« Previous | Main | Next »

The Science of God

Post categories:

William Crawley | 16:02 UK time, Monday, 15 December 2008

As promised, I've attached the full text of Roddy Cowie's recent Christians in Science lecture, in which he reflected on the possible "re-intergration" of science and Christian belief.

Bryan Appleyard, writing in this weekend's Sunday Times, explores how some scientists are investigating out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences. Can science provide evidence for the continuation of life beyond death?

"Should Christianity be insulated from Science or integrated with it?" A lecture by Roddy Cowie, Professor of Psychology at Queen's University, Belfast, given to the 8 December meeting of Christians in Science

The first thing I want to do in this talk is to explain the spirit of it. In one sense, I understand what I am talking about fairly well. I have a scientific career that includes some respectable achievements; I have been an active Christian all my life, and a conscientious lay reader for the last six years; and for over a decade I taught one of the biggest courses on psychology and religion in the UK. The point of saying these things is not to blow my own trumpet. It is to ask you not to write me off too quickly when you realize that I am struggling.

I think my background gives me a fairly good understanding of the pieces that I will be putting before you. But what I want to talk about is not just the pieces. It is the feeling that those pieces are crying out to be put together in a way that we have not quite grasped yet. I have tried hard and long to put them together, and I know for sure that I don't have a satisfying solution to the puzzle. But I think some of the ideas that flicker through my mind could be of some use to other people who are interested in the issues. So I want to set them out as clearly as I can, and hope that some of you can help me to get things clearer, or pick them up yourselves.

Let me start by stating the obvious. For the last couple of centuries, there has been a long drawn-out conflict between people speaking in the name of science and people speaking in the name of Christianity. Matters came to a head when science showed beyond reasonable doubt that some ideas with deep roots in Christianity were plain wrong. As a result, Christianity had no option but to adjust.

Christianity has responded in a variety of ways. Some are presented openly as adjustments, others are unspoken shifts of emphasis. But it seems to me that most of them have one thing in common. They try to carve out a territory for Christianity that science can't attack. In a word, they are about insulation. Some insulate by focusing on claims about an otherworld that is permanently beyond the reach of science; some insulate by ceding the domain of fact to science, and laying claim to the domain of morality; some insulate by presenting the church as a social organization with membership conditions that you have to buy into if you want to be a member (and science can't disprove membership rules); some insulate by brazening out their claims and defying anyone to absolutely prove anything different (that is actually a variant of scepticism); some insulate by systematic vagueness that gives nobody anything solid to attack. I won't dwell on these, but I am sure you recognize cases where those various descriptions apply.

My feeling is that none of those can work in the long term; and they can't work partly because the insulation cuts them off from things that are fundamental to Christianity. 19th century Christians were shaken by new findings in geology and biology because they thought that it mattered to Christianity how the world as they knew it had come about, and where they fitted into it. I don't think that they were wrong in that, and they were certainly in line with very deep themes in Christianity. Christianity has always invited us to understand God through his creation and through history: therefore, it ought to be affected by new discoveries about creation and its history. A movement that cuts that connection isn't Christianity as I understand it, and I don't think it has a long term future; because if it isn't grounded in the way the world is, reasonable people will eventually lose interest in it. Of course there will always be unreasonable people, but pity help a Christianity that is only for unreasonable people.

That is a very short statement of a long argument that leads me to think insulation is not what Christianity should be aiming at. I think it should be aiming towards integration with the disciplines that tell us about the creation, and its history, and - not least - about our own place in it. I keep wanting to say reintegration, because through the long central passage of Christianity's history, these things were integrated. We should not forget that Christianity is the ground that science grew from. Of course Renaissance science owed debts to scholars from pagan Greece and the Islamic world; but the insights they took from those were stems grafted onto a great trunk of thought that developed in the Christian monasteries of the Middle Ages, through men like Anselm and Abelard and Aquinas and Buridan and Occam and Bacon. Reintegration seems to me totally natural, because the branches that grew from that common trunk still have a huge amount in common. I will come back to that image at various points.

Saying that reintegration is natural does not mean it can be quick and easy. I will spend most of the talk trying to point the directions that I think we need to explore. But there are some general principles that I can set out at the start, as landmarks.

First, I think one of the keys is reaffirming ideas that bound the ancient trunk together. Perhaps the most important is that Christianity is centrally concerned with bringing people to a right understanding of the world they live in and their place in it. Ancient Christianity and early science were inseparable because they shared that commitment: and bringing it back to centre stage is fundamental to reintegrating. Linked to that, I think Christianity needs to reaffirm that it is a peculiarly empirical religion. It actively prohibits us from trusting images of God that we conjure out of our own heads, and requires us to look out and learn from the way he has ordered the world and the way he is revealed in history. That was another idea that unified the ancient trunk, and I think it needs to be reasserted. Note that insulation often marginalizes both of those ideas.

Second, I think it is also critical that Christianity finds ways of engaging with intellectual values and norms that modern science takes for granted. That is an abstract idea, but the way I approach it is driven by a very concrete set of issues. I want to be able to talk to my colleagues about Christianity without them thinking I have temporarily taken leave of my senses. I want a way of conveying why I care about the key issues in a way that lets them say, yes, that's interesting'. I want ways of saying what I believe that let them say, 'yes, I can see why you would think that'. I want to be able to point to questions that let them say, 'yes, that is worth doing research on'.

That may sound like an indirect way of saying that I expect Christian thinking to follow textbook rules of scientific thought. That is absolutely not the case. In the first place, most standard descriptions of scientific thought are thoroughly misleading - and that is important. Equally important, I don't think Christianity should be a science, and asking it to meet the standards that are required to be a science would be quite inappropriate. My goal is a cohesive network of understanding, which includes science proper as a part, but which also deals in a well-founded way with issues that science can't resolve.

It is not only my Christian self that feels the need to construct a network of disciplined thought that is broader than science proper. My academic research deals with parts of human life that science is registering are much more complex and important than used to be assumed. The process has pushed science to re-engage with ideas that it had been content to leave in a religious strand. It is now piecing together a more complex picture of humanity, and particularly human knowledge - of which science itself is part. As a result, even if I were an atheist, I would still feel that I should look closely at Christianity as I tried to form that kind of picture, and learn from it. I also think that the better the picture, the less I would be convinced by the argument for staying atheist - but that is another matter.

So far I have talked globally about science and Christianity, but that is obviously a simplification. The medieval trunk that I have talked about gave rise to a lot of different strands, not just two. Some strands that are called science are absolutely not going to integrate with anything called Christianity, and some strands that are called Christianity are not going to integrate with anything that could sensibly be called science. One of the keys to progress is recognizing which strands have the potential to integrate, and to disentangle them from strands that won't integrate. I will try to do that without needless hacking at strands that I assume will wither anyway.

What I have said so far is more or less an introductory overview. I want to take it forward in three parts. First, I want to talk a bit more about science, and the strands that will and won't integrate. Then I want to talk about some core ideas that Christianity brings to the task - again, some that will integrate, some that won't. Finally, as I have said, I will talk about some of the developments that are waiting to be carried forward.

I will start, as I said, with science. It seems to me that the strand Christians should come close to is exactly what earns science respect in the everyday world, and what philosophers came back to emphasising in the latter 20th century. On that understanding, science is about searching out a particular and special kind of truth. The truth it searches out consists of descriptions that you can say with high confidence are almost exactly true; and that allow you to construct new descriptions that are also bound to be almost exactly true. It is unfortunate that we don't have a standard name for that kind of knowledge, but the middle ages did - they called it scientia, which of course is where the word science came from. People in the tradition I am talking about head for scientia like pandas for bamboo shoots - it is what they eat, full stop; no steaks, no hamburgers, no bananas, just bamboo shoots. And if they come to a valley where there are no bamboo shots to be seen - well, they go somewhere else.

There is a very particular reason why scientia works like that. It works by finding matches between two levels of understanding. At one level is a network of ideas about the kinds of system that we know exist and can make things happen. At the other is a network of observations documenting things that do happen. Scientia works by recognising that an orderly body of observations could be produced by a system very like one we know about; then fleshing out the details of a system that would account exactly for the observations. That is what scientific pandas lock onto - situations where a small extension of our ideas about the systems that make things happen might account very accurately for a body of observations. I will come back to that duality later.

I believe that there is a real and immediate prospect of integration with the strand of science that sets itself to searching out scientia - the epistemic pandas, so to speak. However, there are other strands that are a different matter. There are two in particular that I need to mention.

First, there is the strand that believes it has a method that can be applied to any problem, and can be guaranteed to solve it. It is obvious that if there were a method like that, it would supersede Christianity. Whatever the problems are that Christianity deals with, the magic method would deal with them better. 19th century philosophers were excited by the idea that Newton and his successors had found a method like that, and school textbooks still talk as if that were the case. But in reality, the idea is a modern myth.

Anyone who actually works in science knows that some problems open up nicely and others just give you a headache, however hard you try. Good scientists may say they believe in a scientific method, but they behave like pandas - they spot the problems that are ready to open up, and keep well away from problems that aren't. Bad scientists believe the myth, and get us into all sorts of difficulty - but that's another matter.

Second, there is the idea that science is a privileged culture, and the fact that someone is a scientist makes him or her a wise person; someone we should listen to on any subject whatever - including morality and religious belief. That is actually a modern variant of an ancient idea, which is that cultivating your rational powers will improve every aspect of your life. It is the idea that Dawkins and people like him trade on. There is no doubt that there is a very vocal group of scientists who are militant atheists, and they portray atheism as the scientific view. Maybe it is the view of their culture; but there is really no obligation on anyone to go along with their culture - any more than there is an obligation to go along with the culture of football stars or City high rollers or any other group that is spectacularly good at a very specific activity.

There are interesting questions to be asked about the ways people have tried to transmute the very specific things that scientific pandas do into something much more all-encompassing - but that is for another day. For today, I will limit myself to saying that I don't think Christians can or should try to work with the strands of science that claim to have an infallible method, or to be a culture everyone should defer to. However, I think there is profound common cause between Christianity and the kind of science that is about finding descriptions that you can say with high confidence are almost exactly true. That leads into the second of my central sections, which is about Christianity.

I have already picked out what I think is a fundamental bond between Christianity and science. Historically, it has been right at the core of Christianity that it wants people to have a right understanding of the Universe we live in, and ourselves, and our relationship to the Universe. Its view of the way that should be done also has profound links to the duality that I described in science - Christianity is a peculiarly empirical religion. I will expand on those connections shortly, but first I need to say where I think the differences lie.

Christianity differs from science in that it has to deal with two kinds of issue that are real, and important, but that are manifestly not bamboo shoots. First, Christianity has to offer people the best answers it can to questions that are central to the way they live, even when there is no scientia that does the job - no answer that we can say with high confidence is almost exactly true. Second, Christianity is not just concerned with factual knowledge about the Universe and our place in it. It is concerned with giving people an understanding that is felt as well as known in principle.

It is easy to think, that is a thinly veiled way of saying science deals in fact, religion deals in fudge. But actually, science has been moving into areas that help us to see why that is misreading. Scientific research on knowledge has been gathering momentum over the last half century, and it has become clearer and clearer that only a very confused panda tries to say everyone ought to eat bamboo shoots all the time.

Let me give you an illustration. It is possible that the people you think of as friends mock you behind your back. How do you address that? If you think science is the only model for knowledge, it seems as if you should settle for nothing less than certainty. You should put detectives on them. But of course, we know that's wrong. All that will do is make you miserable and guarantee that you lose any real friends you have. The right thing to do is to accept your knowledge is incomplete, and act on trust. And notice also that what matters isn't a straight factual assessment. It is a complex blend of feeling and understanding that you call trust.

The challenge Christianity takes on includes dealing with that kind of complex blend of feeling and understanding. Of course it takes account of what we do know, but it can't wait until we have cast-iron certainty on all the relevant issues; and it recognises that the end result has to be felt, and not just calculated. Right understanding of the world is a web that includes that kind of ingredient as well as the kind of sharp, factual element that scientific pandas provide. Its elements are to do with feeling as well as fact, and they have to deal somehow with issues that we no chance of resolving with near perfect confidence.

I think that any reasonable person should agree that humanity needs that kind of understanding. I also think any reasonable person would agree that the web should cohere. There should be norms and values that apply over the whole web, as much to parts that are fundamentally religious as to parts that are unmistakably science. As I said back at the start, what that means to me in practice day by day is that I should be able to talk about Christianity without embarrassment or trimming to my colleagues in their labs. They don't need to agree with me - they often don't agree with me about matters of science either - but they should be able to see why I might say what I do, and why I might think it was interesting. If I can't satisfy that test, then I should be concerned that I have allowed my religious thought to drift off into a separate bubble where normal rules of rationality and evaluation don't apply.

I have said that the issue is a challenge, and that is putting it mildly. Talking to colleagues is hard going because some styles of thought that are deeply ingrained in Christianity are never going to integrate, just as some of the things called science are never going to integrate. I think that if Christians want to reach a new integration, they need the courage to stand back and ask whether they really need to defend intellectual habits that are fundamentally disconnected from the way people think in labs and seminars.

There is a range of difficulties in this area, but I will focus on a format that a very large number of people use without thinking when they present Christianity. In a nutshell, it consists of a list of claims that they assume a Christian absolutely must accept. Various different kinds of claim are involved - A is right, B is wrong; event C sounds impossible, but it happened; event D is completely unprecedented, but it will happen; the significance of event E is F ... and so on. To an outsider, the list looks fairly arbitrary - it is not obvious why people should accept that particular list rather than another. That is underlined by the fact that different Christians have different lists, as this summer at Lambeth showed vividly. Almost none of the claims have anything we would ordinarily recognise as supporting evidence; and for a lot of them it is hard to see how there could be evidence.

It seems to me that if Christians insist on that kind of format, there is no real prospect of integration. It is a format that is quite alien to most serious scientists that I know. So long as Christianity is represented as a list like that, there is no chance of them engaging with it. Understanding exactly why is far from trivial, but I will pick out three kinds of problem. One is lack of structure. In science, you expect to separate a few key ideas from others that support them or depend on them or flesh out the details. Christianity presented in the way I have described just doesn't have that kind of structure. There is a long list of things that people regard as equally and absolutely indispensable. Linked to that, many of the items leave most outsiders mystified; they can't see any reason why anyone should believe that; or if they did believe it, why they should care.

