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Today’s article is a guest post by Alex Papulis.
I would like to address this question by first looking at the issue of free will. We start with one premise: all causes are physical. Events are caused by antecedent physical states of the world in conjunction with physical laws. Our thoughts, intentions, choices, decisions, deliberations, etc. are all physical events, and as such are caused by antecedent physical states of the world in conjunction with physical laws.
To say that something is free is to say, at least, that it is the source of its actions. It is clear, though, that our actions are the result of the world being the way it is, and not some “free” agent making a choice and acting it out. Our brains are the way they are at any given point as the result of antecedent states of the world and physical laws relevant to brain function, development, etc. Our thoughts, intentions, etc. are what they are, in turn, as the result of our brains being the way they are in conjunction with the relevant physical laws. The causal chain stretches through us, and so the source of our choices, thoughts, actions, behavior, the very state we are in now, lies beyond ourselves.
Now, it’s either the case that an event is deterministically caused or indeterministically caused. In either case, events are the result of antecedent states of the world acting according to the laws of nature, and whether or not an event is necessitated by antecedent states doesn’t alter the fact that it is the result of those states and laws. As such, an event that is indeterminately caused is still not the product of some “free” agent, as nothing besides the antecedent states of the world and the laws of nature is responsible for the resulting state.
We do not choose to anything. We “choose” to, say, get up and go to work for the same reason that our heart beats: the antecedent state of the world was such as to cause it to be so. When a leaf falls from a tree, it’s because the world was such as to cause that to happen. Likewise with our thoughts, intentions, decisions, emotions, preferences, actions, behavior, etc. There are no causally independent agents moving things.
We now turn to the larger question. Our beliefs are physical events, caused by antecedent states of the world in conjunction with physical laws. Just as our intentions, desires, choices, etc. are caused in us, so also are our beliefs. We hold the beliefs that we hold because the antecedent states of the world and the laws of nature are such as to cause them, and there’s no causally independent agent that influences which beliefs are caused/held.
We see, then, that our beliefs are not held for reasons. We don’t hold a belief because the evidence supported it. Rather, nature produces in us a “conclusion”, a belief that we have examined evidence, a belief that the process of examining evidence leads us to truth, and even a belief that we freely came to a conclusion. In fact, every belief we hold is equally the product of antecedent physical causes. We have the belief that we reason and listen to argument and deduce and infer, but the very belief that we do these things is just as much a product of antecedent physical states of the world as a leaf falling from a tree. Regardless of whether these events are determinate or indeterminate, there’s no agent independent of physical causes. Our beliefs are “given” to us by nature, and there aren’t causally independent agents that decide what to accept.
Why the believer in Mohammed and the believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster believe what they believe is explained in the same way: they don’t have a choice. Likewise with the atheist and the Buddhist. If all causes are physical, the Christian does not hold his beliefs for some reason. They’re simply what he was given.
We can be atheists and believe in knowledge, but what would be the reason for that belief?
Alex Papulis is a non-degree-seeking, non-transfer Degree-seeking Transfer student at Mizzou. After getting a B.A. in Economics in St. Louis and spending some time abroad, he’s settled on philosophy. He’s enjoyed his year at Mizzou, and looks forward to starting an MA program in Milwaukee next fall. It would be easier for him to get his assignments done if SASHA wasn’t around.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Today’s article is a guest post by musician, activist, long-time friend of SASHA, and Christian evangelist Rocket Kirchner.
In Christopher Hitchens last days, Hitch seemed to be more troubled by Sam Harris postulating the possibility that consciousness can survive the grave than Hitchens constant debate with Theists. With the Atheist/Theist polemic at least he knew where he stood. But not with his fellow Atheist Sam Harris asserting that “one can be a good Atheist and firmly believe that consciousness will continue on after death.” Is this a creedal statment from Harris or merley a flirtation? Or is it just plain open inquiry? Either way, Hitchens response to Harris was, “Be careful, Sam: This manner of inquiry can lead down a slippery slope.” As a Christian practioner myself, and one who has studied for decades the history of Atheism, I am intrigued by Harris’s proposal.
My intrique is two fold: The first is Philosophical, and the second is Sociological. The Philosophical one is obvious: a major player in the New Atheist movement specializing in a subject that many Atheist consider to be not important or taboo. The Sociological intrigue is how this would affect the Atheist-to-Atheist dynamic within its own movement, and also how it would find common ground for an ever-expanding dialogue between the Atheist and the Theist. It is interesting to note that the new Freethinker movement of the post-modern era is now reaching a point where there is a breakdown from a general Zietgiest, to many thinkers in the movement becoming specialists. Historically-speaking, we need not be surpised. This happened in both the pre-Socratic era in Greece, and the post -Socratic era at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Harris has indeed found his niche.
