was also “arrogant,” “dogmatic,” “stupid” and “petty” of me to respond to what he actually wrote, rather than to what he now wishes he had written.  For example, he now tells his readers that when he said that “It seems that all the immaterialists do is make assertions!” what he was really doing ”was just expressing my frustration with [Andrew] Ferguson’s relentless, unsupported assertions” (emphasis added).  Of course, if that is really all he meant, he could have made that clearer, e.g. by saying something like this: “It seems that all Ferguson does is make assertions!”  Rosenhouse might want to consider such a locution in future, since if you say “the immaterialists,” then us stupid, arrogant, dogmatic, petty English speakers are likely to get it into our heads that the people you really meant to refer to are the immaterialists

Rosenhouse, furthermore, assures us that:

I certainly never suggested that I did not have to read the book to fully understand its argument. In fact I specifically said this:

I have not read Nagel’s book, so I don’t have a strong opinion about it. Based on what I’ve read about it, however, I suspect I wouldn’t like it.

Feser didn’t quote that part, for obvious reasons, since then he would not have been able to pretend that I was simply dismissing the book or judging it based on one paragraph.

End quote.  So, the sober, fair-minded, scholarly, measure-twice-cut-once Rosenhouse would never draw a sweeping conclusion about Nagel without having actually read his book, right?  Except that this is what else he says about Nagel in this new post:

If you want arrogance and dogmatism you have to look to the Feser’s and Nagel’s of the world. They’re the ones claiming, on the basis of some asinine armchair cogitation, that they have refuted an enormously successful scientific paradigm.

End quote.  He also assures us that Nagel offers a “caricature of the evidence for evolution” and that his characterization of evolution itself is “absurd.” 

So, on the basis of reading exactly three short out-of-context sentences from the Introduction of Nagel’s 128-page book, Rosenhouse is able to conclude that Nagel (1) is arrogant, (2) is dogmatic, (3) grounds his position in “asinine armchair cogitation,” (4) caricatures the evidence for evolution, and (5) provides an absurd characterization of evolution itself.  And yet none of this counts as Rosenhouse having any “strong opinion” about Nagel’s book, or having “dismissed” or “judged” it.  And it is Nagel and I who are “arrogant” and “dogmatic.”  And when I characterized Rosenhouse as having rushed to judgment, I was egregiously misrepresenting him.

Got it.  Glad that’s all been cleared up.

Rosenhouse also can’t understand why I would object to his objecting to Nagel’s claims about what is prima facie true vis-√†-vis evolution.  Writes Rosenhouse:

To assert that something is true “prima facie” is to assert it full stop. It is to say that the facts speak so clearly in favor of the conclusion in question that it is the skeptics who are immediately on the defensive. And that was precisely what I was challenging. The claim that human beings are the result of a series of physical accidents coupled with natural selection is not prima facie implausible. Nor is it prima facie plausible. It is not prima facie anything, because we have no intuition about or experience with anything related to the grand sprawl of natural history. It is simply not the kind of thing to which you can reasonably apply the notion of common sense.

End quote.  Well, if Rosenhouse would just read the damn book already before opening his mouth, he’d not only be less likely to keep putting his foot in it, but would also understand why Nagel says what he does.  And if he actually thought about what I wrote instead of reacting to it, he would also see that to say that something is true prima facie is not to assert it full stop.  Prima facie judgments are always made within a context, and have to be evaluated within that context.

Hence, suppose (to borrow an example from W. V. Quine) I said: “Consider the claim that Bernard J. Ortcutt is a spy.  Is that prima facie plausible or not?”  No doubt you’d say: “Neither.  After all, who the hell is Bernard J. Ortcutt?  Why would anyone think he’s a spy in the first place?  What evidence might tell against the claim that he is?  Until I know all that, I have no prima facie judgment to make one way or the other!”  And that would, of course, be a perfectly reasonable thing to say.

But suppose instead that you knew who Ortcutt was, knew that he often traveled abroad, kept odd hours and strange company, was being kept under surveillance by the FBI, is known to sympathize with radical Islamist movements, etc.  Then you might reasonably say “Prima facie it is plausible that he is a spy.”  Or suppose instead that you knew that Ortcutt was a fan of James Bond movies and liked to call himself “007,” but otherwise was very timid and to all appearances lived a perfectly humdrum life.  Then you might reasonably say “Prima facie it is not plausible that he is a spy.”

