I write here with the single purpose of separating Heidegger from Sartre’s Existentialism, and in the contrast giving Heidegger a clearer representation. I do not write with the intent of persuading you to accept Heidegger’s thought, which is in fact contrary to Sartre. We each have our own path to follow.
This began with your question concerning a common occurrence among scholars of placing Heidegger in the chain of Existentialism. The reason for that is the general laziness among scholars along with their widespread inability to grasp Heidegger’s thought. Few academic scholars have read anything of Heidegger other than Being and Time, and even that has been poorly grasped. More importantly, that work gives no significant insight into Heidegger’s thinking. It was written at a premature time in Heidegger’s intellectual development solely for the purpose of securing for himself a teaching position. Once he received the appointment, he immediately stopped working on it, and it remained barely 1/3 completed. In later life he referred to it as the mistake of writing too soon. (A misstep he shared with many great thinkers, including Kant, Hume, and Wittgenstein.) This book, however, was what prompted Sartre to write Being and Nothingness, which he saw as an extension of Heidegger’s presentation in Being and Time. Scholars, knowing nothing of Heidegger beyond Being and Time and far too often misunderstanding even that, have often made the superficial judgment that Heidegger was therefore a significant founder of Existentialism. This is false for two reasons:
1. As I will discuss below, Sartre misunderstood Heidegger’s use of two key ideas at the heart of Being and Time; Being and authenticity. Sartre’s understanding of those terms determined his construction of Existentialism and, in so doing, drove it in a way contrary to Heidegger’s thought.
2. Sartre began and remained within the confines of phenomenology, which Heidegger rejected as he began his authentic works after his famous Turn.
Being and Time remains solidly within Husserl’s phenomenology. It is Heidegger’s use of Husserl’s academic terms and concepts that makes this work somewhat accessible to scholars, and the absence of which in Heidegger’s later writing that leaves them rudderless. As phenomenology inquires into the subjective working of sense data as phenomenological representations of an outer world, it necessarily retains the subject/object metaphysics that Heidegger rejected. It is this failure to dissolve the subject/object relationship that caused Heidegger to move in a radically different direction. Sartre, however, wrote Being and Nothingness in 1943, before Heidegger’s Turn fully came to light, and clearly saw Husserl and Heidegger as his proximate influences, although I would argue that his true influence was Kierkegaard. But that’s a discussion for another time.
As Sartre remained within the conceptual framework of phenomenology, he inquired from the perspective of man’s subjective consciousness and his relationship to Other, which is the outside world, particularly other consciousnesses. That implies what we know and what we intend are subjective constructions. In maintaining his focus purely on subjective consciousness, he turns Being as “thing-in-itself” inward. No longer denoting the external world outside our representation, it here refers to the facticity of our own being: the facts of our past that we can no longer directly experience or change. This he calls en-soi. Opposed to that is our consciousness of present and future possibility, which he calls pour-soit. In a surprising echo of Kant, it is man’s ability to transcend facticity in order to exercise free will. A negation of the material thingness of the situation and inner reality, much like Kant’s negation of the senses and therefore the objective causal world, in order to transcend to the externally uncaused freedom. Man thereby constructs his own authenticity by choosing his values and intentions and then choosing to act accordingly. As a phenomenologist, he places the grounding of authenticity in man’s consciousness. This lack of external ground, however, poses an insurmountable problem for Sartre. He later makes the ad hoc claim that goodness towards the welfare of other individuals and the community in general are the guiding ideals for authenticity in order to maintain his claim that an “authentic Nazi” is a contradiction of terms. But his guiding principles have no basis other than edict, leaving the Nazi to just as rightly claim his authenticity is guided by his own en-soi constructs which Sartre has no valid means to question.
In addition, Sartre also describes the encounter of Others as pour-autrui, which is an awareness of Other consciousness, but falls short of a being-with in consciousness. Rather a distancing wariness along with calculation always define these encounters out of the ever-present possibility of shame and conflict. An objectifying of our Being as we in turn objectify the other.
What underlies all this and will define his contrast to Heidegger is his claim that, in the absence of a god, existence precedes essence as essence is man’s own construction as he travels through life. Therefore, authenticity is staying true to one’s constructed essence. As we will see, Heidegger, also without positing a god or anything outside the physical world, will come to the opposite conclusion.