Hitchens’s fear of the slippery slope with regard to Harris is that Harris is willing to consider Oxford analytic philosopher Nick Bostrum’s Simulated Universe theory (think the movie The 13th Floor), or Oxford analytic philosopher Galen Strawson’s further probing into John Searle’s work on the mind/body debate. This was both mentioned in their debates with 2 rabbis on the afterlife, which can be found on YouTube [editor's note: Link forthcoming]. There is a real fear that Bostrum and Strawson, if they keep pushing these things, just might end up like former lifelong Atheist-apologist & British analytic philosoper Antony Flew, who actually became a Theist before he died and wrote a book on the subject. If Flew wasn’t safe then no one is. The slope seems to be getting more slippery. Mmm. But I digress.
It must be made clear to the reader at this juncture that Harris has stated emphatically that his position on the possibility of consciousness continuing after death is diametrically opposed to N.T. Wright’s most exhaustive work to date on the alleged literal resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. However, one must ask: To even propose such a concept, is Harris equating reductio ad absurdum with credo qua absurdum? Maybe so, considering the fact that all of this is being met with raised eyebrows. And this raises another question: If Sam Harris was really a true-blue reductionist, in its strictist philosophical definition, why would he even tamper with the possibility that we humans are not our brains? I mean, for crying out loud, the man is a neuroscientist! How can one be an Atheist and not be a reductionist? His Atomist-Material view of the universe is shakey at best.
Neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate Sir John Eccles said that the he could never find the self in the brain. DNA discoverer Sir Francis Crick challenged that. They both died with the issue unresolved. So we have a Mexican standoff. Which is it? Is the Self only an expression of neurons and synapses firing, or does the Kantian observer stand outside the brain? In other words, where does the locus of the Self actually reside?
The upshot of all of this is this: To ask questions about the plausability of consciousness surviving after death automatically opens up another channel of dialogue about consciousness in the here and now. That was Zeman’s concern, and as the trajectory of inquiry continues, the question of consciousness morphs into the question of what it actually means to be a person, something that Merton and Susuki probed in their interfaith Catholic-Buddhist dialogue. All of this moves deeper into the question of what it means to be human, or what is a human being? And that takes it to that ever-vexing question that has echoed through all of Western philosophy: “The Ex Hypothesis” (aka, the existence of a Supreme Being ). Regardless of Occam’s razor, questions of such serious import always seems to unravel back to sqaure one. And then it all starts up all over again. The slope is slippery, indeed.
Rocket Kirchner is a long-time friend of SASHA. He is a professional musician, pacifism activist, Christian evangelist, and life-long student of philosophy.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Hi this is Seth. Recently there has been a bit of a flare up of the free will debate on skeptic/science blogs. Massimo Pigliucci penned a brief criticism of the brand of determinism often adhered to among fairly prominent skeptics, like Jerry Coyne, Alex Rosenburg, and Sam Harris. His post does a great job highlighting the important conceptual issues of the debate, that may frequently be swept under the rug, or worse, smuggled in without argument.
In response, Jerry Coyne draws parallels between the rhetoric sometimes used by philosophers and the rhetoric we in the skeptic community associate with theologians (read: undesirable argument tactics). Coyne then presents what he takes to be the important distinctions and conceptual issues of the free will debate, and defends the view that there is no free will in any meaningful sense.
Sean Carroll, a physicist at CosmicInvariance weighs in, examining the implications physics has on the free will debate. Carroll defends a compatibilist position of free will and determinism here. Coyne responds to Sean, and all the fuss compels PZ to voice his agreement with Coyne.
It is pretty crazy to me to see all this chatter about free will. It’s a topic I’ve always been interested in, and I wrote my senior thesis about it a few years ago, but have since moved on to other things. I never expected the free will debate to be of interest to the skeptic community, except insofar as the free will defense is offered as a response to the problem of evil.
On the one hand, I’m glad to see some love shown to a philosophical topic, but on the other hand I’m bothered that more love isn’t shown to the philosophers who research the question professionally. It may be a bias on my part, something Coyne refers to as Turf Defense, where philosophers get all incensed when a non-philosopher opines about a philosophical topic without being familiar with the relevant literature. I see this skepticism of philosophical authority/expertise pretty regularly among the skeptic community.