Similarly, if what Nagel was saying was that in the abstract, with no further qualification, “evolution is prima facie implausible!”, then Rosenhouse might have a point.  But in fact Nagel does not do this -- as anyone who’s actually read the @#$% book would know.  What he is claiming instead is that given such-and-such features of consciousness, rationality, etc. (spelled out in the book) and given such-and-such features of how  a purely materialistic construal of evolution works (also spelled out the book) -- given all that, it is prima facie implausible that the former can be explained in terms of the latter.  (Contrary to what Rosenhouse’s readers might suppose, by the way, Nagel does not ignore what Rosenhouse calls the “mountain of confirmed predictions and retrodictions, along with numerous experimental successes” in favor of evolution, for the simple reason that he is not challenging evolution per se in the first place.  What he is challenging is the idea that evolution construed in terms of a materialist metaphysics can account for certain specific biological phenomena such as consciousness, rationality, etc.  Rosenhouse gives the impression that Nagel is challenging the evolutionary story as a whole, and that is simply nowhere close to the case -- as, it cannot be emphasized too often, anyone who would just read the book would find out.)

Again, a grown-up might say: “OK, fine, fair enough, maybe there’s something elsewhere in the book that would change my judgment about how I read those three out-of-context sentences from the Introduction.”  Rosenhouse, however, is the kind of guy who would rather devote a day or two to rationalizing his snap judgment than an hour or two to finding out whether it was correct

In the last half of his post Rosenhouse responds to the metal detector analogy from my response to Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg’s review of Nagel, which Ferguson had cited.  Just as the success of metal detectors in finding metal does not entail that there are no other, non-metallic aspects of reality, so too does the success of science in capturing those aspects of nature susceptible of prediction and control give us no reason to think that there are not other aspects that are not susceptible of prediction and control -- aspects we should not expect to find by the methods of science, but for knowledge of which we have to turn to philosophical analysis.  Rosenhouse responds:

It is tautological to say that if there are aspects of reality that are not amenable to scientific investigation, then scientific investigation will not reveal them. That, however, is nonresponsive to Leiter and Weisberg’s point.  As I see it, Leiter and Weisberg were making an argument about the burden of proof.  When a particular point of view has been proven wrong in case after case; the centrality of teleology and the supernatural in our understanding of the natural world, for example; the burden shifts to the people defending that point of view.  

End quote.  But this simply misses the entire point.  What was in question in my response to Leiter and Weisberg is precisely what we should count as “proving” or “defending” claims about the natural world in the first place.  Should we regard as “proved” or “defended” only those aspects of nature susceptible of prediction and control?  Why should we regard this sort of method as giving us the only avenue to knowledge of the world (as opposed to an avenue of knowledge, which of course it is)?  As the metal detector analogy was intended to illustrate, merely to appeal to the “success” or “fruitfulness” of the predict-and-control method -- where “success” and “fruitfulness” are defined in terms of that method -- is no answer at all.  There is a tautology here all right, but it is precisely those beholden to scientism who are guilty of putting it forward.  Rosenhouse is like that slow-on-the-uptake kid in philosophy class who says “A is true because B is, and B is true because A is,” and when you point out to him that he’s begged the question, replies: “But that’s a fallacy!”  Well, duh.  Yes, that’s the pointAnd you’re the one committing it.

Speaking of begging the question, consider Rosenhouse’s proposed alternative to my metal detector analogy:

A better analogy than Feser’s metal detector would be to the boy who cried wolf.  Every time previously that the boy had cried wolf there was no wolf.  So the people concluded that when he cried wolf this time there also was no wolf.  Does anyone think the people’s reasoning was utterly fallacious?  Were they wrong to think that the boy’s consistent track record of lying gave them a good reason for thinking he was lying this time?

