A Skeptic Gets It Wrong: Minds Aren’t Computers, and Computers Aren’t Minds

By Tom Gilson Published on December 8, 2018

A commenter who goes by “swordfish” got human minds and thinking badly mixed up recently, claiming minds and computers are a lot alike. In a comment on last week’s atheist meme article, he wrote,

  1. Computers can process anything which can be represented in a computer’s memory, which includes ideas.
  2. The human brain could be said to be just processing electro-chemical reactions.

Is he right?

This isn’t just some geek question; it matters in all kinds of ways. The question had come up, “Is there more to reality than just the physical universe?” Swordfish said no; physical reality is all reality. If he’s right, then human minds are nothing more than wet data processing machines. More importantly, if he’s right then there’s no God. One sign he pointed to was the belief that computers can process ideas just the same way humans can.

If He’s Right He Must Be Wrong

Now, as a Christian I’m committed to the belief that the physical world isn’t all there is. God is spirit, and He has made us in His image, so that there’s more to us than just the bodies we walk around in.

But there are plenty of people who disagree. Like swordfish, they think all reality can be explained by matter, energy and the laws of nature by which they interact — just that, and nothing else. The problem is, if they’re right, they’re wrong. Or at least they have no reason to think they’re right.

The problem is, if they’re right, they’re wrong. Or at least they have no reason to think they’re right.

There are many ways to show that’s the case. One way is to run the comparison between human minds and computers, and see how it comes out. That’s how I answered swordfish. Remember, he had said “Computers can process anything which can be represented in a computer’s memory, which includes ideas.” My answer went something like this:

Humans Process Meaning, Computers Process Voltages

Consider the statement, “It’s raining outside, therefore the roads will be wet.” Humans process that in terms of ideas. We start with what we know about “rain,” “wet,” and “road,” and we run through the logic in our minds. We reach our conclusion based on what the words mean, and based on reasons that connect them to each other.

But what does a computer do? In raw terms, computers process voltages, which are purely electrical things, their status controlled by natural law. Some of those voltages are associated with terms like “rain,” “road,” and “wet.” That’s because hardware designers and programmers have designed computers so they can represent terms like that. But the computer doesn’t have any idea what those words mean. It has no clue what “wet” is, or any of the rest.

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So there’s the first reason computers can’t process ideas like humans do: Computers don’t have ideas. They don’t know meanings of words. They can only have voltage states, designed by humans to represent words.

In fact the words you’re reading on-screen right now are voltage states (or something a lot like that, depending on the type of screen you’re reading on). There’s a pattern of light and dark in front of you. That pattern may represent words like “wet,” but it doesn’t know the meaning of “wet.” Machines can’t do that.

Humans Use Reasons, Computers Follow Physical Law

So computers are different from minds in terms of ideas and their meaning. But swordfish had also said something about computers processing ideas and things get even more interesting when we look at how humans process ideas compared to computer processes.

Computers have voltages. They run those voltages through logic gates designed to yield the outcome “wet” when applied in the programmed manner to the states corresponding to “rain” and “road.” They do it in strict compliance to the laws of physics. They follow a program, but that program is designed to take advantage of the way computers follow physical laws.

So even if a date inputter types “rain” and “road,” and even if the computer responds with “wet,” that response has everything to do with electronics, and nothing to do with reasons. The computer doesn’t think, “the road must be wet because that’s what happens when it rains.” It arrives at its output due to physical laws, not because of logical reasons.

(Don’t be confused by the term “logic” as computer designers and programmers use it. It’s not the same kind of logic.)

Reasons Can’t Be Reduced to Physics

Humans are different. Very different. Where computers produce their outputs according to physical law, we reach our conclusions a completely different way. We can reason to the conclusion, “The roads will be wet,” because we know the meanings of the words, and how they relate logically.

Let me put it a different way. In a computer, one voltage state leads to another leads to another, because that’s what electricity does, given the hardware and programming in the computer’s design. In a human mind, one thought leads to the next and the next, because reasons connect those thoughts to each other.

Reasons can’t be reduced to a brain’s chemicals or its electrical state.

Reasons can be good or bad, but at least part of the time we can count on them being very good. For example, I’m sure you believe that this article came to be, in part, because of something a commenter going by “swordfish” wrote. Why do you believe that? As soon as you answer that question, you’re giving a reason; and at least this time, your reason is so simple and obvious, there’s no call for thinking it’s a bad one!

And reasons can’t be reduced to a brain’s chemicals or its electrical state. If they could, they just wouldn’t be reasons anymore. They’d be electrochemical reactions instead. You wouldn’t be able to say you had reasons for your beliefs, just the illusion of “reasons.” Your beliefs (and the illusion, too) would be physical outputs of physical things going on inside your brain, following physical laws that can’t be altered or broken, producing what they must produce, whether that output is good or bad, right or wrong. Physical laws don’t know good from bad, or right from wrong.

If It’s That Absurd, There Must Be Something Wrong

So if swordfish is right, and if minds operate like computers, then minds don’t operate according to reasons. And if minds don’t operate according to reasons, then even swordfish has no reason to think he’s got good reason to think what he thinks.

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Which is absurd. It’s impossible. When a conclusion is that absurd, you know there’s something wrong with the thinking that led to it. In this case, it’s where it all started: the idea that human minds and computers process ideas in pretty much the same way.

Now, it’s possible to go on from here, as C. S. Lewis, Victor Reppert, Alvin Plantinga and others have done, and argue that this means there’s a lot more to reality than just what’s physical. It lends strong support to belief in God. I’ll leave it at this for now, though.

 

Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.

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  • Sumerian King

    Whoa… Swordfish got a whole article written about his comment. I want an article, too! 🙂

    • 😉

    • Craig Roberts

      Good luck coming up with something as…(how shall I say it?)…worthy of explanation.

  • K Hillmann

    How many transistors on a computer processor are needed to make it fully self-aware and what is the software algorithm for self-awareness?

    • swordfish

      Do you think that some animals are self-aware? If so, how many neurons are needed for this?

      • K Hillmann

        No, animals are not self-aware, not in the same sense that people are. Also, transistors are vastly different than neurons. But the more important question, what’s the algorithm that gives self awareness.

  • Craig Roberts

    Way to go “swordfish”!!! For a guy that can’t understand that concepts like the number 3, and triangles, don’t exist in the physical realm, you really managed to garner some attention for your….er….way of looking at things (?).

    • GLT

      There are a multitude of things which do not exist in the physical realm but which we perceive as real. Beauty, humour and love, are just a few examples.

      • Craig Roberts

        Love comes from the heart, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and humor comes from your funny bone. Now if we could just make a computer with those anatomical features…

  • Craig Roberts

    While I agree that computers don’t understand words and their implications if you say, “It’s raining outside.” Then it is unnecessary to say, “Therefore the roads will be wet.” Humans can make these connections without further explanation. Which I guess was kind of your point.

  • davidrev1911

    Great stuff brother Tom; not to mention critically necessary insight derived from highly regarded philosophers of mind, both secular and otherwise, consistent with the revelations deduced from cutting-edge [20th/21st-century] research in mind-brain quantum physics!

    ▪ ▪ ▪

    “The classical-physics-based claim that science has shown us to be essentially mechanical automata has had a large impact upon our lives: our teacher’s teach it: our courts uphold it; our governmental and official agencies accept it; and our pundits proclaim it.

    “Consequently, we are incessantly being told that we are physically equivalent to mindless robots, and are treated as such. Even we ourselves are confused, and disempowered, by this supposed verdict of science, which renders our lives meaningless. We are now in the twenty-first century. It is time to abandon the mechanical conception of ourselves FOSTERED BY EMPIRICALLY INVALIDATED NINETEENTH CENTURY [i.e., deterministic/Newtonian] PHYSICS. Contemporary physics is built on conscious experience, not material substance.” (My emphasis)

    — Eminent “Orthodox/von Neumann” mind-brain quantum physicist, Dr. Henry P. Stapp, “Quantum Theory of Consciousness,” Paris Talk, (2013).