Even worse, the lists tend to be presented in ways that are very hard to square with the claim I regard as central, that Christianity is fundamentally concerned with learning the truth and making it known. If you are interested in learning the truth, do you come in with a list of statements, and say, these are the truth, and it is not up for discussion? Your commitment to truth has to go deeper; it has to be clear that if you find something you believed wasn't true, you rethink. For all those reasons, it is very hard to see how the kind of system I have sketched can integrate in any interesting way with science. The intellectual standards are just too disparate.

If I thought Christianity had to be understood in the way that I've outlined - unstructured, unconnected and non-negotiable - I wouldn't be here. So obviously, I think there is an alternative. I think we can identify key issues in a way that lets a reasonable person say, yes, that's interesting. I think there are ways of saying what we believe that let any reasonable person say, yes, I can see why you would think that. And I think they point to questions that a reasonable person ought to agree are worth doing research on.

I am fairly sure that there are different possible starting points, but the starting point I want to work with picks up a concept that I have already introduced, which is trust. I am using trust pretty much in an ordinary sense, meaning something like accepting that what seems to be good or benign is actually good or benign, and that you are not at the mercy of threats you have no way of knowing about. It seems to me that Christianity sees trust as the key to right understanding of the reality we live in, and ourselves, and our relationship to reality. Being Christian means making trust the guiding principle in our relationship with our world - trust in the fundamental goodness of the world; and in the significance of our own place in it.

What I said earlier about trusting friends shows something very interesting about that kind of stance. When you think about the way your friends behave behind your back, most people agree that the right choice is to trust them unless you have reason not to. We need trust to live well, and that applies not just to friends, but also to the fundamental character of our world, and to our own nature. Believing that we can't trust undermines and corrodes. Christianity characteristically invites us to put profound trust at the centre of our understanding of reality in general, and assures us that it is well founded. It tells us not to torture ourselves with the nightmare that the Universe is evil or morally empty; not to torture ourselves with the fear that we are an insignificant accident; not to sink into dismissing the experiences that make us think otherwise as a delusion. In all these, Christianity assures us that the right choice is to trust our world and ourselves, just as it is right to trust our friends. The claim that we should apply that principle on a Universal scale is philosophically both interesting and believable, provided that it is suitably qualified - and I will come to that shortly.
Looking at Christianity from that angle gives a way of answering the charge that it is an arbitrary collection of disconnected claims. On the contrary: it is a sophisticated development of one of the main ways that you might logically deal with a world where your information will always be incomplete. That makes it a starting point that scientists have very good reason to engage with, whatever they think about specific points of doctrine.

Putting trust at the centre of Christianity is not playing fast and loose with Christian tradition. The Greek word for trust is pistis, and that word is right at the centre of the New Testament. Probably everyone here knows that, but people outside usually don't, because most English versions of the Bible use a different word to translate pistis. The word they use is 'faith'. 'Faith' suggests something specifically religious, and almost by definition without any kind of rational justification. But pistis in the Greek does not imply something that is either specifically religious, or without rational justification. That is why the standard translation in most contexts is 'trust'. So I see no problem presenting Christianity as a sophisticated development of the position that we should accept trust as the guiding principle in our relationship with our world.

At least equally important, other key Christian ideas cluster round the idea that this is a Universe where trust is appropriate. Christianity picks out the issues that matter most deeply to the way we feel about the Universe, and tells us over and over that our response to them should be to trust that things are as they need to be for us to live well. It is deeply important to the quality of our lives whether we should trust the intuition that the world is guided by good and wonderful purposes, and neither empty of purpose and value, nor simply an illusion. Christianity invites us to trust that the world is guided by good and wonderful purposes. It is deeply important to the quality of our lives whether we should trust experiences that seem to be a kind of contact with the purpose that shapes the Universe, or dismiss them as a delusion. Christianity invites us to trust that they are valid. It is deeply important to the quality of our lives whether there is an unbridgeable distance between God high and lifted up and humanity below. Christianity invites us to trust that the relationship between us and God is so intimate that it is possible for a single individual to be both God and human; as witness the fact that in one extraordinary life, the barrier between God and humanity was reduced to nothing.

That leads back to another core theme in the New Testament. What do you call the message that we can and should trust our most fundamental intuitions and hopes about our world and ourselves? 'Good news' seems like a thoroughly appropriate phrase - which is, of course exactly what the Christian message was called.

Bringing out that kind of structure lets us respond to the test of coherence that I have talked about - that a reasonable person in the lab next door should be able to see why Christian ideas are interesting, and why you might accept them. I think core ideas in Christianity home in on issues that are basic to the way we feel about our world and our place in it. On any reasonable count, that qualifies as interesting. Similarly, what Christianity says about these issues is that the right choice is to trust things are as we deeply hope they are. A fair-minded person in the lab should be able to see why you might think that. Look at the other side of the coin. Accepting that we should not trust deep-rooted intuitions is a bleak conclusion indeed. It means that human beings are victims of a built-in mismatch between what they are set up to need and the way things actually are. I do not believe that scientia compels us to accept that conclusion - that is an argument I have made elsewhere, and I won't repeat it here. It is a strange mindset that thinks we should believe the worst - believe that humanity has been made fatally out of tune with reality - when the facts do not compel us to believe any such thing. As I say, a reasonable person should be able to see why Christianity might make the choice it does.

That is one level of the argument, but I said earlier that Christianity is a sophisticated development of a position grounded in trust. It is not credible to trust that every garden will always come up roses, and that is not what Christianity advocates. Christianity asks us to trust that God's purpose is still working out when the most admirable human ever born is tortured to death. What it presents is a sophisticated, complex appraisal of the world that sees the thorns clearly, and still ends in trust.
That leads into an area that particularly fascinates me. Christianity offers a rich, subtle view of the trust we should put in our own senses and intuitions. It tells us we should trust the feeling that there is a strange kind of contact between us and a much greater power; but it warns us to be very wary of naïve intuitions about the way a greater power might manage things. It tells us that we should trust our intuition that the same power can be seen acting in history, but it warns us that we can easily draw the wrong conclusions from history. It tells us that we should trust the feeling that some things are right and some are wrong, but we should be very wary of our intuitions about what to do about it. And so on. I personally think that results in an extraordinarily well-balanced view of the way we can expect things to be - but that is for later.

I hope you will notice that what I have said here in bound up with a point I made earlier about the empirical nature of Christianity. Christianity invites us to look at the evidence in the light of a fundamental trust in the goodness of the Universe and the place of humanity. Trust, and use the evidence to clarify the kind of trust that you ought to place in your own nature, and in the Universe, and in its maker. That is very like what I described earlier as the dual structure of science. You start with powerful ideas, but they have to be matched, constantly and ruthlessly, against observed fact. And of course, that interplay gave the medieval trunk it characteristic shape; and that is where science acquired its dual structure. If you think I am exaggerating, read Aquinas.

That ends the second of my three main sections. It is probably wise to sum up before moving on.

I have sketched the kind of picture that I think we might offer reasonable scientists who are not Christian already. I want to tell them that what guides people's lives is a network of ideas and feelings, interconnected and interdependent. Parts of the network are inevitably cloudy and imprecise, parts are quite possibly completely wrong. We may wish it was otherwise, but because we are what we are, that is just the way it is.

I want to tell them that Christianity invites people to ground that network of understanding in trust - trust in the goodness of the Universe, and the significance of humanity, and the validity of experiences that are a widespread feature of human life. It also points us to evidence that we should use to clarify the kind of trust that we should have - evidence from the nature of the creation, and within that from the history of an extraordinary culture, and within that from the life of an absolutely extraordinary man. It seems to me that anyone who stops and thinks ought to acknowledge that that is an eminently reasonable kind of position - and it is extremely hard to think of a better one.

In that picture scientia - the special, sharp knowledge that defines what most people understand as science - corresponds to a few distinctively solid fragments of the network. The further we can extend those fragments, the better. I don't think for a moment that the whole network we need to live will ever be solid scientia, but I welcome any extension of the network that is on offer. And the kind of Christianity that I have sketched points to some very definite areas where humanity would benefit if we could extend scientia. That leads me to the last part of the talk. I want to point to some of the areas where it seems to me that scientia could work together with the kind of Christianity that I have sketched.

The natural starting point is one I have talked about a lot, and it has a huge influence on my personal stance, because it is where I work. It is the science of knowledge. The public knows very little about it, but there have been huge developments in our understanding of knowledge over the past fifty years. The driving force has been trying to build machines - computers and robots - that match some of the abilities that humans take for granted. It has become painfully clear that traditional thinking about knowledge illustrates the old saying that 'fish will be the last to discover water'. Everyday human understanding deals with deep problems so effortlessly that we never notice they are there, and traditional discussions of knowledge skate over them - often because they are preoccupied with scientia. But if you try to build a machine that deals with the same problems, you realize in short order that the problems of getting much less elevated knowledge are really difficult, and we barely know where to start.

Christianity has a deep interest in encouraging science to pursue questions about what is involved in understanding your world so that you can operate in it practically, day to day. It also has a lot to offer, because it has several millennia of sophisticated ideas on the subject behind it. I have talked a lot about the idea of a broad network of understanding, which includes scientia as a part, and trying to articulate the standards that should govern that kind of network. Understanding that kind of network is something I think matters deeply to humanity. One of the key points is one that I have argued in another talk. Both scientific and religious experts do great damage by pretending to know more than we do, instead of being open that we all see through a glass darkly. The general public is grievously misled by the simplistic accounts of knowledge that reinforce that confusion - such as the images of science that I described and rejected earlier. Both as a scientist and as a Christian, I think we have a deep moral duty to develop better accounts and to make them widely known.

Within that broad area, one of the key issues is one I have also referred to, and that is feeling. Of course human understanding of the world depends partly on explicit rational processes. But those processes are built on top of, and supported by, systems that seem to be very different. The simplest way to describe them is that their work is felt, not articulated. The importance of these feeling-related systems has become clearer and clearer. We know that if the systems are impaired, it is a serious handicap. There are lots of examples - psychopaths; people with autism; some kinds of brain damage. That is because the feeling systems serve functions that pure reason doesn't. They deal with value, and other people's feelings; and they connect knowledge and action. As we have started to understand what they do, research in computing has tried to model them so that machines have at least some of the abilities that they give us - which is a field I have been closely involved in.

Christianity should be very interested indeed in understanding these feeling-related systems. It has insights to offer, and it has motives to encourage the work. I have already mentioned one of the key connections. Christianity is deeply concerned with trust, which involves a blend of feeling and explicit knowledge. It should welcome and encourage research that recognises the central place trust deserves in our thinking about human life. Linked to that, Christianity has a rich store of ideas about the difference that trust can make to life, and it should be eager to draw them to the attention of scientists working in the area. I think, as a Christian, that science will confirm that a wide range of benefits flows from living in informed trust. I will come back to that shortly.

In case you thought I had forgotten, another concept involving feeling is even more central to Christianity. It is love. In our society, the word 'love' tends to conjure up images of fluttering eyes and pink mist. Modern research gives Christians a far better way to express what they mean by love. Love is a prime example of the powerful feeling-related systems that I have been describing. It shapes key judgments about value, and the way we deal with other people's feelings; and it ensures that thought flows into action. In the context of modern theory, the idea that our lives should be controlled by love is anything but sentimental waffle. It is a powerful idea that love is the right orientation towards the agency that gave the world its shape and direction. Incidentally, Paul sounds astonishingly like a modern psychologist when he contrasts love with law, which is purely rational, and therefore doesn't have the same power to energise and integrate. Christianity should be eager to help develop the science that clarifies what it means to let an emotion like love orchestrate the way you perceive and evaluate and decide and act, and what its consequences are. It should also be eager to carry the ideas out into the street, and blow away the misrepresentations that prevent people from understanding what a powerful principle it is that you should base your life on loving God.

The second big area that I want to highlight is very closely linked, though you might not think it. It is the analysis of complex systems that change over time. Systems like that are the basis of technologies that are becoming quite standard - for instance, the systems that can recognise handwriting in smart phones, or that recognise speech in dictation programs and some automatic answering services.
Systems for recognizing speech or handwriting illustrate something very characteristic about complex systems. The way they start out means that they gravitate towards particular kinds of end point, as if they were drawn towards goals that are implicit in their makeup. For instance, to produce a system for recognizing handwriting, you start with a system that is relatively unstructured and has simple rules for adjusting itself. Then you expose it to lots of examples of handwritten letters, and rely on the adjustment rules to nudge it bit by bit until reaches a stable state. If the initial system has been set up in the right way, the end state will be one where you can input a pattern, and it will usually output the right name. A lot of interesting technology and mathematics goes into choosing an initial configuration that will settle into the kind of system you want.

The principles underlying that kind of settling are very widespread. They are linked to the way crystals form and metals cool and pebbles roll down hills and soap forms elegant films - and, of course, to evolution. The way our Universe is set up means that not all states are equal - some are comparatively likely to arise, and persist; while others only happen in transitions between these privileged states.

Science is slowly - very slowly - coming to terms with the way complex systems structure themselves and gravitate towards privileged states. I think developing that kind of analysis is crucial to understanding the kind of trust that we ought to place in the Universe. For instance, it looks as if there are social structures that the Universe will not tolerate in the long term. It does not matter what we think - they will break down, as the Universe makes the transition to something more capable of persisting. The same is true of ecologies, and relationships between humans and ecologies. It is also the same of individual humans. Like it or not, some ways of living can be sustained; others lead to disintegration.

People with backgrounds in philosophy may think that this all sounds suspiciously Aristotelian. Indeed it is. Aristotle thought that natural things had goals. We know that on a small scale, that principle is wrong. Molecules move because they are pulled or pushed, nor because they want to. But things are different on a larger scale. It is not just individual animals and plants that behave as if they knew where they were going. Directedness is a very regular outcome of combining the particular small things that you get in our Universe. Understanding that is crucial to breaking the death-grip that some bleak pictures of the Universe have on contemporary thinking. The Universe is not emptiness laced with bouncing billiard balls. Fundamental particles are made so that they come together to make purposeful structures - up to and including billiard players.