The problem with this, of course, is that whether the philosophical arguments for teleology, theism, etc. put forward by Aristotelians and other metaphysicians in fact “cried wolf” is precisely part of what is at issue.  Nor is it any good to say that they “cried wolf” insofar as they were not arguments of physics, chemistry, biology, etc., because whether the methods of natural science are the only rational methods is also what is at issue.  We old-fashioned Aristotelians and Thomists would argue that it is not in natural science as that is understood today, but rather in those branches of philosophy known as metaphysics and the philosophy of nature, which deal with those aspects of the world that any possible natural science must presuppose, that the foundations of a teleological conception of nature and of natural theology are to be found.  (I have written about the difference between these fields of inquiry in many places, such as here.)

No doubt thinking to preempt such a point, Rosenhouse writes:

Surely it is obvious that philosophical argument alone cannot possibly get you to dramatic conclusions about what matter can and cannot do…  The trouble is that science is constantly changing our view of what matter is. The “material” out of which the world is made looks very different today than it did a century ago.  It wasn’t that long ago that atoms were thought to be solid balls. Today they are vastly more complicated, to the point where even physicists have trouble wrapping their heads around what they do.

But no Aristotelian would disagree with this.  What is at issue is not whether physics, chemistry, biology, etc. are necessary to a complete understanding of the material world.  Of course they are.  What is at issue is whether they are sufficient.  And anyone who actually knows something about intellectual history beyond the potted World Book Encyclopedia version knows that the question of what matter is has, from the Pre-Socratics down to the present, always been as much a philosophical question as a scientific question.  Mach, Einstein, Schr√∂dinger, Bohr, Russell, Whitehead, and many other thinkers of generations not too distant all knew it; contemporary secular philosophers of physics and philosophers of chemistry know it.  The only people with an opinion on the matter who don’t know it are the sort of people laboring under the delusion that there is some really serious intellectual action to be found at outlets like EvolutionBlog. 

52 comments:

Crude said...

As you’ll see from the latter, Rosenhouse’s way of dealing with the hole he’s dug for himself is to down a Red Bull or three, sew himself into the seat of a backhoe, fire it up and break off the key.

:D

Debilis said...

I feel the need to add this:

Arguments for the nonphysicality of the brain typically take the general form: The brain can do X; Physical processes cannot account for X; Therefore there is a nonphysical component to the brain. Can you spot the premise about which science has rather a lot to say?

I thought this was the moment where the lack of reading Nagel showed through the most. Else, the argument would have been presented as: The mind can do X. Science has been defined in such a way as to be unable to look for X. Therefore, there is something in the mind that science cannot in principle discover.

I'd be interested in reading Rosenberg's thoughts on the quoted paragraph after he's read the book.

John Quin said...

I wonder if this will go another round?

David T said...

Dr. Feser,

"...for the simple reason that he is not challenging evolution per se in the first place. What he is challenging is the idea that evolution construed in terms of a materialist metaphysics can account for certain specific biological phenomena such as consciousness, rationality, etc. Rosenhouse gives the impression that Nagel is challenging the evolutionary story as a whole, and that is simply nowhere close to the case -- as, it cannot be emphasized too often, anyone who would just read the book would find out.)"

I just finished reading Mind and Cosmos, and it seems to me Nagel does challenge "the evolutionary story as a whole", and not just whether it can account for "certain specific biological phenomena such as consciousness, rationality..." I don't have the book in front of me, but I remember Nagel arguing something like this:

1. The materialist account of the mind cannot account for consciousness.

2. The mind is certainly dependent on and intimately involved with the physical brain.

3. An evolutionary account of the brain/mind must therefore provide an account of the development of consciousness, not merely as something accidentally associated with the physical brain, but as a natural consequence that we would expect as an aspect its evolutionary development.

4. But the materialist explanation of the evolutionary development of man provides no such expectation. Instead, consciousness is a scandal that materialists are desperate to deal with. This shows that the materialist view is not just lacking with respect to consciousness, but also with respect to the underlyng physical account of man's evolution, since that history should have provided an account of consciousness that flowed seamlessly with the physical account.

In other words, the failure of Darwinism to explain consciousness is not a failure localized to consciousness, but has ramifications for its entire story about evolution. This is why the subtitle is Why The Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

Not just consciousness or rationality, mind you, but nature as a whole. And if its conception of nature is false, then it's account of natural development surely can't be right since it is aiming at the wrong target. To use your analogy, if my evolutionary account of nature only considers those aspects of nature detectble by metal detectors, my account is false not merely with respect to it's non-metallic aspects, but as a whole since it cannot in principle account for the relationship between the metallic and non-metallic aspects of nature (which is a failure with respect to even the metallic aspects, since I've failed to see how those metallic aspects relate to the non-metallic aspects).

