When you say I’m eschewing all analytical philosophy over the sake of criticism of one school and proposing the truth has at last been found, it almost sounds like you’re constructing a metanarrative of which you might be oversimplifying my critique. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). If nothing else, I would like to dispel some misconceptions in your reply.
I don’t base my critique of analytical philosophy on one school, and certainly not just on Wittgenstein. Heidegger and Nietzsche are much greater influences on me than Wittgenstein, but the flea in the jar metaphor was too perfect for this particular situation. I should also point out that my undergraduate and graduate studies were in a staunchly analytic department built by Carnap at the University of Chicago, so I come to this with more than a little familiarity with the subject.
I have no answer to your question of why you ought not continue with analytic philosophy, which is a question only you could answer. And in fact, I’d be very interested to hear why you think you should. I can answer why I don’t and why I think it is of no value.
From the time of Pythagoras and Thales, philosophy has been primarily focused on the nature of existence and man’s place within it. I think Heidegger, Nietzsche, and others have it exactly right when they trace the fatal error of Western philosophy to Socrates, who set us off on a metaphysical quest that obliterated Being itself. It was the rational reduction of A is A to A=A that was this first disastrous misstep. Before Socrates, the “is” was far more than a mere copula, but rather the most active of all verbs. It intimated its all-encompassing mode of being as we experience it in this physical world. A=A obliterated the singular being of A, making it a rational concept identical to all other A’s, and in doing so wrenched our thinking from the physical at hand to metaphysical reductions leading to mere metaphysical constructions. In short, it wrenched Being from the world and displaced it into a purely imaginary metaphysical realm. Another way to put it, which is more directly relevant here, is that it reduced Logos to logic. And it is this logic that led us to a two millennia history of error.
There are two major trends in thought over the past 250 years or so that bring us to where we are now:
1. The reduction of metaphysics through expansion of science.
2. Beginning with Romanticism, the overturning of the privileged position of the rational mode of knowledge to the esthetic mode.
Nietzsche describes our current situation in Section 125 of The Gay Science when the madman announces the death of god and expresses the terror that brings upon us. We are left in a vertigo and unsure how to regain our equilibrium. It was Enlightenment Reason as the culmination of the scientific age that killed god, but it was reason that also blew us off course and leaves us stranded and unable to navigate further.
And in the next few decades this was made palpable through the discoveries of physics. Einstein showed that space and time were not the stable platform we had assumed, but weird, counterintuitive and relative to frame of reference – the first step toward a world not describable through a unitary rational explanation. Quantum Mechanics was the next step, too radical for even Einstein to accept, which revealed that fundamental reality defies deterministic causation, space, time, and the identity principle. In other words, we can predict probabilities of quantum events through Schrödinger’s equation, but it implies an irrational and incomprehesnible universe. Despite Einstein’s protests, John Bell proved conclusively in the 1960’s that quantum mechanics was true and the world really does defy rational description. This discovery was paralleled in the works of the mathematical physicists Poincare and Wigner, who each showed that any rational systematic explanation of the universe was at best approximate, provisional, and tightly bounded by limited space, time, and chosen events. (Should anyone be interested, I have written fairly extensively on this topic, some of which is available at http://www.toolateforthegods.com )
This all was another aspect of Nietzsche’s vertigo. It was apparent that reason did not describe the universe as it is, but only gave the appearance of order at the cost of radical reduction of the underlying manifold reality, and necessarily led to error through the irreality of rational concepts and propositions.
The 20th century revealed two contradictory approaches to this overwhelming vertigo, each represented by the two great thinkers of that century. Wittgenstein accepted the “mystical” nature of fundamental reality and concluded that we must be silent before it because it is beyond the reach of language. The only thing we can do is end philosophy, return language to its proper playground, and pretty much let the world take care of itself. And to help it along, let’s do our part in regaining equilibrium by dissolving all the artificial problems and controversies caused by the long linguistic error of philosophy by helping the flies out of the bottles.