There is a tendency to see a non-science discipline as being incapable of producing experts with any kind of claim-making authority. Listen to Julia Galef flirt with the view in this episode of Rationally Speaking. I am not sure whether philosophers can be experts in the same way, if at all, that a molecular biologist or astrophysicist is. We don’t exactly have a large bank of empirical facts that we can assert, that would only be known after years of study.
Instead, the payoff of studying analytic philosophy comes in the form of clarity of the relevant issues and understanding how various positions logically relate to one another. Through rational argument, we accumulate a large bank of thought experiments meant to motivate judgments about certain propositions, and responses to those thought experiments. No thought experiment should be taken as proof of a proposition, of course, but it merely serves as a basis for a well-considered, reflective judgment. Those judgments are always revisable in light of empirical evidence and further reflection on thought experiments.
I mention that philosophers are good at clarifying the relevant issues. Included in this task is the identification of the possible positions one can adopt regarding a particular discussion. Carroll writes,
We can imagine four different possibilities: determinism + free will, indeterminism + free will, determinism + no free will, and indeterminism + no free will. All of these are logically possible, and in fact beliefs that some people actually hold! Bringing determinism into discussions of free will is a red herring.
Actually, this is not quite right. Whether determinism is relevant or not to free will is itself a question under consideration in the free will debate. In fact, there are no less than 9 logically possible positions one can adopt (Strawson, Galen, “Freedom and Belief” Oxford University Press 1986, p. 5). See Pereboom, Derk, “Living Without Free Will” Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. xvi-xix for a discussion.
Here are the positions, and I pull them straight from Strawson:
D = Determinism is true
F = the free will required for moral responsibility exists
? = Agnostic/Don’t Know
Incompatibilists can be anything but 3, 5, and 8. Libertarians are mostly position 2; they hold that determinism and free will are incompatible, and that we have free will. Hard determinism is usually 1; it agrees with the libertarians that free will and determinism are incompatible, but holds that determinism is true. Another view, which Pereboom calls Hard Incompatibilism, can be positions 1, 4, or 7. Hard Incompatibilism holds that whether determinism is true or not, we do not have free will. Position 8 is Al Mele’s position, called Agnostic Autonomism, which subsumes positions 2 and 3, and holds that whether determinism is true or false, we have the sort of free will we need for moral responsibility. This also appears to be Carroll’s position, as he thinks determinism is irrelevant for the issue of free will.
PZ seems to adopt position 7, as he says,
I don’t understand why free will was getting all tangled up in indeterminacy vs. determinism, since that seems to be a completely independent issue.
I’ll sum up my opinion by agreeing with Jerry Coyne.
Of course, whether the laws of physics are deterministic or probabilistic is, to me, irrelevant to whether there’s free will, which in my take means that we can override the laws of physics with some intangible “will” that allows us to make different decisions given identical configurations of the molecules of the universe.
This indicates that he adopts position 7 when he says that determinism is irrelevant. This is the position Pereboom defends in his book, linked above.
Furthermore, there are no less than 7 ways one can be a compatiblist, illustrated by the following distinct claims:
1. D is true. D does not imply that we lack F. But in fact we lack F.
2. D is true. D does not imply that we lack F. We don’t know whether we have F.
3. D is true. We have F.
4. D is true. We have F. Our having F requires that D be true (David Hume, and other soft determinists).
5. We don’t know if D is true. We have F either way.
6. D is not true. We have F. We still have F if D were true.
7. D is not true. We do not have F. F is nonetheless compatible with D, logically.
Traditionally, we associate a compatibilist view with 3 – 6, the positions that hold that we have F regardless of D’s truth or falsity.
Hopefully this is useful for anyone interested in the ongoing discussion. Also, here’s a picture.
Seth Kurtenbach is a philosophy PhD student at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on applications of formal logic and game theory to questions about knowledge and rationality. He is growing a mighty beard, in order to increase his philosophical powers [EDIT: He recently shaved his mighty beard, and has thus lost all of his philosophical powers. ]. Feel free to contact Seth at SJK7v7@mail.missouri.edu with inquiries about philosophy, logic, guest blogging, or visiting to give a presentation!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Seth Kurtenbach, here. Over at LessWrong, there is a discussion concerning the merits, or lackthereof, of analytic philosophy. The discussion is linked here. The original poster, named Potato, makes many claims to the effect that the community of LessWrong’ers is better at addressing philosophical issues than is the average analytic philosopher. I am quite unfamiliar with LessWrong, but having perused through the responses to Potato, I am pretty impressed with the skepticism and hesitation to join in on the intellectual masturbation party. Other LWers point out several flaws in Potato’s reasoning. I will also say that, as an analytic philosopher, I am committed to the idea that almost all analytic philosophers are wrong and stupid. So I don’t disagree entirely with bold Potato. I will briefly address a few of his claims that have not yet been tackled in the comment section.