Corrigan said...

Is it my imagination or do atheists, or at least, New Atheists, follow logic and reason only up to the point where it tells them something they don't want to hear?

Anonymous said...

Corrigan, if you discuss the argument from reason with many atheists and naturalists, especially the Gnus you will find that many will abandon reason before they abandon naturalism.

Marc Anthony said...

But saying a Darwinistic account of evolution is false is not the same thing as saying that evolution, full stop, is false. We cannot use the materialist view to explain evolution, and instead need to resort to something along the lines of, say, theistic evolution (traditionally, but not always, supported more by Catholics) or Intelligent Design (traditionally, but not always, supported more by Protestants).

Explaining it in purely materialistic, Darwinistic terms is wrong.

MarcAnthony said...

But saying a Darwinistic account of evolution is false is not the same thing as saying that evolution, full stop, is false. We cannot use the materialist view to explain evolution, and instead need to resort to something along the lines of, say, theistic evolution (traditionally, but not always, supported more by Catholics) or Intelligent Design (traditionally, but not always, supported more by Protestants).

Explaining it in purely materialistic, Darwinistic terms is wrong.

Felix said...

This obviously registered on an emotional level. Which is why I don't think Dr Feser should bother entertaining Rosenhouse any further until he decides to argue in a more rational and mature way. He is replying not merely because he disagrees, but on a more fundamental level, he is having these non sensical outburst because he know he has been caught out and his ego has been dented. If he writes another post, don't reply to him Prof Feser, it really is a waste of time.

Scott said...

@David T:

"I just finished reading Mind and Cosmos, and it seems to me Nagel does challenge 'the evolutionary story as a whole' . .&nbsp. "

From what you go on to say, though, it appears that Nagel is challenging, not the theory of natural selection itself, but the idea that it can generate mind, consciousness, rationality, and so forth in a "natural" world that initially lacks them altogether.

In other words, he's challenging a fundamental view of nature, not a biological theory. He's saying that natural selection can't do the job some scientists and philosophers think it can, if it happens in a "natural" universe of the kind some of them believe in.

It's somewhat analogous to a Thomist saying that the law of gravitation is all well and good but that we can't genuinely have such a "law" in a universe without final causation. That's not a challenge to the physical theory of gravitation.

Scott said...

I hasten to add that, as I've mentioned in other threads, I haven't yet read the book myself. If Nagel actually does challenge the theory of evolution by genetic natural selection, I'd like to see some quotations to that effect. But the ones I've seen so far don't seem to support that claim. (I trust Feser's own comments on this point, but I'd be begging the question here if I cited them here—because of course David T is challenging those very comments!)

DNW said...

"For Rosenhouse it was also “arrogant,” “dogmatic,” “stupid” and “petty” of me to respond to what he actually wrote, rather than to what he now wishes he had written."


Rosenhouse's plaint is that although you have read him, and even quoted him, you have not quoted him in such a way as to demonstrate that you sufficiently appreciate the nuanced position he has taken while criticizing that which he has himself not read.

Reminds me of someone who provokes a fight and then when punched in the nose cries out "You're hurting me!"

When and why did so many males in our culture transform themselves into such whining punked out little specimens?

Bobcat said...

This whole tete-a-tete with Rosenhouse really depresses me: although I already knew this, it always hurts me--in the "I'm sad for humanity" kind of sense--to see someone like Rosenhouse, who's very smart and well-educated, acting so clearly tendentiously about a matter of great import, and about which reasonable people disagree.

That said, I haven't read any of Rosenhouse's posts. But I get the general idea from reading Feser's excerpts.

Ismael said...

Seems to me Rosenhouse is using the stupid version of the "Myers' Shuffle"... and since the Myers' Shuffles is in itself stupid... well ouch!

(http://www.american.com/archive/2010/march/the-new-philistinism/?searchterm=feser)

Susan said...

Premise: materialism is atheism's eloquent prayer of supplication.

