William Lane Craig takes another crackpot shot at intelligent design by a creator in this short video:
Again, Craig is either sadly ignorant of contemporary physics or he is just dishonest. He begins with the preposterous claim that “the single most significant physical evidence that a creator god created our universe…is the remarkable discovery that the universe is not eternal in the past but began to exist…”
So many things wrong with that statement. First, even if it were true that we discovered the universe had a finite beginning, that in no way implies there was a creator. If there were a definite beginning and we didn’t know how that came about, the assertion of a creator is no more than god of the gaps and not to be taken seriously. Moreover, there are theories based on actual science, such as quantum field fluctuation, that could explain a sudden appearance of the universe without recourse to empty metaphysical speculation. You might remember his gross distortion of Vilenkin’s mathematical formula showing a finite beginning to the universe which he dishonestly used to support Intelligent Design, but failed to mention that most physicists don’t support that theory and Vilenkin himself proposes quantum field fluctuation as the origin.
Of course, it is not true that we have “discovered” that the universe was not eternal in the past. He brazenly lies about the science to maintain his claim of creationism or intelligent design which he repeats every time he advocates for it, including in his lightweight attempt to rebut my demonstration of the illusion of fine-tuning. A telling sleight of hand is his constant conflation of “universe” with “physical existence” or matter and energy. Almost all physicists support some version of our universe as alteration of a prior state, not a new creation. He obscures the true question of the origin, if any, of physicality, which includes all states prior to our universe. That our universe appeared 4.6 billion years ago tells us nothing at all about origins.
He moves on to utter nonsense about Einstein and relativity:
“What Einstein’s theory predicted was that the universe cannot be a static, eternal, in effect timeless entity. Rather the universe was either going to be in a state of a cosmic expansion or collapse. And in either case this cannot be extrapolated to past infinity. It predicted that the universe, and time and space itself, must have had a beginning in the finite past.”
I would be extremely difficult (a testament to Craig’s rhetorical skill) to pack more errors into four short sentences. Actually, Einstein held out for the longest time for the theory that the universe was static (steady state), which was the origin of his cosmological constant. He also saw the universe itself as timeless, with time being our subjective playing out of the universe. For Einstein there was no such thing as past, present, and future, but a static existence outside time resulting in what appears to us as a mechanically deterministic universe. This could not possibly preclude past infinity because time itself didn’t exist, rendering the question of finite/infinite past as nonsensical. Within our perception of time we see the universe play out as inflation from a singularity which began what we perceive as space and time. Note that this implies alteration at the big bang, not creation.
From this he concludes with what is really just a repetition of his initial disinformation:
“In the 1920’s, observational astronomy began to uncover evidence for these purely theoretical predictions that Alfred Einstein’s theory had made. So that today the prevailing view among contemporary cosmologists and astrophysicists is that the universe is not in fact infinite in the past, but that time and space, matter and energy are finite and came into being at some point a finite time ago.”
Again, he repeats the conflation of universe and physical existence and goes on to misstate the prevailing view of physicists. While most, but not all, believe time, space and matter began with the big bang, they originated from an energy state prior to inflation. Again, the issue is one of alteration, not of creation.
In a way, I do agree with his parting statement:
“And I think this is the most powerful evidence to come out of science for the existence of a transcendent cause of the universe, which brought the universe into being.”
Yes, but unfortunately for Craig it is no evidence at all.
I recently commented on William Lane Craig’s attempt to rebut my article on the illusion of fine-tuning which showed Craig’s response lacking in any substantive content while heavy on invective. He now takes another swing at fine-tuning in support of intelligent design in which he repeats many of the same fallacies and false statements here:
We will work our way through his various claims and arguments, starting with the very first sentence:
“The idea that our universe is just a part of a wider multiverse is an expression of what I call the Many Worlds Hypothesis (MWH).”
Perhaps Craig calls it that, but the rest of the world doesn’t. I often have difficulty deciding if Craig is simply ignorant of physics in general or if he is engaged in willful deception. Here he reveals apparent confusion about two very different theories. Many Worlds Theory concerns quantum events where superposition causes all possible event outcomes to actualize into separate worlds, only one of which we perceive due to our involvement in the collapse to eigenstate. It has nothing at all to do with multiverse theory, which is the actual issue at hand in his discussion. This is an unfortunate beginning which doesn’t build confidence in anything that follows. Dr. Craig might find the remedial information in this short summary of benefit:
He follows this with a brief account of the anthropic principle, which is fairly straightforward and an improvement over his apparent misunderstanding presented in his response to my article where he failed to grasp the meaning of my lottery analogy. Perhaps he learned something. But he immediately follows in the next paragraph with a gross misstatement:
“Theorists now recognize that the Anthropic Principle can only legitimately be employed to explain away our observation of fine-tuning when it is conjoined to MWH, according to which an ensemble of concrete universes exists, actualizing a wide range of possibilities. MWH is essentially an effort on the part of partisans of chance to multiply their probabilistic resources in order to reduce the improbability of the occurrence of fine-tuning.”
He falsely claims that the Anthropic Principle can only explain fine tuning through Multiverse Theory, proving he either learned nothing from my rebuttal or he is once again engaging in deception. Multiverse Theory is one possible explanation, but far from the only one. Einstein’s deterministic theory of block time posits zero degrees of freedom in the universe, which means the universe could not possibly have developed in any other way. This eliminates the issue of probability because the certainty that the universe would develop in this precise way was 1. Roger Penrose’s theory of infinite cyclical universe posits many degrees of freedom, but the eternal existence of the universe guarantees that our particular state would appear at some point. Again, the probability of our universe is 1.
What Craig claims as a recognition among theorists is either a result of his lack of familiarity with the divergent theories of leading cosmologists, or it is playing games with the word “theorists”. He seems to imply that all physicists are in agreement, which is opposite of the truth; or by theorists he means Christian apologists rather than theoretical physicists.
He continues his false account by claiming that MWH (I assume he means Multiverse Theory) came about as an attempt to blunt the claim of a finite tuner of the universe (Intelligent Design). Again, he either is ignorant of this bit of history of science or he is once again deceiving. Multiverse Theory predates this controversy of intelligent designer. Rather it is the earlier outcome of the mathematics underlying string theory. Very few leading physicists consider Craig’s interpretation of fine tuning to be worth questioning and definitely did not develop Multiverse Theory in response.
In the next paragraph he pivots from claiming that only Multiverse Theory can legitimately explain fine tuning other than by intelligent design to claiming only a plausible mechanism can do so:
“If MWH is to commend itself as a plausible hypothesis, then some plausible mechanism for generating the many worlds needs to be to be explained. The best shot at providing a plausible mechanism comes from inflationary cosmology, which is often employed to defend the view that our universe is but one domain (or “pocket universe”) within a vastly larger universe, or multiverse.”
He states inflationary cosmology is the best possible shot at a physical explanation of fine tuning, but with no justification. There are other plausible explanations, including quantum field theory and Penrose’s theory of eternal rebirth. To this point, Craig’s argument has rested on
1. Fallacy of bifurcation: That intelligent design can only be explained away through MWI (actually Multiverse Theory).
2. False claim of question-worthiness of intelligent designer: Multiverse Theory was developed to answer the question of fine-tuning.
But even worse, he presents a strawman by distorting the theory of Alex Vilenkin, and not for the first time. One would think Craig would have learned not to do this when he tried the same trick in a debate with Sean Carroll, who embarrassed Craig in his rebuttal by playing a video of Vilenkin directly contradicting what Craig had claimed was his position. The difference here is that, rather than claiming Vilenkin supports Craig’s claim, he accuses him of “legerdemain”. Using a naïve understanding of time:
“For if temporal becoming is an objective feature of reality, as I have argued in my Time and Eternity (Crossway, 2001), then the global future is potentially infinite only, and future Big Bangs do not in any sense exist.”
Craig attempts to argue against an Einsteinian block theory of time Vilenkin doesn’t actually hold and further obscures the issue through a twisting of the Boltzman observation problem. Rather than repeat all the details here, I refer you to Sean Carroll’s correction of Craig’s “legerdemain” in his debate with Craig. In the video below, Penrose explains both the oscillation theory of time central to inflationary theory, which shows oscillation of particles as equal to mass, and thereby removes time as a feature of the universe at the very inception before the appearance of the Higgs field and at the very end; and a theory contrary to inflationary theory. He presents a strong case for an eternal universe both forwards and backwards.
Craig also reverts to his customary practice of strawmanning through his insistence that Vilenkin has “proven” a finite starting point to the universe. Vilenkin’s mathematical proof relies on very generalized assumptions and is far from universally accepted by physicists. Vilenkin also explicitly denies his theory supports the argument for design:
“I don’t think it proves anything one way or another.
I went to a meeting of some theologians and cosmologists. Basically, I realized these theologians have the same problem with God. What was He doing before He created the universe? Why did He suddenly decide to create the universe?
For many physicists, the beginning of the universe is uncomfortable, because it suggests that something must have caused the beginning, that there should be some cause outside the universe. In fact, we now have models where that’s not necessary—the universe spontaneously appears, quantum mechanically.
In quantum physics, events do not necessarily have a cause, just some probability.
As such, there is some probability for the universe to pop out of “nothing.” You can find the relative probability for it to be this size or that size and have various properties, but there will not be a particular cause for any of it, just probabilities.
I say “nothing” in quotations because the nothing that we were referring to here is the absence of matter, space and time. That is as close to nothing as you can get, but what is still required here is the laws of physics. So the laws of physics should still be there, and they are definitely not nothing.”
At this point we have the fallacy of bifurcation, a false claim, and a strawman. As Vilenkin notes, even if we do posit a finite beginning of the universe, the most likely cause would be a quantum fluctuation which we know to be possible.
Craig ends his piece by transitioning from a misuse of physics to a misuse of probability and a distortion of Penrose this time.
“Now a similar problem afflicts the contemporary appeal to the multiverse to explain away fine-tuning. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of our universe’s low entropy condition obtaining by chance alone are on the order of 1:1010(123), an inconceivable number. If our universe were but one member of a multiverse of randomly ordered worlds, then it is vastly more probable that we should be observing a much smaller universe.”
There are three errors in the above:
1. There exists a wide range of theoretical probabilities for the universal constants, ranging from Einstein’s deterministic theory that there are no other possible outcomes, giving us zero degrees of freedom, to multiverse estimates of thousands of possible outcomes, to some string theory estimates approaching infinite degrees of freedom. The sad fact is it is impossible to know what the probability is for our current state. Craig’s argument rests entirely on his assertion of unreasonably low probability for our current universe – an assertion that rests on the flimsiest of assumptions.
2, Since our universe does exist in this exact state for the present, but not past and future, and we have scientific theories that show how this is possible to come about through natural occurrence, Craig relies on the fallacy of rarity. He is required now to show how it would be impossible for our present universe to occur any other way but intelligent design. Short of that, he is simply presenting an argument both fallacious and lacking proper premise.
3. His reference to Penrose is deeply dishonest. In Penrose’s discussion with Craig, he followed his claim of improbability by pointing out that it was also irrelevant since in his theory of eternal rebirth it is also certain that our universe would come about, again putting our probability at 1. This once again brings into play the anthropic principle that this is the universe we observe because it is the one in which we were possible. I again refer you to my lottery analogy which illustrates the illusion of design that this creates.
I readily concede that all of the scientific theories above contain a great degree of speculation. Nobody asserts any one of them is certain truth, and if we ever do resolve this mystery, it is likely none of the above theories is exactly right. But the important point is that science asserts no more than it knows, and the theories are based on processes and principles of observable science. Intelligent design, in contrast, is no explanation at all but merely god of the gaps – an attempt to explain what isn’t knowable at present through mere speculation.
In this section I will discuss consciousness from three different perspectives:
1. Contemporary neuroscientific models
2. Quantum mind theory
3. An ontological inquiry.
1. Contemporary Neuroscientific Models.
The neuroscientists Anil Seth and Donald Hoffman are representative of cognitive models that can be thought of as 21st Century updates of Kant’s epistemology. We can generalize these models as a brain sitting in a dark box with no direct access to what lies outside. All its information comes from electrical impulses received from sensors that receive electro-magnetic signals, atmospheric waves, along with heat and chemical reactions. The brain converts the various oscillations from these sensors into images, smells, tastes, sounds and tactile sensations through a priori rational categories of understanding drawn out in a priori senses of space and time. What actually exists outside our understanding can be thought of as Kant’s thing-in-itself and unknowable, but characteristics of this noumenal realm condition the sensory inputs into unique combinations. The received sense data is overwhelming and chaotic and of no use as it is, so it is the role of the categories of understanding to focus on what seems to be the most urgent at the time, fashion it into a representation, and embed it into a coherent subjective narrative. The primary adaptive function of all this is to predict consequences in order to manipulate the environment to our advantage. What began as a more effective means of hunting prey and evading predators expanded over time to predicting quantum events and fundamentally changing the world.
Hoffman emphasizes the reductive and representational nature of our understanding of the world where, as with Kant, even time and space are inventions of our brains corresponding to something or other outside our subjectivity. This includes mathematics, which give us a limited approximate understanding of things in a world that itself does not contain mathematics. Hoffman’s primary metaphor is that of a computer icon giving us a simplified and useful representation of an incomprehensible string of 0’s and 1’s. Again, this model doesn’t suggest illusion but rather an extremely attenuated modeling of reality. As Hoffman says, he would take the perception of a bus hurtling at him seriously, but not literally.
Seth emphasizes the projection and hallucinatory aspects of consciousness. In contrast, the common understanding of consciousness, even yet among many scientists, is naïve realism stemming from the seemingly concrete truth of our perceptions of the world. Naïve realism gives rise to the claim that the world looks and acts exactly as we perceive, and that implies a basically mathematical and rational structure of reality. Contemporary neuroscience turns that on its head and reveals our act of projecting our subjectively constructed imaginary world onto what we think of as outside us. That wall in front of you that appears as a solid mass of a given color is in reality almost all empty space, with relatively tiny particles spread far apart. It exists really as an energy field resulting from interplay of quantum fields that, among other things, is strong enough that we cannot walk through it and which repels light of certain frequencies which our act of understanding paints as a solid in space and time. We literally walk through our own projections as we navigate the world.
All science exists as metaphoric model, and as with all metaphors, its aptness is limited. It is at the edges of the metaphor we see the continuing concealment of truth. Scientific progress can be seen in the process of refinement of the metaphor until the point where inaptness overwhelms, requiring a paradigm change, i.e. a new metaphoric model. At the edge of Hoffman’s metaphor, we find the questionable reduction of thought as computation. At the edge of Seth, we retain the subject/object or internal/external duality. Both of these point to the need for new metaphors. This is a parallel to Wigner’s limitations of the Empirical Law of Epistemology, which result in models limited in space, time, and chosen events.
Here are short videos from each of the above to explain their models in their own words:
2. Quantum Mind Theory
There are several theories for quantum mind which strive to explain consciousness, and perhaps free will, as a physical quantum event. All focus on the collapse of superposition to eigenstate as the generator of consciousness, although in different ways. In the neuroscience models above reduction took place through the collapse of manifold sense data into focused and simplified representations. Quantum mind theory moves the field of action to elemental vibrations of quantum fields and the collapse now occurs at the level of quantum events. The internal/external dichotomy vanishes at this level as our consciousness is physically entangled with and part of the quantum field universe. Pure consciousness interacts with the world to influence and produce quantum events as the collapse of superposition. There is some disagreement over whether our consciousness causes this collapse or the collapse itself creates our consciousness. Perhaps it will turn out that the collapse itself is merely an epistemological construction, a reduction similar to higher level reduction of sense data to representation. Or more likely, we are at the edge of our current metaphor for quantum reality and the question of consciousness is moving us to a new paradigm. Our metaphors have shifted from planetary atoms to atomic clouds, to subatomic quanta, to vibrating strings, and now to quantum fields. At this point the possibility of including gravity into the current model seems increasing remote and the strangeness of the quantum fields increasingly defies our ability to comprehend it mathematically. In his essay on the applicability of mathematics to the physical world, Wigner noted that we were lucky that mathematics had been applicable to this point but there was no guarantee this would continue. When we consider that quantum strangeness defies our innate reason and senses of space and time we recognize the possibility that science as we currently understand it has reached its limit and what we see now is the mysterious beckoning of reality requiring a new mode of understanding.