    ▪ ▪ ▪

    Having carried-on rather extensive dialogue with swordfish re: his vacuous worldview of “high-octane naturalism,” I’ve realized that he is – like so many other metaphysical naturalists, a priori committed [i.e., BY FAITH] to what Sir Karl Popper called “Promissory Materialism” – simply unable to “see,” or admit, that nature just ain’t “self-creating,” if one actually believes that a GODless nature itself is ultimate.

    Yet he maintains this by-faith commitment, in spite of the recent futile attempts to solve [or explain away] this perpetual conundrum of scientism – namely the universe’s “origin” – by the likes of brilliant physicists such as the late Stephen Hawking [see his & Leonard Mlodinow’s, 2010 “Grand Design”]; or even militant atheist/physicist Lawrence Krauss’ metaphysical [as opposed to scientific] attempt to do so, in his [2012] “A Universe From Nothing.”

    And this just means that nature itself cannot represent Ultimate reality, seeing as though the universe’s “cause” must, of logical necessity, be prior to its “effect,” i.e., the universe itself; due to the compelling 21st-century scientific “inference” in the Standard Model of Physics, that the “four” fundamental laws of physics which describe this universe literally breakdown at Genesis 1:1, Hebrews 11:3, or even John 1:1-3, among many others – by “going back-in-time.”

    ▪ ▪ ▪

    “We can trace the development of a nervous system and correlate it with the parallel phenomena of sensation and thought. We see with undoubting certainty that they go hand in hand. But we try to soar in a vacuum the moment we seek to comprehend the connection between them…Man as OBJECT, is separated by an impassable gulf from man as SUBJECT. There is no motor energy in intellect to carry it without logical rupture from one to the other.”

    — The great 19th-century physicist, John Tyndall, The Belfast Address, Nature 10, (1874) 309-319, quoted in “Orthodox/von Neumann” mind-brain quantum physicist, Dr. Henry P. Stapp’s “Quantum Physics and Philosophy of Mind,” Milan Talk, (2013).

    • GLT

      Individuals like swordfish fail consistently to see the elephant in the room when it comes to their attempts at logic and reason. They persist in the belief that everything has a natural explanation while failing to grasp what is obvious, even to a schoolboy, that nature itself needs an explanation which cannot come about by appealing to nature. It is mind- numbingly simple and obvious but somehow beyond their grasp and comprehension. It demonstrates how easily the human heart can be blinded from the truth.

      • swordfish

        “nature itself needs an explanation which cannot come about by appealing to nature.”

        1. Why does nature ‘need’ an explanation?

        2. How do you know the explanation “cannot come about by appealing to nature”? I can think of at least one explanation which would follow from nature itself, which would be that nature is simply everything which can exist.

        3. Your explanation (God created it) isn’t an explanation, it just moves the explanation back one stage to “what is the explanation for God”? To which the answer is given: God doesn’t require any explanation, which is useless.

        • God is an explanation, just as “electrons exciting the metal” is an explanation for my stovetop getting warm. An explanation need not be ultimate, in order to count as an explanation.

          But it needs to at least be logically coherent. Several lines of research show that nature is not a coherent explanation for itself. This is a complex and involved subject, so I can’t go into it here, but suffice it to say that both physics and philosophy tell us nature has not existed eternally, and therefore cannot explain why it exists at all. Nothing can create itself.

          • JCSahyan

            I recall something Dinesh D’Souza said in his book What’s So Great About Christianity? He pointed out that if one asks an atheist scientist, “Why is the water in that pot boiling?”, he would answer with talk about excitation of atomic and subatomic particles. And he’d be right enough, but, as D’Souza said, there’s more. “The water in that pot is boiling because I want a cup of tea.” Science explains *how* things happen, but not *why*. That question is beyond science…and computers.

          • swordfish

            “but suffice it to say that both physics and philosophy tell us nature has not existed eternally, and therefore cannot explain why it exists at all. Nothing can create itself.”

            If nothing can create itself, then that’s God gone.

            In fact, we don’t know if our universe began with the big bang, or if it existed in a different form prior to that. Even if it did begin, then time began with it, so there was no time “before” the universe in which any cause could operate. As for “nothing can create itself”, how do you know the universe was created?

          • No one thinks God created himself, swordfish.

            Goodness, if it were that easy, do you think anyone would even be debating it here? Do you think no one has ever thought through these kinds of things? Did it even occur to you that your comments might participate in a debate that preceded the writing of this article? The same applies to your stab at showing there were no causes possible before time began. This is not a new conversation, and your answers are nowhere near as definitive as you think.

            You tell me: Why must causation require time? Physical/mechanical causation certainly does, but no one thinks God worked creation that way. Is there something in the theory of God that necessarily prevents him (if he exists) from causing something apart from the flow of time? If so, please explain.

            I know from both science and philosophy that the universe is not eternally old; therefore at some point the universe began to be. You can quibble over the wording, “was created.” Nothing can cause itself to come into being from non-being.

            If you want details on the science, look up the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, which proves that even if something preceded our big bang, it still couldn’t be eternally old. The philosophical side of it is even more conclusive but would take too long to explain here.

          • swordfish

            “No one thinks God created himself, swordfish”

            And no one thinks the universe “created itself” either. Your God just exists, my universe may also just exist. But we don’t really know.

            “You tell me: Why must causation require time? Physical/mechanical causation certainly does, but no one thinks God worked creation that way. Is there something in the theory of God that necessarily prevents him (if he exists) from causing something apart from the flow of time?”

            No, there isn’t. The same observation applies to the universe.

            Regarding the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, I’m aware of it as I’ve watched several William Lane Craig debates. I’ll quote Vilenkin on his theory since you brought it up:

            “Theologians have often welcomed any evidence for the beginning of the universe, regarding it as evidence for the existence of God … So what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it a proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. Anyone who attempts to understand the origin of the universe should be prepared to address its logical paradoxes. In this regard, the theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much of an advantage to the theologian over the scientist.”

          • “And no one thinks the universe ‘created itself’ either.”

            Read Lawrence Krauss, until recently at Arizona State, one of the top cosmologists in the world, who wrote “A Universe from Nothing.”

            Read the late Stephen Hawking, for decades considered by many the top scientist in the entire world; his book with Leonard Mlodinow, “The Grand Design.”

            If Krauss and Hawking are no ones, then no one thinks the universe created itself.

            “No, there isn’t. The same observation applies to the universe.”

            That’s just wrong. There is something about the universe that tells us causation canot happen apart from the flow of time. Have you heard of Einstein? Of special relativity? Of space-time? Space does not exist apart from time. Do you posit that space is optional to causation in the universe? This is incoherent.

            Your one-liner answers, like these two, are woefully inadequate, even if there were some possibility they might be halfway right — which isn’t the case this time, for sure.

            I’m telling you, over and over and over again, swordfish, you don’t know what you’re talking about!

            I must quote what I wrote earlier, as it hasn’t gotten through:

            “Do you think no one has ever thought through these kinds of things? Did it even occur to you that your comments might participate in a debate that preceded the writing of this article? … This is not a new conversation, and your answers are nowhere near as definitive as you think.”

            But why do I even keep trying? I keep hoping, hoping, hoping at least one thing will get through to you. Not that you would decide God exists; that would be great, but I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m hoping you might recognize you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do; and that much of what you think you know is lacking in real evidence. If you’d get that far, I’d consider my time well spent.

          • swordfish

            “If Krauss and Hawking are no ones, then no one thinks the universe created itself.”

            You believe that God created the universe. The term ‘created’ implies an external cause. Saying that the universe “created itself” implies a logically impossible self-causation which I don’t believe in, and I doubt if Krauss or Hawking believe such a thing either. I think that the universe ‘just exists’, i.e., that it’s a self-contained structure which may or may not be infinite in spatial extent and may or may not extend infinitely far back in time. Thats it. I’m simply objecting to the term “created itself” because of the misleading picture it creates. To put it another way, I see the beginning of the universe merely as an ‘edge’. If, by “created itself” you just mean “not created by God”, then I agree with you.