Heidegger took the opposite approach. By turning to the esthetic mode of knowledge inherent in poetic language, he overcame metaphysics by turning our inquiry solely on the physical world and our place in it through its esthetic knowledge. In a sense, a return to Heraclitus, Thales, and Pythagoras. Philosophy was over, and our only way out of the vertigo is to poetically inquire into what is authentic in Being itself and let that form the ground of our thinking.
It is important to note that neither approach claimed to have solved the problems. Wittgenstein saw the problem of philosophy as unsolvable, and Heidegger saw us at such a primitive stage that we hadn’t yet even discovered the right questions. Similar to yesterday’s example of the debate over the definition of atheism concealing the more appropriate first step of thinking the nature of the holy itself.
Let’s return to the proper focus of philosophy: the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. The reason philosophy draws to this is the very same reason the best physicists do also: that is where the mystery is. Mystery is primarily an esthetic response, which through embarrassment, science has often attempted to sublimate through mathematical expression. But it is the mystery that draws us. Wittgenstein said to remain silent before it because we could never say anything sensible or true about it. Scientists tried and failed to reduce it the quantifications of A=A, which floundered with the failure of logical positivism and the indeterminacy of the world. Heidegger embraced the mystery and sought it through poetry, much as Nietzsche did through music.
At this point, the universe has revealed itself as elemental quantum fields, at core: resonance. Everything we encounter, including ourselves, are part of this incomprehensibly complex symphony of elemental waves, not reduceable to computation or propositional logic. And it is at this limit of our ability to grasp reality that the important thinking takes place today. Physicists and philosophers blend into one grasping, awe-struck experience and inquiry.
Accordingly, I ignore analytic philosophy because, at best it is a harmless parlor game no more meaningful than a crossword puzzle, and at worst it conceals the path to truth through the error of imposing propositional logic and its attendant reductions on a world that defies it at every turn, and overburdening those kindly souls helping the flies escape.
Instead, I go where the music and fun takes place: at the edge of the mystery. Incorporating Nietzsche’s joyful light dance with Heidegger’s search for the holy.
This is the script for my YouTube video: Critique of Richard Swinburne’s Argument for God.
Today’s video might seem a little dry, as we will necessarily rummage through the desiccate ashes and bones of medieval metaphysics which form Richard Swinburne’s thinking. I think it’s worth the effort, however, because it gives us a realistic measure of the quality of modern theistic philosophy. Many apologists admit, when pressed, that Plantinga is disappointing and William Lain Craig is a dishonest rhetorician, but Swinburne! Now there’s our real philosopher!
In 2016, Swinburne contributed to the Philosophy Society Lecture Series at the University of Edinburgh where he gave a full exposition of his argument for the existence of god. The video of this talk, which is linked to below, gives us a perfect means to critically examine this argument.
Swinburne considers himself a natural theologian. That is: he claims to employ the scientific method of induction from observed phenomena to arrive at the most probable explanation for these phenomena. His inductive method builds upon cumulative probabilities of succeeding phenomena to arrive at the most probable.
I’ll ask your forgiveness for starting with a necessarily lengthy clip of his setup of his explanation because it is important to our understanding the rhetorical trick that this will enable:
In setting up his argument he presupposes two critical factors, the first of which we see here as the presupposition of a personal rather than inanimate (or scientific) explanation. In describing these two types of explanatory hypothesis he implies the only essential difference between them is that personal substances have conscious intent where inanimate substances have essential but unconscious liability toward an action. Since his hypothesis is the existence of god supported by observation, he would necessarily need to show that intent is the best explanation of observed phenomena, thus his is a personal explanatory hypothesis. Of course, if he fails at some point to justify this claim of intent, he is then merely concluding god through prior supposition of god. Accordingly, he will later attempt to prove conscious intent through the claim of intelligent design, an argument that itself presupposes intent, as we will see, and thus fails to escape circular reasoning.