The mathematical physicist Roger Penrose and neuroscientist Stuart Hameroff propose one theory which I find especially interesting. Hameroff’s contribution is exploring the possibility that vibrations within microtubules inside neurons could possibly slow decoherence to the point where orchestrated objective reduction becomes possible as the elemental mode of consciousness. While this is intriguing, this isn’t what I find of primary interest. Just as quantum mind removes the metaphysical illusion of internal/external or subject/object, Penrose and Hameroff pursue a path that could dispel the inapt metaphor of brain as computer. Penrose clearly sees that we are at the edge of our current models and is convinced that a new paradigm will not only find a way to incorporate gravity, but understand the universe, and thus our consciousness, to not be computational at the most elementary level. Penrose began this train of thought via long reflection of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, which shows that there are things that are true but cannot be proven. Penrose sees this as clearly implying that the inability of computation to explain these truths reveals a truth that exists outside of computation itself. As we go more deeply into quantum strangeness it becomes ever more apparent that something is wrong with our model of a computational universe in which Schrödinger’s equation left us with his famous cat. This cat metaphor was in fact Schrödinger’s protest that we are missing something important.
Penrose poises us at the end of one metaphor searching for what will turn out to be the most radical rethinking of reality in human history. The critical implication is that the coming metaphor must stem from an ability to think non-computationally and without subject/object distinction, i.e. non-metaphysically.
An Ontological Inquiry
Let’s return for a moment to Heidegger’s eradication of metaphysics as the reduction of A is A to A=A. It is the transition from poetic thought to computation, with the displacement of Being to an imaginary metaphysical realm. It is the promotion of reason from adaptive tool to privileged mode of thought. It is the provisional triumph of the bit on/bit off computational reasoning that begins in the initial collapse of superposition. But it isn’t our only, or even most elemental mode of knowledge.
Reason is a recent adaptation, but our primordial ancestors lived esthetically. In truth, we still do. We refer to our emotions as feelings. We sense the world and resonate. Our moods are primarily esthetic states of resonance. In German, the word for mood is Stimmung, which literally means voicings, as the voicing of strings. Edmond Burke, among many others, claimed that we are feeling creatures first and employ reason secondarily as a means of justifying our emotions. He meant that somewhat pejoratively, but perhaps we are better served reestablishing the nobility of the senses. We dwell esthetically in this world, and esthetic sensibility can provide profound knowledge. To the extent we dwell with music resonating through our voicings and poetry on our tongues we are the experience of the mystery of Being itself.
Now let’s return to my often-cited example of the last scene of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Most readers find it overwhelming and it is useful to consider why. What distinguishes those words from others? Some words, such as the citing of the oscillation frequency of the point in the electromagnetic spectrum we call blue bring to mind a vague concept that is entirely different from the presence of blue in a Van Gogh painting. The written score of a Beethoven symphony is dry and empty compared to the experience of a presentation of the work. And right there we hit on the essential difference: presentation. Esthetic works presence a palpable aspect of reality that feels very different from description which substitutes A=A and conceals essence. The poetry of Dostoevsky’s words does the same. Dostoevsky gives us no rational discursion or systematic explanation of morality, but rather the manifold presence of morality nonreductive. Esthetics is primordial apprehension of the world prior to the collapse of superposition, and therefore prior to computation. In that last scene we simultaneously experience the primordial love of father and son, the wanton cruelty that threatened and destroyed, the urgent need to forgive and love, and the unfathomable tragedy that comes from cruelty – and much more that is beyond my meager ability to articulate. It is a non-temporal and non-spatial empathy (a feeling or vibrating with) that overwhelms in its nonreductiveness. A provisional but not entirely terrible metaphor might be the orchestrated resonance of nonobjective nonreductive vibrations of microtubules responding to the music of poetic language.
Reason and esthetics provide two essentially different types of knowledge. The former is reductively practical and indispensable for our survival. Being reductive it is superficially focused and adapted to a limited spectrum of physical reality. Following Heidegger, I call this knowledge correctness. Esthetic knowledge is profoundly non-reductive and gives us an intimation of the powerful underlying reality of Being-in-itself prior to our reductive cognition. I call this truth.
Science and philosophy have always accompanied each other. Pre-Socrates, esthetic philosophy held sway. From the time of Bacon onward science became dominant and provided guideposts along the way pointing to fruitful areas of philosophic exploration. We have reached a point in our travels where science as mathematical description has led us to a strange neighborhood whose secrets we know not yet how to question, and poets must discover our new metaphors.
A few days ago, Braxton Hunter uploaded a video asking Atheists ten questions:
Below is a transcript of my video answering Hunter’s questions.
This is a fuzzy question resting on possible equivocation of the word “explain”. One can contrive a story that takes into account all relevant facts, but is that what we generally mean by explanation? Or does explanation require objective evidence to actually explain how something comes about? Certainly, various ancient myths explain creation and cosmic evolution in the former sense, but do we give them the same seriousness as cosmology based on the laws of nature following the big bang? Do we think a claim that a metaphysical creator created light, the earth and water before he created the stars to be the equal of an explanation that says gravity pulled together hydrogen atoms which coalesced into stars that, through nuclear fusion, formed heavier elements which dying stars spewed into space, and which themselves coalesced through gravity into planets?
Hunter asks us to answer according to our own personal worldview. OK. I would characterize mine as a non-reductionist physicalist whose approach primarily takes on a Heideggerian inquiry into Being. So what does that really mean? First of all, it means I reject anything beyond physical reality on the grounds of lack of evidence and the limits of human epistemology to ever know such a thing. Second, it means that I respect science within its proper limits, but believe esthetic knowledge can lead to deeper truth. The last scene of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov can teach us far more about morality than all the systematic philosophies ever devised. Most importantly, it means that I am comfortable with mystery and uncertainty. In fact, I am skeptical of any worldview that claims to answer everything. The world is endlessly mysterious, and relatively little is knowable to us. And when Being does disclose an aspect of itself it simultaneously conceals so much more. This is inherent from first perception, when our observation collapses super position to a perceived Eigenstate which forever conceals all other possibilities.
It is the draw of this mystery that unites physicists, philosophers, and poets in search of truth, each in our own way. If there were such a thing as sin, it would be to decolor that rainbow mystery with false images of ghostly otherworldly shadows. This physical universe in which we dwell will never be ultimately explained and will offer all the mystery we can ever handle. We need not create stories of nonexistent miracles from another realm. Physicality is a brute fact and it’s a fool’s game to look beyond it. Everything we can know will be found right here.
While I freely admit my worldview leaves much unexplained, I am certain Christianity explains nothing at all. Morality is better explained through evolution and an ontological questioning of man’s nature manifest in our innate sense of morality, a sensibility which we objectively see refined over the millennia. The claims of the supernatural are better explained by psychologists. Free will remains an open question, which if it exists, might eventually be explained through quantum mind theory. Christianity and religion have cultural, political, and psychological explanations. The search for meaning can only be an esthetic one. Christianity can explain none of that, but instead offers an empty imaginary mythology that competes with other equally vacuous myths.
The lack of belief among atheists ranges from agnosticism to total rejection and everything in between. There are those who refuse to draw any conclusion, and they aren’t usually the ones comparing it to Santa Claus. There are others who acknowledge the inability to prove the negative of a metaphysical assertion, but still find the likelihood of a god to be as low as that of Santa Claus. I think Hunter is equivocating the term “lack of belief” to imply a lack of honesty on the part of atheists, when perhaps the dishonesty inheres in his question.
The rejection of Christianity entails rejection of some of its strictures also. As we have refined our sense of morality we have slowly and over millennia moved to increase empathy, tolerance of differences, respect for individuals and the jettisoning of superstition. This results in a clear move away from biblical morality, including the rejection of slavery, genocide, brutal killing of those who don’t share biblical belief as well as those thought to be possessed. We don’t necessarily condemn all that the bible calls sin, and a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of sexuality is a case in point. I see sex as an extremely positive and healthy part of being human. Christianity sees it as dangerous and disgusting, as it turns what is naturally beautiful into something ugly; only to be tolerated in its most attenuated and denatured form. This view is rife with superstition, such as homosexuality brings about god’s wrathful destruction, or strong-willed women (i.e. threatening women outside the control of men) are possessed as witches. Fear caused Christians to call this sin. I do not. If I were to call anything sin, it would be the blasphemous Christian denunciation of the most profound human communion, which entails the most profound experience of Being and our part in it. That is the sin that leads to the distorted wreckage of the psyche. As Nietzsche wrote in Aphorism 130 of the Gay Science:
The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.
In answer to the last question: Sure, I can imagine the signal that sends to Christians and couldn’t care less. I don’t let their pathologies influence my thoughts, actions or speech.
That was already answered in question 2. If I encountered direct and objective physical evidence of god’s existence and still refused to belief, it would only be at that point that I would consider myself disingenuous.
Not at all. Doesn’t it bother you that your explanation has no real basis to it at all but is pure imaginary speculation of what can never be known? The question you pose is faulty. The only honest position is to accept Kant’s demonstration in the Antinomies that the question of the origin of the universe, or the question of finite/infinite, results from the apparition of Transcendental Illusion. We not only can know nothing about the question of origin, we can’t even know the proper way to conceive of the question.
It is theism that is not only betrays its desperation by imposing god of the gaps, but is far less likely since the existence of a god on which theist explanation relies is so much less likely. There is literally nothing outside the imagination that gives evidence that any god exists. And if we were to retreat to god of the gaps, there is nothing that makes Yahweh and Elohim any more likely than the other Mesopotamian gods with which they cavorted in the earlier ANE myths. Or the Greek, Nordic, or Vedic gods.
No. They are all equally fallacious and unconvincing. Actually, I’m surprised anybody still takes them seriously. But then outside of apologetics, practically nobody still does. When an apologist appears who can honestly overcome Kant’s refutations in the Antinomies, I will enter the discussion. Until then these arguments are as meaningful as arguing how many angels fit on the head of a pin. The one true victory in intellectual history of the last couple centuries is the overcoming of metaphysics, which is now seen by serious thinkers as a medieval relic of historical note only. Much the way modern medicine would view bloodletting to balance the humors.
This is a sophist trick often employed by William Lane Craig. I saw Craig once evade Kant’s First Antinomy by dishonestly characterizing it as a claim that we can nothing, when in fact Kant’s whole thrust of the Critique of Pure Reason was to rescue knowledge from the extreme skepticism of Hume by limiting it to its proper scope and grounding it there. Hunter is pulling the same trick here by conflating a recognition that there are areas that are unknowable with a claim that nothing is knowable, and then falsely claiming that we are holding Christians to a double standard. This is nothing more than an attempt to escape the onus of burden of proof. There are things in the universe that we can know, and we arrive at that knowledge through observation and experience of the universe. We also have no hesitation to acknowledge the unknowable, and many of us know better than to resort to empty speculation about what cannot be known.
What we ask of Christians is something beyond metaphysical speculation, which is never compelling, and biblical claims which are no more compelling than the mythology of any other religion. This is something that Christians simply are incapable of. It would probably be impossible to convince me because you cannot possibly produce compelling verifiable evidence of your god.
Those elements did not start my deconversion, although they may have added fuel later on. There were two issues that simultaneously brought about my atheism: philosophical study that convinced me that metaphysics were unworthy of serious consideration, and the quality of the bible itself, consisting of reworkings of earlier ANE gods and myths and its many contradictions and errors.
The intent of this question seems to be to question the familiarity of atheists with writings of apologists and Christian philosophers, so I’ll answer this way. During undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Chicago I carefully read Christian philosophers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Berkeley, and Kierkegaard. I did graduate study with Paul Ricoeur, the John Nuveen professor of philosophical theology with joint attachment to the Divinity School at Chicago, whose thought was grounded in a devotion to French Reformed Protestantism. In videos on this channel I’ve critiqued elements of Swinburne’s books Epistemic Justification and Mind, Brain and Freewill. I’ve refuted Plantinga’s reformed epistemology as presented in Warrant and Proper Function and Warranted Christian Belief. In other forums I have criticized Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God.
Braxton, what were the last three books you’ve read by non-metaphysical writers such as Nietzsche, Heidegger or Wittgenstein and when was that?
No. I would search out and join the opposition to a truly evil Biblical god. Braxton, I have answered your questions thoughtfully and honestly. Anytime you want to discuss this I will be available
In Part II Bob gives us an impressive and interesting overview of the mechanics of computation. The problem is that it skipped over the questions at hand, which are whether the mind really is fundamentally a computer, and why reason should accurately describe reality. Those questions remain and I will go on to address them. But let’s start with his closing statement in Part I:
Better, reason is matter in motion in certain patterns. If you want to get a preview, see Notes on Feser’s “From Aristotle…” If you have questions with this, I can try to address them in the next post.
This contradicts the claim that everything is waves upon the pond. I believe one of the fundamental errors that has prevented progress in the understanding of consciousness is the assumed distinction between brain and mind. I will argue from quantum mind theory that the idea of brain as matter is reductive in a way that blocks our understanding of mind. All is waves, although not necessarily on a pond. The pond is as illusory as the matter of the brain. Consciousness is waves, measured in alpha, beta, gamma, etc. What we perceive as matter is our concrete subjective representation of what exists as the complex interplay of waves in quantum fields. The events are non-commutable and indeterminate. All essential interplay is. And all waves are interconnected, including consciousness. We effect quantum events when we observe them. That is, we and the constituents of the events become entangled. There is a physical connection between consciousness and reality that denies the metaphysical distinction of subject/object. In the most elemental way, the waves of our consciousness are connected directly to the waves of the universe. We can measure these waves emanating from us. This is not an “arrangement of atoms” in our subjective consciousness, but a holistic connection that precedes any illusion of subject/object. We create that illusion subsequently through rational/mathematical calculation. That is, computation is one capability of our consciousness, but not necessarily the only or most elemental function.
The one element that unites all the various quantum mind theories is that the primary function of our consciousness is to reduce superposition to an eigenstate. There are various theories of how this takes place, but that it takes place is central to the theories. Again, this starts with a physical connection between the waves of our consciousness and the rest of the universe, and an instantaneous reduction of the multitude of superpositional existences to one of the possible events. Perhaps this perceived reduction to eigenstate is the germ of all of our reductive rationality. And I will suggest, perhaps there is a primordial non-reductive experience that preserves the superpositions and leads to direct esthetic knowledge.
In the next section I will introduce the perception and cognitive models of the neuroscientist Donald Hoffman and philosopher Anil Seth. In doing so I will demonstrate the contemporary understanding of how we draw concrete representations of waves received through our neural receptors. I will then move from their metaphor of computers and icons to the most elemental level through the quantum mind theory jointly developed by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Roger Penrose and the Neuroscientist Stuart Hameroff, where they posit a noncomputational foundation of mind. Only after that can I address the difference between rational/objective correctness and esthetic truth.
Just this week I discovered that, on his website last August, William Lane Craig attempted to rebut my article on the fallacy of intelligent design. I suggest you read his rebuttal before going any further:
It is Craig’s typical strawmanning, equivocation and ad hominem lacking anything like an honest counterargument and presented in the form of a conversation between Craig and somebody named Kevin Harris. Before getting into the details, I would like to start with the rebuttal’s opening statement:
KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, people send me articles, they send you articles, suggestions for podcasts. We get a lot from a gentleman named Jeffrey Williams. He’s got a blog called “Too late for the gods.” He’s got one that I thought we’d look at here called “The Illusion of Fine-Tuning.” He right off the bat accuses the arguments for intelligent design, of fine-tuning in particular, of being a tautology. So I think right off the bat we should probably talk about what a tautology is.
I want to clarify that I have no idea who Kevin Harris is and have never sent him anything at all. Nor have I sent anything to Craig or his organization. I find it odd that Harris would open with such a misstatement. I am glad, however, to have them as devoted readers.
Craig then proceeds with an odd attack on my demonstration of tautology, which showed that without assuming at the start that we were intended to exist, there is no way to conclude that were intended to exist and that the universe was so designed. I explain this further below where I address the Anthropic Principle. His response is multi-pronged: ad hominem attack on my arrogance, appeal to authority, and equivocation. I suggest he might have had more effect had he focused on just one facet: an actual fact-based and validly reasoned rebuttal, but in his wisdom, he saw fit to exclude that element.