            “There is something about the universe that tells us causation canot happen apart from the flow of time.”

            Technically, there is no scientific law of cause and effect at all, and I’m talking about what may have occurred in the very early universe before the planck time or in other situations like the very distant future where it simply isn’t possible to make confident predictions based on common-sense.

            “Do you think no one has ever thought through these kinds of things?”

            I would have thought they would have done, but if that’s the case, I’m puzzled why I keep seeing false arguments being put foreward, like that the Cambrian Explosion is evidence for God.

            “I’m hoping you might recognize you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do; and that much of what you think you know is lacking in real evidence.”

            I’m not clear what specific beliefs I have which lack evidence. My opinons on the origin of the universe are purely a layperson’s guesswork, but hopefully based on more sensible thinking than “something can’t come from nothing”, which I hear a lot but which has no substance at all. My beliefs about evolution are based on rock-solid evidence. Don’t worry, I do think about the arguments you make.

          • I think we’re done here. Thanks, but let’s call it off.

  • NewcastleB

    What’s stunning about sworfish’s assertion, that essentially computers can do anything the brain can, is well outside even the boldest claims made by computer scientists. Even a quick search of the internet under “What can a brain do that a computer cannot do?” yields an article from “Science” with this in it’s lede:

    “Our brains are capable of analyzing new and unfamiliar situations in a way that computers can’t. We can draw upon our past experiences and make inferences about the new situation. We can experiment with different approaches until we find the best way to move forward. Computers aren’t capable of doing that — you have to tell a computer what to do.”

    And there are numerous other articles that point out these obvious differences and more.

    No computer scientist anywhere believes that computers can process anything which can be represented in a computer’s memory, which includes ideas, or that the human brain could be said to be just processing electro-chemical reactions.

  • Materialism, naturalism, that the material is all there is to reality, is simply an implausible faith committeemen, and getting more implausible by the day. There might have been an excuse for someone accepting such a view in the 19th century and prior, but as scientific knowledge grows the concept that everything came from nothing for no reason at all is untenable to the max!

    • swordfish

      When you say that materialism is “getting more implausible by the day”, I’d like to know exactly what you’re referring to? The more science learns, the less case there is for the immaterial.

      “everything came from nothing for no reason at all”

      What reason would God have to create everything? I don’t see why he’d bother as an omnipotent being would be able to imagine any possible world without having to actually create it.

      • If you think your psychoanalysis of an omnipotent being counts as an argument against Him, think again. Theologizing ought to be left to people who (a) believe there’s a subject they’re studying, and (b) know the limits of their discipline. When others do it they only embarrass themselves.

      • Well, Swordfish, I know this is an exercise in futility, but maybe actual open-minded people will happen by and may find my answers if not persuasive, at least thought provoking.

        Your statement, “The more science learns, the less case there is for the immaterial” is the kind of assertions atheists make because they are masters at begging the question. You assume the conclusion before any kind of argument or evidence. In fact, the growth of science is showing us that the information (code-based) rich complexity of the material world, including the fine tuning of the universe, is impossible based on random material processes. It’s gotten so bad for materialists that they are forced to admit the “appearance” of design, and the only answer they have for the complexity is this absurd non-scientific notion of a multi-verse. You’re know they’re desperate when they come up with random chance multiplied by infinity, and abracadabra, you have us!

        And when you say, “I don’t see,” frankly what you think is immaterial. How do you have any clue what an all-powerful being would do? How is it that what you “see” or think is some kind of authoritative take on the nature of divine being? Last I checked, swordfish are finite creatures with a, by definition, limited take on reality. So what you think doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight in the struggle to understand the meaning of existence. But you can find the answer in the Bible, and when you find it, you can put that up against what you think, and we’ll see which carries more weight. I’ll put my trust in the historical validity of a book written over 1500 years by 40 different authors in three different languages comprising 66 different books that has stood the test of time, and every challenge thrown at it by skeptics.

  • GLT

    A demonstration swordfish might understand would be to program the computer to believe roads are always wet and rain causes them to be dry. Perhaps then it would sink in that computers only do what they are programmed to do.

    • swordfish

      When you say “computers can only do what they’re programmed to do”, you’re just assuming that we can do things we’re not “programmed to do” by the sum total of all the influences on us, i.e., that we’ve got free will, which I don’t accept. In any case, you’re really only saying that a computer could be taught something false, but human beings can also be taught all manner of false ideas – just look at religion!

      • Free will is no mere assumption. It is, first of all, universal human experience. To deny it is to deny the most accessible evidence you can get to. Second, it’s logically required in order for rationality to be rational.

        • swordfish

          “Free will is no mere assumption. It is, first of all, universal human experience. To deny it is to deny the most accessible evidence you can get to.”

          We feel like we have free will, but that doesn’t prove anything. We also feel that the Earth is flat.

          “Second, it’s logically required in order for rationality to be rational.”

          I’m not clear where you’re going with that. I would argue that (libertarian) free will is impossible because it makes no sense for something to be neither determined nor non-determined.

          • Free will is agent causation. Events are caused by agency, by personal decision if you will, rather than by mechanistic determinism.

            Rationality requires the ability to choose a right answer rather than being forced into it by the bumpings-around of atoms in the brain. Otherwise — see above. I explained much of the rest of it in the article.

          • swordfish

            “Free will is agent causation. Events are caused by agency, by personal decision if you will, rather than by mechanistic determinism.”

            How do you know you’re not just making decisions subconsciously then becoming aware of them and ‘taking credit for them’ (so to speak)? Experiments done with subjects in MRI scanners have shown that our brains display patterns of activity consistent with a specific choice being made *before* the subject becomes aware that they’ve made that choice.

            “Rationality requires the ability to choose a right answer rather than being forced into it by the bumpings-around of atoms in the brain.”

            The right choice is the rational choice whether made by free will or by those atoms. The only thing you’ve gained by invoking free will is the theoretical possiblity that you could have made the wrong choice if you’d have wanted to, which is a pretty useless ability.

  • Juan Garcia

    What I find fascinating is how similar computer hardware function is to how the human brain works. Computers have RAM memory which is very similar to the hippocampus function and a hard drive for long term memory which operates very much like the segmented memory storage in various regions of the brain.

    Computer scientists DESIGNED this function not aware they were copying a much, much older function methodology. It sort of hints that maybe a superinentdant intelligence actually knew what it was doing when creating the human brain.

  • swordfish

    (I’m not sure if I should be flattered or not for my comment inspiring an article…)

    First of all, your article is really just making an argument from ignorance: “I don’t see how X could happen naturally, therefore Y”. But really, this claim only raises more questions: How can something immaterial interact with something physical? How could an immaterial mind actually work? Etc.

    Meanwhile, the evidence we have is that the human mind is totally reliant on our physical brain. The fact that the brain is physical, that it consumes about 20% of our energy, that it goes wrong when injured, when drunk or on drugs, when we get older, or when we’re simply tired, the fact that experiments have shown that different aspects of our brains’ behaviour are physically localised to specific regions of the brain, or the fact that our reasoning goes AWOL when we sleep.

    “But the computer doesn’t have any idea what those words mean. It has no clue what “wet” is, or any of the rest.”

    But neither do we before we’ve learnt the meaning of those words. Why would an immaterial mind need to learn? How can it learn at all when it has no memory?

    “The computer doesn’t think, “the road must be wet because that’s what happens when it rains.” It arrives at its output due to physical laws, not because of logical reasons.”

    Really, it arrives at its output due to the algorithm implemented by its software. Why can’t the logic of “the road must be wet because that’s what happens when it rains” be implemented in software?

    “In a computer, one voltage state leads to another leads to another, because that’s what electricity does, given the hardware and programming in the computer’s design. In a human mind, one thought leads to the next and the next, because reasons connect those thoughts to each other.”

    Did your immaterial mind not notice you’d typed “leads to another” twice? 🙂

    Again, computers don’t work according to voltage states, they work according to the algorithm they’re following. Humans connect thoughts by association, and an algorithm can do the same thing by storing connections between words in a database.