I wish that science would move faster in these areas. People in the street have dreadfully misleading ideas about the way the world works. At one end is the bleak picture of a Universe devoid of meaning and purpose that I have just mentioned. At the other, people think they can dictate a pattern and make the world conform. Not so. The world is full of systems that have their own deep-rooted directions, and human beings have no option but to work with them. And, as I have said, that is also one of the key grounds for trust. It does not take personal intervention by God to make a great range of things work out better than we imagine possible. The Universe itself is constantly drawing things in the direction that it favours. By and large, that direction seems to me good - and that leads to my next point.

Christianity is inseparably bound up with moral intuitions - the sense that this is good, and to be sought after or protected; and that is bad, and to be avoided or opposed. The trust we ought to put in those intuitions is a major issue. It is one that science has a great deal to say about.

If the Universe had no direction, it would be difficult to see how our moral intuitions could be anything but arbitrary. Given that the Universe does have directions, it is difficult to see how our moral intuitions can be separate from the directions embedded in the fabric of the Universe. We should expect organism to see things as good if they align with the directions inherent in the Universe, and bad if they oppose them. To put it another way, if that is what moral intuitions are, they are ways of expressing affinity with the world we live in.
There is already research on some of the ways that moral intuitions might be grounded in the objective world - such as research on the evolutionary basis of altruism. I was involved a while ago in a related area, which is response to landscapes. Again, I think Christians should be keen to see that kind of research developed and understood; it helps to silence the deadly whisper that tells people our moral feelings have no more grounding in reality than a preference for beige shoes. By the way, one of the problems with attempts to insulate Christianity is that they suggest morality has no connection with the solid, everyday world. That is not actually what people mean by morality, and when we offer people so-called moralities that have no grounding in the real world, the hidden message is that they should give up on what they mean by the word: it is a delusion. Giving that kind of message doesn't protect Christianity: on the contrary, it does the sceptics' work for them.

Research on morality has another level. There is a pragmatic tradition of psychology which has shown that various aspects of religion have practical benefits - for life expectancy, wellbeing, social order, and so on. That links to a key point in the argument I made earlier. I said over and over that Christian trust is deeply important to the quality of our lives. That can and should be demonstrated - which is something Christianity has always been clear about. I think Christians should be eager to see systematic research help with the task. I also think they should have reservations about the research as it is currently conducted, and should help to reshape it. With due respect, increased life expectancy was not a major motive for Jesus, Stephen, Peter, Paul, James, and so on. What set their lives apart was richness, not length; and of course, enriching other lives. I wish Christians would settle to offer pragmatic research some more appropriate ways to measure the benefits that Christian life brings. I also wish that they would settle to identify better ways of recognizing Christian life. The commonest measure is Church attendance, and sadly, it is not a measure that I find totally convincing.

That leads me to a final area, which is close to my heart. I have been working for several years now on the description of emotional life. People tend to assume it is just a matter of applying the obvious emotion words, but of course it is nothing of the sort. The obvious words correspond to striking peaks that serve as landmarks in the landscape of emotion. Most of emotional life happens in the ground between the peaks, and it involves all sorts of interactions other areas of mental life, not to mention external people and situations and tasks. I believe that experience should be translated to the description of spiritual life. It seems obvious to me that is at least equally complicated. But I do not see why we should not make progress. There have actually been interesting steps in that direction - I think of William James a century ago, who put together a genuinely interesting 'composite photograph' of the saintly life. We have techniques that James didn't, and there are many respects in which we could do better. I find it quite sad that we haven't.

I said at the beginning that I wanted to lay before you pieces that are crying out to be put together. There are so many others that I would like to mention, and it would be very easy to go on for several hours more, But that would stretch the patience even of this audience. So let me try to draw the threads together as best I can.

My kind of Christianity is about allowing people to form a right understanding of their world and their place in it. What I have called scientia is part of a right understanding, but not the whole of it. There are ways of extending scientia that can help to consolidate parts of our understanding that are constantly threatened by destructive simplifications, and I think Christians should be eager to contribute to the consolidation. And where scientia does not resolve the issues of choice or feeling that we have to deal with - which is most of everyday existence - Christians can and should direct people towards an understanding grounded in sophisticated trust. I think that is both reasonable and consistent with the core values of Christianity through the centuries.

I feel that if the right mind took hold of these pieces, our understanding of the world could be reintegrated in a way that enriched humanity, and spared countless people needless distress. Alas, I know the task is too big for me. But I can lay out the pieces I see, and ask: please, will somebody competent pick these up? If you have the ability to do the task, please do. And if you know someone who might have the ability, please pass on my efforts. They might just help to seed a good solution. That would make me very happy.


Page 1 of 4

  • Comment number 1.

    I feel obliged to read the entire thing before assessing it, but I have two thoughts at half-time:

    1) This is a fantastic speech. Cowie understands the subject well, and it shows. There's also a fascinating freshness with which he deals with "pistis" (which is a great word to say in church without giving context beforehand, and provokes many a raised eyebrow). Using the word "trust" rather than the word "faith" is useful in itself, as it unpacks it to a degree from the beginning.

    2) Cowie mentions the empirical nature of Christianity, and also its invitation to "trust." But if that trust is based on empirical facts, isn't it necessary to demonstrate at least a likelihood that those facts are true so that the trust is well-placed? Saying that God came to earth as man 2000 years ago and died, was resurrected and ascended to heaven where he waits for us to make a choice to trust him is a very specific empirical claim. Any other event (such as those from any other religion) would not gain Cowie's trust without some empirical - even "scientific" - evidence. Which is why, so far, I don't find that the objections of men like Dawkins have been addressed in Cowie's speech, and proposing a Flying Spaghetti Monster still seems a valid way to critique what he says about trust.

    I'll continue reading once I get some work done!

  • Comment number 2.

    to John Wright:
    your point 2 is on the nail. We don't have an agreed way of discriminating between claims that you should trust and claims that you shouldn't. Hence, we tend to fall back on a binary divide - is it almost certainly true, or is it dodgy?
    That is not what we do in everyday life. We do think there that are grounds for trusting certain things (like the good faith of friends), and not others (like the spaghetti monster). With due respect to Bayes, it is not a matter of probabilities, a priori or a posteriori. Descartes highlights the issue well at the start of Meditations - should I believe all my impressions are manufactured by a powerful, deceitful demon? Obviously not - but why not?
    I personally feel pretty comfortable taking the decision to trust that Jesus was right when he said 'he who has seen me has seen the Father'. Part of that is willingness to doubt my a priori ideas about what the Father is. I am content to say: the reality behind my ideas about the Father is what we see in Jesus.
    I don't think that is unreasonable - but I can't articulate why, and I know very well that other people can't either. That is a symptom of a huge problem facing the disciplines of knowledge - we really don't have a grip of reasoning that includes values as well as straight facts. Given that a lot of important reasoning does include values, it is surely an issue we should put real effort into.
    By the way, anyone who wants to look at reasoning involving values can check out references on 'deontic logic' in Wikipedia, the Stanford Encylopaedia of Philosophy, and lots of other sources. It is hairy stuff - and if anyone tells you that it's all straightforward, you can be pretty sure they haven't read the relevant stuff.
    Happy reading ...

  • Comment number 3.

    PP, try some bamboo shoots ;-) I agree with John - that is a very good talk, but you (and Roddy) seem to miss the point that "values" and "ethics" map just as easily to a non-theistic viewpoint as to a theistic one. Indeed, I would argue that the mapping to a non-theistic viewpoint is more natural, and less likely to be corrupted by the cancer of "authority worship". Also, the benefits chalked up to Christianity are equally claimed by any number of religions. Which might lead us to the conclusion that we are "good" (either morally or scientifically) *in spite of* religion, rather than because of it.

    Just be good, for goodness' sake!


  • Comment number 4.

    I listened to the lecture, now I have read it carefully and I will read it again in due course. I still find much I agree with and much with which I find it hard to come to terms. I imagine there are probably two main reasons for this: (1) my understanding of Christianity is very different from RC's and (2) I insulate, big time!

    My reason tells me that the world is without meaning or purpose; that humanity is of no particular or special significance; that there is no god; that if I had to assume a creator and director of the universe the notion that he is an evil demon is, if anything, more plausible than the contention that he is a benign divinity; that the Bible is a collection of entirely human writings deserving very little credence. These thoughts do not greatly perturb me, whether or not there is intrinsic meaning to life, humans have evolved to such a state that we are capable of investing the life we enjoy with meaning and purpose.

    What I feel, however, is quite different. I feel that, beyond the universe there is something wholly other, something I have directly experienced, something which I can trust is good, something the experience of which has the ability to transform radically vital areas of my personality and agenda. One might apply the word God to that something. I cannot, however, connect it to the physical world neither as its creator nor in any other way; I cannot conceive of any way of empirically verifying anything whatsoever about it.

    I resolve the potential conflict by saying that I accept that my feelings are as important and as valid as my thoughts and that each may to some extent modify the other. I am not sure how one might talk sensibly of one in the terms of the other though the possibility of so doing fascinates. Most attempts to rationalise the emotions I have encountered have simply produced horrors.

  • Comment number 5.

    And indeed, the "trust" business is more appropriately applicable to a purely humanist scenario - an atheistic universe is not one without meaning - it is up to us to give it meaning, and to take responsibility. That's the sort of trust that you can trust, and respect.

    Rather than the nutrition of the bamboo shoots of "scientia", I rather suspect that Roddy wants to get us hooked on the carcinogenic and utterly nutrition-free ciggies of religion. Yes, they suppress your appetite, but they are not a substitute. Slap a patch on that man!


  • Comment number 6.

    Are you ignoring my needlessly long and incredibly boring reply to your criticisms of the soul? Whatever could your motivations be?


  • Comment number 7.

    John / Panda / Helio

    If Christ came to deal with sin then it should not be too difficult to devise some method for investigating his effectiveness.

    A test for removing anger, lust, addiction etc etc?

    An objective person who has tried to self-reform their character should be able to make some judgments about this;-

    A friend told me last night that she knows several Christians who actually left athiesm after trying their luck with Pascal's wager. I was quite surprised.
    So again, it is not difficult for individuals to "test" the reality of Christ for themselves if they so wish.

    If you read Appleyards piece from the link at the very top of this page you will see proposed experiments to test out of body experiences; this raises big questions about whether supernatural causation can be a part of modern science!

    Helio, if there is no creator God then how will you define the "good" in "Be good for Goodness sake"?

    You say it is easy for values and ethics to be mapped onto an atheistic system and I dont doubt it. The problem is that you skipped the difficult bit - what rational and trustworthy source have you to create your values from that dont come from faith indirecly via culture?

    Also, I think you are missing the point to assume that there are only bamboo shoots or ciggies to choose from.

    It is quite clear that even if you dont like ciggies, bamboo shoots alone cannot give us a system that takes into account universal knowledge.

    That takes us back to Cowies point that both science and faith need to own up that both see through a glass darkly.

    Can we all agree on that perhaps?


  • Comment number 8.


    You ask Helio how he is going to define the good in 'be good for goodness sake'

    That's easy to answer.

    He's just going to go right on ahead and define it! ; )

  • Comment number 9.

    It would be great if we could move this off set piece positions. One of the key issues is how much ground is genuinely open to explore.

    Yes, Heliopolitan - let us be good. But what should we identify as a good life, and how can we manage to actually lead it? What is the relationship between being good and the kind of experience that Portywyne describes (and I recognise very well)? How much credence should we place in the intellectual faculty that tells Portwyne the world is without meaning or purpose? What is the status of that faculty in the light of what we now know about knowledge, and to what extent does the science (as against its popularisations) actually require us to accept that image of a meaningless universe? Which of these questions can an average intelligent person answer a priori, which should be sending us to technical literatures, and which should we be going out and looking for new evidence on?

    Opening up includes opening up what we mean by Christianity. Of course not everything called Christianity is valid. If it is a list of doctrines propounded from pulpits, I probably like it no more than Heliopolitan does. If it is a tradition that invites us to trust until proven otherwise that the most positive answers to key questions are the right ones, then I think it makes a lot of sense. Jesus - the historical individual, not the stereotype - is key to that, because if the New Testament is substantially right about him, then the answers can be a lot more positive than most people think. That doesn't mean they are simple - they are clearly not.

    The ciggies I personally would like to take out of circulation are the ones that encourage people on both sides to feel that we know the answers to all these questions without too much thought. I think our place in the Universe is very, very unclear. It is an issue that is ripe for intellectuals to get their teeth into seriously. Let's dump both the ciggies and the patches, and chew.

  • Comment number 10.

    Peter M;-


  • Comment number 11.

    OT- That you can filter a speech of this richness and diversity of thought into your standard evangelical rhetoric is indicative of how little you've actually apprehended and appreciated what you've read. And Pascal's Wager? Really? I would have thought that positing the existence of even a single other god or a single other Christian theology destroys Pascal's Wager completely.

  • Comment number 12.

    Folks, why do you need to *define* good to *be* good? Are we really back to arguing that morality can only come from a theistic viewpoint? Tell that to the chimps and dolphins.

    I think after all this, I'm still lost as to why Roddy thinks his Christianity actually brings anything to the party. We can bank all that is good about Christianity (and I will not be so disingenuous as to claim that there aren't some nice things about it) without the silly nonsense that goes along with it, such as belief in virgin births and resurrections and divinity of Jesus and that sort of thing. But maybe that's what Roddy is talking about - I remain confused...

  • Comment number 13.

    PP asks extremely pertinent questions, questions I have struggled with for many years. I was taught always to trust my reason and distrust my feelings; taught that conclusions derived from rational consideration possessed a validity which hunches or intuitions signally lacked. It has not been easy to set this ingrained belief aside and I am far from sure that I have managed to do so entirely successfully.

    Nonetheless I have, for some time now, accepted that any knowledge which does not both cohere intellectually and feel right is likely to be partial, incomplete and inaccurate. I acknowledge that, if I have experiential apprehension of something which my intellectual model of existence says is implausible, then it is as legitimate to question the accuracy of my model as it is to question the state of my mind. (I do think both should be subject to scrutiny - I also fear that it is entirely possible that the human mind, in its current state, may not be capable of uniting its two most obvious means of processing information/experience).