Potato’s initial claim:
By and large, I would bet money that the devoted, experienced, and properly sequenced LWer, is a better philosopher than the average current philosophy majors concentrating in the analytic tradition. I say this because I have regular philosophical conversations with both populations, and notice many philosophical desiderata lacking in my conversations with my class mates, from my school and others, that I find abundantly on this website.
Analytic philosophy trains one to reason carefully, make fine distinctions, ask unobvious questions, and search for counterexamples to any assertion. We hold in high regard clarity of argument. Thus, the discipline’s philosophical desiderata include (but are not limited to) careful, precise, thorough, critical reasoning that is presented clearly. If an analytic philosopher lacks these desiderata in conversation, it is not because analytic philosophy eschews them or discourages them. However, Potato is not clear about what the desiderata are, in his mind. It may be that the analytic philosophers with whom he converses exhibit these properties, but that he does not consider them to be philosophical desiderata. In that case, it may be that the philosophical desiderata held in high regard by the LessWrong community are not the same as the philosophical desiderata held in high regard by the analytic philosophy community. Without knowing the philosophical desiderata of the LessWrong community, I cannot say how the sets of desiderata add up. One might wonder why the philosophical desiderata of an Internet community would be superior to those of an academic discipline with dedicated professionals…
If they really honed their skills in crushing their opponents arguments, and could transmit this skill to other successfully, then we wouldn’t have so many open questions in philosophy, and we would notice the sort of exponential growth of the power of our methods, like we see in molecular bio.
Now, I’ve been doing analytic philosophy for seven years. Through all of these years of practice, I’ve noticed my process of reading has changed. Rather than merely reading for understanding, I also constantly search for counterexamples and objections to every claim I read. It has made me a slow reader, because the additional computation takes time. This sentence took me a while to read. As I read a claim, my brain alerts me to objections and counterexamples with something like red flags and alarms. Imagine the sentence to be a neighborhood street, lined with mailboxes. As I read the sentence, it is like walking down the mailbox-lined street, and each time I encounter a weak claim, susceptible to an objection or counterexample, a flag goes up. I stop and make a note of each flag along the way. The above claim has the general form of a conditional, if-then. Conditionals are false when the antecedent, the ‘if’ claim, is true, and the consequent, the ‘then’ claim, is false. In my earlier days of philosophical training, I would have generated a counterexample to this claim, if this be possible, and gone out drinking. Now, though, I simply make note of this possibility, and search for other potential weaknesses and more charitable interpretations of his claim. Rather than reading it as a conditional of some sort, we can interpret it as a hypothesis and its prediction.
The hypothesis is: Analytic philosophers hone their skills in crushing their opponents’ arguments, and can transmit this skill to others successfully.
The prediction generated by this hypothesis is: There are not so many open questions in philosophy, and the power of the analytic method grows exponentially, like in molecular biology.
Thus construed, his claim amounts to a falsified hypothesis, because he alleges that the prediction is false.
But why think that the hypothesis really generates that prediction? Recall that the methods of analytic philosophy encourage thorough, precise criticism. This means that there is a focus on finding flaws in existing claims, and on finding new logically possible claims with flaws of their own. This process results in an expanding of our conceptual landscape, which results in more questions. So, I don’t think that the hypothesis actually generates a prediction that there be relatively few open questions in analytic philosophy. Quite the opposite, I would expect the number of open questions to increase. Analytic philosophy concerns itself with examining questions, criticizing responses to those questions, identifying new questions, and identifying new ways of understanding questions. This process need not culminate in an answer to questions. Sometimes, analytic philosophy advances by giving us a better understanding of a question, or by asking a question in such a way that it can be investigated empirically. Then, a new science is born, and questions can be answered empirically (with no credit given to philosophy!)