    “And reasons can’t be reduced to a brain’s chemicals or its electrical state.”

    And the ‘reasoning’ of a software algorithm can’t be reduced to the state of the CPU it’s running on.

    “So if swordfish is right, and if minds operate like computers, then minds don’t operate according to reasons.”

    If Tom Gilson is right, please show me something which can reason but isn’t made out of anything.

  • davidrev1911

    “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I
    regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulating consciousness.”

    – Max Planck, theoretical physicist who originated quantum theory, which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.

    “One benefit of switching humanity to a correct perception of the world is the resulting joy of discovering the mental nature of the Universe. We have no idea what this mental nature implies, but — the great thing is — it is true. Beyond the acquisition of this perception, physics can no longer help. You may descend into solipsism, expand to deism, or something else if you can justify it — just don’t ask physics for help.

    “The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.”

    — Dr. Richard Conn Henry, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University, “The Mental Universe,” Nature, Vol. 436, (July 7, 2005).

    “[Richard] Conn Henry’s courageous assertion that “the Universe is entirely mental” isn’t only a seeming implication of recent experimental observations, it may also point the way to an elegant philosophical underpinning for what is perhaps the most rigorous and parsimonious interpretation of quantum mechanics. Mind, it seems, may offer a path out of the quantum quagmire in more ways than one.”

    — Dr. Bernardo Kastrup, “Thinking Outside the Quantum Box: How the Mind Can Make Sense of Quantum Physics,” Scientific American, Feb., 16, 2018.

    (The above article was based upon Dr. Kastrup’s published academic paper, “Making Sense of the Mental Universe,” Philosophy and Cosmology, Vol. 19, pages 33-49, 2017.)

  • swordfish

    (I posted a reply, but it was deleted. Maybe it was too long? I’ll try splitting it in two)

    First of all, your article is really just making an argument from ignorance: “I don’t see how X could happen naturally, therefore Y”. But really, this claim only raises more questions: How can something immaterial interact with something physical? How does an immaterial mind actually work? And so on.

    Meanwhile, the evidence we have is that the human mind is totally reliant on our physical brain. The fact that the brain is physical, that it consumes about 20% of our energy, that it goes wrong when injured, when affected by intoxication or drugs, when we get older, or when we’re simply tired, the fact that experiments have shown that different aspects of our brains’ behaviour are physically localised to specific regions of the brain, or the fact that our reasoning goes AWOL when we sleep.

    “But the computer doesn’t have any idea what those words mean. It has no clue what “wet” is, or any of the rest.”

    But neither do we before we’ve learnt the meaning of those words. Why would an immaterial mind need to learn? How can it learn at all when it has no memory?

    • “Why can’t the logic of ‘the road must be wet because that’s what happens when it rains’ be implemented in software?” The computer logic can be, but if you think that’s the same as inferential logic, you don’t know how computers work. You’re equivocating on “logic.”

      Computers manage voltage states via algorithms. The “association” you say both humans and computers can employ is another equivocation.

      “The ‘reasoning’ of a software algorithm” can be reduced to the state of the CPU. That state is defined by its hardware and software; but software is in fact a mechanistic means of manipulating hardware.

      Something which can reason but isn’t made out of anything? Why would I need to show you that? Please explain how that is essential to my point? In the meanwhile, though, I’d love to show you the answer to your question — God — but I fear you wouldn’t see Him even if you looked.

      • swordfish

        “The computer logic can be, but if you think that’s the same as inferential logic, you don’t know how computers work. You’re equivocating on “logic.””

        I’m a software developer, so I know a fair bit about how computers work. I’m not equivocating on ‘logic’, I’m referring to the logical sequence of operations necessary for reasoning. The only *reason* reasoning works is because the world is deterministic and predictible. I don’t see how recognising patterns would require any magical immaterial ‘thing’ to work. The fact that it’s also possible to explain such reasoning in words indicates that it should be possible to translate it into software, which is only another type of language.

        “The “association” you say both humans and computers can employ is another equivocation.”

        How? Associating words with one another is associating words whether done by silicon or carbon-based CPUs. “But it’s only voltages!” you say, “but it’s only neurons!” I say.

        “The ‘reasoning’ of a software algorithm” can be reduced to the state of the CPU. That state is defined by its hardware and software; but software is in fact a mechanistic means of manipulating hardware.

        If the reasoning of a software algorithm can be reduced to the state of the CPU (It can’t, in most cases, but that’s just a nitpick), then how do you know the reasoning of the mind cannot be reduced to the state of it’s neurons?

        “Something which can reason but isn’t made out of anything? Why would I need to show you that? Please explain how that is essential to my point?”

        Isn’t that what you’re proposing?

    • “leads to another” was in there twice for a reason, by the way, but thanks for pointing it out.

  • swordfish

    First of all, your article is really just making an argument from ignorance: “I don’t see how X could happen naturally, therefore Y”. But really, this claim only raises more questions: How can something immaterial interact with something physical? How does an immaterial mind actually work? And so on.

    Meanwhile, the evidence we have is that the human mind is totally reliant on our physical brain. The fact that the brain is physical, that it consumes about 20% of our energy, that it goes wrong when injured, when affected by intoxication or drugs, when we get older, or when we’re simply tired, the fact that experiments have shown that different aspects of our brains’ behaviour are physically localised to specific regions of the brain, or the fact that our reasoning goes AWOL when we sleep.

    “But the computer doesn’t have any idea what those words mean. It has no clue what “wet” is, or any of the rest.”

    But neither do we before we’ve learnt the meaning of those words. Why would an immaterial mind need to learn? How can it learn at all when it has no memory?

    • swordfish, if I were making an argument from ignorance, you’d find me using terms in here like, “we can’t see how X, therefore Y.”

      The interaction problem is familiar territory. I could pursue that with you another day.

      Your second paragraph suffers the all-too-familiar correlation/causation error. No one denies that humans live in physical bodies, including our brains, and that our physical condition affects our way of being in the world. My mind wants to walk without pain, but I can’t because of recent foot surgery. Sometimes the breakdown is in the CNS instead. That’s no problem to a non-physicalist theory of mind.

      Your final two paragraphs, as far as I can understand what you’re trying to say, support my point.

      • JCSahyan

        I had a conversation some while ago, with an old and close friend, a computer scientist, about the “mind/brain” distinction. He insisted that anybody who claimed that an imperceptible, impalpable force could affect physical reality, had two choices: He could either explain how that force worked, or he could abandon the idea. I said I was really glad he’d said that, because I’d been looking for someone who could explain to me how magnetism works. He answered “I form no hypothesis,” and when I suggested that that wasn’t one of the options he’d offered just a moment before, he first responded with “Um, uh, er”, and then changed the subject. Not surprising.

        • swordfish

          Nice try, but magnetism is no more immaterial than gravity is.

          • JCSahyan

            Oh but each of them *is* immaterial. We can’t see them, of feel them. We can see and feel the *results* – but each of them remans impalpable and invisible. Seeing or feeling the *results* of some force doesn’t make the force itself material; we can see the results of the *mind* doing something other than what the *brain* is doing, but that doesn’t make mind “material”. An example of that, by the way, is shown in something about which I read some years ago. A guy had the top of his skull removed and had electrodes implanted in his skull, for some medical reasons. The doctors told him to try to keep his right arm down, on the table, as they activated a portion of the brain that controlled movement of his arm. The arm, of course, jumped when the electricity was passed into his brain. Again, the doctor told him to try to keep his right arm down and still, while they induced the current. He crossed his *left* arm over his body grasped his right wrist with his left hand, and held the right arm still and down on the table contrary to what his *brain* was telling his right arm. His mind – or if you prefer, his *will* -essentially said “Nope” and found a way to keep the arm down, despite the electric signals of his brain. I suggest that in this, we can “see” the effect of “mind” on physical reality (and that the guy *felt* the effect) as much as we can with magnetism or gravity. But again, perceiving the *effects* is not the same as perceiving the immaterial force that causes them.