    Theologians and philosophers of religion generally leave me cold, I have often more than a faint suspicion that they are talking extremely learned nonsense. Mystics, however, often spout what appears an equal load of drivel but perhaps they are using language in a wholly different way. I have a long-standing interest in how people experience the other - divine or demonic - and how they convey that experience to others. History and literature are strewn with references to encounters with God, with angels, with devils. I am interested how sensory perceptions, expressed in terms of known and familiar faculties, feature in accounts of what we might loosely term theophanies. I have been collecting such references for a few years now and have found much that intrigues.

    The subject of another post perhaps, I have just realised how late it is...

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi John Wright, hope you're well

    It appears your last comment to me is more at risk of being a sectarian ad hominem than an attempt to engage with what I actually said.

    I actually made quite a lenghty post with a number of quite different points based on the views of a scientist of Christian faith...

    A major point in Cowies talk was about evidence and reasons to trust.

    I suggested several experiments.

    Have you actually read Bryan Appleywards article yet - link is at top of Williams piece on this thread?

    It is hardly "evangelical" whatever that label is supposed to mean...

    Personally I find it a very restricted and misleading term.

    I prefer to think of myself as someone who makes up my own mind about the bible in the context of consensus of church views on it over 2000 years....

    hence... orthodox tradition.... geddit?


    evangelical is such a modern narrow misleading term IMHO.


    If we want evidence to trust the resurrection;-

    F. F. Bruce: "...if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond doubt" [New Testament Documents P.15]


  • Comment number 15.

    No, Pascal's wager doesn't fall to that critique if evidence is factored in before the bet is placed.

  • Comment number 16.

    The point of the wager is to guide belief and action when the evidence underdetermines a conclusion or a policy.
    It does not address what to do in the absence of any evidence.
    It also deals with "subjective" probability (your best judgment) not "objective" probabilities, which in the instance of religion are difficult if not impossible to obtain (see any discussion of probabilistic versions of the problem of evil).


  • Comment number 17.

    Pascals wager has to be one of the worst pieces of special pleading ever.

    Appleyard's piece is interesting however it still does not make it true. I have had a look at Quantum Physics and by no description would I label myself an expert-far, far from it(unlike a certain poster on here), one thing I did learn is that because QM is so mind-boggingly difficult it has become the refuge of al sorts of cranks, weirdos, new-agers etc.


    The Orthodox Tradition of the Church has changed over the past 2000 years...once geo-centrism was the norm, then creationism(enlightened Christians know that it's twaddle), slavery/racism/segregation were once the norm for many who followed an Orthodox Tradition.

    Anyway OT no matter what this article says Biblical creationism is still twaddle.



  • Comment number 18.

    Oh, come on, GV - Pascal's Wager is nonsense the minute someone objects by arguing that there could be:

    - a god who doesn't reward people for belief,

    - an afterlife without heaven or hell

    - reincarnation

    - a Flying Spaghetti Monster

    ...or any number of other theological positions. In order to appeal to the probability that one of the three monotheistic religions is correct, one would have to establish some basis for believing that that is more likely to be true than any of the above. You can't sensibly do that by appealing to the number of adherents or anything else.

  • Comment number 19.

    Helio's theological position statement:

    I don't believe in a god who loves atheists.

    Come to think of it, that's PBOT's position too!

    Can we all be friends now?

  • Comment number 20.


    I think you have entirely missed my point about Pascal's wager.

    I fully accept its limitations.

    I dont believe it is a fail safe argument in favour of God.

    But I do believe it is a convincing starting point which demands that the claims of God be very closely examined.

    Cowie is in part arguing that for science and Christianity to be reintegrated, Christianity's empirical nature must be affirmed.

    In your very first post on this thread John you challenged this and undermined the idea that Christ rose from the dead.

    I just dont understand therefore how you didnt "get" my suggested empirical tests!!??

    If you note, I said I was surprised that people were currently coming to Christ through Pascal's Wager but I could still obviously take you to meet such people - evidence!

    My main point is this John - you may not find the philsophical argument of Pascals wager very appealing but if anyone is really a seeker after truth I argue that they really have no choice but to personally plunge in PERSONALLY AND EXPERIENCE IT rather than casually dismissing it intellectually.

    ie you voice a sincere prayer to a God you arent sure is there to make himself real... what has anyone got to lose?

    That is certainly moving in direction of real evidence. You may argue it is crude and subjective but it is obviously having a real impact in athiests lives - how can any honest seeker after truth you dismiss it out of hand if they don't try it?

    Call it a proto-experiment...;-)

    If I didnt know better I might imagine that some folk are getting offended by the audicity of a real spiritual and moral challenge trying to break into the pleasure of their abstract philsophical debate!

    The foolishness and offence of the cross, as Paul put it?

    Hi Dylan Dog

    I think you have entirely misunderstood Appleyards piece - he is not arguing that anything is true. He is reporting on the early stages of an experiment and what the possible implications are.


    Very funny - post 19.

    Unfortunately it also seems to be the fall back position of all the Dawkins fans here ie to present me as some sort of angry stereotype.

    You are so keen on empirical evidence yet it usually fails to escape your notice that the vast majority of posts from Dakwins fans on this site to me are perjorative, ad hominem, strawman, stereotyping attacks.

    My normal response is to keep focussing on the subject or facts in hand and to consistently bring humour and courtesy into my posts.

    I suggest that is a gracious response that nods in the direction of the Master.

    Of course of course, I know Helio.

    You are only joking ;-)

    Thats ok so am I.

    But the empircal analysis of the posts mentioned still confirms what I am saying, with courtesy and humour of course!



  • Comment number 21.

    Hi OT, well, I think you are moving in the *direction* of rationality - maybe you should view DD's gentle encouragement as a good thing.

    You're right - the resurrection is an *empirical* claim, and it is one that you cannot demonstrate. FF Bruce is quite wrong (surpriso) to suggest that if a secular historian had come up with such a cock-and-bull story, that people would accept it. The counter-examples of this, from Herodotus to Seneca to Dio, are too numerous to mention - lots of the ancients got lots of things wrong. No biggie.

    And, given that the consequences for making an error re the resurrection are so great (apparently), it makes it even more absurd that this would be some sort of intelligent god's "Brilliant Plan" to save a doomed mankind. Even Steve Chalke has come to the conclusion that it's pants (although why he hasn't gone the full Jonathan Edwards, I don't really know).

    Incidentally, Will, you know this stuff - what's the current deal with Jonathan E?


  • Comment number 22.

    Hi OT,

    I have read Appleyards piece and it is full of quackery.


    You are a rather angry stereotype of a Protestant fundamentalist-you complain about posts that have the temerity to put up an opposing view then...complain that no-one can offer up evidence! Also you did eat the face of Graham Veale in the other thread because he seemingly disagreed with you(thankfully you apologised and Graham had the graciousness to accept).

    "perjorative, ad hominem, strawman, stereotyping attacks." like...Dawkins fans!?or the strawman attacks on science? Oh I see its the nasty wasty atheists.

    The truth of the matter is we are only trying (unsuccessfully) for *you* to back up the points that *you* made!bloody hell! sorry about that!

    "My normal response is to keep focussing on the subject or facts in hand"

    No you don't-you run away.

    "and to consistently bring humour and courtesy into my posts."

    See above re: Graham Veale

    And please Pascals Wager! it is a form of hedging your bets-to accept your god I would also have to accept Allah, Amon-Ra, Zeus, the FSM etc etc all gods that ever existed to be sure. Then again the one true god could be that of a tribe/people that were annihilated-in which case we are all screwed. Then the argument moves onto special pleading eg: my is god better than all the other gods and of course Muslims and Hindus etc can make the same claims.



  • Comment number 23.

    Helio is right to say that FF Bruce is quite wrong. As Helio relates ancient literature/history are full of examples of the ancients getting things wrong. Nearly all the biggie "secular" historians of the period eg., Tacitus, Cassius Dio, etc all mention the supernatural. Suetonious mentions in his life of Caesar that when Julius died he was seen to ascend to the heavens on a golden cloud and this was an eye-witness event. No historian I have *ever* read gives this story credence.

    I think what annoys FF Bruce is that most historians apply the same standard to all literature of the period.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hi again Helio -

    Isnt the point that Cowie is making that "rationality" in itself is way beyond systematic definition by your worldview?

    I think the most striking thing about your post is your absolute certainty.

    You can tell all the readers here that you are absolutely certain that Christ did not rise from the grave and that you are absolutley certain you have got the full story on all the evidence?

    To me that is an indefensible claim - where you there? (prove me wrong!)

    Otherwise you are going to have to give us a percentage probablity on how certain you are and justify it.

    Why would his closest disciples go on to give their lives for a false resurrection hope? makes no sense...

    But while we are at it, that is a lazy strawman version of FF Bruce of course.

    Go on ahead and give your other examples please.. genuinely interested.

    But please don't give us legendary myth literature because the New Testament is not at all that style of writing. It has all the hallmarks of genuine news reporting with the hum drum detail of everyday life in the midst of the story.

    You have also been taken to task for lazy reporting on Jon Edwards in the past too..

    Doesnt bode well for your presentation of the other "facts".

    Can you clarify exactly what you think is Steve Chalke's view on the divinity of Christ and the way of salvation..?

    Yes we all know what he DOESNT believe but if you are going to claim his view is that God didnt have a brilliant plan to same man through Christ you are going to have to answer this one!

    And what exactly are you suggesting Jon Edwards did... you know I corrected you on your website before when you claimed him as a new athiest...



  • Comment number 25.


    I don't think Pascal's Wager is anything. It's nothing. Perhaps the reason some people found it persuasive is because it was assumed that there was only one choice in the wager: belief in the Christian God who rewards people with heaven for belief, or no god at all. But as soon as anything else is proposed, the wager goes to s***.

    Oh, and plenty of people have had what they claim to be very real experiences with other religions. People have also seen UFOs and even been 'taken' by them. Any number of experiences, if that's the criteria for establishing evidence, could be taken as proof of a thing's existence. That's why we look at science instead.

  • Comment number 26.

    the most interesting attack on the resurrection story - personally - is when people use the gospels to contradict each other.

    How do the sceptics know which parts of the unreliable mss to depend on???

    its like, I know this part is "gospel truth" - sorry - because it suits my athiestic agenda and I know this part isnt because it doesnt....


  • Comment number 27.

    John you are still completely missing the point.

    Have YOU actually tried Pascals Wager out for yourself since you began to critique it?

    No - well fair enough but that is an abstract opinion, you didnt actually test it out.

    Yes - "I sincerely tried it and gave God a fair crack but he didnt show".

    What have you possibly got to lose?
    sorry - couldnt resist that!

    "Thats why we look at science instead".

    So science cant examine the supernatural??? did you read Appleyards piece?


    DD - you are talking complete nonsense. Any real question of substance I have been asked about on this blog I have given my complete views on. It is all there for you to google. But you are not really interested in that at all. You just want to troll away here and create a controversy that isnt there. Fair enough, its your time.

  • Comment number 28.


    Pascal's wager does not attempt to try to get God to show himself. It's a logical argument which says basically that if a specific deity - the Christian God who rewards people with heaven for belief (let's call him "God A") - does not exist, then there is nothing to lose, but if he does exist and you don't believe in him, you have a lot to lose (your eternal salvation). Therefore, the argument concludes, you should live as though he does exist because otherwise you're risking a lot. But the argument doesn't work when you postulate a God B or a God C. Because you can't coherently believe in them all!

  • Comment number 29.

    Ach Heliopops

    I just love the way you critique Evangelical Christainity and it's weird and whimsical sub-culture.

    Why hasn't Stevie Chalke done the full Johnny E? Probably cos he can hop and he can skip, but can't take a leap of faith, or would that be unfaith? Dunno. Would that be a three to the minus three jump?

    The pants bit I suppose would be the 'My dad beat me up' version of the cross, I mean you didn't ever fall for that one, did you, dumb theology, don't you think?

    And as for trinity jumper loosing his faith - did you ever read about the faith he lost, or mislaid or forgot where he put it. This is the guy who according to reports at the time of his desalvation carried a tin of sardines into the Olympic stadium with him to remind him of Jesus. Something about loaves and fishes, it's a wonder he didn't have a Nutty Crust or a Barmbrack in there too. I mean, a tin of sardines to remind him of Jesus, and there he was surrounded by people from a good few of the nations of the earth, and he had a tin of John West, it's no wonder his faith went west. Sorta faith you need to loose, don't you think?

    But isn't evangelicalism just sooooo full of this? In fact, been there, done that and yep, got the t-shirt too. After all what's an evangelical without a religious t-shirt?

    Anyway Happy Snowymas, and remember keep Jesus out of Christmas, wouldn't want you to overdose on too many cultural myths.

    BTW a thought - why don't we run up a t-shirt with, 'I gave my heart to Jesus and all I got was this lousy t-shirt' on it.

    We could sell it at Summer Madbelt!

    Enjoy your holiday!

  • Comment number 30.

    Come to think of it, if he'd passed his sardines round, and everybody had had lunch then....

  • Comment number 31.

    Complete and utter tripe and a perfect illustration of why you are held and treated the way you are by a lot of the long term posters on this blog. There is a long, long list of questions that you have avoided, ran away from.

    On the theological navel gazing thread you should that you "comprehensively dealt with all issues"-unfortunately you could not name where they were "comprehensively dealt with" because they were not "comprehensively dealt with"-Really OT! Telling lies for Jesus is still telling lies!


    I see you are treating me in the same way you treated Graham in m78 when you ate the face of him!

    Or where did you answer us when you were questioned on the disappearing posts? that's right you didn't! You have ran away in a pique of prevarication and bluster to every point you have raised-very fundamentalist behaviour. You should feel lucky OT that the long term posters on here are so forgiving.



  • Comment number 32.

    "Why would his closest disciples go on to give their lives for a false resurrection hope? makes no sense..."

    Why did the followers of David Koresh kill themselves and many others in a bloodbath? why did Jim Jones kill himself and hundreds of others? why are there Islamic suicide bombers? Bloody hell! since they were all willing to give their lives then it all must be true!

    "But while we are at it, that is a lazy strawman version of FF Bruce of course.

    Go on ahead and give your other examples please.. genuinely interested."

    We did.