But of course, as somewhat of an adherent to Sartre’s Existentialism you already know what stands above, so let’s turn our attention to Heidegger and his thinking of the two crucial terms – Being and authenticity. As both Sartre and Heidegger held the view that reason falls short in explaining an absurd (or simply non-rational) universe, we will be able to see how their different interpretations lead to very different paths toward esthetics as crucial to understanding.
Heidegger directly ascends, not from phenomenology, but Nietzsche’s project of rethinking all values and truths from firmly within the physical world. This entailed two key features that Heidegger put at the center of his own thought: the elimination of all metaphysics and an awareness of the futility of reason to discover the profound truth of the abyss, which then turns our attention instead to esthetic knowledge. For Heidegger, poetic thought became what music was for Nietzsche. Most importantly, both Nietzsche and Heidegger saw this not as human construction, but Wille or Sein singing or speaking through man. Contra Sartre, conscious construction can only lead to inauthenticity and conceal truth. Zarathustra spontaneously sings Das Trunkene Lied as Dionysus animates him. For Heidegger, Hölderlin allows Being to animate and speak through him as it reveals itself in authentic experience.
Accordingly, Heidegger’s Being is physical reality, but one that simultaneously entails all essence. All beings, including human Dasein, are in their truest nature participating elements of this manifold of Being, from which they derive their own essence. Heidegger’s project is to eliminate metaphysical conjecture, and instead repose all fundamental questions to Being itself. It’s important to clearly understand what Heidegger rejected as metaphysics. It isn’t just the non-physical-non-sensible world of scholastic conjecture, but most importantly for today, the objectification of the world which dominates today as technology. It started with the transformation of pre-Socratic thought into Socratic metaphysics, and began its devastating error through the transformation of A is A to A=A. For the pre-Socratics, the ‘is” is no mere copula but the most active verb which preserves the unique essence of every thing present, rather than a mere object that loses it identity through representational identification with others. This metaphysical subject/object split in experience resolutely closes off self-revelation of Being and its mystery and allure, diminishing our consciousness to a flattened and attenuated regard of the world.
It’s important to note that Heidegger did not mean that science and technology were false. They effectively calculate relationships, measurements, and causality. To the extent they did this, they displayed what he called “correctness”. In fact, their great success in doing so propelled its acceptance to the point where the common understanding accepts it as the totality of world. But this metaphysical objectification could never tell us the underlying “truth” inherent in Being. It could tell us how something works, but could never tell us what something is.
Being for Heidegger is a physical primordial reality in which all essence inheres, and authenticity is thinking, building, and dwelling within this authenticity. It is not Sartre’s subjective construction, nor is it a purely external force. As Dasein, man is a special part of Sein, and Sein exists in man in a special way. Dasein is man’s existence as conscious awareness and experience of his place in the world. But not merely for the benefit of man, but as an integral part of Being with the humbling purpose of providing the ability of Being to experience itself. In man’s most authentic relation to Being, Being reveals parts of its mystery poetically as it speaks through man:
“We are too late for the gods, and to soon for Being, whose begun poem is man.”
The deepest mystery and lure of the cosmos is Being’s call to us. Its impatient urge to experience itself through us. This is what animates all true artists as well as scientists. This is our deepest calling.
Both Sartre and Heidegger saw the primacy of esthetics over reason, but differently. For Sartre, novels were the means to activate and play on the emotions of the Other as a pragmatic spur for the Other to act authentically. For Heidegger, as shown above, it is something infinitely more profound which entails the dissolution of subject/object consciousness for something entirely holistic. It is the sympathetic vibration of man and Being which grounds man in the physical and sensible truth of existence. Necessarily, it is a wholly esthetic experience that plays on moods, but not in the humanly constructed manner of Sartre. Heidegger talks about the central role of mood in this revelatory experience, but only in the German does the meaning come through. The word for mood in German is Stimmung, which literally means voicings. In exactly the way music has voicings, our inner being is like the resonant strings of a piano or harp which have the capacity to vibrate along with the primal vibrations of Being. Poetry is a presencing of this, but it is also something we can all feel in daily life.