          • swordfish

            “We can’t see them, of feel them.”

            We can’t feel gravity?

            “Seeing or feeling the *results* of some force doesn’t make the force itself material”

            The force *IS* the result.

            “we can see the results of the *mind* doing something other than what the *brain* is doing,”

            Can we? Give me an example.

            “His mind – or if you prefer, his *will* -essentially said “Nope” and found a way to keep the arm down, despite the electric signals of his brain.”

            I don’t see how this example proves anything about the mind being immaterial. Most of the subject’s brain wasn’t being stimulated, so it functioned normally. What would he have done if both arms had been stimulated? Not much!

          • JCSahyan

            But the portion of the brain that *was* being stimulated, told the body to lift the right arm; if all there is is electrical impulses from one synapse to another, that’s what he’d have done, since there would have been nothing to “override” those electrical commands. Note that initially, his arm *did* rise, until something *else* took over and countermanded those electrical impulses and orders from the purely material brain.
            And no, observing the effects of a force does not make the force itself material, anymore than the mind is material, simply because we can observe its effects on material, physical reality. We can’t perceive “mind” per se, simply because we can observe it in action.

          • swordfish

            “But the portion of the brain that *was* being stimulated, told the body to lift the right arm;”

            Sorry, but this doesn’t prove anything. The fact that it’s possible to stimulate one part of the brain to cause an arm to lift doesn’t mean that’s the only part of the brain controlling the arm. You could make a robot lift it’s arm by prodding in it’s shoulder with electrodes, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got a (physical) CPU located elsewhere.

            “And no, observing the effects of a force does not make the force itself material, anymore than the mind is material,”

            Immaterial doesn’t just mean invisible, it means non-physical. Gravity and other forces are physical phenomena which can be observed and measured.

          • JCSahyan

            It becomes clear that we’ll simply have to soldier on under the burden of mutual disagreement. That’s fine. I remain convinced that you’re wrong, but…I have an old and dear friend who grew up in Greece, and he prefers soccer to baseball; I *know* he’s wrong, but I still love him dearly. It is, in any case, at best pointless and at worst stupid to argue the existence of God, since there is no possibility of proving either side.
            So then, let’s agree to leave where it is, shall we. For my part, anyway, it’s been fun, but…enough.
            You be well, and God bless.

          • swordfish

            I agree to disagree, but something else occured to me yesterday which I’ll put to you:

            If you’re right that forces like gravity and magnetism are immaterial, then that actually undermines Gilson’s argument anyway by allowing the immaterial to be part of the natural world. If God isn’t needed to explain gravity, then he isn’t needed to explain reasoning.

            I also wish you well from here in the UK 🙂

          • JCSahyan

            Who said God isn’t needed to explain gravity? Its materiality vel non (as lawyers say it) has nothing to do with it. The sun is quite material, thank you, and a person of faith, as I am, and as Gilson is, can quite easily suggest that God *is* required to explain its existence, its placement at precisely the right distance from Earth to permit life, etc. Now you might not believe that, and that’s fine, but the existence of the immaterial, and its influence on the material world, doesn’t in any sense or to any degree against the reality of God.
            Just before we close the discussion, there is something you said some bit ago, in response to someone (perhaps Mr. Gilson himself; I don’t recall), to which I’d meant to respond. You say you cannot imagine why God would create an actual universe, when He could simply imagine it. I suggest a similar question could be asked about, say, Rembrandt, or anyone else of that sort. They could simply have *imagined* their works, and left them unpainted, in their own minds. The answer, I think might well lie in the creative nature. A genuinely *creative* character can’t be content to *imagine* things, but must make them *real*. And God, if He exists as I think He does, is the ultimate Creator.
            As I said, it matters little whether we agree or not on the existence of God. Neither f our opinions is ever going to be in any way authoritative (or even, I suspect, persuasive), and that’s fine.
            See ya ’round campus sometime, maybe. ‘Til then, be well and God bless.

          • swordfish

            “its [the sun’s] placement at precisely the right distance from Earth to permit life”

            I can’t not comment on this! It’s been determined that most stars in our galaxy have planets, and about 20 % of these are in orbits which are the right distance to allow liquid water to exist. That’s billions of planets, and that doesn’t include other galaxies, of which there are billions more.

            “Who said God isn’t needed to explain gravity?”

            If you argue this, then you’re still undermining Tom Gilson’s argument, because if God is required to explain the material as well as the immaterial, then the fact of something being immaterial is, er, immaterial. In other words, you can’t say X is immaterial therefore God is needed to explain X, if God is also needed to explain the material.

            “And God, if He exists as I think He does, is the ultimate Creator.”

            Might I suggest that an Ultimate Creator wouldn’t be content with just the one universe, especially as it is so flawed.

          • JCSahyan

            First of all, God’s greatest creation is human free will. It’s *us^ who screwed up the universe. For God to forbid it, to *force* “perfection” on our universe would lessen it…and us.

            An, those stars/planets you talk about don’t change a thing. Obviously, if God exists, as I believe He does, then He is also the reason *those* bodies are where they are. So what?

            As to your second point, all I was saying is that immaterial things can and do exist, and can and do influence the material world. Too many anti-theists argue that, because God isn’t material in the sense that we can’t (at least generally perceptible to our earthly senses (though there are those who assert that they’ve seen or heard Him, and I don’t presume to judge), then He cannot exist, and even if He did exist, He couldn’t have any effect on the “material” world. That argument fails, if there is anything that can be defined as “immaterial” but that influences our material world. That’s the only point I was making. And yes, I am convinced that God *is*, in fact, necessary for material reality to exist. If God exists, as I am convinced He does, He is necessary for all of His creation, material and otherwise. Which, of course, proves nothing about either side of the discussion…which discussion, as I’ve suggested more than once, is at best pointless and at worst stupid, since you’re not going to convince me nor I you, so…let it go, shall we?
            Be very well, and God bless you and yours.

          • swordfish

            “First of all, God’s greatest creation is human free will. It’s *us* who screwed up the universe.”

            I don’t believe we have free will as the whole concept of it makes no sense. Decisions are either determined by reasons, or not determined by reasons, but neither possibility counts as free will. Neither is there any evidence that we have “screwed up the universe” by making a wrong choice, but if that was true then it’d be God’s fault for setting up a situation in which he knew we’d fail. It’s impossible to believe such a small-minded god could exist.

            “Obviously, if God exists, as I believe He does, then He is also the reason *those* bodies are where they are. So what?”

            So the distance from the Earth to the Sun can’t be both fine-tuned and also quite common. At least we’ve managed to dispose of one illogical argument.

            “As to your second point, all I was saying is that immaterial things can and do exist, and can and do influence the material world.”

            You’re just making unevidenced claims here.

            “so…let it go, shall we?”

            You’re replying, then telling me to let it go! I won’t reply again, so you can have a free shot at defending your indefensible claims if you want.

          • JCSahyan

            And so, as so often happens with certain kinds of people, you abandon the decencies of civil discussion and debate, sinking to “your indefensible claims.” Disappointing, since we appeared to be having a reasonable conversation; disappointing, but not surprising; eventually, almost inevitably, certain folks – like your good self – find themselves having to resort to what amounts to “I’m right and you’re wrong and you’re just a big silly-head and that’s all, so there!” I’d been saying for quite some time that my claims are, not indefensible, but unprovable…as are yours; but at least I’ve been honest enough to acknowledge that *both* sides are unverifiable in any definite sense. You, it appears…not so much. Again, disappointing, because I’d given you more credit than that, but as it turns out…pretty much the same old same old – the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling “I can’t *heeeear* you….La la la la.”
            I been suggesting as politely as I could that we simply let it drop…and yet *you* keep responding. Well, that can be fixed; sadly, you’ve forfeited any claim to respect and nothing you say, from here on, will be read, far less answered.
            Still….I wish you well, and God bless.