    "But please don't give us legendary myth literature because the New Testament is not at all that style of writing."

    We didn't we gave you actual historians-please try and keep up and maybe try and use google then maybe you would not look so ignorant.

    "Doesnt bode well for your presentation of the other "facts".

    I know OT-you gave us many posts on Biblical creationism and science unfortunately for you they all turned out to be twaddle-and when asked to back them up...you ran away.

    In any case OT your case for the resurrection is immaterial since you gave us empirical/testable evidence for the existence of your god in your posts about creationism(like fossils supporting Genesis, the flood etc) and by that criteria your god does not exist! many thanks to you and Ken Ham!



    Also I do not think

  • Comment number 33.

    Missed a bit at the end:-/

    Also I do not think that you have read Appleyards piece.

    QM has actually added further death blows to creationism.

  • Comment number 34.

    Oh! Merry Winterval to you Peter ;-)

  • Comment number 35.


    Post 31 is such a laugh!!?

    You dont give single example of anything I havent given my full views on this blog on.

    Please note - I have nowhere claimed that I have unrefutable "scientific" proof for my faith, my position is that I believe it to be rational and congruent with the evidence. after that it is faith.

    i even admit i may be wrong on numerous points about origins.

    The evidence is clearly there DD - it is unavoidable, I have given my full views on every significant issue you have raised, it is all here on W&T.

    DD - I have to wonder why my views bother you so much that 99% of your posts are aimed squarely at me.

    It is quite a compliment that my views and comments occupy so much of your waking thoughts.

    I guess I must have raised so many questions that you simply can't get out of your head??

    surely it is only a matter of time?

    happy holidays anyway friend, have a good one...


  • Comment number 36.

    John Wright
    I guess it is a but laughable to ask a confirmed deist and a group of militant athiests to actually try Pascals wager out for themselves.

    You have all already made your position very clear, that you are very hostile to the idea of an involved creator Father God (do correct me - have I got that right?)

    So you have declared yourself hostile to the hypothesis and agressively rejected any variation of the terms of the experiement.

    You could repeat the experiment any number of times for however many "gods" you like....if you were interested.

    There is nothing unscientific about this, on the contrary.

    Scientific studies have been done of the mental affects of various drugs, so recording subjective feelings need not be "heresy".

    Another point is of course that the track record of faith in Christ is that it is not accessed by philsophy or science.

    The Bible from start to finish is a story of "religious experiences".

    At some point the thinking and reading have to be jumped off from to see if there is anyone there.

    Put it another way, what if the Christian faith is true, lets suppose.

    Lets us argue that faith is truly the only door; that finding God is synonymous with religious experiences.

    By the terms of this debate all of that is possible, some may argue unlikely, but definitely not disproven.

    so it is actually possible that my main argument for christ is true - and the means to find him - and nobody here can prove otherwise.

    that means it is still feasible that christ is God and that it is impossible to access him by philosophy but by experience only.

    that is possible in this debate. but convinced deists and athiests are never going to knock that door becuse they have chosen to reject even the possibility.

    another question is that if everything i say about christ is true, how could you ever expect philsophy or science to prove him to you? what evidence might appease you? it is impossible.

    Eve if he appeared to you and answered all your questions you could dismiss it as an hallincination...

    it seems to me that this debate is all about people who dont want to know setting the bar high enough to ensure that christ is never proven - by their imappropriate standards.

    you insist that he must be proven by philosophy and science when the entire new testament and main testimony of the church for 2000 years is that Christ can only be met through faith.

    It seems the search for God here is deliberately rigged for failure every time...


  • Comment number 37.


    I think this confirms my point about how Dawkins disciples define "goodness".

    You call to "be good for goodness sake" is just laughable in the face of the continued pejorative ad hominem attacks by his discplies on this blog.

    How do you square this with "goodness" Helio?


  • Comment number 38.

    Hi OT

    Prevarication and bluster noted (sadly) yet again!

    "You dont give single example of anything I havent given my full views on this blog on."

    Errr I have!

    Here for instance


    You ran away yet again and as you know there is a long list of questions(points you have raised) that you have ran away from.

    You claimed many things about science-you had evidence but when questioned ran away.

    The evidence is clearly there OT - it is unavoidable, you have not given any full views on every significant issue you have raised, it is all here on W&T. Strangely enough you can never show this "evidence".

    "DD - I have to wonder why my views bother you so much that 99% of your posts are aimed squarely at me."

    Because you have needed to be corrected more than other posters on this blog.

    We must occupy your thoughts since you did spend so much time removing our posts-who were asked to explain yourself by Christian posters but you ran away. At least the other Christian posters on this blog have forced you to moderate your behaviour and perhaps you have learned that fundamentalist censorship is not the way(especially so when you complain for eg., that you have not seen evidence to the contrary to a position you have made-when you had the post removed!?).

    "I guess I must have raised so many questions that you simply can't get out of your head??"

    Errr no I have seen your canards many, many times over the years(and they were boring then).

    "surely it is only a matter of time?"

    That you actually provide positive evidence for an empirical claim that you made? well we have been asking for over two years and...diddly!

    Merry Christmas mucker and you have a good one...

    ps. your posts on empirical evidence for your claims on the resurrection are immaterial since you provided many, many examples of empirical evidence (fossils, flood etc) that can be tested and if that is your yard-stick then your (and Ken Ham's) god do not exist.

  • Comment number 39.


    I have made it clear that I dont think it is possible to "prove" ID by current scientific standards.

    However by the same standards I dont think macro evolution can be proven either. Peter Klaver once called it "conjecture".

    To prove the point, have you ever tried to identify the various stages of evolution which life supposedly evolved from the creation of life to man?

    What are all the various stages, take your best guess.

    It is not enough to say that fossils are very rare because the living natural world and the fossil record are in borad agreement;-

    although macro evolution is currently science's best guess this is in spite of the huge lack of evidence.

    Where are the transitional forms between;-

    one celled organisms

    I can accept a theory which hypothesises these transitional forms did at one time exist.

    But to go further and say the theory is almost beyond challenge is special pleading to try and surmount the lack of evidence/transitional forms.

    Can you suggest the chain of evolution that has taken us to man today DD?

    Can you suggest how life formed?

    Can you suggest the first cause of the universe?

    Can you suggest what keeps the universe and natural world so stable if they all came to this point by complete chance?

    None of this demands "empirical evidence" but, which is apprently not needded to justify a Godless creation and evolution anyway.


  • Comment number 40.

    Goodness OT!

    You are hitting me with the Ken Ham canards again!

    I thought you had binned those canards!

    We have been over fossils with you time and time and (yawn) time again! We have supplied links-we have had scientists trying to explain to you! We have done everything in our power to try and explain this matter to you.

    However you are incredibly wilfully ignorant and a religious fundamentalist and as such (as you have so ably demonstrated over the past two years) NOTHING is going to convince you otherwise.

    "What are all the various stages, take your best guess."

    We provided links/explained(yawn).

    "although macro evolution is currently science's best guess this is in spite of the huge lack of evidence."

    WOW! you should immediately inform the world scientific community!(oh thats right-I did provide links) Gee! they all must be really thick and ignorant! how could they not notice this!bloody hell! why do creationists spend all their time on MB's/ writing letters to local papers and not actually going out and getting evidence for their own explanations? are they stupid?

    "Where are the transitional forms between;-"

    Yawn! been explained, you have been given links-it is not our fault that you are so wilfully ignorant.

    "Can you suggest how life formed?"

    Bugger all to do with evolution.

    "Can you suggest the first cause of the universe?"

    Sweet FA to do with evolution.

    "Can you suggest what keeps the universe and natural world so stable if they all came to this point by complete chance?"

    Nowt to do with evolution.

    Please try-I beg you! to just simply think!

    As I said OT all this is immaterial since you provided many, many examples of empirical evidence (fossils, flood etc) that can be tested and if that is your yard-stick then your (and Ken Ham's) god do not exist.

    Now I know you use some very common creationist tactics


    Yep you have ticked quite a few...

    Now for the umpteenth time what about the *positive* evidence for *your* position? Why is that it is only Protestant fundamentalists can find the "evidence" to back up your position?

    Or as you admit above you have been "wrong" do you refute all the creationist propaganda that you posted before? you know all those dishonesties that you were caught out telling?

    Then again OT...as I have often told you intelligent Christians have no problem with science...so please don't worry about it!

    Kindest regards


    ps. still waiting for you to show me how you "comprehensively dealt with issues" on the theological navel gazing thread but...you ran away!

    pps. where exactly and in what context did PeterK say this? I do hope that you are not perverting/misrepresenting what he said?

  • Comment number 41.

    Look OT you have google, you can look through old threads on W & T(it's so easy-I can do it to look up all the many dishonesties you have told), why not do some work yourself-look up where we answered your boring canards many times? Go to the many links I gave you many,many times and go and ask actual scientists working in related fields-and why not stop wasting our time!

    I can remember I told you ages ago that I was not looking anything up for you again as it was a complete waste of my precious time as since you are an absolutist fundamentalist and as such you are not interested in anything which may challenge your very narrow religious outlook.

    And please don't give me the old those nasty. wasty atheists line-posters from whatever persuasion(from hardcore Christian to hardcore atheist) have expressed their complete and utter frustration in having to deal with you.

    You have some cheek when you run away from questions that have been asked of you-simply to back up what *you* said-and their you come back with a massive dose of the either/or fallacy.

    I know you get frustrated OT with myself and others labelling you a fundamentalist and you don't view yourself as such religiously but in every other respect eg., your style of "debate" you most certainly are!

    Merry Christmas and all that


  • Comment number 42.


    You are very sad :-(

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 44.

    Hello Orthodox-tradition,

    My tragically dishonest pastor, once again it is obvious that you are up to the same low tactics in your new identity as you were in your old PB identity from which you unsuccessfully try to divorce yourself in shame. If only the people of your church knew what their pastor is up to! No wonder that you hit the complaint button for every post that mentions your real life name.

    "However by the same standards I don't think macro evolution can be proven either. Peter Klaver once called it "conjecture"."

    DD is right to call you out over that one, as I never said that. Once again we find you citing people in support of your position who never supported you on it in any way. Same as you've done a number of times with Will himself.

    And when DD posted some answers with scientific data to your questions in post 43, you couldn't handle reality again and pressed the complaint button once more. Same as when I posted a link that showed the strong mutual exclusivity between science and faith today or links to data on transitional fossils.

    No matter how many new identities you adopt, you won't improve anything, will you?


  • Comment number 45.

    Hi Peter,

    Good to see you back and hope you had a great holiday!

    As you have noticed OT is up to his old nefarious tactics of late and took your name in vain and indulged in a bit of false witnessing.

    As for the missing post, it was initially post 40 that went missing but passed moderation post 43 was just a rehash. Again we are witness to more of OT's ability to handle anyone having an opposing view to his own-then again this is the sort of behaviour we can expect from an absolutist fundamentalist.



  • Comment number 46.

    Hi PK
    I hope you enjoyed scuba diving in Egypt, and it's good to have you back.

    I put a couple of longer posts up in response to your queries/critiques/insults on a blog.


    It seemed to be unfair to take up too much room here.
    You can take a gander and lob in the appropriate criticisms and put-downs (which I take to be part of the sport).

    Graham Veale

  • Comment number 47.

    Hi Pete

    Hope you had a great scuba trip.

    This is where you described evolution as conjecture;-


    I didnt complain about DD's post above, as I've said before, while William advised me to use this facility against your posts before, I am far from the only one who uses the facility.

    If an individual makes jokes about raping and crucifiying an individual on this blog - and using the apparent endorsement of a university - is that of any interest to;-

    1) The moderators?
    2) The university?
    3) The hate crime unit of the PSNI?

    answers on a postcard pls....

    Stop being so childish the pair of you.

    Peter you have a phd and should know better.

    If athiesm promotes such high standards of morality why should you be engaged in constant personal attacks, straw man arguments, ad hominems etc.

    Peter - remember the laugh you had with friends over on FSM because they were creating multiple false identifies to debate me with? ( I never attempted to hide who I was when I took a new moniker).

    DD - remember appealing for help on a message board in how to refute my point on QM - now also made by Bryan Appleyard; you admitted you had no idea what I was talking about but knew I was wrong. How is that for honest debating?

    The pair of you never engage in debating the facts anymore.

    But I repeat, the fact that 95 per cent your substantial posts track mine across the web are something of a back handed compliment;-

    The message is that there is no need for Christians of any type to be bullied and intimidated by lies thrown at the Christian faith by disciples of Dawkins.

    The traditional historical Christian faith is more than able to stand on its own two feet against apostates coming from any quarter.

    History, literature, archeology, science theology... I have satisfied myself it is stands up on every front....

    obviously you both agree with me on this or you would not be bothering to tackle me...

    anyway happy new year and lets hear it for real quality debating..


  • Comment number 48.

    sorry, add arguments from authority ..
    to the ad hominems and straw man arguments...



  • Comment number 49.

    Hello pastor OT,

    The scuba diving was excellent.

    Thanks for showing me right that you'll always be the same dishonest character. I never described evolution as conjecture. On the page you link to, the creator of Pastafarianism Bobby Henderson does so. I merely noted he did so in his letter to the board of education, neither endorsing or rejecting his description. So after making up quotes from prof. Prum out of thin air, you're now making them up from me. Keep posting, OT/PB, keep posting, FSMs greatest gift to atheism. Such a fine demonstration of christianity inspired dishonesty.

    And given your record, I'll assume that your quoting of Will is also not as it was.

    You mention the moderators in connection to some posts. Funny that the posts you mention were on the 'old' W&T blog, where every post was approved before posting. So clearly they were all ok.
    And besides, let's be honest now, the thoughts expressed in those posts made your day like nothing else could have, sweety. You love it!

    And finally, if you are in favour of posters here using open, honest identities here, then why don't you stop hitting the complaint button every time someone addresses you by your real name, dear pastor? You wouldn't mind the people of your congregation finding out what you're up to over here then?


  • Comment number 50.

    Graham, the posts on your blog are indeed a bit longer, will take some time to give a thorough reading. I hope to get back to you on them later this week.

  • Comment number 51.


    Wise up!

    You did appear to complain about post 41 but it did pass your censorship.