He then proposes four criteria for determining the truth of an explanatory hypothesis:
1. We must have observed many phenomena which it quite probable would occur and no phenomena which it quite probable would not have occurred.
This is just saying that any explanation would have to be compatible with observed phenomena.
2. It must be far less probable that a phenomenon would occur in the normal course of things if the hypothesis is false.
As you will see when we get to his actual argument, he runs into to trouble with this criterion because he resorts to wild claims about probability that we can’t possibly know. We will also see the problems of the fallacy of argument from rarity, and that metaphysical conjecture can be made to fit any set of observations because it isn’t constrained by reality.
3. The hypothesis must be simple, that is it must postulate the existence and operation of few substances and few kinds of substances with a few easily describable properties behaving in mathematically simple kinds of ways.
I said earlier that Swinburne had two critical presuppositions, the first being a personal explanation. This supposition of simplicity is that second and where we will see Swinburne get into real trouble. We need to spend some time on this criterion because his entire argument rests completely on this single claim, which he emphasis at multiple times in his presentation. If this claim remains unjustified, his entire argument collapses. In fact, his entire philosophical approach in general rests on the claim to simplicity, as he wrote in 1997 in Simplicity as Evidence for Truth:
I seek…to show that—other things being equal—the simplest hypothesis proposed as an explanation of phenomena is more likely to be the true one than is any other available hypothesis, that its predictions are more likely to be true than those of any other available hypothesis, and that it is an ultimate a priori epistemic principle that simplicity is evidence for truth (Swinburne 1997, p. 1).
Swinburne, R., 1997, Simplicity as Evidence for Truth, Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
But is the simplest hypothesis really more probable to be true? Is it really an a priori epistemic principle, or an anachronistic Christian claim? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses this and then quotes the analytic philosopher, J.J.C.
For these reasons, few philosophers today are content to rest with a theological justification of simplicity principles. Yet there is no doubting the influence such justifications have had on past and present attitudes to simplicity. As Smart (1994) writes:
There is a tendency…for us to take simplicity…as a guide to metaphysical truth. Perhaps this tendency derives from earlier theological notions: we expect God to have created a beautiful universe (Smart 1984, p. 121).
Smart, J.J.C., 1984, “Ockham’s Razor,” in Principles of Philosophical Reasoning, ed. Fetzer, 118–28.
This traces the general acceptance of this principle of simplicity back to early Christian philosophers and theologians, who derived this principle from the idea that the Christian god is innately rational and thus created a rationally understandable simple universe.
In fact, Swinburne will go on to ground simplicity in the nature of god in this argument, but what are we to do if observation confirms a universe that isn’t simple or beautifully unified?
The problem grows more acute when the hypothesis posits a purely metaphysical being, such as god. The theist can claim any powers and attributes necessary to build a just-so explanation of phenomena because he is not constrained by reality. We could never test god to see if he exists or if he has these claimed qualities customed tailored to fit the phenomena. But in the end, our understanding of phenomena improves over time, leaving the theist’s god explaining a world wrongly portrayed. And that is another of Swinburne’s downfalls.
But focused solely on the applicability of the simplicity principle, we can look back to the controversy over a geocentric universe versus a heliocentric universe. Both Ptolemy and Copernicus devised rational systematic explanations that accurately predicted the appearance of the night sky. Some Christians came to grudgingly accept Copernicus over time on the basis that his explanation was simpler as the mathematical calculations needed to explain simpler planetary movements. But in reality, Ptolemy certainly had the simpler explanation with one focal point around which the entire cosmos orbits, whereas we now know that there are innumerable suns with orbiting planets. Many orbital focal points instead of one. The much more complicated system of many orbital focal points proved to be true.