So, if this reading captures the essentials of Potato’s claim, then I think his claim misses its mark. We should not expect relatively few open questions. But what about the other aspect of the prediction, concerning the exponential growth of the analytic method? Well, given what I’ve said about the broad and thorough criticism and the conceptual expansion, it seems like we should expect a growth, perhaps not exponential, of the analytic method. The analytic method, roughly construed, is the analysis of concepts and arguments with the use of formal logic. Consider this in terms analogous to the scientific method: the systematic observation of nature with the use of experiments (likewise roughly construed). In what sense is there growth? For science, the body of facts grows, and our understanding of nature both broadens and deepens. Our ability to manipulate nature increases as a result. Analytic philosophy does not aim at amassing empirical facts, so its failure to exponentially grow in this regard is not a mark against it. As far as understanding goes, analytic philosophy does contribute to an overall increase, by examining questions that are left unexamined, or unexaminable, by science. But I think the best defense of analytic philosophy’s methodological growth comes from the aggressive surge of development in logic that the 20th and early 21st centuries have seen. Our ability to analyze arguments, and reasoning in general, has increased at a rate close to exponential. The field of modal logic is only one small fragment of philosophical logic, and it is already vast beyond all measure. I intend to spend the rest of my life studying modal logic, and I will never catch up with all the advances made in the 20th century, let alone all those piling on top in the 21st century. Look at this. And this. Simply put, our analytic methods have been expanding. Fucking rapidly.
But we can also interpret his claim as a deductively valid argument.
1. If analytic philosophers hone their skills and can transmit these skills to others, then there are relatively few open questions in philosophy and an exponential growth of the power of the analytic method.
2. There are not relatively few open questions in philosophy.
3. There is not an exponential growth of the power of the analytic method.
4. Therefore, analytic philosophers don’t hone their skills, or cannot transmit these skills to others.
My above discussion should show that premise (3) is false, and that premise (1) is doubtful. So, the most charitable interpretations of his claim fail under scrutiny. I invite the reader to leave comments with other interpretations that might be more charitable.
Finally, Potato compares analytic philosophy to self-help books:
But let us not forget, that comparing molecular biology and philosophy, is like comparing self-help and physics. We should not be as surprised if a bunch of clever enthusiasts make better self-help than professionals, as if a bunch of clever enthusiasts made better physics than physicists. This is because physicists are better at physics than self-help writers are at self-help, the same is true of biologists and philosophers respectively.
I leave this one to the reader.
Seth Kurtenbach is a philosophy PhD student at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on applications of formal logic and game theory to questions about knowledge and rationality. He is growing a mighty beard, in order to increase his philosophical powers. Feel free to contact Seth at SJK7v7@mail.missouri.edu with inquiries about philosophy, logic, guest blogging, or visiting to give a presentation!
One of our members recently posted a link to a great website, The Fallacy Files, on our facebook wall. I did some browsing, and stumbled upon a modal logic fallacy: the modal scope fallacy. I did some more clicking, and ended up reading Professor Norman Swartz’ article on the modal scope fallacy. In it, he claims that the argument against god’s omnipotence based on the immovable stone commits the modal scope fallacy. This is one of my favorite arguments, so I decided to take a closer peek. It turns out that Swartz’s analysis is a bit too coarse-grained, representing “god is omnipotent” as ‘G’, and “god creates an immovable stone” as ‘M’. I thought this might be a nice opportunity to show what modal logicians do. I will give a more precise analysis of the argument, find out that Swartz’s analysis holds, and then show why under the assumption that god is a necessary being, the argument holds, just as Swartz speculates. This will bore and disappoint many of you.
I’ll start with Swartz’s analysis of the argument. He says:
God is omnipotent, i.e. God can do anything which is logically possible. Making a stone which is so heavy that it cannot be moved is logically possible. Therefore God, being omnipotent, can make a stone so heavy that it cannot be moved. But if God makes a stone so heavy that it cannot be moved, then God cannot move it. But if God cannot move that stone, then there is something God cannot do, and hence God is not omnipotent. Thus if God is omnipotent, then God is not omnipotent. But any property which implies its contradictory is self-contradictory. Thus the very notion of God’s (or anyone’s) being omnipotent is logically impossible (self-contradictory).
The argument, as presented just above, is an unholy amalgam of two different arguments, one valid, the other invalid. The valid argument is this (where “G” = “God is omnipotent” and “M” = “God makes an immovable stone”):
Although the immediately preceding argument is valid, its second premise is false. The true premise is used in this next argument, but this next argument is invalid:
To derive ~G from the latter pair of premises, one would have to add the further premise, M. But so long as M is false, the conclusion ~G remains underivable. God, thus, remains omnipotent provided that God does nothing, e.g. making an immovable stone, which destroys His/Her omnipotence.