If you go to Debilis' March 26 blog link and especially the comments, you will see what I mean.

Atheists are stuck and are expressing it very well, actually, when they lay out the materialist path of thinking. I've been stuck and needed to 'pray my way through it' on other topics, so I see what they are doing. What they are doing is Good because defining where you are mentally and asking God for guidance is always good. God can understand their prayer. It is awesome prayer. Very linear. 'I am here, I think thus and so, I can't find any answer other than materialism'. Atheists are not our enemies.

Nagel is an answer to the prayer because he offers a different path of thought that is somewhere between materialism and belief. It is food that can be digested. It's a breakthrough.

David T. said...

Scott,

You're right that Nagel doesn't challenge natural selection and accepts that some sort of natural developmental process is responsible for the existence of life in all its variety. But I believe his argument is that the theory of evolution must be reconstructed from the ground up on a radically different understanding of nature, which would include not only natural selection (as we conceive it) but elements of teleology as well. For someone like Rosenhouse, or even any average evolutionist, this is in fact challenging evolutionary theory as a whole, because the whole point of evolutionary theory (as currently understood) is to eliminate teleology.

rank sophist said...

Jokers like Rosenhouse can't be convinced of anything. They've already ruled out rational argument. The people who follow them are often the same way: thoroughly brainwashed and impossible to debate.

Scott said...

@David T:

"But I believe his argument is that the theory of evolution must be reconstructed from the ground up on a radically different understanding of nature, which would include not only natural selection (as we conceive it) but elements of teleology as well."

Well, you've read the book and I haven't yet, so I'm happy to take your word for what Nagel argues in it. But honestly, it doesn't seem to me that arguing that natural selection needs to be supplemented by teleology amounts to challenging "the evolutionary story as a whole." It's just arguing that the current story isn't itself the whole story and can't account for certain things, not that it isn't right as far as it goes.

Anonz said...

I think the problem lies in the fact that Rosenhouse and other new atheists treating every single problems and challenges to their position as scientific problems. So every time a person attacks Darwinism philosophically, they treat it as a scientific attack and thus totally miss the point all together. Their talent in scientific field proves to be their undoing since they cannot see the world with other glasses(and in fact deny there are other glasses).

David T said...

Scott,

It may be I'm misinterpreting Nagel, but that's what I'm getting out of it. I can make the point a different way with the metal-detector analogy.

Suppose you are an archaeologist, but a peculiar one who is fixated on his metal detector and only acknowledges that which is detected by it. You go over Roman ruins with your detector and try to construct a theory of the history and development of the Roman Empire, all based solely on the metallic things you've discovered. You've got swords and coins, but no pottery, stone ruins, stone tablets, etc.

Now we both agree that you will be wrong insofar as you've missed out on all the non-metallic aspects of Roman Civilization, and so will be wrong about them. But I think Nagel holds that things are much worse than this. You will be wrong about the metallic aspects as well, since the non-metallic items you've missed are intimately connected with the metallic ones and so really can only be understood in a unified manner. For instance, the number of swords you've discovered makes you think Roman society was very violent. But that's only because swords are naturally overrepresented in a metal-only catalog of Roman artifacts and are actually only a tiny fraction of artifacts when the non-metallic ones are taken into consideration. And maybe a picture on a piece of pottery shows that every house had several swords for ceremonial purposes, and so are not indicators of violence at all.

You may have constructed an entire history of Rome based on its supposedly violent character, a history that would be undermined by the pictures on stone artifacts. It doesn't mean your entire story is utterly false, but it does mean the entire story is called into question because the missing elements have implications not just for themselves, but for everything.

Similarly, I think Nagel is saying that the problem isn't just about consciousness and rationality. Consciousness is the stumbling block that exposes the problem, but dealing with it will involve more than an ad hoc accomodation of consciousness that has been the Darwinist's attempted solution. You've got to retell the entire story such that consciousness and rationality are seamless and natural parts of the account, just as you can't account for Roman stone artifacts with ad hoc additions to a theory of Rome based entirely on metallic artifacts.

Scott said...

@David T:

"I can make the point a different way with the metal-detector analogy."

Good analogy. I do see your point and I'm now looking forward to reading Nagel's book for yet another reason (to see whether and how he makes or implies this argument, which on the face of it looks like a good one).