In the late 19th Century atomic theory was thought to be the simple and fundamental explanation that correctly predicted chemical reactions, with atoms seen as the smallest indivisible elements of the universe. A few decades later Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg upended that simple notion with quantum mechanics, which showed not only a highly complicated subatomic structure, but events that defied time, space, and causality. It was criticized for some time on the bases that it was too complicated and irrational to be true, as with Einstein’s famous comment that god does not play dice with the universe. He, along with Podolsky and Rosen, wrote a paper claiming the Copenhagen Interpretation must be incomplete because nature exists as a unification of simple natural laws. It is often said that Einstein was the last physicist who could honestly claim a simple rational universe. In the 1960’s, John Bell proved conclusively that Quantum Mechanics is true despite its irrational defiance of time, space and deterministic causality. Nevertheless, there still are some physicists chasing the dream of a grand unification theory, but the more we learn the dimmer that hope becomes. Poincare, Wigner, and Gödel have demonstrated that fundamental reality is noncomputable, rendering the applicability of mathematics approximate, and rational systems provisional and tightly bounded by time, space, and chosen events. The universe inexorably rebels against any attempt to describe it in terms of any one theory or set of calculations. Newtonian physics failed to describe events at the macro level while quantum mechanics cannot account for gravity central to the general theory of relativity.
Decades later, Hawking retorted that god not only plays dice with the universe, he sometimes even hides the dice.
But if the universe is irrational at its most fundamental level, the antiquated Christian claim of simplicity is invalid and any argument solely resting on that claim will founder.
4. Must fit within our knowledge of how the world works in wider field (our background evidence)
This simply means that the hypothesis must conform to other knowledge outside the scope of the proposed hypothesis. Again, this is a dubious criterion in that what we have shown above guarantees contradictory hypothesis, such as general relativity and quantum theory, because of the limitation in space, time and chosen events producing only approximate, limited, and provisional explanations. It also becomes moot, in that Swinburne claims it unnecessary to demonstrate given the infinite scope of his claimed god leaving no wider field.
We can now examine his actual argument. He presents four phenomena which he believes are best explained by a personal god:
1. The existence of a physical universe
2. From its conformity to simple natural laws
3. That such laws lead to human and animal bodies
4. And from those bodies to bodies of reasoning humans who choose between good and evil.
His method is now to subject each of these four phenomena to the four criterion he proposed above. We will look at his argument now one step at a time:
Personal argument: God is one person with intent, omnipotent and omniscient capable of any rational act, that is without logical contradiction
This is a curious argument. First of all, we need to ask why an omnipotent being would be constrained by logic. If he is capable of creating anything at all, he certainly would be able to create a livable world unconstrained by logic. And when he goes on to further explain that the logical design of nature enables man to understand this world, he necessarily limits the omniscience of god to that of mere mortals. But there is a deeper problem. As quantum physics, as well as Wigner, Poincare, and Gödel demonstrated, the world itself is not rational, implying that nature’s powers exceed god’s, as his power is limited to rational acts.
Without irrational desires but driven by reason alone, therefore perfectly free
This is another odd claim which goes back to the Christian notion that senses are sinful and reason is pure. He seems to have adopted Kant’s notion of Transcendental Reason as the key to free will as it allows us to override the worldly urges of the senses. But are urges and emotions not also good? What about the emotion of awe when we experience the sublime? Is love not stronger than pale reason? And if god created the world according to his rational intention, how did emotions get here to begin with? It would seem to me that a better explanation is that esthetic experience allows us to perceive the deeper mystery of reality that reason conceals. There is profound knowledge to be gained esthetically in great works of art, literature and music. This would be a mode of knowledge available to man, but not to a purely rational god. Here again, the experience of man entails more ability than the claimed omnipotent god.