(Question: What if God is omnipotent – as some have argued – of logical necessity and exists necessarily, i.e. in every possible world? The answer, I’m pretty sure, is that, under these conditions, God’s making a stone so heavy that God cannot move it is a logical impossibility.)
He says the second premise of the valid argument is false. The premise says, “if it is possible for god to create an immovable stone, then god is not omnipotent.” As the English version of the argument indicates (I’ve emboldened the sentence), god’s lack of omnipotence follows from his actually making an immovable stone. The beginning of that sentence is not “If god can make…”, but “If god makes…” This is a big difference, modally. It is like the difference between “If one can murder his father, then one deserves punishment” versus “If one murders his father, then one deserves punishment.” We need god’s omnipotence to be destroyed by the possibility of making an immovable stone, and so far the above argument does not establish that.
Upon reading Swartz’s analysis thus far, I felt the skeptical beast inside me awaken and grumble. I doubted that his analysis was correct, but I recognized that everything else he had said so far in the article seemed correct. I had a good reason to believe what he said. So, I suspended my belief that the argument was valid, and decided to look at it more closely. Two things immediately jumped out at me as requiring closer analysis. First, the notion of an agent’s ability to do things can be analyzed with a system of action logic, called STIT. STIT stands for Sees To It That. It is a logical operator that connects an agent to a sentence, representing the idea that when an agent does something, he makes sure that some sentences are true. For example, when I walk my dogs, I see to it that the sentence, “Sasha and Gypsy are walking outside” is true. We can let the symbol W express that sentence. So, to logically represent my walking the dogs, we can say [seth STIT: W]. Now, STIT logic represents ability like this: [seth STIT: W]; this says ‘seth has the ability to see to it that sasha and gypsy are walking outside.’ With the tools of STIT logic, we can more precisely analyze the parts of the argument that deal with god’s ability to do things. But before we dig in, there is another element to the logic I must explain. That is the second thing that jumped out at me.
To say that god is omnipotent is to say that god can do anything. Some want to qualify this with “… that is logically possible.” I will ignore this qualification. The important thing to recognize is that the claim “god can do anything” requires first order predicate logic, not merely propositional logic. Predicate logic allows us to express things like “All men are mortal,” and “Some people suck” mathematically, and it comes to us compliments of Frege and Russell. Predicate logic lets us generalize over claims about all things and some things. Because “god can do anything” makes a claim that generalizes over all things, we need predicate logic for a precise analysis. The symbols ‘x’ say “for all x’, and the symbols ‘x’ say “there exists an x’ or ‘for some x’. Now we can combine STIT logic and predicate logic to say ‘god is omnipotent’:
1. x[g STIT: x].
In english: For all x, god has the ability to see to it that x. So, x is a variable that can express any sentence. At this point, the “logically possible” qualification might insist that x not be a self-contradiction, but I will just take it for granted that x is self-consistent. To represent ‘god can make an immovable stone,’ I’ll first convert it to the long english version of the logicese: ‘god has the ability to see to it that there exists a stone such that nothing can see to it that the stone moves.’ Let Sy = ‘y is a stone’ and My = ‘y moves’. Then we have the following:
2. [g STIT: y(Sy & ~z([z STIT: My]))].
This is ‘god can make an immovable stone’ in predicate STIT logic. Suppose statement (1) is true, that god is omnipotent. It follows, then, that (2) is true, that god can make an immovable stone. In order for (2) to be true, there must be some possible world in which god does create an immovable stone. That’s what it means for something to be possible. We’ll call that possible world ‘U’. At possible world U, god creates an immovable stone. Now, U may not be the actual world, in which case god does not actually create an immovable stone. This is why Swartz’s analysis makes the argument invalid. However, at world U, god does create an immovable stone, meaning at U the sentence [g STIT: y(Sy & ~z[z STIT: My])] is true. So, y(Sy & ~z[z STIT: My]) is also true at U, meaning that at U, there exists an immovable stone, we’ll call it ‘s’. So, at U, ~z[z STIT: Ms] is true, meaning ‘nothing can see to it that the stone moves.’ Logically equivalent to this, we can say z~[z STIT: Ms]. For all z, z cannot see to it that the stone moves. But, we can let z = g, because z is just a universally generalized variable. So, ~[g STIT: Ms]. At U, it is not possible that god sees to it that the stone moves.