          • swordfish

            You didn’t use you free shot to defend your claims, you used it to complain about the fact that I’d said your claims are indefensible. Methinks thou dost protest too much

      • swordfish

        “swordfish, if I were making an argument from ignorance, you’d find me using terms in here like, “we can’t see how X, therefore Y.””

        Your entire argument has the structure of an argument from ignorance: I don’t understand how a material brain could reason, therefore the mind must be immaterial.

        “Your second paragraph suffers the all-too-familiar correlation/causation error.”

        You agree that our minds are affected in very specific ways by physical influences on the brain, including injuries, diseases, age, death, drugs, direct electrical stimulation, sleep, blood flow, etc, but claim this is just correlation? That’s a pretty weak argument, and it doesn’t explain why our amazing (but strangely falliable) immaterial reasoning powers can be affected so obviously by something as simple as tiredness?

        “Your final two paragraphs, as far as I can understand what you’re trying to say, support my point.”

        How do “Why would an immaterial mind need to learn?” [or] “How can it learn at all when it has no memory?” support your point? These are more observations which support the mind being material.

        • No. My argument doesn’t have the form of an argument from ignorance. There is a distinct difference between “I can’t think of a way,” and, “It is impossible in principle.”

          This gets tiring, you know. You’re so clearly out of your field of knowledge, and I’ve been taking responsibility to explain things as if it had a chance of helping. So far there’s no sign that it has. It’s true for your pallid defense on correlation, which by the way, sounds a lot like an argument from incredulity all its own. And your questions about immaterial minds and learning — they’re not observations. They’re questions.

          I’ll be giving up trying before too long.

          • swordfish

            “There is a distinct difference between “I can’t think of a way,” and, “It is impossible in principle.””

            Really? If you think X is impossible in principle, then you obviously can’t think of a way X can happen. It certainly isn’t true that philosophy, evolutionary biology, and computer science have all reached the same conclusions as you.

            “It’s true for your pallid defense on correlation…”

            Then do you accept that Jesus’s (alleged) resurrection only correlates with God existing?

          • This makes it official. I give up. You won’t understand anything I try to explain.

            I do wish you’d try.

    • davidrev1911

      Leave it to the “Argument From Reason” – the elements of which are sublimely
      inferred throughout Mr. Gilson’s article, especially near its conclusion – to once again humorously stultify the intellectual/logical reasoning capacity of those otherwise so-called… champions of “Reason.”

      But this is certainly nothing new, as vividly captured in this classic admission by a brilliant Marxist/atheist emeritus professor of evolutionary biology & genetics at Harvard University, re: the philosophy of [modern-day] science – aka Scientism – and typically referred to as Methodological Naturalism, or “Methodological Atheism”:

      • • •

      “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

      “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

      “The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.”

      — Dr. Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, (Jan. 9, 1997).

      • swordfish

        “the philosophy of [modern-day] science – aka Scientism”

        The word ‘scientism’ is today used solely by opponents of science, and always as a pejorative term. Few if any scientists accept it as a philosophical position. It is a strawman.

        “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs,”

        Because it works.

        “in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life”

        What’s this guy smoking? Science is a method for understanding how nature works. It doesn’t promise “health and life”, although if you look at the gigantic improvement in human life over the last few hundred years, it’s transformed our lives. How do you think the Internet works?

        “Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

        It’s not the fault of science that no evidence for God has been found in nature. Instead of bleating, find something!

        Now, have you got an argument yourself, or are you just going to let someone else do your work for you?

        • davidrev1911

          You said:

          “The word ‘scientism’ is today used solely by opponents of science, and always as a pejorative term. Few if any scientists accept it as a philosophical position. It is a strawman.”

          • • •

          “The health of science is in fact jeopardized by scientism, not promoted by it. At the very least, scientism provokes a defensive, immunological, aggressive response from other intellectual communities, in return for its own arrogance and intellectual bullyism. It taints science itself by association.”

          — Dr. Ian H. Hutchinson, Nuclear Engineer and Physicist, Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT, Boston, MA., in “Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism,” Belmont, MA., Fias Publishing, (2011).

          (See also: “Scientism: The New Orthodoxy,” Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2015, Editors Richard N. Williams & Daniel N. Robinson, for just a small sampling.)

          • • •

          In spite of the obvious brevity re: the observations I just made, what’s stated still contains far-more-than-enough factual info, to flatly demolish these errant statements of ignorance you typically make to those with whom you’re in such opinionated disagreement here on the Stream – and in such a curiously arrogant pontificating fashion too. How so?

          Also, when I read so many of your comments, it’s truly sad when I consider that you somehow believe you’re making substantive statements of reason and logic – while in reality, you’re actually arguing from the inside of a self-imposed, tail-chasing intellectual straitjacket of sorts, when it comes to trying to articulate your incoherent worldview of Scientism, Metaphysical Naturalism, Scientific Materialism etc. (Kinda’ like spitting-into gale-force winds.)

          We brothers “in Christ” here, seem to be tragically wasting our time prayerfully attempting to help you come-to-grips with recognizing the very essence [or Author] of reason & logic itself – namely the Ruach haKodesh, or “Spirit of Truth” Himself – otherwise known as Yeshua-Jesus of Nazareth.

          Maybe this is why you left my other posts on this particular thread totally unaddressed the last few days, kuz the silence is almost deafening; yet you strangely “wrap yourself in the mantle of science,” whenever it seems to suit your incoherent purposes for dialogue? What’s up with that?

          If this is the best you really have to offer, then I’ll turn my attention elsewhere on the Stream; since you’ve once again sounded-off rather foolishly in most of your statements where this article is concerned.

        • So — because some people think scientism isn’t real, therefore it isn’t. That’s convenient! (Ever heard of actually arguing for a position? Ever heard of the fallacy of arguing from authority? or Ad populum?)

          For the rest of this: You’re arguing against an eloquent atheist. Did you know that?

          Lots of evidence for God has been found in nature. Do you know the meaning of the word “evidence”? Or are you confusing it with conclusive, incontrovertible, whether-you-like-it-or-not proof?

          • swordfish

            “So — because some people think scientism isn’t real, therefore it isn’t. That’s convenient!”

            I did argue for my position, but I’m not arguing with people like “davidrev1911” who only quote other people and do no work of their own. Also, “because some people think scientism is real, therefore it is” also fails as an argument.

            “(Ever heard of the fallacy of arguing from authority? or Ad populum?)”

            This is an odd thing to say considering that Christianity is one big argument from authority. My arguments are usually based on evidence and/or reasoning, not from authority or popularity.

            “For the rest of this: You’re arguing against an eloquent atheist. Did you know that?”

            Yes, but I don’t accept arguments from authority…

            “Lots of evidence for God has been found in nature. Do you know the meaning of the word “evidence”? Or are you confusing it with conclusive, incontrovertible, whether-you-like-it-or-not proof?”

            No, I’m not confusing ‘evidence’ with ‘proof’. If lots of evidence has been found, would you please list a few examples?

          • Examples of God in nature?

            You asked for a list. Here’s a short start on one:

            DNA. fine-tuning of the cosmos for chemical complexity and life. Fine-tuning if the earth for life. Human rationality. The Cambrian explosion. The rise of information that came with the first life. The increase of information in life over time. Beauty. Regularity.

            As for the rest of your comment, your answer on AC populum committed the fallacy called “to quoque.” You misunderstand what David is really doing; his arguments are real. The rest I’m not so concerned over, you can take it either way.

          • swordfish

            “Regularity”

            Why would a natural cosmos be irregular? How can regularity (laws) and irregularity (miracles) both be evidence for God?

            “Beauty”

            Is ugliness evidence against God?

            “DNA.”

            Why not RNA, or did that form naturally? Something which we have a naturalistic explanation for can’t be evidence for the supernatural.

            “The Cambrian explosion.”

            The Cambrian explosion lasted about 50 million years. It’s understood by evolution and I’ve no idea why you’ve included it in your list. Again, something we have a naturalistic explanation for can’t be evidence for the supernatural.

            “The rise of information that came with the first life. The increase of information in life over time.”

            What do you mean by “information”? There is no unit of information, so no way to measure it. The structure of living things is generated by evolution.