Everlasting as eternal within time
He binds god to the flow of time because he can’t make sense of imagining it any other way. This again is hugely problematic in that not all of physical reality exists in time. Contemporary physics is homing in on the observation that time is emergent from the vibratory clock of mass. This implies there is no time in a universe at the time of inflation, i.e. the big bang or for some time after when the universe has cooled enough for particles to form, and in particular, to interact with the Higgs field. All mass emerges from such interaction with the Higgs field. That would imply that time would also not pertain and the lowest quantum field level. Likewise, when the universe has reached the point of expansion where all mass is too distant to interact, it entirely would return to the state of cold timelessness. In addition, we know from relativity that there is no universal or cosmic flow of time, but an infinite number of local times. What Swinburne proposes here is nonsense based on Medieval ignorance. But once again, we see physical reality with greater power than a supposedly omniscient god because it is free from a temporal flow in which Swinburne’s god is bound.
Here he tries to demonstrate that one omnipotent and omniscient god is the simplest personal explanation. Critically absent, however, is the comparison to an inanimate explanation of the cosmos. If we were to ignore the contradictions and false assumption of simplicity inherent in his exposition and simply take it on its own terms, his principle of simplicity would lead him to this problem: His explanation of the physical world explained by an immaterial god outside of our world requires two substances: the observable inanimate and the unobservable person of god. By the way, in other writing Swinburne tries to defend the dual substance claim of Cartesian Duality. An inanimate explanation derived solely from power and liability would not only go far in resolving the aforementioned conflicts but be simpler by containing only one substance.
He goes on to other claims that seem counter to his notion of omnipotence, such as god’s inability to effect past events, which appears possible in the physical world through wave collapse of light received from billions of years ago. But quibbling over these issues is probably unnecessary at this point and would distract us from his fatal problem stemming from his simplicity principle. In fact, he leaves this obvious problem unspoken and instead turns to the issues of probability to show there must be intention in the creation of the universe.
He gives a lengthy exposition of criterion 1 – that an omniscient god would want to create only good, and goes through a sequence of things that ends with man as a conscious substance with free will. It is in his exposition of criterion 2 that he pivots to his problematic claims of probabilities.
Criterion 2 If no god it is immensely improbable that these four phenomena would occur
Increasing improbabilities building up Fine tuning.
For particles to just happen after the big bang,
That they would behave in the ways of relativity and quantum theory
That the universe should have given rise to human bodies
Consciousness totally improbable without a creator (impossible)
He, of course, is using the all-too-familiar intelligent design argument from fine tuning. This argument has been thoroughly debunked from two different directions, but theists continue to employ it anyway. I had a go round with William Lain Craig on this topic when he attempted to rebut an article I wrote on fine tuning with his usual strawmanning, false assertion of facts, and personal insult. When I critiqued his attempted refutation he stopped responding.
The first refutation of intelligent design focuses on theist claims of probabilities. Here, Swinburne moves through his four chosen phenomena claiming increasing and compounding improbability at each step and concluding with consciousness being total improbable, which is to say impossible, through chance. The problem here is there is no possible way to determine any of these probabilities, although theists have claimed to do so.
Physicists themselves disagree about the probabilities of the development of our constants. It all comes down to the degrees of freedom imbedded in the cosmos, which nobody can know for sure. Some, such as Einstein, argue that the universe is totally deterministic, i.e. with zero degrees of freedom, and therefore its evolution, including conscious humans, was 100% certain. Others, such as Penrose, calculate infinite degrees of freedom, rendering our universe incalculably improbable. What theists fail to mention, however, is that Penrose also claims that there are infinite rebirths of universes that make all permutations inevitable, including our own. The truth is that we can have no real knowledge of the probabilities because we cannot know the physical state before the initial inflation of our universe. All we know is that our physical laws developed only after inflation, leaving us with no information about the prior physical state. This fact also undermines theists attempts to misuse Bayesian Analysis to calculate the improbability of our human existence because Bayesian Analysis requires things to be compared to share common laws and data sets. The pre-inflation state of reality would impact the degrees of freedom in our universe. Since we cannot know the physical state prior to inflation, there can be no legitimate use of Bayesian Analysis.