To say that something is not possible is to say that it is necessarily false. So, ~[g STIT: Ms]; necessarily, god doesn’t see to it that the stone moves. This means, in all possible worlds, including U, god doesn’t see to it that the stone moves: ~[g STIT: Ms]. In Swartz’s analysis, god remains omnipotent in the actual world as long as he doesn’t create the immovable stone. We see now that if he creates the immovable stone, then he can’t move it, but his inability to move it does not follow from his ability to create it. So, in no possible world does he move the immovable stone, but so long as he doesn’t create the immovable stone in the actual world, it does not threaten his omnipotence in the actual world. At U, however, god is not omnipotent.
In order to get a contradiction with (1), we need ~[g STIT: Ms] true in the actual world. So far, we haven’t established that. All we have at the actual world is that ~[g STIT: Ms]; god doesn’t move the immovable stone (because there isn’t one to move). So far, the argument is still invalid for the same reasons Swartz says! Imagine my disappointment! However, this defense rests on a crucial suppression: (1) is not necessarily true. This means, that there are some possible worlds, like U, at which god is not omnipotent. So, in order for the argument against god’s omnipotence to be invalid, one must admit that god is not necessarily omnipotent! This is a surprising result, which most theists would want to deny. Because, they want the following to be true: x[g STIT: x]. Necessarily, god is omnipotent.
1*. x[g STIT: x].
If we suppose (1*) is true, then by the exact same reasoning as before, we will wind up with ~[g STIT: Ms] at world U. But now, because (1*) is a necessary truth, we also have [g STIT: Ms] at U. [g STIT: Ms] and ~[g STIT: Ms] contradict each other. So, (1*) is false. Now, most theists think god is a necessary being that exists in all possible worlds, and that by definition god is omnipotent. However, we just showed that god is not necessarily omnipotent. So, if god is omnipotent by definition, then god does not necessarily exist, that is, god possibly doesn’t exist. I am content with this result, because it undermines a crucial claim the theist wants to make, but I would rather make the move from possible non-existence to actual non-existence. Unfortunately, the argument against god’s omnipotence can show only that s/he’s not necessarily omnipotent. So, if god is omnipotent by definition, then god is not a necessary being, which means god possibly doesn’t exist. That’s pretty neat.
Seth Kurtenbach here. The above link is a claim that can be formalized with modal logic. Modal logic is a branch of logic that deals with necessity and possibility qualifiers on truth. Depending on how one specifies the type of necessity and possibility, one can formalize arguments from many domains that cannot otherwise be precisely represented with regular old classical logic. Classical logic is strictly extensional, because it was developed to explore the foundations of mathematics. It is complicated why this is so, but trust me, it is. An intensional logic is one that does not guarantee the substitution of identities. For example, suppose the number of planets = 8. Furthermore, suppose, reasonably, that 8 = 8. In regular extensional logic, one can substitute these equivalencies, due to transitivity. However, suppose one wants to say that necessarily, 8 = 8. Now, one cannot validly make the substitution. It is not necessary that the number of planets = 8. It is possible that the number of planets = 9. This is an example of intensionality disrupting the logic. In the last half of the 20th century much work has gone into exploring the various types of modal logic and their rules of inference.
During the recent XKCD hubbub about all Wikipedia roads leading to philosophy, I encountered a Wikipedia page about the formal sciences. The page indicates that these sciences are different from most other sciences insofar as the formal sciences are a priori, while the other sciences are a posteriori. That is, the formal sciences are not empirical, but instead amass knowledge based on definitions and axioms.
Among the so-called formal sciences is logic and its various subfields. I do work in modal logic, and so it would seem that if Wikipedia is correct, then I am a sort of scientist. But, I have never thought of my work as being a type of science. I usually consider logic to be a subfield of analytic philosophy, and I consider analytic philosophy to be distinct from science. In that same vein, I am not sure any of the so-called formal sciences are actually sciences, because my impression is that all science is primarily empirical.
I would like to know what others think about these so-called formal sciences, specifically about logic. Am I a formal scientist, or is that a misnomer?
The first chapter of WDGW lays out the structure of the so-called ‘modern synthesis,’ which construes natural selection as a two part, single dimensional process: First, genetic mutations arise randomly; second, external environmental factors ‘select’ phenotypes. The authors bring evidence from genetics to bear on this model. They argue that the internal elements of the process are hardly random, and that much of the evolutionary process rides on non-random internal constraints at the genetic level.