Craig:“… Yes. A tautology is something that’s true by definition. So, for example, “If it is raining, it is raining.” That’s a tautology. So it’s something of a surprise to see him making this claim. I’m not sure he really understands the word.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that Craig usually understands more than he admits to and is more dishonest than ignorant. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t make wildly pretentious forays into fields he knows nothing about, such as physics, but I believe he is fully aware that he’s spewing nonsense when he does. But here I will alleviate his surprise as simply as I can:
A designer implies an intended design. Only if we assume from the start that we are an intended design do we imagine a designer. Without that, we are indistinguishable from any other evolved event in the universe. It assumes that we are in some grand cosmic sense special. I demonstrate that in detail in my argument; an argument he simply ignores.
As for the charge of arrogance, perhaps I am touch arrogant at times – it wouldn’t be the first time somebody has leveled that accusation at me, although I claim no more than to be a simple semiliterate biker. But if we grant Craig’s accusation for the moment, it remains nothing more than empty ad hominem with no bearing on the validity of my argument.
Craig’s rhetorical dishonesty becomes clear in his next two responses:
DR. CRAIG: Yeah. Fair enough. Right off the bat then you see he’s misunderstood the argument because the point of the fine-tuning argument is not to show that the universe was designed for man. Nobody who defends the fine-tuning argument is claiming that the purpose of the fine-tuning is for the existence of human beings. So right off the bat he’s misunderstood it. What the fine-tuning argument says is that in order for intelligent life of any sort to exist the universe has to have its fundamental constants and quantities fall within an exquisitely narrow practically infinitesimal life-permitting range so that if the universe were not the product of intelligent design in all probability the universe would be life-prohibiting rather than life-permitting. That’s the argument.
Let’s start with “the fine-tuning argument”. There is no such thing. For physicists it is an observation that life as we know it wouldn’t exist if the physical constants were somewhat different. That isn’t an argument. The arguments come later. Craig exploits the confusion inherent in the term fine-tuning, which can be taken to imply that if something is fine-tuned there must be a conscious tuner. But that isn’t what is meant at all by the physicists. The penultimate sentence in the citation above clearly shows that Craig is aware of that, and his conflation of fine-tuning and intelligent design is a conscious equivocation underlying his assertion.
Craig supports the argument of intelligent design, which asserts without evidence that since it is unlikely we could have come about by chance, there must have been a designer who set the constants exactly for our intended existence. It is this argument I refuted in my article. Nowhere in Craig’s response do we find him addressing my argument itself, or even any indication he actually understood it.
He is further disingenuous when he states that the purpose “is not to show that the universe was designed for man”. For physicists that is generally true, but I am addressing the intelligent design argument asserted by Craig and others, the sole purpose of which is to convince us that their god indeed did create the universe for our existence. He has in fact referred to this as the argument for god from fine-tuning. The confusion around the term fine-tuning would hold no interest for him otherwise, as his sole concern is Christian apologetics, not cosmology.
He then commits the fallacy of argument from rarity:
DR. CRAIG: The point that he’s making here is actually one that supports the fine-tuning argument rather than undermines it. I was just bewildered when I read this. The opponent of the fine-tuning argument could reply by saying, “Well, yes, there is this array of possible universes with different constants and quantities in them, and the vast, vast majority of these are life-prohibiting, but [he might say] they’re not all equally probable. For some unknown reason universes that are fine-tuned for life have a higher probability of existing and therefore that would explain why we observe a fine-tuned universe.” Now, what the proponent of the fine-tuning argument says is that in the absence of any reason to think that the probabilities are weighted like that you assume a principle of indifference – that’s what probability theorists call it: the principle of indifference – where you assume that all of the options are equally probable. It’s like a lottery where everyone has an equal chance of winning. Therefore it becomes extremely improbable that the winner of the lottery should be a life-permitting rather than a life-prohibiting universe. So Jeffrey is just completely off base here. He’s affirming the principle of indifference which goes to undergird the soundness of the fine-tuning argument.
The fallacy of argument from rarity, sometimes called the prosecutor’s fallacy, attempts to dismiss an argument on the basis very low probability. In this case, he asserts that the probability of attaining the cosmological constants is too low to attribute to chance. There are various faults in his reasoning which I will get to below, but here it is enough to simply dismiss the above as a fallacy. Further, although Craig at times likes to refer to modern probability theory, he sure avoids it here. In modern probability theory all evidence is given a likelihood of one or zero. Tautologies and concrete existence are given a one, putting the probability of our universe at one. As long as it isn’t shown that our universe could not have possibly existed without supernatural intervention, the existence of our universe trumps any presumed improbability.
Most dishonestly, Craig falsely asserts that it is an accepted fact that the probability of our universe is extremely low. The only real fact is that we have no idea what the probability is, and may never know.
On one side are those who deny any degree of freedom in these constants, but rather that our physical laws and constants are the unavoidable results of general physical principals and believe we will ultimately discover a unified theory of everything that will explain the constants. Among those who hold that view was Einstein, who wrote:
“nature is so constituted that it is possible logically to lay down such strongly determined laws that within these laws only rationally completely determined constants occur (not constants, therefore, whose numerical values could be changed without destroying the theory).” (Einstein, Albert, 1949, “Autobiographical notes”, in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Peru, IL: Open Court Press.)
There are others who, theorizing from String Theory, posit a large and perhaps infinite degree of freedom, leading to the Multiverse theory. One offshoot of this is Roger Penrose’s theory of eternal cyclic universe, which posits infinite numbers of universes occurring spontaneously in pockets of a larger “universe”. In such a theory, our universe would have been among the infinite and no surprise at all. The only surprise is that we would find ourselves here. This leads to the last point Craig misrepresents.
DR. CRAIG: Again it just shows he doesn’t understand the argument. And you know what’s amazing about this is in my book On Guard which is for beginners (beginners!) in apologetics I explained the fallacy of this appeal to the lottery. The fine-tuning argument isn’t trying to explain why thisparticular universe exists. It’s not trying to explain why this particular ball in the lottery was chosen. Rather it’s trying to explain why a life-permitting world exists rather than a life-prohibiting world.
This is in response to the lottery example in my article which he either completely misunderstood, or more likely is once again strawmanning. What I demonstrated was an effect of the Anthropic Principle, which while taking many different forms, generally concerns the bias inherent in viewing fine-tuning from our perspective as intelligent life in this universe. What I demonstrated was this bias can cause us to assume we were the intended result, and without that assumption there really is nothing in our existence any more remarkable than the existence of atoms, suns and planets. We are merely one of an uncountable number of results. Again, Penrose adds another element to this bias in that our seemingly golden just-right moment is just a fleeting nanosecond in the cosmos:
The argument can be used to explain why the conditions happen to be just right for the existence of (intelligent) life on the Earth at the present time. For if they were not just right, then we should not have found ourselves to be here now, but somewhere else, at some other appropriate time. This principle was used very effectively by Brandon Carter and Robert Dicke to resolve an issue that had puzzled physicists for a good many years. The issue concerned various striking numerical relations that are observed to hold between the physical constants (the gravitational constant, the mass of the proton, the age of the universe, etc.). A puzzling aspect of this was that some of the relations hold only at the present epoch in the Earth’s history, so we appear, coincidentally, to be living at a very special time (give or take a few million years!). This was later explained, by Carter and Dicke, by the fact that this epoch coincided with the lifetime of what are called main-sequence stars, such as the Sun. At any other epoch, the argument ran, there would be no intelligent life around to measure the physical constants in question—so the coincidence had to hold, simply because there would be intelligent life around only at the particular time that the coincidence did hold!
The truth is we have no idea how probable our improbable our existence is because we have no access to the state prior to the big bang. It was in the early moments of the initial inflation that our constants and laws were determined, and having no understanding of what preceded and caused these results we can really know nothing about it. Everything is more or less metaphysical speculation. The one thing we do know is our constants and our existence have a probability of 1 because we are here. We really have no basis to assume anything else was possible. More importantly, even if there were other possibilities, as String Theory suggests, there still is no reason to assume the results are anything more than chance occurrences. The fact is for most physicists fine-tuning isn’t all that worthy of questioning. It is worth exploring whether there is no degree of freedom or many degrees in the universe, but that is another question entirely. One that Craig neither grasps nor would care to address other than to twist to his own propagandistic purpose.
Having presented no substantive or coherent rebuttal of my actual argument, he ends with this piece of raw ad hominem:
So it is really only a demonstration of Jeffrey’s own arrogance and ignorance that he should say such insulting things to the proponents of the fine-tuning argument.
Maybe next time he attempts to “refute” my argument he would have the decency to at least let me know. I suppose it would be too much to ask that he address the actual argument in an honest manner.
Bob Felts has provided several extremely interesting responses to my initial post and has come to a brief pause so I can catch up to what he has written so far. My response will also divide into several sections over the coming days. Here I will begin with thoughts on his Part I and another article he linked to that is perfectly central to our conversation concerning Quantum Field Theory, which we both seem to see as the elementary plane of existence.
This conversation began on Twitter as a discussion between an atheist and a Christian, but has taken a deeper and far more interesting turn to a comparison between a philosopher/poet/musician’s worldview grounded in esthetics and a mathematician’s worldview grounded in logic, yet both views stemming from the common starting point of physical reality as the rippling of waves. I think we will see that slight differences in how we view this primacy of quantum fields will ultimately expand into somewhat contradictory conclusions, which end with Bob’s concept of mind as computer and mine as resonance. More interestingly, this all ends up reinforcing the fact that both science and philosophy aim toward the same goal of exploring the mystery inherent in physical reality from radically different paths, but ultimately offer the promise of complementary, and therefore richer, comprehension rather than contradictory.
I therefore need to begin with a look at the article on QFT to which Bob linked, describing the universe as the rippling waves upon a pond, link provided above, and some of Bob’s interpretations of this article. This is where the nascent split begins as a tiny crack.
The article starts with a refutation of the existence of atoms:
“You might have gotten an inkling of this, learning about beta decay. In beta decay, a neutron transforms, becoming a proton, an electron, and a neutrino. Look for an electron inside a neutron, and you won’t find one. Even if you look at the quarks, you see the same transformation: a down quark becomes an up quark, plus an electron, plus a neutrino. If quarks were atoms, indivisible and unchanging, this couldn’t happen. There’s nowhere for the electron to hide.
In fact, there are no atoms, not the way the Greeks imagined. Just ripples.”
The elementary ripples are the oscillations of quantum fields. Particles themselves aren’t really distinct objects but merely localized excitations on a quantum field. In the above example we see that as a neutron – part of an atomic nucleus and consisting of nothing but gluons and quarks when viewed from the understanding of quantum mechanics – decays, particles not existing in the neutron suddenly appear. What we actually see are localized excitations along the electron, quark and neutrino fields as they interact in what we observe as neutron decay. The electron did not suddenly emit from the neutron but rather the decay process caused localized excitement in the electron field. All fields exist in all places at all times, and the universe is in its most real sense an unimaginably complex interplay of these fields. What we think of as matter really doesn’t exist as such, rendering obsolete any distinction between mind and matter, or material and immaterial. There is only interplay among the waves of the quantum fields. Everything else is merely our representation as metaphor.
As the renowned physicist Sean Carroll describes this:
According to quantum field theory, there are certain basic fields that make up the world, and the wave function of the universe is a superposition of all the possible values those fields can take on. — Carroll, Sean. The Big Picture
The physicist Paul Sutter further explains:
“In our best conception of the subatomic world using the Standard Model, what we think of as particles aren’t actually very important. Instead, there are fields. These fields permeate and soak up all of space and time. There is one field for each kind of particle. So, there’s a field for electrons, a field for photons, and so on and so on. What you think of as particles are really local little vibrations in their particular fields. And when particles interact (by, say, bouncing off of each other), it’s really the vibrations in the fields that are doing a very complicated dance.”
While I agree in general with this article to which Bob linked, it does contain a metaphor I find somewhat inapt, and while it appears somewhat trivial at first, it could yet prove to be the first appearance of that initial crack:
“Picture the universe as a pond. This isn’t a still pond: something has disturbed it, setting ripples and whirlpools in motion. These ripples and whirlpools skim along the surface of the pond, eddying together and scattering apart.”
To my mind it is of primary importance to note that there really is nothing like a pond on which the fields float. The idea of pond suggests the false impression that there is an elemental medium upon which the fields themselves float. A false impression that carries the danger of reimposing material into the picture. It would be much better to imagine the waves themselves as fundamental and not floating on anything at all.
I’ll briefly address a few of Bob’s statements in Part 1 but will go into greater detail in the next few sections over the coming week.
1. “This means that there are ripples that give rise to logic, truth, and meaning for these are the basis of our ability to describe events (Jeff’s “rational objectification”) and our ability to describe a “distance” between two events (which is the “is/ought” distinction). The only difference between the “rational objectification of events” and the “esthetic experience of Being” is that the latter involves a distance metric between two events or between an event and an “idealized” event.”
This contains a questionable characterization of logic, truth and meaning and a misstatement of my view of the difference between rational and esthetic knowledge. First, the fact that everything is fundamentally waves in no way implies that our capacity for knowledge necessarily leads to truth just because it emerges from these waves. Errors and misinterpretations also emerge from waves. The task is to distinguish between them, and this distinction lies in the way these waves function, not in the fact that they are waves.
Second, esthetic knowledge does not involve any distance between two events and knows nothing of an idealized event. It is a direct and unmediated experience of an occurrence that bypasses subject/object metaphysics to bring about a fusion of what metaphysics separates as internal and external.
2. “This is problematic for several reasons, which Jeff will have to defend. First, how does anyone know what “Being” is, since we can’t directly experience it? Second, it betrays a form of thinking where “Being” and “copula” are distinct things. As a Christian, I would argue that this is equivalent to the “modalist” heresy. I don’t want to immediately derail this particular part of the discussion, but we may eventually have to go there (cf. my posts on the Trinity, which are more about the ways this doctrine shows how individuals think about things than it is about the doctrine itself.).”
Being is just that which we do experience directly in esthetic knowledge and indirectly through rational knowledge. The above formulation is backwards. Next, Being and copula are not distinct things, or things at all, really. Being is true sensible physicality. Reducing it to a copula is a diminished perception of that physicality.
3. “Reason can’t be different from reality, since it’s all just ripples on the quantum pond1. What I think Jeff wants to say is that reason allows us to construct descriptions that may, or may not, accurately describe reality. The hard part is knowing which descriptions belong to which class. Jeff wants to reject the idea of “Being” and “copula”, but he has to provide a basis as to why. Why not say that “Being” and “accurate descriptions of Being” are both “Being”? (note the parallel to Trinitarian thought).”
As I pointed out earlier, reason can be explained as waves, but that in no way guarantees that reason itself explains reality. Hallucinations also are just ripples on the quantum pond. Epistemology seeks to discover the link, if any, between reason and a true understanding of the physical world. I will go into this in detail in a later section.
I’m not sure what is meant by the claim that I reject Being and copula. Being is at the center of my investigations and copula is a diminishment of perception of Being.
4. “If reason is just the swirling of atoms in certain ways in your brain, then you have to be able to experience it, even if the connection may not be obvious. As I will show in the next blog post, you do have neural paths for reason.”
I believe this statement to be false in two ways. As I pointed out in the beginning, QFT does not explain anything in terms of atoms, which are conceptualizations of localized excitations of quantum fields and not matter that swirls, but rather as interplay among pure waves of different oscillations. This is an example of that seemingly trivial difference in understanding of QFT that will increase in significance as we proceed.
Second, this refers to my earlier explanation that reason itself cannot be sensed but only inspected as we draw it in our inner senses of space and time. There is no doubt that neural pathways exist for the play of reason, but that doesn’t imply we sense them. For example, we sense none of the workings of the brain that regulates the autonomic nervous system. In fact, we sense only a small fraction of what occurs in our brains. I had distinguished the neural paths of sense data which begin with specific neural receptors and reason, which has no such mechanism. We sense visual sense data through photon receptors, aural sense data from receptors designed to vibrate according to changes in atmospheric pressure, etc. Nothing similar occurs for reason.
5. “This, too, is false. One of the things that has to be understood is that, when it comes to physical devices, there is no difference between the hardware and the software. We may not know what initial knowledge the wiring of our brains gives us, but it’s clear that it’s there. See, e.g. “Addition and subtraction by human infants”, Karen Wynn, Nature, Vol 361, 28 January 1993.”
I will argue that this is irrelevant because computers are a faulty metaphor for the brain and emergent consciousness.
6. “Sure, our brains, being physical objects, have physical limitations on what they can keep in mind at one time. But the wonderful thing about Turing machines is that they can use external storage. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, man is the only animal that does use external storage for thoughts. We have all the physical bits in the universe by which we can augment our reason.”