The second line of refutation focuses on the illusion created by the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle merely states that we perceive this particular, and maybe improbable universe, because this is a universe that allows our possibility. The illusion of intelligent design can only arise if we start off with the supposition of intent – as Swinburne does with his personal explanatory hypothesis. Such assumption creates a bias toward intent as illustrated in the lottery analogy. In a given lottery where some number held by a contestant will be drawn, we can imagine several million ticket holders. The chances of any one of them is too improbable to reasonably consider, according to the logic of adherents to Intelligent Design. Yet somebody has to win. Looked at from the perspective of a winner with bankrupting medical bills, children to feed, and no job, this can easily appear to be a gift from heaven. What else could possibly explain the answer to their prayers since every minute movement of the numbered balls had to be exactly right, with no deviation at all, to result in this one impossibly improbable winner. But that is simply looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Somebody had to win, which means that improbability does not preclude any one winner, no matter how great that improbability. Likewise, we are here and conscious, no matter how improbable, because that is just how the numbered balls tumbled this time. No further explanation is necessary, and once again, the inanimate explanation is not only true, but simpler than Swinburne’s explanation if we were to grant that criterion.
The important point is that, once again Swinburne has to assume a personal creator with intent in order to conclude a personal creator with intent.
He then goes on at length about multiverse theory. I should qhickly add that multiverse is not the only theory posed by physicists, but he focuses only this. He tries to counter the increasing probabilities of our conditions by various hypothesis of physics by pushing his assumption of intent all the way back to god at the beginning creating a multiverse that eventually leads to us. Again, this contradicts his simplicity theory, which is already strained in all the excess creation in our known universe, where we account for only the tiniest speck of existence. But now he throws in the infinite complications of infinite universes, all just to arrive at us. He also seems to imply there are no observed reasons in this universe to postulate a multiverse. Many theists believe that multiverse theory came about to counter Intelligent Design. The case is just the opposite: multiverse theory stems directly from the calculations of string theory, which while speculative, do have a basis in observed particle events. Theists’ renewed attention to Intelligent Design came after multiverse theory existed.
Now let’s look at his summation of the first three criteria one at a time:
Moderately probable they would occur if there is a god.
If we assume he means god as rational, good, omniscient, omnipotent,, and temporarily bound, it would be surprising that he would create a world fundamentally irrational and complex, with humans and the inanimate universe possessing powers god himself doesn’t have, such as the ability to emote, to think irrationally, possibly to change the past, and for the universe to not be temporarily bound.
And certainly not occur if there is not a god.
This claim is arrived at through the misapplication of probabilities and in denial of evidence of physical explanations. His presupposition of personal god conceals the possibilities for physical explanation of consciousness, for example, for which quantum mind theory is beginning to develop possible explanations, and the originating inflation of our universe as a mere alteration of physical state, for which various plausible explanations based on physical observations have been shown to be possible.
A simple hypothesis and simpler than otherwise could be constructed.
We have shown that simplicity is not a valid criterion, and even if it were there is more complexity in a dual substance explanation than in a single substance inanimate explanation.
I conclude that Swinburne’s argument is based on an obsolete Medieval Christian notion of a rational god who created an orderly world; a notion which is contradicted by our observations of the universe itself. It uses circular reasoning by assuming this medieval notion of god to reach the conclusion of god through misuse of probability; and is filled with many contradictions of the principle of simplicity even if we were to grant his claim of a rational and orderly universe.
I would welcome anyone onto this channel for a discussion who thinks I have unfairly portrayed Swinburne’s argument or have failed to refute it.
Damien was kind enough to invite me (The Short Curmudgeonly Atheist Dad) to his podcast where we discussed an array of different things. I especially especially enjoyed the last quarter of the interview where we talked about philosophy and apologists. Please give it a listen as well as Damien’s other excellent podcasts.
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.