Heidegger uses Georg Trakl’s poem “A Winter Evening” to presence this authenticity in everyday life, where one crosses the threshold that dissolves Sartre’s pour-soi and pour-autrui into an authentic Being with in which the holy that inheres in Being is present.
A winter evening
When the snow falls ’gainst the panes,
long the evening bell is ringing,
many find a well-laid table
and their matters well arranged.
Many a man who roams about
finds the gate on murky pathways.
Golden blooms the tree of mercy
from the cool sap of the earth.
Wanderer, step in, be still;
Pain has petrified the threshold.
There are – chaste in radiance gleaming –
on the table bread and wine.
Wenn der Schnee ans Fenster fällt,
Lang die Abendglocke läutet,
Vielen ist der Tisch bereitet
Und das Haus ist wohlbestellt.
Mancher auf der Wanderschaft
Kommt ans Tor auf dunklen Pfaden.
Golden blüht der Baum der Gnaden
Aus der Erde kühlem Saft.
Wanderer tritt still herein;
Schmerz versteinerte die Schwelle.
Da erglänzt in reiner Helle
Auf dem Tische Brot und Wein.
The threshold is here the dissolution of the ordered and well laid common understanding granting entrance to the holy, which is grounded in the nurturing and nourishing earth. I think of it as the entrance to a holy family gathering where mit-bestimmung (congeniality, but far more profound and playing on the above Stimmung) is the mode of being as Being itself makes itself felt.
I included the YouTube video so one can experience the musical Stimmung of the poem directly.
In sharp contrast to Sartre, Heidegger was a man in search of the holy revealed in Being, but without a god. Everything inheres in the physicality of Being itself, and there one finds the mystery that moves our own voicings, and that is the holy. He saw us as in a dark and desolate time where we finally gave up the illusion of the gods, but are trapped in the Gestell of technology and blind to the authentic. Further, without a proper relationship to and thinking of Being, all our constructions are hollow and self-defeating. Most importantly, he saw all of our politics and attempts to define morality as hopeless and will remain so until we have a proper grounding in Being itself. As he said often, we don’t even yet know the questions to ask.
I happily admit my own path begins with Heidegger, this path leading me to the very edge of what physics can know, and delighting in poetically inquiring into that deeper mystery of what physics can never venture. There is a crisis in physics as it crashed at supercollider speed into the wall of concealment, where our best minds, trapped in temporal, spatial, and causal modes of understanding decay into nothingness. The collision emits broken particles of mathematic expressions, which if we listen closely, radiate the most profound music. Rather than metaphysically deduce from a priori ideas conveyed in precise numerical formulae, I’d rather dance with the photons on their journey along the pilot waves.
This is the script for a video on my YouTube Channel where I critique a video on the Capturing Christianity Channel in which Tom Holland discusses his book: Dominion.
Today we look at a video on the Capturing Christianity channel in which Tom Holland appears as a guest. Holland recently published a book titled: Dominion, which attempts to argue that Western culture owes its entirety to Christianity and that we have no connection to ancient Greece and Rome, let alone pre-Christian European paganism. As Cameron Bertuzzi introduces it:
The book was enthusiastically received in the apologetic community, but generally ignored by the everyone else so I never considered making the effort of commenting on the book. But this video encapsulates the major thrust of the book in a way that makes its refutation more manageable.
As some of you know, I’ve written in favor of the opposite case: that Christianity interrupted European culture as a strange Near Eastern religion grafted onto the body of Western civilization, became malignant, and was eventually rejected by the West’s lymphatic system as an unhealthy growth. This rejection began in the late Renaissance as a reconnection to classical antiquity as well as pre-Christian paganism, as exemplified by Shakespeare, and the turn of our gaze from a metaphysical heaven to man himself as the measure of the world. This trend accelerated with the reason and empiricism of the Enlightenment, and finally threw off the diseased graft of Christianity in the late 19th Century with Nietzsche’s Madman announcing god’s death. I’ve linked below to a couple of articles I wrote on this subject for John Mark Reynolds’ Eidos.