Much of the support for their claims comes in the form of quotes from contemporary geneticists, to the effect that much of the ‘filtering’ occurs internally, rather than externally through the organism’s environment. They likewise criticize the idea that variations in one trait are independent from heritable variations in other traits, arguing instead that the packaging of traits within the chromosome is messily interconnected (this is my poor attempt at a summary).
The authors spend much time discussing evolutionary development, or evo-devo. I found some of this discussion fascinating, particularly regarding the idea that entire life cycles are the the objects of evolutionary forces, not merely the adult forms. Rather than the organism’s adult form being the primary phenotype that undergoes selective pressures, evo-devo regards each developmental step as part of the filtering process, from the fertilized egg to the adult.
Much of the material in chapter one is technical, and I found it rather difficult to follow. I’ve re-read it several times, but I still do not grasp all of the arguments.
Chapter two zooms out, so to speak, from gene complexes to entire genomes and more complex systems. The authors continue to emphasize the role internal constraints play in the evolutionary process. They point to the robustness of ‘master genes’ and gene networks, which offer alternative explanations for evolutionary change. Rather than the random phenotype generation plus external filter model, they push a model of shifting internal networks and structures not easily influenced by the environment to any great degree. They take the primary targets of their criticism to be gradualism and adaptationism, of which I know Dawkins and Dennett are champions. I’ll say more about chapters two and three in the next post.
Skepticism can be a painful disposition to maintain. A skeptic’s normal relationship with Darwin, evolution, and natural selection, is one of endorsement, and of defense against the creationist masses. However, in order to truly maintain a consistently skeptical disposition, one must be willing to entertain rational challenges to any belief, even those in which one is most confident. That is why I decided to read “What Darwin Got Wrong“, by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (not to be confused with Massimo Pigliucci, of Rationally Speaking !)
My formal education in biology extends only through high school, the one ichthyology course I (mistakenly) took my freshman year of college, and the physical anthropology course I took Junior year. My understanding of the necessary concepts is amateur at best. I am capable of defending the theory from creationist attacks, and of explaining the basics throughout. Despite this relative ignorance of the fine details, I endorse the theory of evolution by natural selection with a great degree of confidence. I decided to challenge my confidence in the theory by reading Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s book. I’ll begin this review with some background about the authors.
Jerry Fodor is a great and powerful analytic philosopher at Rutgers. He has contributed immensely to the fields of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. If you’ve heard of the modularity of mind, or the language of thought hypothesis, then you have encountered his work. He is known for his audacious challenges to commonly assumed positions. When I read his work, I begin with a resolve to find his errors, but I end by begrudgingly admitting, “this shit makes a lot of sense, actually.”
I have never heard of Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini before. If he had written this book by himself, I would not have given it a second thought. I’m sure the publishers felt the same way. Piattelli-Palmarini (this last name is a pain to type) is a professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona. I know what you’re thinking. “Neither of these guys is a biologist! Who are they to challenge a biological theory?” P-P was originally a biophysicist and molecular biologist, or so says the book’s front cover.
This book presents a challenge to the mechanism, natural selection, Darwin proposed in his theory of evolution. The challenge is two-pronged. In the first prong, Part 1 of the book, contemporary science from molecular biology and genetics is used to evaluate the explanatory power of natural selection. The second prong, Part 2 of the book, is slated to be an analysis of the very concepts involved in natural selection; it is an examination of the logical basis of the theory, and a challenge to its rational coherence. By my lights, Part 1 is mostly P-P, and Part 2 is Fodor’s gig.
Not having a vibrant understanding of genetics and molecular biology, my review of these parts (‘Part 1: What Darwin Got Wrong’) will be weak, and mostly summary. I hope that by presenting the material, some of you who are familiar with molecular biology and genetics may assist me in evaluating it.
However, I am looking forward to reviewing Part 2, ‘The Conceptual Situation,’ because I do have some skill when it comes to analytic philosophy, and I should like to both practice those skills, and perhaps share the methods of analytic philosophy with my fellow skeptics.
Over the next few weeks, perhaps with some irregularity due to paper deadlines and the grading of exams, I hope to proceed through the book and share my progress with you guys. The book is a philosophical and scientific challenge to a position of which I am rarely skeptical. To me, skepticism is all about honest and relentless inquiry, and the willingness to put any belief, or set of beliefs, to the test. It may sting a little.
Here is a philosophy battle between Fodor and Elliott Sober concerning Fodor’s book.
P.S. – Fodor and P-P are both hardass atheists who don’t take any shit when it comes to woo-woo, so you can forget about dismissing them on grounds of religious-bias.
This week’s posts
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