I still don't think Feser's statement was erroneous, though. To continue the metal-detector analogy, I think Feser means only that Nagel isn't denying that metal detectors work. When he says Nagel isn't "challenging the evolutionary story as a whole," I take him to mean that Nagel isn't challenging the story in its entirety, and in particular that he's not denying that natural selection works pretty much the way modern biologists say it does.

I don't think anything important is riding on this point, though, so I'm happy to let it go. Thanks for the insights on Nagel's book and its argument.

DavidM said...

@David T.: Sure, makes sense. But isn't the counter-point (for Scott or Nagel) just that all that work you've put into understanding the metal side of things was not a waste of time? You're wrong about it, in that you've misunderstood the big picture of which it is a part, but so what? When you retell the story it still must include the metal stuff you found, so all that investigation is positively contributing, not simply *wrong*.

And insofar as you're suggesting that 'evolution' is necessarily a strong metaphysical dogma that positively excludes teleology (as opposed to a conceptual framework that attempts to do without any appeals to teleology), then yeah: that's complete delusional bullshit and nobody with any intelligence ought to accept it. If "the whole point of evolutionary theory (as currently understood) is to eliminate teleology," then evolutionary theorists should have a prior justification for such an elimination, before making it 'the whole point' of what they do. Do they have any such justification? If not, how did it come to be 'the whole point' of what they do (as opposed to a *methodological* constraint which also delimits the *object* of their investigations - as Feser, for example, would have it)?

BenYachov said...

In my experience New Atheists often respond to critiques of Positivism/Scientism as if they where attacks on the truth of science as typical kneejerk dodge.

Crude said...

David T,

Similarly, I think Nagel is saying that the problem isn't just about consciousness and rationality. Consciousness is the stumbling block that exposes the problem, but dealing with it will involve more than an ad hoc accomodation of consciousness that has been the Darwinist's attempted solution. You've got to retell the entire story such that consciousness and rationality are seamless and natural parts of the account, just as you can't account for Roman stone artifacts with ad hoc additions to a theory of Rome based entirely on metallic artifacts.

I don't think this estimation of Nagel's view works, for a simple reason. Yes, if consciousness and rationality are in some way 'fundamental', then an evolutionary explanation is not in the offing. Maybe you could even argue that, as opposed to what we thought all this time, it's a static feature of all organisms to some degree, and thus it has to be accounted for in any Darwinian story. That would absolutely be quite an addition to the theory.

But Darwinism is tremendously elastic. It has incorporated Mendelian genetics, DNA (which, remember, amounts to a computer language existing in all living creatures), horizontal gene transfer, epigenetics, neutral evolution, and more. And if it can incorporate all that, it can incorporate what Nagel appears to be saying.

Now, I think you're correct that for Rosenhouse (and many others), the whole point of evolutionary theory is to eradicate teleology, or design, or... etc. But I think that says far more about Rosenhouse and a particular subset of atheists than about evolutionary theory as a scientific theory.

Daniel Smith said...

David T:
the whole point of evolutionary theory (as currently understood) is to eliminate teleology.

For the atheist - yes - this IS the whole point! (eliminate teleology - eliminate God!) For the atheist, the theory of evolution proves that no God is necessary to explain life.

As a former ID supporter, I spent a lot of time arguing evolution related issues with atheists and none of them were open (even a little bit) to alternate theories of evolution (such as those put forth by Schindewolf, Goldschmidt, Berg, Grasse, etc.) simply because those theories left the door open - just a crack - for something other than random mutation and natural selection as a mechanism.

You see, if you allow for another mechanism or another interpretation (one that even hints at a possible "plan" or "direction") their worldview is immediately threatened and their knee-jerk reaction is to circle the wagons and kill (or ridicule mercilessly) the messenger. And what Nagel is doing (as they see it anyway) is just that - sowing seeds of doubt about (the materialist interpretation of) the Darwinian paradigm and therefore undermining the very foundations of their belief system.

And yes, they become irrational at this point. That's been my experience anyway and Rosenhouse fits right in with that characterization.

ingx24 said...