This was in response to my citing Eugene Wigner’s writing on the applicability of mathematics to physical reality. The main point Wigner made is that reason/mathematics only seems to describe reality within narrowly prescribed limits of space, time, and chosen events. Other choices of those parameters can result in contradictory descriptions, such as the contradictions between Newtonian physics, Relativity, and Quantum mechanics. Wigner referred to Poincare’s presentation of four geometries, all perfectly internally consistent but with different premises which result in contradictory descriptions of space. The crucial factor at play here is not storage capability, but the inability of reason and mathematics to coherently describe all of existence. The applicability of reason and mathematics to physical reality is approximate, provisional, and extremely limited. The storage capacity is not in any way a factor.
Bob’s remaining sections stem from this initial claim of consciousness as computer. In the next section, I will examine an alternate understanding of consciousness, starting with the theory of this year’s Nobel prize winner in science, Roger Penrose, in collaboration with Stuart Hameroff of quantum theory of mind that is fundamentally non-computative nor strictly causal. We will also look at contemporary models of consciousness from contemporary neuroscience.
This is a continuation of a Twitter discussion I am having with wrf3 on the applicability of mathematics and reason to physical reality. We have moved it here for a more convenient forum for lengthy responses. Wrf3 is a mathematician and software engineer.
I’ll briefly restate my position on this question and then respond to certain specific points and questions from wrf3’s last reply.
I recognize two distinct innate modes of human thought: rational objectification of events in the world; and esthetic experience of Being.
Borrowing from Kant’s epistemology, I understand objective rational thought to be a subjective ordering of chaotic and manifold sense data by means of innate reason working through the capacities of understanding and drawn in the imaginary sensibilities of space and time. The resulting representations do not exist as such in the external world, but are also not purely arbitrary constructions. Unique aspects of events in physical reality condition the stimulus on our senses in unique ways, and these unique stimuli provide unique content for our forms of representation. This creates a degree of correspondence between representation and thing-in-itself, without which we would have no success in manipulating our environment, and evolved reason would have had no adaptative benefit as we would not have been able to distinguish predators from prey.
This objectification is a sort of vastly simplified sketch of an imagined representation of a manifold reality existing outside time and space and not directly knowable. This simplified sketch reduces our representation to what we predict to be crucial for our immediate attention, and from it we plan our actions. Over time we expanded this faculty to contemplation of the cosmos and our place in it. Philosophy and science are emergent extensions of this basic capacity.
This capacity has succeeded within certain limitations. We can only imagine (or conceive of) the world as in space and time obeying causal law. That in no way implies the world actually is that way, but only that as conditions of our understanding we have no choice but to reduce the world to those elements. Beginning in the late 19th century and greatly expanding since is a perceived conflict between deeper aspects of reality and our limited understanding. This understanding evolved within the very narrow band of reality we call Newtonian or classical physics, and it works reasonably well within its home boundary. When we roam too far afield, however, the world becomes stubbornly counterintuitive as in the case of relativity and quantum physics. We have approached the depths where our limited representational faculty is confounded by events that defy space, time and causality. To describe these events, we can only resort to purely abstract models rather than sense data, and almost unnoticed, physics reverts back to metaphysics.
This brings us to Poincare and Wigner. Poincare demonstrated the hermetic nature of rational constructs through the examples of Euclidean, Lobachevskian, Riemannian and his own fourth type of geometry, where each is perfectly internally consistent but each with its own assumptions contrary to the other three. In physics the analog is the contradictions among Newtonian physics, Relativity and quantum theory. In his Empirical Law of Epistemology, Wigner demonstrates the applicability of mathematics to physical reality as an epistemological issue rather than an ontological question, thus demystifying any apparent applicability. Building from Poincare, he shows natural laws to be mathematical descriptions valid within limited boundaries of space, time and chosen events to include in the description. Other chosen events, or space/time boundaries will yield different laws. He describes this as the inherent epistemological limit of the invariability principles.
Wigner shows the primordial connection between mathematics and physical reality as a practical application of reason-derived mathematics. Practical mathematics evolved from a purely esthetic pursuit about 5000 years ago when the world “suggested” events to our understanding which we reduced to our idea of number. We abstract from multiple events, focusing on likeness and de-emphasizing difference in order to count things, such as grain shipments. The further we abstract from events, however, the more complex the mathematics leading to a hermetic rational construct. As we further abstract and expand the scope of applicability, we reach a point where the bands of invariability principles snap, and another construct is necessary. The application of purely subjective reason to the universe is thereby demystified as approximate and provisional epistemological constructs. Wigner concludes that we have been fortunate up to now that the correspondence between mathematics and the universe has been beneficial but we have no right to expect that to continue forever.
Our older primordial mode of understanding is esthetic. It was our primary mode of knowledge in the West until the time of Socrates. Pythagoras saw mathematics as a purely esthetic pursuit connected to music and the rite of Dionysus. For him, mathematics gave us understanding of music as vibration, and vibration as the fundamental cosmic element. An idea that eventually reappears with quantum field theory.
This pre-Socratic world was essentially pre-metaphysical. Reality was understood as unmediated sensed experience (Heidegger’s “Ereignis”) of the cosmos. It was experienced musically or understood as Logos; i.e. the fullness of poetic language as originating language from the experience of Being still dripping with music. It was our sympathetic voicings of the cosmic vibrations.
This mode of knowledge is our intuition of the profound mystery and power of Being, of which we are a part. Most importantly, it is not a metaphysical construction, but dwells purely within the sensed experience. This is in contrast to Socratic reason, where Logos attenuates to logic – thought and language with the music wrung out of it. A dry rational abstraction of the world. Heidegger describes this as the beginning of metaphysics, where the Logos of A is A becomes the logic of A=A. The uniqueness of A as its own being is denied for the sake of practical representation, as we saw above with Wigner’s origin of practical mathematics. The “is”, which once had expressed the fullness of Being itself and was the most urgent element becomes reduced to a mere copula.
Each of the two modes of thought has its own purpose and is beneficial within its limits. I retain Heidegger’s distinction between them as “Truth” arising from esthetic experience, and “Correctness” inhering in objectification. Unlike some, I do not diminish the importance of scientific objective discovery when seen within its proper boundary. It is, however, a superficial correctness revealing measurement and imputed causality. It gives us critically important information from correspondence without which we might not have survived at all, and certainly would not have achieved our current level of existence. I am equally aware of the threat inherent in the common contemporary assumption that it fully describes Being. It can never tell us what something is, but merely superficial dimensionality. Again, Being is reduced to copula.
The two major thrusts of Western thought since the Enlightenment are the overcoming of metaphysics and the primacy of esthetic knowledge over reason; or restoring the “is”. The former began with Francis Bacon, who set the trend of methodically moving areas of knowledge from the realm of metaphysics to objective physical science. The Enlightenment solidified the claim that only knowledge through the senses can ground valid judgments. With knowledge now grounded in the senses, the Romantic period began the process of re-establishing esthetics as the mode of profound truth of the universe as experience. It could be said that there is more profound truth in a great work of Beethoven than in all of Einstein’s writing. Both of these trends come together through the two great 20th Century thinkers, Heidegger, and the later Wittgenstein.
Discussion Points from wrf3
1. 1/ How do you know it (Reason) is literally nothing like that (sensation)? Do you not experience your thoughts? Rain is the motion of atoms in ways that you can feel on your skin. Reason is the motion of atoms in other, more constrained, ways. If you don’t experience that motion, you can’t reason.
1/ It shouldn’t be hard. First, you make a distinction between internal/external for thoughts vs. experiences. “Inside your head” vs. “out in the world”. But it’s the same nature in both places, the same atoms, same principles.
The above are responses to my claim that reason is essentially different from reality as an a priori condition of objective thought projected onto the world, and therefore no direct ontological applicability exists. We do seem to start with a surprising basic assumption that consciousness itself is a feature of the physical universe and not some metaphysical ideal existence. Thankfully, we have no need to go through another tedious debate about duality.
To the first response, I will repeat my original answer to that question: while we have dedicated receptors and neural paths for each sensation, no such thing exists for reason. I cannot experience reason the way I do light. It is a pure idea with which I can construct an understanding of the world from the light that impinged upon my retinas. The only way I can perceive reason is to transfer it to the a priori imaginary sensibilities of space and time, where I can create mathematics or logical forms, but this is entirely without external sense data. Without converting to the imaginings of space and time, I have no intuition of reason at all.
In your second response you seem to be making the same claim for reason that I make for esthetic experience: the removal of subject/object metaphysics for unmediated connection between consciousness and reality. Consciousness can be measured physically as various types of brain waves. Coincidentally, quantum theory describes all of existence as wave. In addition, both quantum events and the consciousness seem to exist beyond mechanistic causation. The new subject of quantum mind is attracting top physicists and neuroscientists and perhaps offers the path to understanding. I can see a possible physical connection between quantum wave fields and brain waves that eliminate any separation of subject and object. That is, in fact, what I claim for poetry and music as unmediated experience of truth.
You would make that same claim for reason and mathematics to justify the applicability of mathematics to the physical universe. Your model, however, centers on atoms, not waves, and leaves the exact principles unspecified. Where I have sympathetic vibration, you have an assertion that a certain atomic arrangement creates reason, and since atomic arrangements are part of nature, that implies an exact connection and description of truth. That would imply, however, that all ideas would be equally true since they are all atomic arrangements. It would also leave unexplained the limitations of Wigner’s invariability principles, which seem to demonstrate the inability of reason to grasp anything larger than a very limited set of events within limited space and time.
At this point I won’t go into your other responses, but would rather save them for later as the above is the crucial difference between our views. Instead, I would ask you to demonstrate why reason is an atomic arrangement, and why it being a part of nature would imply truth; and along with that how you would explain erroneous ideas and the limits of the invariability principles. I would like to hear an analogous process to my notion of immediate sensation of vibration.
On Cameron Bertuzzi’s YouTube channel, Capturing Christianity, William Lane Craig appears on a recent video entitled “Dr. Craig Rebuts the Best Atheist Arguments”, to which I’ve linked above. I am convinced that Craig is a dishonest apologist who knowingly presents false arguments and empty rhetorical tricks, not to actually convert anybody, but to play to his own audience of the credulous. In response I made a video to analyze and refute of all his rebuttals. Due to the length of that video, I’m posting a text version of that video here.
The first of the fourteen responses concerns Hitchens’s comment regarding the occurrence of miracles. Hitchens argues that the breaking of all the laws of the physical universe is far less likely than a natural explanation.
Apologetics, especially since Plantinga, has been forced to concede quite a bit. In his development of reformed epistemology, Plantinga retreats from a claim of proof of god to a plea to accept that under certain assumptions it is at least reasonable to believe in a god. A sort of universal “if” preceding the apologists’ otherwise unjustifiable premises. But to make even that work, he had to insist that we loosen the requirements for properly basic assumptions to include testimony and belief. Here we see Craig put that to use while trying to conceal the concessions. He claims that IF we posit a god who created the rules of the universe, this god could also suspend those rules and perform a miracle, providing a logically valid explanation. The problem, which we will see Craig try to evade through rhetorical trickery in the next cut, is that there is no compelling reason to assume a god. He implies that the Christian narrative is so unique that it does compel us to make that assumption, but again we are not compelled to accept that claim either. Many other religions also make that same claim with equal justification, or lack thereof.
He starts by dismissing Hume as ignorant of the modern probability calculus and claims entirely without explanation how that mathematical theory would improve the likelihood of miracles. It’s simply a throwaway designed the impress the naïve. The calculus couldn’t really be applied to the truth of a miracle, but if one were to make the attempt they wouldn’t get very far. The calculus assigns a value of 1 or 0 to every statement under a set of rules. For example, if a statement is a tautology its probability is 1. If the statement is a self-contradiction its value is 0. Statements such as Jesus was a man who rose from the dead is a self-contradiction because men cannot rise from the dead, and would be assigned a value of 0.
For the obvious reason, Craig doesn’t actually apply the probability calculus, but instead gives a misleading interpretation. His claim that Hume erred in calculating probability according to the laws of nature gives the false impression that modern probability theory would allow statements with a value of 0 or statements with no determinable probability to tip the scale in favor of miracles, but that isn’t how probability works. He makes a similar error other places in his attempt to apply Bayesian analysis to prove that intelligent design is more probable than evolution, even though it is impossible to make such an analysis through the Bayesian methodology. Bayesian analysis requires that the all factors come from the same and relevant data set operating under the same rules. The problem is that the only data set we have and the only rules we know appear after the beginning of the universe, but to understand the likelihood of the creation of our particular laws of nature we would need to observe the data set of the pre-universe state of affairs from which our laws developed to understand anything about that probability. Of course, that’s impossible, so his focus is solely on post big bang occurrences which tell us nothing at all about the likelihood of the laws which enabled these occurrences.
In short, he’s obfuscating, and he knows it. Let’s look at his exact words a bit more carefully. Craig states:
“Demonstrably mathematically fallacious. What he fails to consider is the likelihood of the evidence occurring on the hypothesis of the miracle compared with the likelihood of the evidence occurring on the likelihood of hypothesis of the miracle not occurring.”
An utterly meaningless statement. First, the question isn’t one of the likelihood of the evidence: the evidence either is apparent and valid, or it isn’t and is invalid 1 or 0. The likelihood centers on the hypothesis. As I said, he knows this is mumbo jumbo, so he pivots away in hopes nobody has noticed and reverts back to what Plantinga had already conceded with his universal if: “The likelihood of the laws of physics alone can’t be shown to be improbable if there is a god.”
But that simply returns us to the original weakness in all this: There is nothing compelling in the premise there is a god. His argument now is a mere baseless claim that miracles occur because there is a god. No more and no less, despite his dishonest attempt to use high-sounding language to say nothing at all. Plantinga conceded the that the Kalam Ontological argument was fallacious but would be reasonable if we simply inserted the word “if” before the assumptions. Plantinga didn’t make that concession just for the fun of it, but because the rules of foundationalist epistemology made it impossible to successfully argue for the existence of god without the if. Yet, here, Craig attempts to regain ground already conceded to resurrect the pre-Plantinga insistence on the truth of the various false proofs of god and dropping the if as he concludes:
“Hume would Need to include on the background information not just the laws of nature, but also the existence of god as established by the Cosmological, teleological, moral arguments and so forth.”
Rather than establishing anything, Every one of those alleged proofs was refuted long ago as containing obviously false or questionable premises and fallacies such as special pleading and category errors. Nobody outside the hermetic cadre of apologists still takes those arguments seriously because they establish nothing at all.
No, William, the principle isn’t exactly the same, and as somebody with a Ph.D. in philosophy you certainly know you just committed the fallacy of equivocation. The example that Ricky Gervais gave stems directly and solely from Christianity. Stalinist horrors came directly and solely from the brutality of totalitarianism and communal economics, not atheism. Two different and unrelated categories. There are Christian Marxists but no Christian Atheists. We’ll count this as just one more example of Craig’s dishonesty.
Again, he repeats the same baseless claim that Christianity possesses more evidence than other religions, which simply is false. We will see him repeat this throughout as a leitmotif.
Then he pivots to an outright lie:
There are countless examples of evangelical Christians threatening their kids with hell, including for homosexuality. The most interesting aspect of this answer is that Craig and Bertuzzi feel the need to deny it.
Craig tries to imply that myth isn’t necessarily untrue but that it was only a later popular definition that gave myth that connotation. Craig’s claim is baseless and ignores the original Greek use of mythos. In ancient Greek the word was used to mean story or fiction and was contrasted to logos which referred to that which can be demonstrated. From its very conception, myth has implied fiction.
He then claims that demon possession has not been disproved, thereby evading the burden on the claimant to prove its existence and the fact that not only does no such proof exist, but scientific evidence demonstrates purely mundane causes for what were once thought to be possessions.
Again, Craig tries to evade criticism he can’t counter by dismissing it as unserious. It is satiric comedy, however, which has been used for millennia for serious criticism and can’t so easily be brushed aside. George Carlin is exposing the conflict between a loving god and one who monitors your every thought and deed with the threat of eternal damnation. This is an essential feature of Christianity and it’s fun to watch Craig try to squirm his way out of it.
Craig claims the Christian concept of god is Not a man in the sky. Perhaps he’s never heard of the Trinity of Father, Son and holy ghost.