    "If an individual makes jokes about raping and crucifiying an individual on this blog"

    Oh please! you still going on about this! That post of course referred to
    a pastiche of Monty Pythons 'Life of Brian' see...


    Obviously not meant to be taken seriously-all the other posters got it so catch a grip.

    "If athiesm promotes such high standards of morality why should you be engaged in constant personal attacks, straw man arguments, ad hominems etc."

    I think you should learn what these terms actually mean, you are that ignorant that you actually commit them in your post. What annoys you is that we correct you and highlight your many dishonesties and your extreme fundamentalist behaviour(which has been noted by many on these threads whether theist or not).

    "DD - remember appealing for help on a message board in how to refute my point on QM "

    Yes I did because unlike you I do not admit to know all about QM or biology, chemistry, physics, palaeontology etc so I go and check and lo and behold you were talking nonsense-maybe you should check your posts before you post then you would not end up looking so silly.

    "How is that for honest debating?" so you don't want me to check what you say? ahhh thats right you are of course an absolutist fundamentalist and as such you believe you are always right!-well I have news for you it does not work like that.

    "The pair of you never engage in debating the facts anymore."

    You complete and utter hypocrite! I and others have attempted in vain for you to clarify points *you* made but you keep running away. I am still waiting for you to answer points that *you* made on the theological navel gazing thread.

    Well OT we do need to keep track of you because 95% of your posts contain errors, lies, fabrications of some sort-I know you are a fundamentalist and would like everyone to agree with you(even the Christians-btw I am so glad that you apologised to Graham Veale for that awful, invective post that you made against a brother in Christ).

    It is *your* lies that we throw back at you OT and you don't like it as it exposes you for what you are and please try and not associate yourself or try try to attempt to say that you represent all of Christianity as you not like the other Christians on these threads nor Christians I have the pleasure to know. Indeed why can everyone of whatever ilk get on here(there is robust conversation) but when you enter the equation.

    As you the rest of your post...OT! it is all immaterial because *YOU* showed us that your god doesn't exist!since you provided many, many examples of empirical evidence (fossils, flood etc) that can be tested and if that is your yard-stick then your (and Ken Ham's) god do not exist-thank you OT! you must try and understand that atheists love fundamentalists such as yourself and Ken Ham because you actually show us that your god actually exists!

    I do hope that their is some real debate and you moderate your terrible behaviour or you may need to go in pre-mod again. Please stop telling/repeating falsehoods, bearing false witness against people, quote-mining etc

    Indeed you could start the new year in a new light by apologising to Peter Klaver for your quite disgraceful false witnessing against him.

    Anyway you have a good year!



  • Comment number 52.

    That should of course be...

    "you must try and understand that atheists love fundamentalists such as yourself and Ken Ham because you actually show us that your god does not actually exist!"

    I do hope that in the new year that you desist from the many fallacies that you continually commit.

    ad hominems-"disciples of Dawkins" whilst not being a big fan of Dawkins it is indeed a compliment to be compared to someone so witty, intelligent and humane.

    straw man arguments-your post 39 is an excellent example.

    arguments from authority-again you have provided many wonderful examples of this fallacy eg., Prof Nevin this, Prof Nevin that, Prof Nevin invented science etc etc 400 Phd's from AIG etc etc

    To be fair to you OT I do not believe that you are an inherently dishonest person rather paradoxically it is your fundamentalist faith which has made you dishonest or to give it it's medical/psychological term-cognitive dissonance. It is your faith which has driven you to behave in such an underhand, childish manner on these threads. I do sincerely wish that your behaviour does improve, perhaps you may start by addressing the many falsehoods that you have told?

    Kindest regards and a very happy new year!


  • Comment number 53.

    Hello Graham,

    The scuba diving was terrific. :)

    Let me dedicate my last posts of the year to what you wrote on your blog, before I'm off for the evening. I've just read your post entitled Science as Mythology. The other one is longer, not sure I'll get around to that one before I go. So just one response for now, maybe the other one will follow today, otherwise next year.

    In the post that marked the beginning of our more frequent encounters I had assumed you held the negative view against science, seeing it as threatening to your beliefs. While you strenuously denied it, the Science as Mythology posts makes it clear that that is very much part of your thinking. I'd almost come to think that the idea of conscious thinking one day being well understood as neurons firing etc has you seriously worried. Maybe reinforced by slightly theatrical language you use, 'puts the lie to the Myth of Science', etc.

    So in response you pull out some rather unconvincing negativity preaching, of how it will never work. As substitute for valid arguments you come up with things like

    "The Darwinian view of man (that puts flesh on the mythology’s bones) gives no guarantee that our minds are suited to studying the deeper structures of the universe, or to grasping the many unobservables that give rise to our sense experiences. Nor can Darwinism guarantee that the Experimental method can bridge any gaps between our world and the inadequacies of our minds."

    Indeed, no guarantee, but it has worked extremely well so far. The past does offer reason for confidence in the future. And just pointing out that there is no guarantee that it will work offers only pessimism, no solid ground for thinking that it won't. Except perhaps for those who would rather think it won't work, they'll probably buy into it without a hint of criticism.

    And the bit about how our technology might prematurely end humanities quest for greater knowledge is not a very convincing argument about the fundamental impossibility of obtaining the greater knowledge about the workings of the brain etc.

    Your blog post goes some way in making me think that my initial impression of you was not that far off.


  • Comment number 54.

    My goodness Graham, you really needn't have bothered going over to your own blog to save space over here. I just read your second post. You could have condensed it to its reasoned steps and put it over here in a post of very manageable length indeed.

    For the most of it, it is just postulating that science will never nail down the workings of the brain as being small electrical currents, complex molecules interacting, etc (and using superfluous numbers of lines to compensate for the lack of reasoning in it). A claim of a scientific nature. You basically claim to have that certainty. But not offering anything that shows that you do. It is 'just so' repeating. Examples are when you write that if we could know all particles that make up the brain plus their interactions, we'd still be nowhere:

    "Even with all this knowledge you will not have encountered a single thought. Thought is subjective and private. You can’t measure it, you can’t break it down into simpler parts and each person has access to their own thoughts in a way barred to others."

    Please notify those doing research into exactly that. And who have made small steps that suggest that it might be possible (although admittedly a long way away, if it would ever work). I'll ask you the same question as on previous occasions, expecting a simple 'no':

    Did you research scientific literature about the subject you make such far-reaching statements on?
    Do you even have access to scientific literature? Or a scientific database that would let you search journal articles about a specific subject? If I asked you how many scientific journal papers you've read on any subject, would I be correct in estimating it to be a single digit number, maybe even a number that that could be counted on the fingers of one hand?
    I ask the latter question because if you had read any science, surely you would have noticed that anything significant (and the claim that the workings of the brain can't be explained in terms of electrons, molecular bonds, etc is a very significant claim) can't just be postulated. Or be based on scifi analogies, as was the case with part of your post. So just you saying

    "It’s simply impossible to imagine how a physical object could have thoughts. "

    doesn't do anything. Maybe you can't imagine it, lacking scientific insight as you do. But fortunately, what others can understand and do is not limited to your grasp of things.

    And after all the nay preaching of how science will never cast the working of the brain in a neat physical explanation, you apply the same out-of-nowhere standard again. But in the opposite direction, when you go on about the superiority of theism. While science with its tremendous track record doesn't get any future prospect credit, the unreasoned case for theism is postulated to be superior. Again, not giving any reasoned arguments, just putting up the names of Galileo and Aristotle instead, etc.

    So it short, your post was a less than useful thing to spend my time reading it. But maybe I'm too negative or just not bright enough. I'll tell you what. After reading it, I thought your overly lengthy post offered practically nothing of substance, but I may simply have missed the brilliance of your deep insights. So maybe I could ask you to summarize these insights step by step in a short sequence of reasoning steps here on the W&T blog. You say that an explanation of conscious thinking in terms of electrons and molecules won't work. Quite a statement, and a statement of a scientific nature. If you could elaborate your insights underlying it, in a clear sequence of reasoning steps please, that would be much appreciated.

    Happy 2009,

  • Comment number 55.

    I'm a bit red-faced here. I was meant to put the argument in short points on this blog wasn't I? That's a major oversight on my part, and it was very generous of you to wade through a lengthy article before you had any idea if it would be of interest to you. The blog was put up for several reasons - partly I just wanted to see how easy it was to set one up. I'll post something here by the end of the day, but in the meantime, thankyou. Either you're very kind or the scuba diving put you in a very good mood. Or both.
    As for Science, I think you've got me wrong. I find that it reinforces my beliefs. It shows that inferences to unobservables can be reliable, it shows that the universe is highly ordered and that there is an unexpected "fit" between our minds and reality. My point about Darwinism is that we may expect it to give reliable beliefs about predators - but electrons or infinities? Thats not and argument against Darwinism, just a point that it can't be the whole story. And that's an argument that needs to be given in more depth.
    The point about science as mythology isn't dependent on Theism - actually John Gray, Mary Midgely and Anthony O'Hear all make similar points, and they're atheists. You can have a very high view of science - even take a materialist view of consciousness - without expecting science to replace God. If science is expected to become omniscient, omnicompetent and bring in an eschatological new Earth then you've something more than a high view of science. I think that New Labour under Blair had a faith in technological progress that ran ahead of the evidence.
    Furthermore a high view of Science shouldn't preclude a high view of literature or philosophy. Peter Atkins and Lewis Wolpert would be examples of Scientists who would give their discpline the final say in all rational disputes. Johnathan Miller would be an example of an atheist who disputes this.
    So Theism isn't the issue. The question is, given a high view of Science, how do we rank it compared to other disciplines? What place do we give science in deciding on social policy? What place does it have in forming morality? And can Science answer the "ultimate" questions - where did the laws of nature come from, why does anything exist, does life have a purpose?
    Rejecting revealed religion doesn't allow you to dodge those questions. And I think the power that Science puts in our hands means that it is important to have good answers to those questions.


  • Comment number 56.

    The Argument from Consciousness

    1) Mental States have properties that Show that they are not Physical (a) they cannot be measured or broken up into "units". (b) they are known immediately by the person having them (c) they are "private" the person who has a particular the mental state has "priveleged" access, and others depend on their testimony or actions to infer the state.

    2) Physical states can be correlated with mental states, and physical states can cause mental states, but that does not mean the two are identical. A complete physical description of a conscious being experiencing pain, that leaves out the subjective quality of what it feels like to have that pain, is an incomplete description of pain. (But of course there are very good reasons to continue the search for the physical correlates of mental events).

    3) Science was designed to deal with physical reality, by abstracting concepts from the physical world and using the tools of mathematics to understand how the parts of the physical world relate. However (a) mental events are not physical and (b) it is impossible to express the vast majority of mental events in words or art, nevermind a mathematically rigorous manner. So a scientific explanation of consciousness is *by definition* impossible (unless we want to make science a branch of philosophy, and that would be disastrous).

    4) The absence of a scientific explanation means that the materialist must accept consciousness as a "brute" fact. Mental events follow from certain physical events without explanation. We do not know how or why consciousness entered the universe, which is ultimately a physical universe. For the Theist the personal is fundamental, and a personal explanation is given for physical reality.

    As for checking the Scientific accounts, I've read Susan Greenfield's "The Human Brain", articles by David Chalmers and I try to keep up to speed with Scientific American "Mind". I'm no scientist and I've never had a deep thought in my life - but at least I'm not trying to be stupid.


  • Comment number 57.

    And once more, apologies to you (and Helio). That really was intolerable of me to ask you to read what was really an essay before I summarised it as promised. You had every right to be irritated.

  • Comment number 58.

    I do have to say that I'm a little puzzled by the "how many journal articles have you read" argument. (If you count psychology journals or philosophy of Science/Biology or Britism Medical Journal quite a few I suppose. Otherwise none spring to mind, but I could be wrong).
    I suppose I could reply "how many philosphical or historical journals have you read?" Or I could point out that the physical sciences are not my chosen subject area but that hasn't stopped me reading as widely as possible. I think I don't do too badly compared to other laymen. And my subject was Theology and I'm not a professional academic (I haven't the brains and I'm too lazy). It hasn't kept me confined within my subject area.
    What I'd rather point out is that appeals to authority are a species of gigantic and rather unimpressive bluff. I've disagreed with plenty of atheists and theists who are in post-doctoral scientific research or who are University Lecturers in the physical sciences. Some have agressively argued their case. But this is the first time I've ever encountered this type of conversation stopper (medical students aside). I imagine that this is because most of these scientists knew that it wasn't much of an argument. In fact proving that you're smarter or better educated than me (a) is quite a trivial accomplishment and (b) doesn't prove that I've got a better argument in the *one* area we're disputing, even though your knowledge would be far superior in many, many others.

    However as a put-down or rhetorical strategy, it's pretty good. It certainly was very helpful to find out that my style of writing was too "theatrical", so I think I merited the insult.
    But I still think that the argument stands, and that put downs, however fun and entertaining (and to be fair, PK, yours was well phrased) don't constsitute counterarguments.


  • Comment number 59.

    Hi folks,
    Quick smash and grab here:

    1) Mental States have properties that Show that they are not Physical (a) they cannot be measured or broken up into "units". (b) they are known immediately by the person having them (c) they are "private" the person who has a particular the mental state has "priveleged" access, and others depend on their testimony or actions to infer the state.

    There's your problem right there. That's meaningless twaddle, that is. What we perceive as consciousness is an emergent property from a brain. Of course you have privileged access - how can any other brain see inside yours?! Of course they are known immediately by the "person" having them - that's part of the same thing. And of course they can't be broken down into physical units, because no-one is reifying them. They are not a "thing" - they are a *behaviour*.

    Now you may ask how this behaviour gives you feelings and all that sort of thing. Who knows? But it seems premature to then suggest that an explanation for this intriguing phenomenon is an even bigger disembodied (look ma - no neurons!) nebulous "intelligence" that hosts the rest.

    Graham, happy New Year, my man. You are a fine chap, and please be aware that the abuse and name-calling that Peter and others (including me) heap on you is all in jest, because we like you and respect you. Not all theists are bad! (and some are even quite clever. Keep it up)


  • Comment number 60.

    I'll try to play the cop and quickly grip you by the scruff on the way out of the shop...

    "What we perceive as consciousness is an emergent property from a brain."