We start with Holland’s preface of his arguments with a catalogue of ideas and morals which he thinks demonstrate a complete break with pre-Christian antiquity:
There are two interesting things here. First is his focus on sexuality. It is not entirely clear what the biblical sensibility is on sexuality, but it is clear that the West has loosened the modern Christian church’s grip on our understanding of it as it evolves to a more enlightened, that is less superstitious and ignorant understanding of sex. More important is his second claim that Christianity is not static, but ever evolving. I will make much of that point later, but here I’ll suggest that perhaps this evolution he perceives is actually a rejection of Christianity and a move in a very different direction.
He begins his first argument that our notions of good and bad are inherently Christian by making the curious argument that New Atheists are themselves acting within the framework created by Christianity.
This is a clear case of projection. It’s as if he cannot imagine the pursuit of truth and elimination of ignorance outside of the framework of Christianity. But all philosophers of Greek antiquity pursued truth and advocated for their positions. In the 5th Century BCE, Democritus, along with his teacher Leucippus, set out to detach the pursuit of truth from religion and established what was probably the first true appearance of science. Democritus had traveled to supposed sites of religious miracles and events and found it impossible for the stories to have happened in those locations. Democritus then adopted the view that all truth is found purely in the physical world and developed the first theory of atoms as the basic structure of the universe. This was done with no knowledge of the Jewish scriptures, which anyway had none of the progressive science and refutation of religious myths found in this Greek philosopher. The New Atheists are clearly in the Greek philosophical tradition and well accord with Democritus, and not within some Christian framework. It is simply absurd to appropriate search for truth, refutation of gods, and advocating one’s positions as the sole realm of Christian proselytizing.
He then goes on to appropriate all of Western science as Christian in its origin and essence:
He bases his claim that Western Science is essentially Christian on a silly word game. Science had existed in the West since Democritus, although it had gone under several names. In the English-speaking world, science had been seen as a branch of philosophy under the heading of natural philosophy until the 19th Century, when William Whewell began to refer to natural philosophers as scientists. However, since the time of Francis Bacon in the late Renaissance, the scientific method had been formalized and Whewell’s changing of the name had no effect on the practice itself. Whewell himself was a historian of science, which would have been impossible if science didn’t exist before he named it. But of course, it did and Whewell considered the hallmark of science to be “conciliation”, which existed since the days of the early Greeks and consisted in unifying disparate elements of the world into single theories.
In fact, there is nothing Christian about the word science at all. It comes from the pre-Christian Latin and had been in use in England since the 14 the century as the general pursuit of knowledge. There simply is no basis to Holland’s claim that science is bathed in Christianity. This can be further seen in his statement that science relied on an evolution of Christian thought, another thoroughly baseless claim.
It is true that science evolved by continuously building on previous thought, but thought of a decidedly non-Christian variety. As I alluded to in the introduction, the Renaissance ushered in the beginning of the rejection of the graft of Christianity. Humanity’s gaze switched from the metaphysical to the physical, and Bacon brought about the seminal change in how we approach discovery. Before the Renaissance, Rationalism held sway, that is Scholastic metaphysics which considered only Ideas stemming from god as truth, and argued deductively from these a priori Ideas. Bacon inverted that view to Empiricism, which negated metaphysics and argued inductively from observation of the world. This seminal step in the evolution of scientific thought detached knowledge from god and all metaphysics. In the 18th Century Enlightenment this empiricism based on observation and reason matured into a major inflection point on the evolutionary route of science and in a direction fundamentally distanced from Christianity. Nietzsche’s Madman has in mind this Enlightenment as the murderer of God, and Western Thought at that point was well advanced in its rejection of the Christian graft. This evolution of scientific thought, counter to Holland’s claim, eliminated the explanatory need for god just as much as Darwin did.
Holland gets himself in further trouble as he attempts to trace science to this Medieval Scholastic Metaphysics against which modernity rebelled.
He describes here the rationalism that Bacon and the Empiricists later overthrew. The notion that god had created an ordered universe and given man rational ideas to be able to fathom the laws of this ordered universe no longer was a necessary guiding principle in Western science after Bacon. The notion of a God ordered universe and divine reason breathed its last gasp with Kant and his equating Reason as Will, and Will as God. Kant came at the very end of the Enlightenment, when the forces of Romanticism had already been loosed, and this notion was swept away with the tide. Apparently, Holland is unaware of the revolution of Bacon’s scientific method in replacing Rationalist deduction with Empirical induction, and with it the jettisoning of metaphysical presumptions of god’s order. And as this scientific evolution progressed, the 20th century brought about the final destruction of any notion of an ordered universe. Much to Einstein’s chagrin, we learned that god in fact does play dice with the cosmos, and as Steven Hawking quipped, he sometimes throws them where they cannot even be seen.