It is true that for most of the Old Testament there is no concept of being thrown into hell for violating the commandments, although according to the myth there certainly was some retribution for some of those unfortunates wandering Mt Sinai when the commandments were handed down. But eternal damnation is more of a Christian invention. Let’s look more closely at what Craig presents as the Christian concept. A loving god has thrown us into a world where we are already judged guilty at birth for breaking these commandments and sentenced to eternal damnation. However, if we are one of those born into this absurd predicament who happened to be convinced of the divinity of Jesus, we can choose a pardon. Of course, this would render god a perverse monster and the world a joyless and cruel joke. Despite Craig’s pretense of understanding superior to the crude comedian, he ends up reinforcing Carlin’s message.
Here Craig claims it is not a point of Christian theism that god created the universe just for us. Of course, the whole intelligent design movement holds that as its primary premise, otherwise what was the point of the design? And nowhere in the Bible is there even the slightest hint of other life in the universe. Just the opposite, Genesis describes the mythical creation of the entire universe with Adam and Eve as the crown of creation. This is just more dissembling on Craig’s part to distract from the absurdity of creating an unimaginably vast universe for the purpose of man’s existence in one microscopic spec. In fact, Craig argues just the opposite when he defends intelligent design.
Here we see Craig purposely strawmanning Harris’s point. Harris was obviously referring to sexual behavior between consenting adults and Craig is obviously evading the Christian condemnation of sex outside marriage, homosexuality, and certain sexual practices other than traditional intercourse. Bringing rape and other nonconsensual acts of aggression into the conversation is a red herring designed to deflect from the point he can’t counter while also facilely dismissing the claim as mere comedic timing.
But then Craig is directly confronted with this issue in the next clip. Watch for the strawmanning and equivocation.
The strawmanning starts when Craig suggests that the implication of homosexuality not being a choice does not mean we are morally free to act out. Of course, the argument was quite different: that homosexuality is morally neutral and any condemnation of it is unjust, and ALSO that Christians claim that homosexuality is a choice that can, for example, be overcome through quackery such as conversion therapy. He then presents the false equivalency between homosexuality and congenital defects that incite one to violence. The two have nothing to do with each other and Craig is simply obscuring his real belief that homosexuals are not entitled to a fulfilling sex life simply because of their inclination – and this after earlier proclaiming the central role sexuality plays in the human experience. It is a sign of great moral progress that people like Craig can no longer just come out and say this without being dismissed. He ends this point with more of the projection I mentioned at the beginning:
This is amusing when we realize Craig is a pop apologist who throughout this video displays superficiality and a lack of anything approaching a legitimated argument.
This coming from a man with pretensions to understanding physics but was shown to be an empty fool when he dared to debate Sean Carroll on cosmology. What do you think the odds are that Craig has read Einstein’s two volumes of relativity or any of the seminal papers on Quantum field theory or multi-worlds theory? As Craig goes on in his response, he ironically demonstrates the irreconcilability between Christian faith and science.
No, William, the context makes clear what is meant, and you are again trying to obscure a point you can’t refute. Faith here means a belief in the word of the Bible. Reason means scientific interrogation of the physical world. Either you are a dishonest hack or a dullard unable to follow the conversation.
And he has the nerve to call others superficial. Claiming that Genesis parallels modern cosmology is laughable and again reveals Craig to be a dishonest hack or a fool. Let’s consider his claim that modern physicists have determined the universe has a finite beginning. This misleads for two reasons. First, there are important Physicists such as Roger Penrose who posit we are just a small pocket of a much larger eternal universe that continuously gives birth to new universes out of itself. That is the opposite of finite. Second, even among physicists who believe that our universe had a finite beginning almost 14 billion years ago, there is a recognition that that description misses the larger question of what existed before our universe came about; that is the big bang was a change in state, not a finite beginning. Genesis describes a void before our universe came about, whereas modern physics understands that something existed before the initial inflation, but we can know nothing about its state because the very laws of physics by which we understand reality only arose post-inflation. The idea of finite/infinite is probably an illusory dichotomy anyway, as Kant pointed out in the First Antinomy, and our current universe is simply a change in state from an earlier physical state that Craig misrepresents to accord with the Biblical account. The misrepresentation is effected through Craig’s use of the words “Absolute origin of the universe”, when it is more likely it wasn’t absolute but a continuation.
Very few, if any prominent cosmologists agree that there is any valid argument for the claim that a being fine-tuned the universe for our existence. In fact, such a claim can easily be shown to be a tautology as one has to assume the universe was created just for human existence to conclude the universe is fine-tuned, or as mentioned earlier, employ an invalid use of statistics. And once again, this argument contradicts Craig’s previous statement that there is nothing in Christian ideology that assumes the idea of man as the privileged goal of creation. One universal characteristic of a fraud is the willingness to substitute contradictory claims according to situation.
I wish Craig had gone on to explain how a seeming correspondence between reason and reality points to a god, but it doesn’t matter because the very claim itself again reveals a complete ignorance of post-Kantian epistemology, evolutionary psychology and modern neuroscience, all of which demonstrate the conflict between subjective reason and a world that operates outside that constraint. Epistemology since Kant has posited that reason is our innate and inherited principle according to which we make subjective sense of a chaotic external world. Evolutionary psychology traces how this facility developed as our unique adaptative advantage. Modern neurology backs this up with demonstrations of how our brain constructs its own coherent reality out of the chaos of sense data by imposing its own conditions of thought, which have evolved to work well within the very narrow band of reality we have inhabited, but break down at the macro level of relativity and micro level of quantum physics. In short, through innate reason and sensibilities of space and time we project our reason-derived subjective creation onto to the external world. Seen in the light of contemporary physics, Craig’s claim of “extraordinary applicability of mathematics” to the external world, which diminishes at the macro and micro levels of reality and disappears altogether as we approach the singularity before inflation, is false.
Craig again repeats his false claim that it is demonstrably false that faith and reason cannot be reconciled after failing to show any reconcilability at all. Then he suddenly abandons the claim that Genesis is compatible with a scientific explanation be reversing and claiming that Genesis isn’t offering a natural account of the origin of the world anyway. In other words, he simultaneously claims that Genesis is an accurate account of the origin of the world, and never mind that it isn’t because it wasn’t meant to be. Pure double talk.
Well, yes it certainly is written within the naïve and ignorant presuppositions of the people of that time, which of course is exactly what you expect from manmade myth. My guess is a real god might have been a bit more accurate. If the point were to differentiate god’s word in respect to the deities of stars and other natural objects, one might expect he would have made that point a bit more explicit and tried to differentiate it a bit more from the earlier Babylonian epic, Enumu Elish, from which it appears he did some heavy borrowing.
This argument is often used by amateur apologists who, along with Craig, have no idea what they are talking about. What they think is a subtle argument is their claim that naturalism denies the ability to know anything as true. Since the naturalist method of inquiry depends on capacities that have been selected for survival value and not for truth, it cannot know that we evolved consciousness based on adaptive advantage. Of course, that is a gross distortion of the argument and a false assumption that survival value did not include some element of truth. That the primary evolutionary impetus was survival does not mean there is no correspondence at all between our representations and reality. It would have no evolutionary benefit at all if that were the case because we would have had no ability to distinguish between predator and prey. The epistemological progress we have made is in determining the limits of knowledge, not that we cannot know anything. For example, an understanding of epistemology can tell me that I cannot know what is in a locked box, although I know that such a locked box exists. That doesn’t imply I cannot know anything at all, but rather that making metaphysical assertions about the unknowable inside of the box is a fool’s game. In addition, there is nothing in the naturalistic understanding of consciousness that precludes our further intellectual development to investigate reality within our limitations to further true knowledge in addition to survival.
Perhaps Einstein’s problem was he lacked imagination:
“Neither can I believe the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.”
Or maybe the problem is too much imagination sparked by fear that creates the delusion of an afterlife. If we refrain from imaginary comforts and concentrate on reality there is no reason at all to believe in an afterlife.
Then we all agree about tolerance. I assume that includes the tolerance of atheists and their right to not be governed by biblical precepts.
I’ve ignored Cameron’s responses to this point as irrelevant and uninteresting, but here I’ll make an exception:
No, Cameron, your ignorance is once again showing. There is no conflict between moral knowledge and atheism. The error is thinking that morality derives from Christianity. Morality has been around a lot longer and more broadly than Christianity, and as we have progressed, we have moved steadily away from the primitive and brutal morality of the Bible.
And Craig shares Cameron’s ignorance. We not only have political rights, we have freedom of conscience, which means we are not bound to Christian morality, or any other dogma. We have a right to believe as we choose, and that includes morality that contradicts Christianity. Again, Craig falsely presupposes that Christianity is the source of all morality, and any other source is invalid. What happened to that tolerance he mentioned before?
Whenever Craig accuses others of being confused this is a signal he is about to confuse the issue in order to obfuscate. Tyson clearly distinguished the star as being in Revelations, and not in Genesis in making the point that the Biblical descriptions of the cosmos share a common ignorance typical of the people at that time.
Here we have a repeat on the B theme of Genesis that its not a natural description, but a theological message that physical objects are not deities. Again, it’s too bad there is nothing in the Creation myth to back that up and that the Genesis myth does in fact purport to explain the creation of the universe. But as we’ll see, Craig can’t leave it at that, and we have a reprise of the A theme that Genesis indeed does portray an accurate development of the cosmos.
And here we have man as the crown of creation again, which he tried to avoid in the argument of man’s insignificance in the vast universe. This guy just can’t keep his story straight. More to the point, his claim that Genesis gives us a coherent and logical order of creation is laughable.
God starts by creating heaven and earth, and then creats light and separated it into day and night. Craig would have us believe that it was possible to create the light of the universe before stars formed and that day and night existed before earth’s orbit and spin. Next god created a firmament, which was like a dome that divided the waters of earth from heaven and also somehow gets confused with separating land from water. Of course, no such firmament actually exists.
Craig would also believe that it is chronologically logical that god now brings forth all the plants before stars even exist. That would mean we would have to believe that before stars existed and created the elements and provided heat and light, somehow water, earth and plants existed. This is what he calls chronologically logical.
And all this avoids mentioning the second creation story in Genesis which follows a different chronology. He would have been much better off sticking to his claim that Genesis is not a description of nature after all, as lame as that was.
There is really nothing funnier than the inventiveness of apologists when confronted with the contradictions of their beliefs. The convenient thing about metaphysics is that you can always amend or redefine your way around these contradictions because you are never restrained by reality, only by the limits of your imagination.
Here Craig appeals to the 16th Century Jesuit Luis de Molina, who attempted to resolve the conflict between god’s infallible foreknowledge and free will. Typical of metaphysical speculation, which survives yet today in theism, it is an imaginary solution to an imaginary problem and was a hot topic among metaphysicians in the 1500’s. It attempted to resolve this conflict by inventing what was called Middle Knowledge, which stood between god’s absolute knowledge of necessary truths and his knowledge of his own will. In this Middle Knowledge stood all possible contrafactuals concerning the decision a free will would make in any situation. God then conforms his creation by taking into account what these free wills would decide in the future. All this does, however, is bury the contradiction in the Middle Knowledge since if it is possible predict an action the action cannot be of free will. A free will could always surprise you at the last moment just like the exact position of a photon. To be 100% predictable, an action must be the result of a mechanistic causally determined chain, rendering free will impossible.
Once again, the mere superficial comedian sees more clearly than Craig.
Next, Cameron only makes things worse:
If Cameron wants to join the upper ranks of grifters he will really need to improve his game. All he attempts here is to obscure the contradiction by listing other types of prayers that aren’t affected by this contradiction. We often call this a red herring.
Notice how Craig begins with misdirection. The point Harris makes is that Religion contains irrational beliefs that would be considered insane in an individual because they contradict all known reality and are without evidence. Because that is an obvious fact that cannot be attacked head-on, Craig pivots to his belief in objective moral law in order to claim that Naturalism also fails to provide a solid objective basis for morality. Besides equivocating irrational belief with objective morality, Craig also offers a false choice between objective moral law and no basis for morality at all. As a Ph.D. in philosophy, certainly he is aware that he just committed the fallacy of bifurcation. The third choice is morality based on innate sensibility that provides no legal code but does provide emotional guidance toward the moral. Basically, Craig has conceded that a rationally-derived moral law such as Harris’s and a metaphysically derived moral law are equally ungrounded. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The third option of innate sensibility offers the advantage of grounding in something knowable – our own nature. And in the end, all understanding of morality stems from our innate nature regardless of claims otherwise.
Then he makes his case even worse:
Again, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and the entire non-Christian world can with equal justification claim that Craig believes in a god that doesn’t exist and that any moral code derived from this imaginary god is ultimately the product of men interpreting from their own innate sensibility. But here he takes his obfuscation one step further. At the heart of the Christian objective moral law as espoused by Craig and others is that God grounds objective moral law out of his own perfect nature, which is purely and essentially good. This leaves evil ungrounded, and therefore unexplained. And on this point his claim is directly contradicted by Isaiah 45:7, where Yahweh proclaims:
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I Yahweh do all these things.”
Craig also has a Ph.D. in Theology and is well aware of his obfuscation here, and therefore must know his argument is simply false. But truth is not valued by the apologist.
If we are going to ground morality in a nature, it can only be our own nature, which contains both light and darkness, to stay within the oversimplified biblical terms, since it is the only nature we know actually exists. The moral is that innate sensibility that champions our inner light over the darkness.
And to top it all off, Cameron chimes in to destroy his own point:
Cameron is obviously not one of the brightest people around, and here he unwittingly destroys the point he thought to make. It is true that Religion provides countless impossible and irrational examples. It is also true that contemporary physics presents things that are counterintuitive. As Cameron points out, though, the only important deciding factor is evidence. We accept superposition, entanglement, relativity, etc., even though they directly contradict our prior rational understanding because we have solid evidence for them. There is no evidence for religious irrationality, and therefore no reason to accept it. The counterintuitive aspect of science results from the hard limitations of our faculties of understanding, which simply cannot grasp the true state of macro relativity and micro quantum activity. In the religious examples we see the opposite, the difficulty of an untrained mind to distinguish objective reality from illusion.
Craig rushes in with some more obfuscation to cover up Cameron’s mess:
Again, Craig invokes the giant “if”. But there is no evidence of his god and he repeats his fallacy of bifurcation concerning the grounding morality.
And now for the 14th and final response:
More than a little irony in that. The guy who has been morphing issues all throughout now accuses Dawkins of this as HE morphs Dawkins’ response. This is Another example of Craigs favorite rhetorical trick: under cover of accusing someone else of intellectual dishonesty he proceeds to commit that very thing. To be clear, Dawkins was pointing out that the questioner was not speaking from some privileged ground of knowledge but could equally be wrong. The result is that if we are to take her premise seriously that there is one true god on whom our salvation or damnation rests, it could just as easily be one of the gods she rejects. The point is nobody is in a position to make that determination. To evade that predicament, Craig gives a superficial denial by dismissing it as religious relativism, whatever that might mean in this case.
And that is exactly the rhetorical trick he employs. It might be argued that the risk for the atheist is much more than the theist, but of course that evades Dawkins’ point. Rather, Dawkins pointed out that the risk for the atheist is exactly the same as for the Christian in light of all the other gods.
Another of those false choices Craig is so famous for. Ignoring for the moment the impact of probability on this decision, which in favoring the atheist greatly mitigates the risk, let’s look at the mischaracterization of the rewards. For the Christian, the reward would be a promised heaven of some sort, the details of which are unknown. But if the atheist is right, his reward is nothing like what Craig tries to minimize and dismiss as the temporary enjoyment of sin. I sometimes think only a former believer can fully appreciate how much is gained by the unburdening of religion, but it is found in the overwhelming joy of freedom and the sudden profound appreciation of this strange, alluring and almost impossible life we suddenly find ourselves immersed in. When I realized Christianity was false and emancipated myself from slavery to Jesus Christ, that odd Christodoulosian delusion, several things overcame me. First was the immense relief from the self-imposed paranoia of some judgmental god listening to my every thought and knowing my every action. How perverse that sort of life was. Next came the immense relief of no longer having to lie to myself in order to maintain faith. With this came the immense joy of freedom. Freedom to enjoy my life, to deeply experience and explore what life in this world really is. With the rejection of metaphysics, including religion, I for the first time saw the vibrancy, profound musicality, and unfathomable wonder of this very physical world that I for no earned reason was so improbably given to enjoy.
That is what I win in this wager, and would not choose any other way.