    That still doesn't explain what it is though.

    "Of course you have privileged access - how can any other brain see inside yours?!"

    That's a dud argument. We are already NOT discussing simply "looking at a brain", either your own or someone else's. We are already discussing something else beyond what the inside of a brain looks like...surely.

    "Of course they are known immediately by the "person" having them - that's part of the same thing."

    Well, it depends what we mean by "known", obviously. If you conceive KNOWING as LOOKING, then mental states are not "known immediately by the person having them"...as no one ever SEEs emotions or feelings. So "known" means something different in this context to "looking at" or "seeing"...it must mean something more like conception or visualisation...which already takes us beyond physical brain states.

    "They are not a "thing" - they are a *behaviour*"

    Unless, of course, there is no complemetary behaviour. I could experience a deep sense of pain or loss that is never transmitted as behaviour. We do it all the time. In fact, if mental states were simply BEHAVIOUR, then it would be quite easy to ascertain someone else's mental state....but you've already admitted that we can do no such thing.

    "Now you may ask how this behaviour gives you feelings and all that sort of thing"

    Ah, so there is SOMETHING other than the behaviour...feelings and all that sort of thing, as you put it.

    "Who knows?"

    That's precisely the point...it is something that is not open to standard scientific models. Who does know indeed...not the scientists, that's the point.

  • Comment number 61.

    Bernard, even if what you say is correct (and I will quibble, because I have functional MRI machines and EEGs and SPECT scanners that can tell me quite a lot about the behaviour of the brain, even if it is not transmitted through to motor impulses, but let's let it sit), that gives you even LESS ammo to go a-huntin' for gods!

    Science is more than happy to call some things "black boxes" and get around to filling them in as and when. Proper scientists (even theist ones) *never* put pixies into their black boxes. Pixies are problematic little blighters, and stymie any attempt to figure the heck out what is going on.

    Another part of our problem is that the terminology is all over the shop. You are assuming some sort of external observer that "sees" mental states (maybe I've misread you), but my assertion (and it's a goodie) is that you ARE your "mental states", and that you cannot do anything other than be aware of them, unless of course you are anaesthetised, asleep, dead or some equivalent.

    HNY to you too, BTW :-)


  • Comment number 62.

    I accept your last paragraph. I was arguing precisely that no one can "see" mental states, and as such they are not open to observational method.

    I'll come back to this later, have to rush

  • Comment number 63.

    oh, and Happy New Year to you all.

    As I was saying;

    "You are assuming some sort of external observer that "sees" mental states (maybe I've misread you), but my assertion (and it's a goodie) is that you ARE your "mental states", and that you cannot do anything other than be aware of them, unless of course you are anaesthetised, asleep, dead or some equivalent."

    You are misreading me. My point is actually that mental states are in principle, "unobservable", at least in the scientific sense. You seem to recognise that there are such things as feelings, emotions etc... in fact, we cannot help but be aware of them... while in the same breath acknowledging that these cannot be observed, and that we must therefore speak only of behaviour.

    My point is that, scientifically, we can ONLY discuss physical behaviour and physical brain states. you accept that there is, however, more than such brain states and physical behaviour, but you don't know how to explain them; Whetther they are caused by the brain states, concurrent with the brain states, or just coincidental with the brain states, is neither here nor there. the result is something more than brain states, and, furthermore, something that cannot be objectively observed like brain states.

    "Now you may ask how this behaviour gives you feelings and all that sort of thing"

    It's precisely "all that sort of thing" that is at issue, and "all that sort of thing" that, you seem to admit, is unobservable and cannot be scientifically explained. But there are "feelings and all that sort of thing". they do exist.

    As for God, I don't think that mental states can be used to prove the existence of God. They are simply examples of non-physical, non-scientific aspect of reality, which you tacitly admit the existence of, even while admitting the inabilty of science to explain them. That has theistic corrolaries, but I don't think anone's claiming it provides an absolute proof.

  • Comment number 64.

    When i say "Feelings and all that sort of thing DO exist", i don't, of course, mean that these exist as independent identities. i fully agree that we do not HAVE mental states, we ARE mental states.

    However, that merely strengthens the point, that there is a mode of being, i.e., the different aspects of human being, including "feelings and all that sort of thing" which is above and beyond the observable, physical matter of scienctific inquiry.

  • Comment number 65.

    Hello Graham,

    Let me deal with your post 55 first, I'll see if I can find time for 56 hopefully soon. I'll limit my comments, as much of it is rather less directly relevant for the points we were discussing. Or suggests I'm taking a position I'm not taking.

    The first thing that seemed strange to me was when you said

    "there is an unexpected "fit" between our minds and reality."

    Why unexpected? I thought our minds had developed precisely to be tuned to that reality. I would have thought it very strange if our minds (of those of higher animals with brains) didn't fit in with reality in some way.

    You also aid

    "My point about Darwinism is that we may expect it to give reliable beliefs about predators - but electrons or infinities? Thats not and argument against Darwinism, just a point that it can't be the whole story."

    I agree, but when did I ever say Darwinism (why can't you and other believers call it evolution, that would be a more correct term) was good for explaining electrons etc? I don't remember saying that.

    Near the end you said

    "The question is, given a high view of Science, how do we rank it compared to other disciplines? What place do we give science in deciding on social policy? What place does it have in forming morality? And can Science answer the "ultimate" questions - where did the laws of nature come from, why does anything exist, does life have a purpose?
    Rejecting revealed religion doesn't allow you to dodge those questions. And I think the power that Science puts in our hands means that it is important to have good answers to those questions."

    Some of these are interesting questions, but not very relevant now for our discussion about whether physical explanations are sufficient to explain human thinking. Some other time perhaps.


  • Comment number 66.

    Hello again Graham,

    "1) Mental States have properties that Show that they are not Physical (a) they cannot be measured or broken up into "units".

    Nonsense. There were all sorts of things we couldn't measure at some point (think e.g. radioactivity, pheromones that induce mating behaviour, the alcohol in your blood that influences peoples behaviour so clearly, etc). But that was only lack of knowledge and understanding, no proof whatsoever that they weren't purely physical in nature. As shown when they were demonstrated to be very well explained exclusively as physical phenomena.
    This is such a fine example of the christian negativity view, 'That can't be done, it's impossible' when even very simple thinking would make you conclude otherwise. All you have is 'They can't be measured yet', and you try to make that into something that supposedly is an argument as to why it will never work (and hence introduces a need and justification for your immature beliefs). Empty.

    "(b) they are known immediately by the person having them"

    As said by Helio already, yes, conscious thoughts appear immediately when you have them, by definition. How is that re-affirming by circular definition supposed to be an argument for saying that conscious thinking can't be explained by electric currents, molecules, etc? Please elaborate in more detail, as I don't see why what you're saying constitutes an argument. Not even wrong, as far as I can tell, nothing there to agree or disagree with as argument.

    "(c) they are "private" the person who has a particular the mental state has "priveleged" access, and others depend on their testimony or actions to infer the state."

    As Helio said, thoughts are not even 100% private anymore if we stick all sorts of measuring electrodes into your head. Any detail is still private. But how on earth is that supposed to be an argument that we won't be able to read your conscious thoughts from an oscilloscope or other instrument in more detail in the future? Again an empty postulate, wrapped in new words.

    "2) Physical states can be correlated with mental states, and physical states can cause mental states, but that does not mean the two are identical. A complete physical description of a conscious being experiencing pain, that leaves out the subjective quality of what it feels like to have that pain, is an incomplete description of pain. (But of course there are very good reasons to continue the search for the physical correlates of mental events)."

    More of the same empty postulating, wrapped in yet again new words. I say there is tentative indication that all the workings of the brain may be down to physical phenomena. I've presented some (admittedly modest) examples of why a very big extrapolation our our present knowledge appears to go in that direction. Fully admitting the great uncertainty in that idea. Yet you now state, again as as 'just so' out of the blue, that the experience of feeling pain can not be down to purely physical phenomena. I have a rather limited amount of facts at hand to support my case , but at least some. But while you can't do anything but invent new wording for postulating 'just so', you claim to have absolute certainty. They key bit here being

    "A complete physical description of a conscious being experiencing pain, that leaves out the subjective quality of what it feels like to have that pain, is an incomplete description of pain."

    Are you ever going to present anything to support your case that exceeds the modest amount I've presented about? You accept the correlation between mental and physical states. I say they may be the same, mental states just being very complex physical states. Where is your hard evidence from which you draw the conclusion that there is something else involved than the physical world? Such unreserved, fully certain statements require more than the line I picked out to re-quote above. So please present something!

    "3) Science was designed to deal with physical reality, by abstracting concepts from the physical world and using the tools of mathematics to understand how the parts of the physical world relate. However (a) mental events are not physical "

    Can you waste any more words to repeatedly postulate the same thing in more different ways?

    "and (b) it is impossible to express the vast majority of mental events in words or art, nevermind a mathematically rigorous manner."

    Since when does all science have to be captured in mathematics? That's pure BS. For example, think of what we know about what DNA base pairs from which proteins are produced, and what the functions of those proteins are, which helps explain, and yes, even predict, if a person could be born color blind, susceptible to certain diseases, you name it. And a very great deal of biology, and other fields of science as well, describe phenomena and insights that make for Nobel prize winning science, yet little or no mathematics in there.
    The argument that mental states can't be captured in math is the poorest bit in your entire post. I can smell your empty desperation that makes you come up with such straw-grabbing nonsense through my broadband connection. First of all, it should be extended to 'can't be captured mathematically at present. And even if you were to prove they could never be captured in math, it's a hogwash argument for the reasons that science doesn't necessarily all have to be captured in math. Congrats Graham, you actually managed to construct a single argument that all by itself fails in multiple ways.

    "So a scientific explanation of consciousness is *by definition* impossible (unless we want to make science a branch of philosophy, and that would be disastrous)."

    Nothing but a repeat of the already often-reiterated emptypostulate, so I'll just continue my laughing from the previous paragraph.

    "4) The absence of a scientific explanation means that the materialist must accept consciousness as a "brute" fact. Mental events follow from certain physical events without explanation. We do not know how or why consciousness entered the universe, which is ultimately a physical universe."

    You're getting so boring Graham. Yet another repeat of 'It will never work' without any proper argument. Just the repeat of the fallacy of 'We don't understand mental states in detail now, therefore it will never work.'. If it were left to you that might be true. But fortunately others don't take the self-confirming negativity approach. Praised be the Flying Spaghetti Monster for positive-minded, curious, inquisitive and creative scientists (as well as philosophers or thinkers of any other flavour) that help us move forward. And out with those whose prime thinking activity seems to be geared towards erroneously justifying their state of happy ignorance and negativity toward those who try better.


  • Comment number 67.

    Ok Graham, after a strongly dismissive post, I do have something positive for you. You've repeatedly wished for me and Helio to go head to head. Maybe we will one of these days, as from what I read in Helios posts tonight, I think I disagree with him on some bits.

    But even if that turns out to be false alarm, I can give you a point on which I definitely disagree with him.

    "Graham, happy New Year, my man. You are a fine chap, and please be aware that the abuse and name-calling that Peter and others (including me) heap on you is all in jest, because we like you and respect you"

    Have you gone blind and illiterate at the same time, Helio? If you want to praise the King of Empty Repeated Postulates, then don't presume to speak on my behalf! :D


  • Comment number 68.

    A little confused on that last point - you are quite serious? Your insults are to be taken literally?


  • Comment number 69.

    Hello Graham,

    You shouldn't take my jabs at you literally like some do the book of Genesis, perish the fundamentalist thought. Though Helio seems to have a considerably higher appreciation of your posts than I do.


  • Comment number 70.


    More bluff and bluster (and a hint of nastiness?! I'm heartbroken to learn that I haven't earned your respect. Remind me - why do I need it?) In reply to the incisive and devastating criticisms of the arguments I presented

    1) They're not my arguments, and they're not essential to theism. For example atheists like Colin McGinn and Chalmers have raised similar concerns, and orthodox christians like Peter van Inwagen and Nancy Murphy would say that I'm wedded to a Cartesian or Greek paradigm, and that a truly Biblical Christian shouldn't be separating the physical and the mental. And your comments about FSMs and the way that all Theists think show me that you haven't the slightest grasp of theism, or the history of thought, or philosophy. That's inexcusable from someone being so dismissive. It would take a long, long time to bring you up to speed. May I suggest something like "Pooh and the Philosophers" to begin with?:)

    2) I have mental states all the time. I assume you do as well (although sometimes I feel that you don't understand any intellectual activity that couldn't be performed in principle by an Artificial Intelligence). I didn't say that we did not understand mental states. We know exactly what they are as we experience them directly. I said materialist science could not explain how they arise from physical states. Once again Peter, you did not follow the argument (an awful lot of bluff and bluster disguises that, but Bernard certainly sees the argument. Judging from Helio's counterattack, he sees the argument as well. He is certainly making the standard counterpoints). So there is a substantial argument that is passing you by, and that physicalists like Daniel Dennett, Patricia Churchland and Christof Koch feel compelled to reply to.

    3) The argument is that even once all the physical data is in, a complete description of brain states and their physical causes, the phenomenal experience of conscious states is left out. So physical states are not mental states. The two are radically different realities, and it is impossible to see how one could produce the other.
    So, in all probability, one day I'll be able to see everthing that happens in your brain and explain it in terms of say mass, charge, spatio-temporal position; or maybe properties characterizing the distribution of various spatio-temporal fields, the exertion of various forces, or the form of various waves. (All of which can be described in mathematical terms can't they? A mark of the physical is that it can be measured, isn't it?) But I won't be able to see your thoughts. Seeing what is happening physically when you think is not the same thing as seeing your thoughts.
    Or, to put this another way discovering what physical states are necessary for, say, perceptual experiences does not mean those states are sufficient to produce perceptual experiences. That's simple logic.

    4) Or as David Chalmers put it in his seminal article "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness" - (an atheistic editor on the Journal of Consciousness Studies but he obviously doesn't understand science, PK, so you'd better let the journal know ASAP).
    "The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whirl of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel [and what a Bible bashing fundamentalist Thomas Nagel is PK] has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience...

    "It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does."