I think this is a big reason why atheists are almost always materialists as well - if thoughts, emotions, and the like are really nothing but chemical reactions and electrical impulses in the brain, then there is no problem with them having come about without theistic intervention. Admitting the irreducible existence of mental phenomena opens the atheist up to possible arguments from consciousness, and even to (gasp) the possibility of life after death (which is ALWAYS interpreted by atheists as being necessarily linked to God and reward/punishment). Irreducible mental phenomena also threaten the materialist Neo-Darwinian paradigm - another reason why atheists are so motivated to reduce the mind to chemicals and electricity.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Smith is right. Whatever we personally feel about Darwinian evolution (I'm personally ambivalent, but realise you need to be basically an expert to criticise it and not look a fool), it is certainly held as basically an article of faith by not just Gnus but many, many in the modern West. If you even hint at criticising it, even if you're just criticising purely naturalist interpretations, then you will be mercilessly attacked.

The only person whom I know of who could criticise evolution and Dawkins and the like, in Britain, and get away with it intact was the irreplaceable John Michell.

Eduardo said...

Well they do it in the desperate attempt to hurt our sensibilities because we fear that sort of behavior... the problem is my brain is already trained to not care at all... and I have my pills.

DNW said...

Anonymous Eduardo said...

Well they do it in the desperate attempt to hurt our sensibilities because we fear that sort of behavior... the problem is my brain is already trained to not care at all... and I have my pills.

March 26, 2013 at 5:23 PM"


They can probably get some mileage out of offending Christians, or worrying those who care about their ultimate fate.

But for many of us when a nominalist starts squealing for recognition or consideration in the implied name of a category which it holds to be fundamentally unreal, you just have to laugh.

They never do get it though. Their emotional neediness blinds them to the logical absurdity of their actions.


So, is your money on Myers or Carrier?

Edward Feser said...

Guys. Don't feed the psychotic.

Anonymous said...

Here we see the Gnu in his breakdown phase. Having his cherished ideological beliefs so thoroughly questioned causes his heart rate to spike, his pupils to dilate, his breath to stink of newsprint, and for him to sweat profusely. Next comes the delusional rantings and the irrepressible expression of his innate sexual deviancy - which clearly in this case includes an intense attraction to Justin Bieber. Finally, his eyes will swivel, he will levitate a few feet off the ground, and mumble about spaghetti monsters, fairy tales, and Dickie Dawkins's boyish good looks.

Eduardo said...

Myers don't have the guts to allow criticism in his own piece of shit blog XD, so I guess Carrier maybe?

Professor, I will try to turn the other face... *sigh*...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I wrote that before Dr.Feser's request.

Eduardo said...

DNW

I wonder if they actually believe in logic as something real or just nothing more than guidelines... Quite sincerely, I doubt that they believe in logic as nothing more but a social invention, making everything acceptable, as long as you have power to do it.

Eduardo said...

Man I vote for a Ban.

Edward Feser said...

Nah, LW Dickel is just a psycho who swoops in now and again to post childish pornographic remarks -- usually, for some reason, on Saturday nights (draw whatever conclusion from that you want to about his social life, or lack thereof). He's offered his unique insights at other comboxes too (Shea's, WWWtW, etc.)

It's possible he's the same guy as J/Perezoso, whom longtime readers will recognize as the king of combox psychotics.

Anyway, ignore him.

Anonz said...

I am reading Russell's History of Western Philosophy and he offered several criticisms to Aristotle's philosophy from metaphysics to physics. Any thought on Russell's criticisms, Dr. Feser?

Better than replying to Rossenhouse, no?

DNW said...

Edward Feser said...

Guys. Don't feed the psychotic.
March 26, 2013 at 5:42 PM "

Well, I guess talking about them - even about their New Atheist psychological dysfunctions, and in the abstract - is somewhat tantamount to giving them the attention they crave.

But the mindset, and perhaps even the biology of a PZ Myers type, i.e., of that entire class of "Skeptic" dweebs and nerds, may be relevant. Many of them seem to be nothing more than relatively high functioning nut cases which wish to remake the world in their own fun house mirror image.

If they had no political pretensions it wouldn't matter, eh? We could just let water seek it's own level, and they could spin out their lives giggling in each others' beardless and bespectacled faces.