William Lane Craig and his sidekick, Cameron Bertuzzi, recently responded to a video by Rationality Rules’ rebutting Craig’s five-minute cartoon presentation of his argument for god from mathematics that was based on a paper by Eugene Wigner. Being mired in the reductionist and trivializing nature of analytic philosophy, Rationality Rules did not mount a very impressive challenge and we won’t deal here with his arguments, but instead will focus on just a few of Craig’s responses. Craig’s argument rests heavily on a paper delivered in 1959 by Eugene Wigner titled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences to a gathering at NYU. Craig makes claims about the Wigner paper that betray a combination of misunderstanding and distortion born of religious fervor. From this, Craig attempts an argument dependent on empty metaphysical speculation and the inevitable theist argument from ignorance: god of the gaps. The entire Bertuzzi and Craig video lasts over an hour and consists of no more than the above theme and several variations on the same distortions and plea from ignorance, so we will focus on just a few statements. The entire video, however, is linked below.
Before getting to the issues Craig offers this prefatory comment:
(All videos are cued to the start time, nut not end time. The relevant segments should end after Craig finishes his statement)
Craig usually praises those who present the weakest opposition, and I proudly contrast my last video on Craig’s 14 ridiculous responses to any irenic approach. Grifters and charlatans need to be exposed and becoming one of those that Craig welcomes is nowhere on my agenda, although I would love the opportunity to debate him. He also went on to say that the 71,000 views to Rationality Rules video warranted a response. Again, my approach here will be different. Unlike Craig’s cartoonish presentation (Literally. His five-minute video is actually a cartoon), I will go into a substantive discussion of Wigner, mathematics, epistemology and physics. I doubt there are 71,000 people on YouTube who could even understand the Wigner paper and I would be happy to get 71 views from those who do. What follows requires serious attention to fully grasp, and in the next several days I will have a text version available on my blog: toolateforthegods.com
Let’s start with an overview of the Wigner paper. Wigner was a physicist and mathematician of enormous importance in the development of quantum mechanics. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles. It is important to note that as a mathematician he was a formalist, which means he understood mathematics to be inventions logically derived from reason and not ontologically connected to the physical world. He was also an atheist.
His paper was delivered at an event to celebrate the 70th birthday of Richard Courant, a mathematician who emphasized the creative and esthetic nature of mathematics rather than any practical application. From that perspective, the seeming ability of a purely rational a priori sort of “game” to describe the laws of nature is simply inexplicable – a wonder and mystery, and Wigner’s paper was to address that mystery. In presenting Wigner as that night’s guest speaker, Kurt Friedrichs said:
“One may think that one of the roles mathematics plays in other sciences is that of providing law and order, rational organization and logical consistency, but that would not correspond to Courant’s ideas. In fact, within mathematics proper Courant has always fought against overemphasis of the rational, logical, legalistic aspects of this science and emphasized the inventive and constructive, esthetic and even playful on the one hand and on the other hand those pertaining to reality. How mathematics can retain these qualities when it invades other sciences is an interesting and somewhat puzzling question. Here we hope our gift will help.”
And indeed, Wigner went on to explore this dual nature of mathematics: an essentially esthetic pursuit enjoyed by pure mathematicians through the simple elegance and harmony of proofs on one side, and practical instrumentality employed in everyday life and physics on the other. The central question then becomes why such a subjective esthetic enterprise should have any practical application at all in the physical world. Throughout the paper Wigner refers to this applicability as a “miracle”, or sometimes as a mystery, but as an atheist he did not mean this in the sense Craig twists it into, but rather as a dramatic effect for what seems inexplicable. He resolutely refrains from offering any supernatural element to this mystery. He does, however, suggest an explanation which he subtly develops through his paper. A solution that Craig fails to grasp.
Wigner starts with the beginning of mathematics as the invention of arithmetic, algebra and geometry. This had a purely practical motivation and was based on what was observable in the surrounding environment. Numbers of goods for sale and the geometric aspects of construction were the founding drivers of these inventions. Wigner identifies these practical concerns as the first tier of mathematical thought, ground in actual events encountered in the world. As he wrote in the paper:
“[they] were formulated to describe entities which are directly suggested to us by the actual world”
This is the first ontological connection between pure mathematics and the physical world, which ultimately demystifies the approximation of math as description of reality. Its importance will come to light later.
The next tier is abstraction from these practices, which gives us concepts that can be generalized. The third and highest tier is then shown to be invariability principles, which allows these concepts to be extended as laws of nature. These posit that within a limited scope of space, time and chosen events, the observed abstractions hold as a law of nature. It is critical to understand, however, that he limits the applicability to the physical. For example, what appears invariable within Newtonian physics does not hold for Relativity, and what appears invariable for relativity does not hold in quantum physics. We will return to this fundamental point in a moment, but first we need to also look at the esthetic nature mathematics which precedes any practical function.
As mentioned earlier, Wigner was a formalist who viewed mathematics as the playing out of pure reason in the faculties of the mind. While initially practical in purpose, these founding elements of mathematics were only possible as the result of turning this purely esthetic rational faculty toward the practical through the invention of tools formed specifically by physical questions. This is the initial ontological contact and relation between mathematics and the physical world – the application of the pure concept of numbers to physical objects suggested by encounters in the world and the logical manipulation of these numbers. The pure abstraction of mathematics is thus causally shaped by external events to answer questions of physical reality. But keep in mind these events are exceptions to the real practice of mathematics as essentially esthetic and unconcerned with practicality, as seen for example in the mystical mathematics of Pythagoras.
Starting with Newton, however, the increasing demands of physics conjoined science with mathematics and fostered the invention of new mathematical tools. The invention of calculus by Newton and Leibniz, for example, was intended to quantify the laws of motion without any regard for its esthetic qualities. From that moment on, physics appropriated mathematics as its official language. This led to the consensus among physicists that the universe itself was a mathematical construct that naturally cohered with the rational mind. To this day many physicists naively retain this belief, which Wigner will go on to subtly amend.
Now back to where we left the issue of the limitations of invariability principles. Despite what we will see as Craig’s claims to the contrary, the shifting of the time, space and event framework resulted in a need for new mathematics. Not as Craig will claim as merely a new physical law, but a mathematics with new axioms contradictory to earlier invented mathematical systems. This brings us to the seminal paper by Henri Poincaré on non-Euclidean Geometry which is crucial for Wigner’s paper. Poincare demonstrated that it is possible to devise internally consistent rational systems with contradictory basic assumptions. To do so he compared Euclidean, Lobachevskian and Riemannian geometries, where “The number of parallel lines that can be drawn through a given point to a given line is one in Euclid’s geometry, none in Riemann’s, and an infinite number in the geometry of Lobachevsky.” To this, Poincare added a fourth geometry even stranger than the other two non-Euclidean geometries, yet equally internally consistent. The significance of this points to Wigner’s limitations on the law of invariability, where each is a rational construct which can differ from other rational constructs formed with different assumptions and chosen events. This is exactly what Wigner refers to when has asks
“How do we know that, if we made a theory which focuses its attention on phenomena we disregard and disregards some of the phenomena now commanding our attention, that we could not build another theory which has little in common with the present one but which, nevertheless, explains just as many phenomena as the present theory?” It has to be admitted that we have no definite evidence that there is no such theory.”
Wigner refers to this as “nightmare of the theorist”: the existence of numerous examples of theories, with elegant mathematical formulation, and “alarmingly accurate” description of a group of phenomena, which are nonetheless considered to be false.
This takes us to the final crucially important element of Wigner’s paper: what he calls the Empirical Law of Epistemology. With this he eliminates the mystery inherent in the metaphysical question of why the universe operates under the same laws as our innate reason by transforming it to the epistemological question of how our faculties of understanding create our representations, concepts and explanatory systems of the universe. The answer: our innate reason is the source of pure mathematics. 5000 years ago, this was put to practical use, and in that process the ontological connection was shaped by observed events which we then abstracted to generalizations. This formed a connection between mathematics and the physical world that worked in two directions. Our innate reason provided the framework for how we intuit the world and the events we encountered formed the contents of those shapes. Through further abstraction, which is enabled through the esthetic nature of reason, we generalized from our observed events and found we could form systematic understandings of the world that held within certain limits. The coherence between the universe and our subjective reason isn’t a “miracle”, but rather a constructed understanding conditioned by external events ans formed through our faculties of understanding. This enabled our creation of modern physics. In time this engendered the illusion of a mathematical universe.
As we will see, Craig confuses this. He first claims that the immutable laws of nature and their mathematical precision, along with our innate ability to understand it, point to a divine creator. Without the claim of a mathematical universe, his argument disintegrates. Yet, he later discusses the nature of mathematical understanding of physics as epistemological representation, which in fact was Wigner’s point but contradicts the belief in a mathematical world.
Let’s now turn to the opening of Craig’s comments:
It’s clear we can reasonably claim that Craig has also failed to digest Wigner’s paper. Craig diverts attention from his own indefensible argument to a claim that the critic’s real problem is with Wigner’s argument, which Craig himself fails to understand, and the claim that Wigner has refuted all of Rationality Rules’ objections. Craig fails, however, to tell us what the objections and refutations are. This is a typical Craig move. He rests assured that his followers are never going to read Wigner, and even fewer could ever understand the paper. This frees him to make unsupported claims exploiting the trust of the less educated.
Craig then makes an early introduction of his god of the gaps argument:
He takes what Wigner initially terms inexplicable and in literally the exact same breath concludes that it then must be god.
The segment starts with a cut from Craig’s cartoon which explicitly claims that “the physical universe operates mathematically”. This is important because without that claim there is no miracle to assert, although the claim is actually at odds with Wigner’s paper. Maybe it’s Craig whose argument is with Wigner:
Here Craig moves to obscure the issue by focusing on logicism, which in fact is a failed enterprise but in no way detracts from the derivation of mathematics from logic. This was not only Wigner’s view, but was famously demonstrated in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as the working of pure reason within the innate sensibilities of space and time. Again, Craig counts on the ignorance of his followers in his facile and false dismissal of a much larger issue. In doing so Craig evades the stickier issue for him that logical truths are entirely dependent on premises verifiable through the senses, or else they themselves are as empty as pure mathematics and as such merely constructions. Pure reason, including mathematics, can never make existential claims, which is a defeating fact for Craig’s entire metaphysical enterprise. His assertion that a god exists as an explanation is no more valid than the assertion that “an infinite set exists.” His criticism of logicism equally applies to his own metaphysics, and his continued god of the gaps arguments are errors of this kind.
The next segment brings about all at once Craig’s failure to understand Wigner, his own confused mishmash, and eventual undermining of his own argument.
He begins by dismissing the element of invention in mathematics as a post-modern view held by a small minority. Despite the obvious fallacy of argumentum ad populum, it dishonestly characterizes the role of invention. As noted several times, Wigner also saw mathematics as invention separate from external ontology, as did Courant and most formalists. As Wigner wrote in the paper: mathematics is
“a science of skillful operations with concepts and rules invented just for this purpose”
Craig then attempts to make some indiscernible point by claiming that Wigner considers mathematics a purely esthetic pursuit, ignoring that Wigner presented both the esthetic and practical natures of mathematics and grounded the beginning of mathematics in the practical – the observed events.
Perhaps he hoped to demonstrate that the ability of such a pure esthetic mode of thought to describe reality is truly miraculous. However, what he claims as support is false.
He then makes the preposterous claim that new discoveries in physics did not cause changes in mathematics, but merely a change in physical laws. The major problem Einstein faced in developing the theory of relativity is that the assumptions of Euclidean geometry failed to describe the newly discovered reality. As a result, Einstein embarked on the struggle to devise a new geometry which allowed for parallel lines to meet in the curvature of space until his friend Grossman pointed out to him that Riemann had already done so. Soon after, quantum mechanics, which had no use for Riemannian geometry, reintroduced calculus to account for relative motions, but had to introduce the infinite dimensionality of Hilbert space, again a reinvented geometry. It is also interesting that the further removed from the initial observable reality which was the beginning of mathematics, the more abstract and unreproducible in reality the mathematics becomes, leading to unimaginable results such as many dimensions and superposition – all artifacts of mathematical invention. Again, the limitations of the principles of invariability come to the fore, with Relativity describing a world essentially incompatible with quantum physics, yet both mathematically internally consistent – a sure indication that reality is far different from one calculable mathematical universe. Again, this demystifies the original question in that there is no magical correspondence between mathematics and the universe, but rather various rational systems of understanding that are approximately true within limits of space, time and chosen events. Later, Craig tries to obscure his problem by again claiming the mathematic axioms never change by misrepresenting the differences between Euclidean, Lobachevskian and Riemannian geometries as merely differing in the shapes they apply to, omitting Poincare’s demonstration of conflicting axioms that make the systems contradictory.
Craig then further demonstrates his failure to understand Wigner when he claims that Rationality Rules has confused natural law with mathematics when Wigner explicitly demonstrated that in modern starting with Newton physics natural laws are in fact mathematical expressions.
Now listen to this statement and keep in mind his previous claim that the universe is mathematically knowable because of a divine creator. Afterwards, we’ll listen to a segment where he contradicts this and undermines his own argument:
Craig is right for once. Wigner was addressing the epistemological question of why our representations approximate reality under limited conditions. That is why Wigner terms his law the Empirical Law of Epistemology. And as Craig concedes, this does not assume a mathematical universe, only our mathematical representations of it. Without this mystical connection between reason, mathematics, and a mathematical world, which Craig earlier posited as proof of a divine creator, his argument from god collapses. Clearly, Craig has lost the plot here.
The critical point is that with the Empirical Law of Epistemology Wigner has shifted from the mystery of metaphysics to epistemology – the connection of innate sensibility to the suggested world events as founding of mathematics, the abstractions from the observations, and within the limits of the invariability principles, the determination of Natural laws, which are conditioned by time, space and chosen events and are provisional.
After having created a muddle, Craig seems to abandon Wigner entirely and attempts to return to long-discarded metaphysics in order to posit god as the answer.
Once again, Craig’s last gasp is the dying metaphysical breath of god of the gaps.
This is a response to a question arising from my recent video on the error of the argument for god from mathematics, which Eckels raises the question of messiness. The video can be seen here:
This becomes somewhat demystified if we take Kant’s view of mathematics as our starting point and focus on Poincare’s demonstration that rational constructs can be contradictory to each other yet internally consistent and Wigner’s demonstration of limits of invariability principles and approximation.
Kant showed pure reason as the top tier organizing principle of our objective thinking. This was an innate subjective principle that, in light of modern biology, would best be seen as an evolutionary adaptation. Of course, Kant would not be aware of the evolutionary aspect. Our senses of time and space would also be purely subjective sensibilities that, along with reason, form our conditions for ordering sense data, i.e. making sense of the world. All of our representations of the world necessarily follow these conditions, although the external world is in itself quite different. On the other hand, our representations aren’t purely arbitrary either, because they are interpretations of unique sense data conditioned by the external object. This gets to what Wigner called the first tier of practical mathematics, where the world “suggests” events to our understanding. This happens with number, for example, where what we intuit from the external world “suggests” multiplicity of objects like enough to be abstracted and counted. This is the most primitive and surest of objective representation, and most likely the evolutionary adaptation early in our development that enabled us to manipulate our environment and calculate future probability. This is the ontological connection between our rational thinking and the world. It is conditioned by our forms of understanding by which we organize sense data, and stimulated (suggested) by sense data uniquely conditioned by each intuition.
In Wigner’s second tier, we are able to further abstract and manipulate these concepts according to the laws of Reason and we do so mathematically when the abstractions are numbers. At this point the apparition of miracle appears, but only if we think metaphysically. In reality, there was an approximation of the world through our understanding at the point where events suggested multiplicity of objects, the sense of which was conditioned by certain unique properties of what is intuited. It is only an approximation, though, because we impose the form on what the world provides (suggests) as content. Number is, from the beginning, an abstraction that omits much information that would favor uniqueness over likeness of these objects.
Wigner’s third tier is the invariability principles, which allow the abstractions in the second tier to be further generalized. This allows for universal laws, but with a crucial limiting factor. These abstractions can only be stretched so far until the world conflicts with the premises. In that case another limited space of invariability needs to be set off, which will likely conflict with the premises of the first, as do Newtonian physics and relativity. At these points new mathematical systems built on new premises must be invented. This builds from Poincare’s demonstration of our ability to construct inherently coherent rational systems in essential conflict with each other, which highlights the provisional nature of our universal laws. Wigner goes on to show that it is possible to construct such conflicting systems through our choice of suggested events to include in the model, and how we delimit space and time.