            “Human rationality.”

            Obviously, I’m not going to accept this! Why rationality, which it’s logical to think could evolve as it increases our survival chamces? And what about animals which display the ability to solve puzzles and even make tools?

            “Fine-tuning if the earth for life.”

            We now know that there are more planets in our galaxy than stars, and that 1 in 5 of them are in their star’s inhabitable zone, so I don’t see how this is an argument. It’s not as if the Earth is fine-tuned very well anyway, with 2/3 of it covered in undrinkable water, and with earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, deserts, floods, landslides, and polar icecaps.

            “fine-tuning of the cosmos for chemical complexity and life.”

            This assumes that each ‘tuning’ is equally likely, that only one tuning would produce life, and that something unlikely can’t happen, all of which are wrong. In any case, why would God need to fine-tune the universe to produce life? Couldn’t he produce life in any universe?

          • A prosecutor brings fingerprint evidence to the courtroom. The defense says, “There are other ways to interpret that being at the scene of the crim.” The judge says, “Okay, we’ll toss it out. It’s not evidence.”

            Really?

            You asked for a list of evidence, and you’re objecting to the whole list because the items aren’t proof, in your mind. All you’re showing is you don’t know the meaning of evidence.

          • swordfish

            I present arguments which refute your evidence and you respond by complaining that I don’t understand the “meaning of evidence”? Sorry, but evidence which has been refuted isn’t evidence.

          • Rebuttals aren’t refutations. Especially ineffective rebuttals. You can’t do it in one line that way and think you’ve accomplished that much.

          • swordfish

            Bearing in mind you’re a professional and I’m an amateur, and bearing in mind I didn’t have much time, I think I did a pretty good job. Not that your unsubsubstantiated claims require refutation anyway.

          • Goodbye.

          • GLT

            “Sorry, but evidence which has been refuted isn’t evidence.”

            Sorry, but yes, it is. Evidence is neutral, it must be interpreted. That your interpretation may be different does not render evidence non-evidence.

          • swordfish

            Evidence isn’t neutral, nor is it 100 % open to interpretation. If it was, it wouldn’t even be any use.

          • GLT

            “Why would a natural cosmos be irregular?”

            To argue for the chaotic beginning of the universe to result in order would be to argue against all observed evidence. From chaos only chaos results.

            “Something which we have a naturalistic explanation for can’t be evidence for the supernatural.”

            Really, why not?

            “The Cambrian explosion lasted about 50 million years.”

            Assuming an evolutionary timescale. However, the length is irrelevant to the impactful nature of the event. What occurred during the Cambrian Explosion cannot be explained using evolutionary arguments as the time involved is the wink of an eye even within an evolutionary time frame.

            “The structure of living things is generated by evolution.”

            That is precisely what you cannot demonstrate. That claim is and always has been an assertion pretending to be evidence, nothing more and nothing less.

            “which it’s logical to think could evolve as it increases our survival chances?”

            Why is it logical to think rational thought would evolve when you cannot demonstrate anything else could evolve? How would rational thought increase survival chances? Many rational decisions have been overcome by irrational events.

            “And what about animals which display the ability to solve puzzles and even make tools?”

            What about them? That is not evidence for evolution, it is only evidence for a particular level of intelligence.

            “and that 1 in 5 of them are in their star’s inhabitable zone,…”

            What is assumed to be the stars habitable zone. There is no way to know for sure what the conditions actually are, assumptions abound.

            “with 2/3 of it covered in undrinkable water, and with earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, deserts, floods, landslides, and polar icecaps.’

            Are you having a problem with thirst? Do you also assume there is no reason for water to be salty? If you think you could design the world better, I’m listening. What would happen if you reduced the amount of salt water on the planet? Do you have any idea? Aslo, the world is not now as it was originally designed.

            “Couldn’t he produce life in any universe?”

            The question is not about what God could or could not do, it is about what he did. That God could have designed life to survive in any type of universe, which of course he could, is not an argument against what he chose to do.

          • swordfish

            “To argue for the chaotic beginning of the universe to result in order would be to argue against all observed evidence. From chaos only chaos results.”

            Obviously untrue. It’s common to observe order coming from chaos, from the formation of crystals, to the formation of the solar system, to the formation of ripples on water. Also, the beginning of the universe would be a situation of maximal simplicity, not maximum chaos.

            “Really, why not?”

            If we have a naturalistic explantion for something, then a supernatural explantion is redundant. Do you think lightning is due to static electricity or Thor?

            “[evolution] is precisely what you cannot demonstrate. That claim is and always has been an assertion pretending to be evidence, nothing more and nothing less.”

            You assert. The field of evolutionary biology disagrees with you. Come up with some evidence that evolution isn’t true and I’ll listen. Until then, I’m not replying to your comments about evolution.

            “What is assumed to be the stars habitable zone. There is no way to know for sure what the conditions actually are, assumptions abound.”

            There are between 800 billion and 3.2 trillion planets in our galaxy, so even if only one in a million are in the habitable zone, that’s still 800 million to 3 billion planets just in our galaxy. And there are 3 trillion galaxies according to recent estimates.

            “Are you having a problem with thirst?”

            Millions have died from drought, or have to walk miles for clean water, but they’re irrelevant according to GLT.

            “Aslo, the world is not now as it was originally designed.”

            You mean, it’s not a ball of molten rock?

            “That God could have designed life to survive in any type of universe, which of course he could, is not an argument against what he chose to do.”

            The fine-tuning argument is that things have to be precisely as they are otherwise life couldn’t appear. If life can appear in any universe, then you’ve just defeated the fine-tuning argument. Have a cigar.

          • GLT

            “It’s common to observe order coming from chaos, from the formation of crystals, to the formation of the solar system,…”

            First, what makes you presume the formation of crystals is chaotic? Second, since the chaotic formation of an orderly universe is the argument you’re trying to prove you logically cannot use the formation of that universe as an example to prove your case. Do you not see the obvious circular argument present?

            “If we have a naturalistic explantion for something, then a supernatural explantion is redundant.”

            Do you have a natural explanation for the existence nature?

            “The field of evolutionary biology disagrees with you.”

            No it doesn’t, only some biologists disagree. There are more than a few biologists who deny evolution. Or are you going to argue they are not true biologists?

            “There are between 800 billion and 3.2 trillion planets in our galaxy, so even if only one in a million are in the habitable zone,…”

            Is there a cogent argument to be found anywhere near this statement?

            “Millions have died from drought, or have to walk miles for clean water, but they’re irrelevant according to GLT.”

            I never said anything of the sort, nor did I even remotely imply anything of the sort. It is nothing less than intellectually dishonest on your part to even attempt such an argument. My point is simple and factual, there is plenty of fresh water on the planet, that some die of thirst has nothing to do with supply and everything to do with greed and mismanagement.

            “You mean, it’s not a ball of molten rock?”

            No.

            “The fine-tuning argument is that things have to be precisely as they are otherwise life couldn’t appear.”

            Again you’re being disingenuous, the argument is that everything must be fine-tuned or life as we know it and have observed it to exist could not exist. Try to be honest when presenting your case.

            “If life can appear in any universe, then you’ve just defeated the fine-tuning argument.”

            I never said life can appear in any universe, so again you are putting words in my mouth. You have no evidence to support the idea there are alternate universes presenting different conditions under which different life could evolve. As such, your argument does not even rise to the level of moot. It is a complete and utter non-starter. Your imagination and wishful thinking is not a legitimate argument. Unless you have solid proof for a variety of universes there is no logic in appealing to their possible existence.

          • swordfish

            “First, what makes you presume the formation of crystals is chaotic?”

            What do you mean by “is chaotic”? The formation of crystals is an example of order forming from chaos, something you said never happens.

            “Second, since the chaotic formation of an orderly universe is the argument you’re trying to prove you logically cannot use the formation of that universe as an example to prove your case.”

            Again, I’m not sure what you mean by “chaotic formation”, but no, you’re wrong. The order of the solar system forming because of gravity acting on a cloud of dust and gas isn’t a circular argument.