But somewhere along the line they decided they are entitled not only to fellowship, but fellowship and concern on their own nihilistic terms. As if all other human beings are bank accounts upon which they are entitled to draw, as they while away their time in the anteroom to nowhere, probing and pinching and commanding.

Brian said...

Better come out with that book on homosexuality and marriage revisionism sometime soon, professor. And Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, and sympathetic friends ought to start thinking about what they are going to do when marriage revisionists officially get their way. If you ask me, I think every parish in the country ought to teach their young people how to think like true philosophers on this important issue.

seanrobsville said...

@ ingx24

Regarding materialism...

As far as we know, all causality in the physical world can be modelled by the five-column action table of a Turing machine, or sequence of Turing machines. This includes the entire human body, nervous system and brain.

However, what cannot be thus modelled is the step from neural events to subjective experience. There is no TM encodable final causal step from the end of the chain of all the little Turing Machines in the visual system, to the qualitative subjective experience of seeing red.

So we seem to be dealing with a different (and dare I say it - 'non-physical') type of causality in the step from the physical to the qualitative.

WMF said...

As far as we know, all causality in the physical world can be modelled by the five-column action table of a Turing machine, or sequence of Turing machines. This includes the entire human body, nervous system and brain.

And we would know this ... how?

seanrobsville said...

@ WMF
We don't know it. All we know is that as yet no convincing exceptions have been discovered: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_physics

Eduardo said...

Sean, what would be the limit of a representation for a turing machine?

seanrobsville said...

@ Eduardo

"Turing equivalence:
Many machines that might be thought to have more computational capability than a simple universal Turing machine can be shown to have no more power (Hopcroft and Ullman p. 159, cf Minsky). They might compute faster, perhaps, or use less memory, or their instruction set might be smaller, but they cannot compute more powerfully (i.e. more mathematical functions). (The Church-Turing thesis hypothesizes this to be true: that anything that can be “computed” can be computed by some Turing machine.)" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_machine_equivalents

Eduardo said...

Sean, I mean what is the qualitative limit of a turing machine when it come to representing something.

That part you said I think I remeber you saying in other place XD.

Do you get my question now?

*I should have made the question clearer*

seanrobsville said...

Qualitative limits: No qualia and no intentionality

Eduardo said...

I will read your blog post soon XD Sean, see if I can generalize some rules from what might be a good argument... let's see ;D

seanrobsville said...

It might be possible to generalize my comments at 3:12 PM and 3:48 PM thus:

(1) No machine is capable of functionality outside the limits of a Turing Machine.

(2) A Turing Machine is incapable of supporting qualia and intentionality.

(3) Therefore no machine is capable of supporting qualia and intentionality ('machine' includes any sort of computer or equivalent mechanism, whether configured as a neural net, ladder logic, technological singularity, Babbage-style cogwheel array or whatever the latest AI flavor of the month happens to be).

(4) No amount of hype, bluster, B/S or fancy new buzzwords can affect 1, 2 and 3 above.

seanrobsville said...

...I should also add that the same line of reasoning applies to any 'mechanistic' attempts to understand the mind in terms of the brain, as was pointed out (pre-Turing) by the eminent Victorian physicist John Tyndall over 140 years ago. This dooms neuroscience to perpetual failure to progress beyond 'neural correlates of consciousness' to neural causality of consciousness.

Anonymous said...

Neural correlates are useful. But not sufficient for physicalist explanations of the mind.

Anonymous said...

If it can be shown that manipulating the physical brain can cause alterations in thought or perception, or temporary deprivation of consciousness, would that demonstrate neural causality of consciousness?

Anonymous said...

"If it can be shown that manipulating the physical brain can cause alterations in thought or perception, or temporary deprivation of consciousness, would that demonstrate neural causality of consciousness?"

I'd say no. Two reasons: Even dualists claim that the brain is a necessary condition for consciousness (but not a sufficient condition). So saying something like "If outside physical causes can affect perception, consciousness, etc (which they obviously can, like concussions, headshots, etc) then physicalism is true" is question-begging and invalid.

Second, that would not vindicate physicalism, because it doesn't explain things like qualia, intentionality, rationality, etc of thought and consciousness.

If you haven't already read this post, you ought to check it out:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/churchland-on-dualism-part-iii.html