The point is we are stretching our faculties of reason, space and time which we originally adapted for survival on the savannahs to understand the universe. Because of the primordial joining of our subjective faculties to the events suggested by the world, there is an approximate correlation between our thoughts and reality. If there weren’t, we would never have survived the perils of the savannahs. But there is a point beyond which our stretching snaps the bands of the principles that held the understanding together.
That is the simple explanation. If we were to take a more Heideggerian approach we would necessarily reintroduce mystery in another form, but that’s a story for another day.
An overview of Heidegger is extremely difficult, dangerous in that it can give a trivialized impression that obscures the great profundity of his thought, and perhaps even impossible. Consider what follows to be less than even a mere introduction, and if it interests you then ask lots of questions. First let’s put him in historical perspective. He is in many ways the beginning of an entirely new approach to thought (he discards the term philosopher as used up by metaphysics and prefers the term “thinker”) after the culmination of the two major thrusts in philosophy starting with the Enlightenment and ending with Nietzsche: 1. The destruction of metaphysics; 2. The overthrow of reason as the privileged mode of knowledge which is given over to the senses.
He was the single most important thinker of the 20th Century and, despite more often than not being misunderstood, the most influential. The only other 20th Century figure who would compare is Wittgenstein, who followed a similar path of beginning within an academic approach of systematic philosophy, rejecting that approach as insufficiently free of metaphysics, and in the end focusing on language as the key to understanding our place in the world.
Heidegger is probably the thinker that the most people regard as impossibly difficult to understand. Part of this stems from the initial strangeness of non-metaphysical thought, and much comes from Heidegger’s use of the German language. I’ll state at the beginning that it is impossible to understand Heidegger in translation since his meaning derives from the poetic/musical nature of German. Poetry can never be translated. I’m fortunate enough to speak fluent German and when I think of Heidegger’s thought I think it in German. All I can do in English is give you hints at the meanings.
The next thing to consider is the “Turn”. This marks the sharp break in his thought from the earlier Being and Time. I always suggest that we skip Being and Time, What is Metaphysics and other pre-turn writing altogether. It merely adds considerable and needless complexity as an approach he disavowed. Being and Time, which Heidegger left more than half unfinished, was written in order to justify his offer of a teaching position and adheres to the systematic hermeneutic phenomenology of his mentor, Edmund Husserl. It necessarily trapped him in subject/object metaphysics and has no real impact on his later important work. He later referred to it as the mistake of writing too soon. It is interesting that many traditional academics still consider that his major work because it is the most accessible to them, working within the limits of early 20th Century academic philosophy.
Being is the key to everything in Heidegger. In metaphysics, Being is a metaphysical conjecture which grounds the world, but is not part of it. Heidegger inverts that to accord with its more apparent meaning of actual existence in the world, and that which engenders the world. It is one unifying force, but much more than the English word force conveys. Being reveals itself in individual beings which we encounter, but all beings along with man are connected and stem from the essence of being. In German, Being and essence are etymologically and grammatically related words which we can’t use the same way in English. Man is a special case of being as Dasein. Sein is the word for Being – the manifold essence of all that exists, and man is the case of Being that is aware of its being-there. In as sense, man is the evolved consciousness of Being and destined to be the experience of/for Being and its expression. He sees Hölderlin’s line in the poem “In Lieblicher Bläue” as an expression of the authentic dwelling of man on this earth:
Voll Verdienst, doch dichterish wohnet der Mensch auf dieser Erde
(Fully industrious, yet poetically man dwells on this earth)
We strive but as the experience of Being in this world. The experience is a poetic one, not an analytic exercise. This is seen again in Heidegger’s poem: Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens:
Wir kommen für die Götter zu spät und zu früh für das Sein, dessen angefangenes Gedicht ist der Mensch.
(We come too late for the gods and too soon for Being, whose just begun poem is man.)
The meanings of this line are too much to go into at this moment, but it again poses man as the poetic experience of/for Being itself who at this moment in history has unburdened himself of the metaphysical gods but is yet to discover the essential truths of Being in this world. Until that truth is experienced we remain rootless and stuck in the vertigo of Nietzsche’s madman as he proclaimed god’s death.
Being is in a sense the same mystery sought by physicists, but from a poetic mode of thought. It is the search for the fundamental truths of the universe, which always hides more than it shows yet irresistibly fascinates us.
I started a conversation with my good friend, the Christian philosopher John Mark Reynolds, on Shakespeare’s pivotal cultural role with this article published in John’s blog: Eidos.
He responded here, but due to events surrounding the Covid virus he wasn’t able to publish my counter-response:
Due to several requests, I present my last response below:
As he so often does, Dr. Reynolds has presented an emotional reaction to an argument I never presented. I could easily dismiss his response as mere strawmen and sweeping generalizations, but I think it would be instructive for us to trace his false claims about the Renaissance, the Shakespearean texts, and twisting of what I actually wrote.
I think it would be best to first restate my thesis. The Renaissance introduced humanism and secularity after the long darkness of Medieval scholasticism and the authority of the Catholic Church. One key theme of Humanism was to reconnect Europe to its pre-Christian classical and pagan past. This is a prevalent theme in Shakespeare, whose plays have elements of Christianity, Classical pre-Christian Greece and Rome, and Northern European pre-Christian paganism. Although nobody really knows if Shakespeare was a believer in Christianity or not (it is commonly said of him he was certainly Catholic… or Pagan, or an atheist), all three elements appear in his works. I explicitly stated I was not addressing the question of his religious belief but offering him as an example of what I call the first symptoms of Europe rejecting the graft of Christianity. In concert with the theme of the Renaissance, Shakespeare used these elements to reconnect his contemporary Europe to this pre-Christian past in order to regain what had had been lost to the culture during the time of church rule. It is possible that, like Marlowe, Shakespeare did lean toward an anti-Christian sentiment but was more careful about not overstepping boundaries, and it is equally possible he tried to moderate Christianity to accord more with prior European culture. Either way, it was a beginning of the rejection of total authority of the church and reintroduction of classical and pagan Europe – a rejection that accelerated over the next five centuries. This is a bit more nuanced than Reynold’s strawman distortion of Shakespeare as radical anti-theist.
Dr. Reynolds presents a false and fatally restrictive description of the Renaissance. He characterizes Renaissance England thus:
“We need not explain away anything about his plays if we merely accept Shakespeare as the consistent product of his time and his education, which produced his preference for classical, Christian culture.”
In so doing, he conceals the essential aspects of Shakespeare’s time and culture in an attempt to make it appear a mere extension of Medieval Scholasticism and Church. At great peril of appearing to snobbishly appeal to authority (with my apology to those of a more delicate nature to whom this habit of mine seems to cause psychic offense), I will contrast Reynolds’ assertion to a more conventional and scholarly understanding of the English Renaissance. The British critic, author, and Shakespeare scholar, Andrew Dickenson, writes in an article for The British Library:
“Though historians debate the precise origins of the Renaissance, most agree that it – or one version of it – began in Italy some time in the late 1300s, with the decline in influence of Roman Catholic Christian doctrine and the reawakening of interest in Greek and Latin texts by philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, historians including Plutarch and poets such as Ovid and Virgil.”
“Gradually, the concept of a ‘humanistic’ curriculum began to solidify: focussing not on Christian theological texts, which had been pored over in medieval seats of learning, but on classical ‘humanities’ subjects such as philosophy, history, drama and poetry. “
Contrary to Reynold’s unfounded claim, the Renaissance was not a simple continuation of Medieval Christianity, but a return to secular humanism and reattachment to European pre-Christian culture. As the early first step in this rejection of the graft, it was not a dismissal of Christianity but rather the important act of removing Christianity as the central focus and once again contemplating European origins and man as the measure of things.
Dickenson then describes education at the time of Shakespeare, which contrasts starkly with Reynold’s unhistoric claim that Shakespeare was reflecting his classical Christian education:
“In Britain, humanism was spread by a rapid increase in the number of ‘grammar’ schools (as their name indicates, language was their primary focus, and students were often required to speak in Latin during school hours), and the jump in the number of children exposed to the best classical learning. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Jonson, Bacon: almost every major British Renaissance intellectual one can name received a humanist education. Shakespeare’s plays and poems are steeped in writers he encountered at school – the magical transformations of Ovid’s poetry infiltrate the worlds of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, his Romanhistories are cribbed from the Greek historian Plutarch, The Comedy of Errors is modelled closely on a Greek drama by Plautus, while Hamlet includes an entire section – the Player’s account of the death of Priam – borrowed from Virgil’s Aeneid.”
Reynolds then employed a typical apologist rhetorical trick of projecting his deficiency of stance onto his opponent when he accused me of allowing my bias to distort the culture and education of Shakespeare when in fact that is exactly what he did with his unfounded sweeping claim of the centrality of Christianity. My approach is to allow the facts their primacy of place. As we will see later, this rhetorical trick is further applied to the text of Shakespeare’s plays themselves.
The Question of Shakespeare and Religion
Reynolds gave us another unfounded sweeping claim that Shakespeare was undoubtedly a Catholic in response to what I presented as the conventional view among scholars that we cannot really know his true beliefs as in the texts we see prominent examples of Paganism, Catholicism and nihilistic atheism. The preeminent scholar of English Literature with special expertise in Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and Medieval England, Harold Bloom, better explains the nuance and complications of this question in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human:
“We cannot know, by reading Shakespeare and seeing him played, whether he had any extrapoetic beliefs or disbeliefs. G. K. Chesterton, a wonderful literary critic, insisted that Shakespeare was a Catholic dramatist, and that Hamlet was more orthodox than skeptical. Both assertions seem to me quite unlikely, yet I do not know, and Chesterton did not know either. Christopher Marlowe had his ambiguities and Ben Jonson his ambivalences, but sometimes we can hazard surmises as to their personal stances. By reading Shakespeare, I can gather that he did not like lawyers, preferred drinking to eating, and evidently lusted after both genders. But I certainly do not have a clue as to whether he favored Protestantism or Catholicism or neither, and I do not know whether he believed or disbelieved in God or in resurrection. His politics, like his religion, evades me, but I think he was too wary to have any.
“Though G. K. Chesterton liked to think that Shakespeare was a Catholic, at least in spirit, Chesterton was too good a critic to locate Shakespeare’s universalism in Christianity. We might learn from that not to shape Shakespeare by our own cultural politics. Comparing Shakespeare with Dante, Chesterton emphasized Dante’s spaciousness in dealing with Christian love and Christian liberty, whereas Shakespeare “was a pagan; in so far that he is at his greatest in describing great spirits in chains.” Those “chains” manifestly are not political. They return us to universalism, to Hamlet above all, greatest of all spirits, thinking his way to the truth, of which he perishes. The ultimate use of Shakespeare is to let him teach you to think too well, to whatever truth you can sustain without perishing…
“Do Shakespeare’s modes of representation in themselves betray any ideological turn, whether Christian, skeptical, hermetic, or whatever? The question, difficult to frame, remains urgent in its implications: Is Shakespeare, in his plays, ultimately a celebrant of life, beyond tragedy, or is he pragmatically nihilistic? Since I myself am a heretical transcendentalist, gnostic in orientation, I would be happiest with a Shakespeare who seemed to hold on to at least a secular transcendence, a vision of the sublime. That seems not altogether true; the authentic Shakespearean litany chants variations upon the word “nothing,” and the uncanniness of nihilism haunts almost every play, even the great, relatively unmixed comedies.”
What commands the attention in the above passages is the contrast of Shakespeare’s textual Paganism to the spacious Christianity of Dante’s texts, as acknowledged by the Catholic Chesterton, and the indeterminacy of Shakespeare’s religious beliefs, if any at all.
Interpretation: The Play is The Thing
As mentioned above, Reynold’s repeats his rhetorical trick of painting his opponent with the color of his own deficiency, here in regard to the texts themselves. Ironically, he retorts the play is the thing, while he himself bases his own claims and remarks almost entirely on external examples with almost no basis in the text. What I attempted to do was just the opposite: interpret from Shakespeare’s own words, or in Bloom’s locution, hew to the “authentic Shakespearean litany”.
At the expense of even further expansion of this writing, I need to present the opening quote of my last essay which well encapsulates my thesis. It appears at the beginning of Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet Are of imagination all compact. One sees more devils than vast hell can hold: That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic, Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt. The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven, And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name.
I further demonstrated from examples of the text of the play itself that what is at work here are:
1. A departure from the madness of devils and hell characteristic of the theocracy of the Medieval Church.
2. A Renaissance refocusing on the earthly powers that buffet and excite man in this world, reaching back to classical Greece and northern Paganism through the wandering in the dark of moonstruck lovers.
3. And most importantly of all, the urgent role of the authentic poet to hear the music of these earthly powers and play this music in the authentic poetry of originating language: to give heretofore unknown things form, place and name.
Reynolds merely rejected this out of hand, with absolutely no support from the text, nor any substantive rebuttal of the textual examples I provided. More importantly, he offered no counter interpretation. In another forum (Twitter) I successfully pressured him to finally provide an interpretation which I found stunningly absurd. His claim, briefly stated, was that this was all about the role of Christian rationalism; the madness of devils and the madness of the lovers were the same and driven by non-Christian sensuality; and the role of the poet was to reconcile these with reason and moderation inspired by his Christianity.
The problem, of course, is all of this directly contradicts the “thing” of the play. It is important to note that it was Oberon and Puck who brought about the final reconciliation as Pagan Fairy King and Fairy – the very opposite of a Christian God. All inspiration of the characters of the night came directly from paganism, while only the day characters of Theseus and Egeus characterize rationality and come off the worse for it.
Reynold’s restrictive and contrived interpretation conceals the true importance of the play, the essence of which is the poetic creation of our world from the earthly music and dreams of man. This accords well with Bloom’s thesis that Shakespeare accomplished the greatest act of poetry in history through his creation of man as individual rather than type. Through the music he heard and his inspired dreams, the heretofore unknown thing to which Shakespeare gave form, place and name was nothing less than the soul or nature of man himself and the mystery of his place in the cosmos. Not an answer to that mystery, but the awesome revelation of the mystery itself.
And with the realization of the immensity of the mystery and depth of our nature, the primitive answers of a strange Eastern religion begin to lose their power to explain.
This is in response to a conversation between Chris Rhodes and me on Twitter. The subject is too involved to attempt on Twitter, so I am answering here.
1. Why should we believe it to be true and what evidence is there for it?
A. The physical structure of perception and cognition suggest it. The brain sits inside a box with no windows and is entirely reliant on electrochemical impulses through the neural network for information about the external world. Vision, for example, is not like a camera that throws a picture against a screen, but rather eyes take light within a very narrow bandwidth and transform that energy into electric impulses conducted through the optic nerve to a part of the brain that operates to make some sense of the data. It produces a picture through innate sensibilities and categories of understanding that are not present in the real world. For example, color doesn’t exist outside our imagination, but is created in the imagination as response to specific electromagnetic wavelengths. Hoffman has done experiments where he disrupts that part of the brain with magnets and causes the subject to perceive the world without color. That indicates the color is created in that section of the brain. Second, there are experiments which show how radically our expectations reduce the pictures we draw from vision out of the overwhelming confusion of sense data. The vast majority of what exists in front of us is never represented because we naturally focus on what we expect to be important. There was a famous experiment where a man was giving a lecture during which a man in a bear suit slowly walked behind him from one end of the stage to the other. Nobody in the audience saw him and disbelieved it happened until shown a video. The result of the experiments clearly show that we format sense data according to our expectations of what will happen next, and this is decisive in editing and focusing the picture in representation. The same types of experiments have been done in time and space representations.
B. There are certain conditions of thought which shape all representations and ideas, and further, we cannot even conceive outside those conditions. Space and time are among those conditions. It is impossible for us to think other than in space and time, even though reality outside the Newtonian band of existence seem to confound space and time entirely. This would indicate that space and time are merely our modes of drawing the world and not a feature of the world itself. One of the great challenges Einstein faced was trying to describe ultimate reality, which did not exist in space and time, because it is beyond our ability to conceive outside those conditions. No matter how you describe it, you always resort to spatial and temporal terms because we can do no other. That led to describing the absence of time as block time, which relied on a spatial metaphor. The paradoxes caused by relativity force us to talk of successionality, where in extreme relative motion we encounter situations where effect can precede cause. Here we are forced to use a temporal term to a reality where time doesn’t exist, and our inner sensibility leads to paradox. The same applies to the question of what happened before the big bang, where there was no time or space. There is no before, which is a misplaced concept.