So, yes, Holland was right that science was evolutionary, but in a way that removed Christianity from its method. It wasn’t until the secularism that began in the Renaissance that science made any real headway as it reconnected with European classical roots.
But this brings up another interesting aspect of Medieval Scholasticism. It is really not correct that Christianity eliminated these classical roots. It is more correct to say that Augustine and Aquinas converted Christianity to Western metaphysics. Augustine made Christianity intelligible to Europe by reinterpreting it through a neo-Platonic retelling. The Semitic religions were really not metaphysical in nature, but rather the gods were physical presences among the people, interacting with the world and even procreating with women. Yahweh accompanied the Jewish tribe after the exodus; sometimes residing in the tabernacle and sometimes leading them in the form of a cloud. Neo-Platonists such as Augustine, however, transformed this into a metaphysical speculation of god and his unearthly realm. And from Plato, he received the notion of a sinful and fallen physical world versus a perfect Ideal realm. And with that we have the unlikely marriage of two very different worlds: ancient European metaphysics with this strange and primitive Near Eastern religion. What we receive from that as Christianity is not at all the god of the Bible but a Medieval invention. Later, Aquinas would invoke Aristotle’s physics and metaphysics in an attempt to justify and prove the existence of this new and strange god. So again, Holland is right when he says Christianity is a fluid and evolving religion, but one that is uprooted from its Near Eastern origin, transformed through Greek thought, and continued as the invention of European man.
And what post-Renaissance Europe went on to reject was not just Christianity, but metaphysics itself. Christianity was one of things caught up in this metaphysics. However, this rejection of Platonic metaphysics was not a rejection of Greek antiquity, but a reconnection to the presocratic physicalism of Democritus.
Holland then attempts to explain the apparent modern conflict between secularism and Christianity as an act of protestant anti-Catholicism.
I have no idea who Tim O’Neal is or what myths he thinks he debunks, but here Holland merely repeats his assertion that science did not exist in ancient Greece but only came about through a Christian evolution of thought starting in the Medieval period. An assertion that is simply silly, and which I hope I have adequately refuted here. The truly silly myth here is Holland’s claim that any tension today between science and religion is simply protestant hostility to Medieval Scholastic Catholicism. As I pointed out, the real conflict was between Medieval rationalism with its metaphysical apparatus and Empiricism. Protestantism is every bit in conflict today with science as is Catholicism, and probably even more so.
Next he makes the ridiculous claim that only Christianity, through the goldilocks quality of the Christian god of reason and order, enables science to take place, stunningly ignorant of Muslim superiority in science during his vaunted Medieval scholasticism.
As I pointed out earlier, this notion of a perfectly ordered universe created by a rational and law giving god was proven false long ago and no longer animates much of science.
He next pivots to a denial of any Greek influence on our moral values today, which he sees purely of Christian origin. As with his argument for science, he claims that there was no concept of secularism until Christianity, with its origins in Sacked Rome, when non-Christians blamed the Fall on the abandonment of the pagan gods.
The trick here is to constrain the concept of religion to the religios of pre-Christian Rome, ignoring that religio didn’t exist in the Bible, which clearly portrays our concept of religion, nor was it a feature of the earlier Greek and Roman religions. Democritus was already busy separating religious construction of a worldview from secular science. Augustine did nothing different from all earlier theologians, which is to proclaim his god as the only true one: he was only one more in an ancient progression of such claims for a multitude of gods. It simply is absurd to limit the split of religion and the secular to the origin of European Christianity, and from this nonsense he goes on to spin a fantastic narrative free from reality.