            “Do you have a natural explanation for the existence nature?”

            No.

            “There are more than a few biologists who deny evolution.”

            No.

            “Is there a cogent argument to be found anywhere near this statement?”

            Yes. You were quibbling about the 20% of planets being in the habitable zone, so I pointed out that a much smaller percentage would still produce a lot of planets in the habitable zone. Trying to argue that the Earth-Sun distance is fine-tuned is a non-starter. Apart from anything else, the amount of radiation we receive from the Sun has increased by 30 % over the lifetime of the Earth.

            “It is nothing less than intellectually dishonest on your part to even attempt such an argument.”

            You said flippantly: “Are you having a problem with thirst?”, then say I’m intellectually dishonest for saying you don’t care about drought?

            “the argument is that everything must be fine-tuned or life as we know it and have observed it to exist could not exist. Try to be honest when presenting your case.”

            Please don’t accuse me of being dishonest, or I’ll lose what little interest I have in debating with you. There isn’t any standard, agreed-upon statement of the fine-tuning argument, but it’s most often put as just “life”, not specifically “life as we know it”.

            “I never said life can appear in any universe”

            You said, “That God could have designed life to survive in any type of universe, which of course he could”.

            “Unless you have solid proof for a variety of universes there is no logic in appealing to their possible existence.”

            There doesn’t have to be. The fine-tuning argument is supposed to apply to this universe if it were fine-tuned differently. If it’s impossible for it to be different, then that also defeats the fine-tuning argument. Have another cigar, but make it a joke one which explodes.

          • GLT

            “The formation of crystals is an example of order forming from chaos,…”

            You did not answer my question, why do you assume crystal formation is chaotic?

            “The order of the solar system forming because of gravity acting on a cloud of dust and gas isn’t a circular argument.”

            Gravity requires formations of sufficient mass, it does not simply float around looking for something to form into a planet.

            GLT: “There are more than a few biologists who deny evolution.”

            swordfish: “No.”

            There are no biologists who deny evolution? Is that what you’re claiming?

            “Yes. You were quibbling about the 20% of planets being in the habitable zone, so I pointed out that a much smaller percentage would still produce a lot of planets in the habitable zone.”

            As you are nowhere near these stars and their planets you have absolutely zero knowledge of the supposed habitable zone, your conclusions are based 100% on supposition and conjecture. So, no, you do not have a cogent argument to make, you have only pure speculation and wishful thinking.

            “You said, “That God could have designed life to survive in any type of universe, which of course he could”.

            So I did, but that is nowhere near saying life could exist in any universe. You need help with your reading comprehension.

            “If it’s impossible for it to be different, then that also defeats the fine-tuning argument.”

            How? Any universe would require fine tuning, either as we know it or in any other form God would choose to use. Fine tuning is not the result of blind chance by definition.

          • davidrev1911

            Tom, could you please tell me why my last “two” posts to swordfish on this thread, have gone under the heading “detected as spam,” and thus removed? I realize you’re the Senior Editor, so if I’m making statements that are factually in error, could you please point this out [time-permitting of course], because once posts are “detected as spam,” they never see the light-of-day thereafter. How else am I going to learn from making potential mistakes? Thanks!

          • Davidrev1911, I’ve looked at two recent comments of yours, and I have no idea why they were marked spam. Maybe the system didn’t like their length. I’ve approved them, anyway.

            I only found one that was on this thread.

    • GLT

      How can something immaterial interact with something material?

      Seriously, you think that is a legitimate argument? Love is immaterial, does it not interact with physical beings? Do you actually bother to think your arguments through before presenting them? It would certainly appear not.

      • swordfish

        You couldn’t have picked an example much more vague and ill-defined than love. What sort of love are you referring to? Physical love obviously isn’t immaterial, and emotions are physical demonstrations of out mental states which are themselves reactions to physical events happening to us. I don’t see how emotions can be immaterial. Do you actually bother to think your arguments through before presenting them? It would certainly appear not.

        • “Do you actually bother to think your arguments through before presenting them? It would certainly appear not.”

          Wow. That you said that.

          • swordfish

            I was quoting GLT.

        • GLT

          It would appear I’m correct, you do not think your arguments through. Any way you look at it love is an immaterial emotion, it does not become material by virtue of physical expression anymore than the concept of humour becomes material via the slapstick of Buster Keaton. Love, humour and beauty are all immaterial concepts which interact with a physical reality.

          • swordfish

            All you’re doing is asserting that emotions are immaterial. I can assert that they aren’t. Now what?

            Of the three emotions you list, I’m not sure that humour or beauty are emotions at all, and love has several different meanings. Experiments show that when we experience feelings of love, our brains release dopamine, and specific areas of it are stimulated. I don’t see why an immaterial emotion would need chemical stimulation, or be physically localised.

          • GLT

            “our brains release dopamine, and specific areas of it are stimulated.”

            That is the response to and experience of emotions, not the emotions themselves.

            “I don’t see why an immaterial emotion would need chemical stimulation, or be physically localised.”

            Saying ‘I don’t knsee why,…’ is hardly a cogent argument. If you don’t know, why do you say I am wrong? If you believe emotions are material in nature you can easily demonstrate that fact by simply producing them in concrete form. Can you do that, can you show me a solid, material chunk of any emotion?

            Sure love has different meanings, the Greeks used several words to express love, and they all refer to emotions, so what is your point?

          • swordfish

            “That [release of chemicals in the brain] is the response to and experience of emotions, not the emotions themselves.”

            How do you know? The fact that our emotional state can be influenced by drugs indicates otherwise.

            “Can you do that, can you show me a solid, material chunk of any emotion?

            Emotions are a behaviour of something physical, not the physical thing itself, just as sound is a behaviour of air molecules, not the molecules themselves.

          • GLT

            “The fact that our emotional state can be influenced by drugs indicates otherwise.”

            No it doesn’t, the application of drugs only indicates our experiences to the emotion can be influenced or altered.

            “Emotions are a behaviour of something physical, not the physical thing itself,…”

            Now you’re starting to catch on. Emotions can also be the reaction to other emotions.

          • swordfish

            GLT: “That [release of dopamine] is the response to and experience of emotions, not the emotions themselves.”

            Me: “How do you know? The fact that our emotional state can be influenced by drugs indicates otherwise.”

            GLT: “No it doesn’t, the application of drugs only indicates our experiences to the emotion can be influenced or altered.”

            First you say that brain chemistry is a response to emotions, then you say brain chemistry can influence emotions. So which is it?

            “Now you’re starting to catch on. Emotions can also be the reaction to other emotions.”

            The behaviour of a physical thing is still physical. Have you not heard of physics?

  • davidrev1911

    Swordfish…you said:

    “The word ‘scientism’ is today used solely by opponents of science, and always as a pejorative term. Few if any scientists accept it as a philosophical position. It is a strawman.”

    • • •

    “The health of science is in fact jeopardized by scientism, not promoted by it. At the very least, scientism provokes a defensive, immunological, aggressive response from other intellectual communities, in return for its own arrogance and intellectual bullyism. It taints science itself by association.”

    — Dr. Ian H. Hutchinson, Nuclear Engineer and Physicist, Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT, Boston, MA., in “Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism,” Belmont, MA., Fias Publishing, (2011).

    (See also: “Scientism: The New Orthodoxy,” Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2015, Editors Richard N. Williams & Daniel N. Robinson, for just a small sampling.)

    Any substantive thoughts??

    • swordfish

      I don’t have any thoughts in response to you cut-and-pasting a quote and a book title. Please make your own arguments.

      • That was evidence your statement was wrong. Do you not see that?

        • swordfish

          No, I don’t see that. I said “few scientists…”, not “all scientists”, and the opinion of one scientist is just an argument from authority.

  • swordfish

    So you’re claiming that I’m wrong because you’ve managed to find a quote by 1 scientist, even though my second sentence was “Few if any scientists accept it as a philosophical position”, clearly indicating that I accepted that some scientists might hold such a position?

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