C. We know from quantum field theory that the world itself does not exist anything like how we perceive it. Back to the case of the bus hurtling at us, we represent it to ourselves as a solid object in space and time. In reality it is an inconceivably complex interaction of various quantum fields existing mostly of empty space. Even the notion of solid matter dissolves at this level, where quanta are no more than coagulated energy along the field, and what we perceive as mass is merely the effect of the Higgs field slowing the flow of quanta in other fields. Consider that the wall in front of you is almost all empty space. The particles that make up atoms are very far from each other and what you perceive as a solid in space is quite different. What we perceive as the space of the wall is mostly empty, and what we perceive as a smooth solid is the result of the energy of this field not allowing light of certain wavelengths through. They refract back to us evenly and we draw a colored solid space in our mind. If we punch the wall. we physically encounter that energy and are repelled. At the deepest level of existence that we know, the world is entirely made of vibrations. The vibrations along the 24 quantum fields, and the vibrations of quanta themselves. All else is our representations. That is the basis of Hoffman’s analogy of bits to icons.
Under experiments with psychedelics we can see how these subjective determinations can be altered in all sorts of ways and still appear to us as realistic because we are altering our conditions of perception and thought, and in doing so we see its independence from the world in itself.
2. His theory is based on evolution, which we know as fact through experiments and observation. However, if you apply Hoffman’s theory to the thing that supports it, we have no reason to believe it. How do we know what we observed as evolution was really that? It could have been something else our brains
This is a question I deal with quite a bit and is my departure from pure Naturalism as we commonly understand it. There are two modes of thought, objectively technological and ontological. That is my major focus but far too wide to go into detail here. In the technological mode we adhere to our objective representations and what can be verified through them. Hoffman, Kant, et al. do not deny there is correct information here. If there were no correspondence between our representations and external world, there would be no adaptive benefit. But there is a degree of correspondence that derives from the unique conditioning of sense data by what is observed. If not, we would be eaten by tigers we thought were rocks, we could never catch any prey, airplanes wouldn’t fly, and we would never have reached the moon. Our objective representation of the world is what allows us to manipulate it because our attempts to measure objects and reason relationships between them are in close correspondence to innate properties of these objects beyond our understanding. This gives us correct information about measure and relation within certain limits of scale but can never tell us what these things we perceive actually are. That requires ontological thinking, which is in essence pre-rational.
We can observe phenomena over time that allow us to build a view of evolution which is as reliable as our building a view of aerodynamics. We can trace how understanding has developed throughout mammalian history, for example, and through the various phases of man. We can study DNA to get a picture of a mechanism for these developments. But that is all we can know scientifically.
The deeper questions are beyond measurement and comparison, such as the question of intentionality in the universe. Man’s intellect and morality has perceptibly developed in a discernable direction, and at a superficial level the science of evolution can explain much of it. The problem is not that this explanation is false, but rather radically incomplete. What is DNA essentially? We can measure and relate scientifically, but never know what it is in its essence. It certainly has the appearance of a will or intention, but where does that come from? Is it a reflection or revelation of Being itself? And if so, are we intended as the development of consciousness of Being – a sort of Being in self-regard and self-experience? That’s where the mystery is, but beyond the objective understanding of technological objectivity.
3. Hoffman’s theory is not compatible with Kant’s epistemology or Seth’s theory. To give an analogy, Kant believes that if the actual world is a man, our vision is a shadow. Seth believes that if actual reality is a 6 ft tall man, we might see a 5’ 8” woman, and Hoffman believes that if actual reality is a man, we would see any number of things that could fill the role of a man’s relation to us. This is further exacerbated by their ideas of consciousness, which differ radically, with Seth thinking that it’s generated by the neurons in our brain as a the conscious experience of reality, while Hoffman thinks it’s the fundamental part of reality.
We need to separate epistemology from the question of consciousness at this point. I’m not sure that your epistemological analogy is quite right. Kant wouldn’t see it as a shadow at all because that implies external space and time. The same would apply to Seth and Hoffman. I think it is closer to the case that all three see our conception of the world as a construction derived from sense data through innate conditions of understanding and perception.
Consciousness is far more speculative and there are various theories that borrow from contemporary physics. Hoffman adheres to a theory among some physicists that consciousness is basic to the universe and progresses to higher levels of complexity and development in the same way as the cosmos. Others look to the wave behavior of the deepest level of reality and its similarity to wave behavior of the brain and posit a model that is like the wave interaction among quantum fields. All of this is, however, very early and speculative, although promising.
4. Hoffman’s theory is too ill-defined. He thinks we see representations of actual reality with some semblance of truth, but what truth stays through the representation? Does the color of the thing? The shape? How does our brain decide which representation to create?
I believe I addressed this above, but if you had other thoughts concerning this that I didn’t, let me know.
5. Assuming that Hoffman wishes to be consistent, he must also assume that what we call reason or logic is also a faulty, inaccurate perception of reality, that would mean that nothing we believe is valid, because we came to the conclusion through a process not aimed at truth, including his own theory.
Again, I believe I covered that above. In short, it is correct to a usable degree at the Newtonian level but becomes stretched to incomprehension beyond that.
6. Hoffman’s view of consciousness/mind is inconsistent. On one hand, he claims consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality, and that the world is inhabited by conscious agents who create reality. However, this is incompatible with his view that our conscious experience is created and altered by evolution, and therefore something that gradually developed, rather than something fundamental.
Again, I addressed above the theory of progressive cosmic development and complexity from which he derived his theory. Our consciousness would be just one step along this development. He also entirely ignores the more primordial and deeper mode of ontological consciousness. There is far more profound truth in Beethoven and Shakespeare than in both volumes of relativity.
7. And aside from Hoffman’s theory, I think your characterization of WLC and certainly your characterization of Aristotle are both strawmen. First, when WLC dismisses the antimony, he does it on the basis that we have good scientific evidence that the universe began.
Let’s leave Aristotle aside for the moment because I don’t think it is all that relevant to this discussion. When WLC bases his claim on the assertion that there is good scientific evidence the universe he again is knowingly evading the real issue. First of all, there is no consensus among physicists that the universe indeed had a beginning. Roger Penrose would be a prime example of physicists who contest that notion.
More important, he ducks the crux of Kant’s Antinomy by obscuring the meaning of “beginning”. Most physicists who adhere to a beginning of the universe are careful to distinguish that from the beginning of physical reality, where the big bang is no more than a change of state from what we are forced to think of as pre-big bang (even though the concept of time does not actually exist beyond the big bang) to our particular universe where entropy set in motion what we perceive as time and space.
The critical point is that we cannot possibly know anything about any origins of our universe nor can we apply the concept of time or our natural physical laws. Concerning the Kalam, that means that the premises assume things we cannot possibly know and therefore are not compelling.
This a partial reproduction of the script of a video I recently released on my YouTube channel and some further clarification of certain points. The video is a response to Michael Millerman’s argument for a Heideggerian approach to a new political beginning and can be seen here:
I made the video because I disagree with Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger, which appears to me to be solely grounded in the pre-Turn thinking of Being and Time. Despite Millerman’s occasional allusion to post-Turn Heidegger, his methodology is solidly in the framework of Being and Time, which Heidegger came to reject. I find this an important issue for us today because this interpretation has led to much mischief in the past and continues to do so yet today in the works of far right writers.
Millerman’s position is that we are in a time of political crisis and Heidegger, whose task was to prepare for a new beginning for our thinking of man’s essence and relation to Being, has some important things to contribute. I think he errs when he attempts to substitute political crisis for Heidegger’s crisis of man’s relation to Being, which is far more fundamental and cannot be skipped over. Even in Being and Time, Heidegger stressed that we can never come to times with the basic concepts we employ born of metaphysical thinking until we have come to terms with the most fundamental question of all: the question of Being, and to try to build without that foundation of understanding of Being can only lead to more metaphysical error. Millerman’s attempt to think a new Heideggerian beginning to politics violates this precept and ultimately points to another far right political disaster, this time in the writing of Alexander Dugin.
Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger is limited to Being and Time and the pre-Turn Heidegger, which Heidegger himself rejected after his famous Turn. Academics, especially philosophers in academia, generally consider Being and Time to be Heidegger’s seminal work and focus on it to the exclusion of his post turn thinking. This is because Being and Time was still written in the tradition of academic philosophy that is accessible to the academy, being grounded in Husserlian phenomenology and its methodology. The post-Turn Heidegger resolutely rejected philosophy as the dead end of metaphysics and took another path. It is at this point that Heidegger came into his own as the giant of 20th Century thought and left the academy blinking in confusion.
Millerman describes the Heidegger of Being and Time as concerned with addressing the crisis of science, which is its captivity to metaphysical objectification that uproots science from Being itself and obscures its grounding. Heidegger approaches this through philosophical methods and tools to understand the fundamental Being which precedes all our concepts and interpretations, which he called fundamental ontology. Heidegger put it this way in Being and Time:
Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task.
The Seinsfrage, or question of Being remained his sole focus for the rest of his life, but his approach turned 180 degrees after Being and Time, as Heidegger himself described it. Before we go further with Being and Time and Millerman’s interpretation, it’s critical to understand Heidegger’s place and time within Western thought. Heidegger stood at the end of the last two major thrusts of Western philosophy: the first being the two-century long journey toward the destruction of metaphysics beginning with Francis Bacon and ending with Nietzsche. The other major thrust, which began about a century later with the Romantics, was the overturning of reason as the mode of apprehending truth in favor of esthetics, which again Nietzsche brought to fruition.
Being and time focused on the first of the two trends and attempted to build upon what he saw as Nietzsche’s ending of metaphysics. He sought a way of grounding the sciences in Being itself, thereby eliminating all metaphysical speculation and the subject/object dichotomy to which metaphysics gave birth. It attempted this project through the phenomenological analysis of Dasein and its cognitive structure as it interprets Being. Dasein here is the essence of man as Being and as the self-awareness of Being in the world.
The fatal flaw here is that in this approach there still lurks the dark figure of metaphysics in the assumed Kantian Transcendental Idealism and Husserlian Transcendental Hermeneutics. The only overcoming of the subject/object dichotomy Heidegger could manage within this framework was what he called Zuhandensein, which is the entanglement of man and tool in work. This would be radically rethought after the turn when he finally includes the second thrust of late philosophy: esthetic experience of truth.
It’s important to note that Heidegger never bothered to finish Being and Time. It was planned as a two-part work, the first covering Being, the second on Time, but he only wrote 2/3 of the first part on Being and put it away. In his later years he referred to it in an interview as an example of writing too soon. Through the thirties and into the forties we can trace the move of his thinking away from philosophy and toward what he called poetic thinking. This turn is clearly seen in his collection of essays, Holzwege, which appeared in 1947 and fully presented in the lecture: Was Heißt Denken?
The most important aspects of this turn are:
1. Replacing the focus from the modes of Dasein in interpreting Being to Being itself and man’s nature as a part of Being.
2. Replacing analytical methods with esthetic exploration of Being through poetry, i.e abandoning the methodological approach that Millerman suggests in his argument.
3. Ereignis as the experience of the revelation of Being
This move to esthetic mode of knowledge replaced phenomenological explanation of interpretation of Being with this notion of Ereignis, where we experience the truth as Being reveals itself through a partial unconcealing of its nature. We experience this poetically as originating language as Being speaks through man. Here truth is not something we interpret or determine, but something we experience through poetic language if we open ourselves to the experience. This is The real fruition of Nietzsche’s esthetic, much as Zarathustra experienced atop the mountain at midnight, looking at the moon through the laciness of the spider web and, experiencing the most profound truth, sang the Drunken Song.
Millerman’s argument is problematic. First, it attempts to solve the problem of a crisis of politics before we have addressed the underlying question of Being through Heidegger’s phenomenological methodology which Heidegger himself rejected. This is a common mistake, which we see in Sartre’s application of Heidegger’s analytics to existentialism, and Derrida’s exploiting the notion of hermeneutics as a way to deconstruct metaphysical assumptions lurking in all Dasein interpretations of Being. Uprooted from Being, the latter two end up either declaring truth as an invention or not existent. It is interesting that at the end of the clip I presented, Millerman actually says the deconstruction of metaphysics, the Derridian term, rather than Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics. But For Heidegger, it is no longer a matter of method by which we deconstruct the past or other such superficial games, but rather building on the destruction of metaphysics in order to prepare the way to a poetic relation to the truth and essence of Being. This, and only this, is the new beginning Heidegger has in mind. We can not hope to understand anything else authentically until we learn to think the question of Being, which implies a rejection of philosophy for a new mode of authentic knowledge, free of metaphysical speculation and focusing completely on the world presented to us as Being while resisting all temptation to relapse back into metaphysics when we come before what we cannot yet know.
Let’s compare the attempt to construct a politics of Dasein with a question once asked of Heidegger: why he never wrote anything on morality. He answered we don’t yet even know the questions to ask. He meant we first need to pursue the Seinsfrage and only then can an authentic morality emerge out of our nature and the nature of Being. The same would apply to the question of politics. In his famous interview in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Heidegger dismissed all political formations and instead pivoted to the one true appropriate question before we can address any others, our relation to Being and the essence of technology. Again, this is the new beginning he had in mind and necessarily precedes our ability to address other questions.
What Millerman proposes is not an authentic application of Heidegger. We are not ready to even know the right questions to ask about politics or any approach to political philosophy. Early in his career Heidegger had given up on philosophy’s ability to resolve anything. When we do learn the right questions from a true grounding in Being, political formation will emerge.
In his long poem of 1965, Aus der Erfarhrung des Denkens, Heidegger gives us a line that perfectly encapsulates all of what I described and what serves me as the touchstone to Heidegger and our place and time:
Wir kommen für die Götter zu spät und zu früh für das Sein, dessen angefangenes Gedicht ist der Mensch.
(We come too late fort he gods and too late for Being, whose just begun poem is man)
Here we are in Nietzsche’s time of the great vertigo as a result of the Madman’s announcement of the death of god, the last effect of the destruction of metaphysics. Or as Heidegger calls it, the time of destitution in his essay in Holzwege, Wozu Dichter. We are ungrounded and in a vertiginous floating stuck between the time of the gods and the time of Being until we discover the way to Being, and that way cannot be through philosophy or science, but through poetic experience of Ereignis. And that is what poets and authentic thinkers are for. Our own essential destiny is that of the poet. Our purpose is to be the poetic experience of Being for Being itself – its just begun poem. Being speaks through us as the manifestation of experience itself in which we and Being share. Poetry is not just some avocation for Heidegger but the only way to recover what we lost through metaphysics, when Logos in its original and full meaning of word as the musical revelation of Being in the world, with its resonance full of the manifold presence of Being, that is Being speaking through man, was attenuated to the desiccate impoverishment of logic.
To conclude, much political mischief has been committed by attempting to derive political theory from Heidegger’s early and abandoned phenomenology, starting with Heidegger himself and his early support of Nazism, Sartre’s embrace of Communism, and Alexander Dugin’s use of it as dressing and camouflage over Putin’s thugocracy, as well as lesser lights in America who distort and name-drop Heidegger in an attempt to legitimize their crude and ugly populist nationalism.
I fear Millerman fails to see the danger such an approach entails, especially in light of its past disasters. Dugin’s faux_heidegarianism only mimics Heidegger’s tracing of words to their authentic beginnings in order to reveal a supposed authentic Russian interpretation of Being and culture, an enterprise that leads not to any originating logos but rather a maze of fallen language which easily elides into nationalism. He furthers this through his concept of communal Dasein, which eerily echoes Heidegger’s early embrace of Nationalism as an authentic mass experience of Nietzschean Will, as described by Juergen Habermas in his criticism of Heidegger, and echoes the dark myth of Volk with the Russian Narod. Make no mistake, Dugin’s fourth political theory is no authentic thinking of Being, but inauthentic window-dressing for authoritarian brutality. It could not possibly be further removed from the poetic inquiry of Being.
So where does this leave us concerning the political crisis? The simple answer is: in danger with no authentic solution at this point. I believe that in such a crisis the best approach is to look to politics and government for as little as possible until the day comes when (if that day comes) we have sufficiently thought the question and Being and are able to ground a state authentically in Being itself. To reach that state requires the freedom for such thought to take place. Coercive governments, right or left, can only stifle that thinking and oppress the people by enforcing inauthentic myths of culture and values, as is the goal of all nationalism. For that reason, I am a rare breed indeed: a Heideggerian libertarian.