In the interview he never really does explain how Western morality is purely and solely derived from Christianity – perhaps because the actual history of the West would embarrass such a claim. As he admitted before, Christianity has been a fluid and changing religion, but what he obscures is that the bulk of this change has been movement away from the Bible, and this is especially so as it concerns morality. The barbaric eye for an eye justice of the Old Testament, borrowed by the Jews from Hammurabi, appears abhorrent to modern moral sensibility. So does the toleration of slavery, commandment of death for heretics and nonbelievers, and god-commanded genocide. Instead, Western morality shows a progressive arc toward tolerance, individual autonomy, and freedom of conscience.
Contra Holland, while Western Christianity is a fluid and evolving religion, it is hardly the religion of the Jews two millenia in the past, but an invention of Medieval Scholastics which once strangled the lifeblood of European Civilization and is now in what seems to be its final decline. It is in fact our European heritage that defines todays science and morality, some filtered through Medieval invention, but ever more through direct reconnection to the original source.
It begins incongruously with an anecdote about a graduate assistant from Sweden she claims to have mentored in a way that borders on practicing psychotherapy without a license; moves to a transitional paragraph proclaiming the devastation of the West due to our rejection of Christianity and offering some odd notions of the antecedents of this rejection along with a dubious account of its effects; and concludes with a conflation of communism, social justice, atheism, and evolution. There is no overall logic to the piece, but rather a collection of claims and illustrations, not always coherent, to advocate for a return to a Christian West. This is really a call for something that never existed in the US and was very much of a mess in Europe. In general, I pay little attention to what people believe – this nation was founded on individual freedom of conscience and is a principle I cherish. A serious problem arises, however, when religious zealots attempt to force their religion and its precepts on the rest of us, contradicting our founding principle with the false claim of a Christian foundation that they intend to reimpose on a society of free men and women.
The beginning anecdote about the graduate assistant might strike us as curiously out of place as it doesn’t actually concern itself with social justice and contributes nothing to the topic announced in the title. Nevertheless, there is a purpose to it that anyone familiar with Thomason’s writing should recognize: argument from innuendo. She highlights the fact that the percentage of religious believers in Sweden is 38%, that this young woman had become agnostic, and that she had suffered some unspecified traumatic events. All of this is to effect the impression that this woman’s psychological injury was ultimately due to Sweden’s rejection of Christianity which somehow provided the condition of her trauma while her abandonment of Christianity deprived her of the inner strength to endure the insult. Thomason can do no more than this implied and unargued causality because Sweden and its cousin to the West, Norway, have not only a very low level of religiosity, they also enjoy a more prosperous, more peaceful, and happier existence than more religious nations. The anecdote only left me wishing this young woman had instead sought counseling with a competent and credentialed psychotherapist.
She then moves to the astoundingly ill-informed transitionary paragraph I present below in full:
“As we watch Sweden and the rest of the West slide further and further away from God, we are compelled to identify root causes. Many were initiated in the 19th century under the tutelage of atheists such as Nietzsche and Marx. Their disdain for Christianity and its core tenets of loving the Lord above all else, loving our neighbors as ourselves, valuing the individual over the collective, and respecting human life, liberties, property, and justice contributed to their rebellious writings. Today, we have abundant evidence of the ways their ideas have cracked and corrupted the Christian foundations of the West.”
The move from Christianity well predates the late 19th Century writings of Nietzsche and Marx – two writers so dissimilar their only shared trait was the German language – with the Enlightenment. The hallmark of the Enlightenment was the replacement of Christian Rationalism with secular empiricism and reason. It engendered atheists such as Hume and many Deists such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and many founders of America such as Jefferson, Franklin, and Paine, all of whom rejected Christianity and any notion of a personal god. The list of tenets she assigns to Christianity were, for the most part, actually fruits of the Enlightenment, such as respect for the individual, individual liberty, property, and earthly justice – all principles more often than not suppressed by the Church during its reign over Europe. Of course, the most laughable mistake is her implication that Nietzsche favored the commune over the individual. I am certain Thomason has never read a single work by Nietzsche.
She then concludes with a screed about the Communist menace that would seem extreme to the Birchers of the 1950’s, which conflates social justice, evolution, atheism and social media into a phantasmic Communist plot. Unfortunately, this is the sort of nonsense that echoes through the chambers of Christian Nationalism and evangelical aggression. It must be confronted at every turn.
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.