    Just quoted to show you that this is not a concern limited to Theists, and that if this is all Empty Repeated Postulates, you'd better break the news gently to a lot of researchers. (For the record Chalmers does think that a materialist explanation will be available- but that we will have to rethink the nature of matter and physics to reach this explanation. See, when you read scholars who challenge your fundamental beliefs you discover all sorts of interesting things!)

    5) As for the BS - The blog passed you by here, as I looked at two forms of scientific explanation - reduction and physical law. They would seem to be the most pertinent types of explanation to this topic. As (3) shows, reduction to physical events or a description of physical causes, does not make consciousness any more explicable.
    It might be psychologically reassuring to set up straw men and knock them down, but it's even more reassuring to watch an intelligent atheist miss the points of a simple argument.

    6) As long as research funds are available I fully expect scientists to be able to deal with such questions as -How can a human subject discriminate sensory stimuli and react to them appropriately? How does the brain integrate information from many different sources and use this information to control behaviour? How is it that subjects can verbalize their
    internal states?
    Now you say the evidence you have presented is modest - but I think the methods of science are so good that even with a meagre amount of progress towards these goals, we can safely conclude that the goals can be reached.
    But I cannot even put what I am experiencing right now into *words*. And this is a very trivial experience. Artists and poets struggle to represent their subjective experiences accurately. Yet, with no evidence *whatsoever* you assume that subjective experience can be measured. That's a leap of blind faith.

    7) Have you even consulted Koch, Dennett etc?! All that talk of radioactivity and alcohol just makes you sound silly and poorly informed. (A little history wouldn't kill you Pete). The analogy you are groping for is vitalism.
    Vitalists argued that life could not be reductively explained - that is to say that life was something in addition to the physical facts. However, vitalists worried that the *functions* associated with life could not be explained by material facts. As our knowledge of biochemistry, and in particular the complexity of the cell, increased these worries disappered.
    However, even when we have explained the function of a mental event (fleeing, fighting, ducking etc) we haven't explained the experience. So the reductionist can take no comfort from the history of science.

    8) As for the privacy of our experiences - to establish a correlation between Brain States/Mental States you will first have to accept the testimony of agents whose brains are being examined. (Reports of "I'm sad", "I see blue" need to be recorded along with the appropriate brain states). So first person experience cannot be written out of our accounts of consciousness.And, as I have repeatedly said, many of our first person experiences cannot be conveyed accurately in words, painting or music. So it is improbable that an exact correlation will be established beyond descriptions like "fear", or "I see a tree." The existence of metaphor an analogy show that such descriptions cannot give an exhaustive account of our experiences.

    1) And correlating these actions with brain states isn't the issue either. Behaviorists try to define mental events in terms of behavior; physicalists try to define them in terms of brain states. When it is pointed out that both reductions leave out the experience/awareness of the conscious
    agent, it does no good to reply that we can correlate brain states with different types of behavior. You're still leaving out the agents experience/awareness.
    2) I think I've presented a strong argument against materialism, but not necessarily a strong argument for theism. It provides some support, but as you've said an atheist could just say that conscious experience will remain a brute unexplained. Theism may come out better in this area but weaker in others.
    3) But cheers for the compliments and the insults. All part of the sport. And happy new year to you both!


  • Comment number 71.

    Glad to see the nastiness is in good sport, and you've acclimatised to Ulsters debating standards.
    Take my digs in the same spirit. And don't feel obliged to read that all at once (or at all).

    I wouldn't mind picking your brains (and Helios) on another topic at a later stage - what exactly does it take to have a Scientific consensus on something like GM crops, or Global Warming?
    It just occurred to me as I was jotting some of the above ramble down during the day, that despite all my digs at you, I do just tend to accept what I take to be the Scientific Consensus on these things. But I don't have a clear definition of a Scientific Consensus.
    This sort of thing is very important to many ethical debates, as you can imagine.


  • Comment number 72.

    I've been enjoying the exchange, and hope I haven't offended. I do have to concede that I butchered the English language in a cruel and unusual manner in post 56, (although I'm pretty sure you discerned the point that consciousness is immaterial and the brain is material). But you certainly force me to think these issues through. And unlike a lot of professional scientists I've met you read about science as a whole, not just the part you specialise in.
    Your post 69 was excellent, and I wouldn't mind using it as an example when discussing Genesis 1 if you don't mind. It's a perfect example of two simple but very important principles. (a) sometimes we can think a literal interpretation is warranted just because a literal interpretation is possible. That's a mistake. (b) Whenever we mistakenly intepret a text literally we can discredit the author.


  • Comment number 73.

    Hello Graham,

    I'm not offended, just busy now that I'm back at work again. I'll try to get you a reply this week. Small hint: it will be about how your extensive reply goes on about authors whose works I haven't read, throws about some more 'isms', complains of bluster, etc. But is dedicated only to a very small portion to your reasoning steps I had called nonsense. No reply to my counter-examples to the idea that our (present) inability to measure thoughts in detail is proof that they are non-physical, etc.

    So hail to King (oERP) Graham!

    And feel free to link to my posts. No need to ask approval for that I think, what people say on the blog here is public.


  • Comment number 74.

    Actually, that's a bit of a relief. A bit busy myself.
    We're not going to leave ALL of the insults aside, are we?

    PS I was looking over some of Koch's research ideas yesterday. Maybe you're already familiar, but if not take a gander -


    While I'm sure we'll disagree whether he is getting close to explaining consciousness in terms relevant to our debate, I had forgotten just how interesting his whole research programme is. Maybe I'm swallowing the hype, but it will be a real shame if he doesn't get the results he's after.


  • Comment number 75.

    I've fifteen mins before I head home so...
    Some psychologists have suggested that fMRI scans are too gross a technique to reliably tie mental functions to areas of the brain, as fMRI detects neuronal activity indirectly (by measuring blood flow) and because fMRI may overlook work distributed over many parts of the brain. But nobody, anywhere is suggesting that this debate has any relevance to deciding if mental states are identical to physical states.
    So your counterexample of radioactivity is way off target. This isn't a matter of creating or fine tuning instruments to measure a physical cause inferred from physical effects.

    We're not inferring conscious experience - we directly have conscious experiences. We know what they are directly. We also know that there is a subjective, phenomenal feeling attached to consciousness. Koch (physicalist research scientist) defines Phenomenal consciousness as
    "The subjective, feeling part of any conscious sensation ... What can be reported, signaled or said about such a sensation is termed access consciousness." (So physicalists don't dismiss phenomenal consciousness as an empty postulate).
    The bottom line is that subjective feelings are not objective physical events. That they resist mathematical measurement is only one way to illustrate this. The most obvious is to use the "thought experiments" I dumbed down in my blog. Postulate any technology you like. Once that technology has discovered all that can be about brain states you still have to describe conscious feelings. So consciousness cannot be reduced to physical interactions, unlike, say plant cells. Ignorance is not the issue.
    Not only will explanation by physical reduction not work, but a physical law cannot be produced either. To put this in physicalist terms - access consciousness cannot accurately tell us everything about phenomenal consciousness. And the qualities that access consciousness misses are the things that matter most to us. There is more to phenomenal consciousness than capturing information. If we can make inferences from the history of science we can make them from the history of art. We cannot convey all that we want about our experiences.
    However I fully expect science to explain how and why the brain focus on one sensation over another, or pull together information from many different sources. That seems to be a safe inference.
    Two other quick points (1) I prefer "evolution" to "Darwinism". (2) You don't hold to the idea that any theory that makes a prediction is Scientific, do you?


  • Comment number 76.

    Hail King Graham!

    First let me deal with a couple of points that were either irrelevant, off-topic, misunderstood, mixed up, etc. In the post after this one I'll address the points relating to our discussion of your 4 reasoning steps outlined in post 56.

    So on what points were you too far off to consider it worth including the dismissal in the actual discussion?

    "I'm heartbroken to learn that I haven't earned your respect. Remind me - why do I need it?"

    I never said you did. Lucky you for that, if you did need it, you'd have a bit of a problem your hands.

    "1) They're not my arguments, and they're not esse" etc

    In response to my request, you gave 4 reasoning steps in post 56. I found all of them hogwash and stated for each why that is so in post 66. Nothing in your point 1 in post 70 does anything to rebut my criticisms.

    In point of post 70 you said

    "I didn't say that we did not understand mental states. We know exactly what they are as we experience them directly. I said materialist science could not explain how they arise from physical states."

    You said more than that. That last bit I would at present agree with, as far as any detail of conscious thoughts are concerned. But you said more. You also ruled out that it would ever be possible, as there is according to you more to it than than materialist science. I asked you to support that latter statement. Sofar you haven't done it in any of your posts.

    Point 3 was actually relevant, let me deal with that in the next post.

    I love what you bring up in point 4, where you make my point for me with part of the quote you put up:

    "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does."

    And you realized it yourself, as you said Chalmers thinks a materialist description will be found. I'm fine with it if that requires a rethinking of physics. Actually, radically new insights make it all the more fascinating. Thanks again for digging your own grave in this discussion! Why do I even need to go on from here? Yet I will.

    I'll deal with points 5-8 in my next post as they are on topic (although variations of the same mistake).

    Cheers Your Majesty,

  • Comment number 77.

    Ok, then the relevant bits, although I need to get rid of a technicality in point 3 first:

    "A mark of the physical is that it can be measured, isn't it?"

    That coming from the man who likes to go on about mathematics and quantum mechanics. You demonstrate far-reaching ignorance of both in just one example. Have you ever heard of the concept of the wave function in quantum mechanics, Highness? It is a complex quantity. Complex in a mathematical sense. Since I suspect you still don't know what complex means here, it is a quantity involving a number i, where the square of i equals -1 (making it go beyond your high school math, where the square of a number was always positive). There are more complex quantities, like some optical properties of light absorbing materials like metals (n - ik, if you want to Google). Good luck measuring those complex quantities, like the phase of the wave function. Or in short to your question: no! You really are very, very far out of your league in your game of bluff poker, aren't you, KoERP? But back to point 3.

    "physical states are not mental states. The two are radically different realities, and it is impossible to see how one could produce the other."

    That is the central flaw in all your points from post 70 I'll deal with now. The inability right now to see how it could work, is not proof that it can't ever work, see previous examples of things once unexplained but now explained by physics. Re-read that bold bit 10 times, it is a mistake you make so often, wrapping it in different text in your various numbered points.

    Same story with points 6-8, see later. In 5 you say

    "As (3) shows, reduction to physical events or a description of physical causes, does not make consciousness any more explicable."

    Point 3 didn't show anything Graham. So if you want to claim that physics will not explain it, you'll have to provide something in support of that certain claim.

    In point 6 you say you can't put certain feelings in words. I agree that capturing feelings that can't be verbally expressed would complicate an already difficult task still further. But even if it proved devilishly, nay, impossibly hard, the lack of success at some arbitrary point in our knowledge development is no proof that it will always remain fundamentally impossible. Or even if were never practically possible, would the limits of our scientific and technological ability prove the fundamental impossibility? I don't think so, we could simply not be smart enough to figure out what to smarter creatures would be a manageable task.

    And it's the same story in point 7.

    "However, even when we have explained the function of a mental event (fleeing, fighting, ducking etc) we haven't explained the experience."

    Pointing out that the function of a mental event won't explain conscious experience does nothing to prove that something else won't ever do so. So again you are very thrilled about how something won't work. And then just postulating out of thin air that nothing ever will either. That last step is where the empty postulate slips in, apparently without you seeing it.

    And finally point 8 is a repeat of the verbal expression problem of point 6. Again confusing what would likely cause a practical problem describing certain parts of consciousness with what constitutes fundamental proof that there is more to it than just physics.

    Graham, Graham, Graham, you haven't even properly understood the difference between our technical abilities at any point in history (or in the far future) and what makes something fundamentally impossible. Even if we were not to achieve the goal, that failure would not provide positive evidence that there is more to it than physics.
    Do you see the analogy of your thinking to the god of the gaps fallacy? In the god of the gaps fallacy an unexplained phenomenon is erroneously taken as positive evidence for god. In your thinking about consciousness, lack of an explanation, or lack of your imagination how it could ever work, is erroneously taken as positive proof that there is something more to consciousness than just the physical brain.

    After a last bow to your highness, I'm gonna get some sleep now.


  • Comment number 78.

    A reply of the top of my head -
    Every time you find you're out of your depth swim back to the comfort of the day job.
    Why is it, though, that you're out of your depth every time religious or philosphical ideas are discussed?
    OK, putting the obligatory insults down, and writing this as it comes to me.
    1) No, I've never heard of imaginary numbers, the square root of negative 1, never asked what their physical correlate might be, or whether a constructivist account of Mathematics might be superior to Platonism or fictionalism, nor would I recognise that you're missing the point completely. People outside your subject area never peek in to see what's going on.
    2) In any case if I use "description" instead of "measurement" you're back to square 1. And saying that Math can map physical reality doesn't mean that every mathematical concept directly refers to a physical reality. Hence Platonism and fictionalism.
    3) Have I missed something? The probability of certain measurable outcomes occurring depends on the square of the magnitude of the wave function, and this of course doesn't involve complex numbers.
    4) However it is refreshing to learn that you believe that the Wave Function corresponds to a physical reality, and is not simply a mathematical device that allows us to make predictions. Because if you don't believe that is the case you don't have an argument here at all. Which makes me wonder if you've thought your argument through, or if you're just pulling facts about physics out of the air in an effort to intimidate me. Oddly enough, PK, we all know lots of people with Science PhDs. Some of them might even be smarter than you, if that were possible.
    5) In any case I've lost count of the number of times that I've stated to you (and others) (a) I'm not that bright (b) I'm not an academic and (c) I just like to read different points of view. I don't mind the put-downs and insults if they imply I'm thick, or I'm ill informed or whatever. And if you want to establish that you're brainier than me, I'll concede that point once again.
    6) I'm more than happy to discuss possibility and necessity with you any time you like. Given that you probably think that Possible Worlds have something to do with MWI. That's why thought experiments are more relevant to the discussion than fMRI's. Conceivability based on present knowledge and experienceis the issue, not what we can imagine. (Otherwise you could argue that one day Physicists will create whole universes filled with intelligent life ex nihilo. And then become incarnate in them etc.)
    7) Again you have made no argument, and presented no evidence to show how subjective mental qualities that we all know through direct experience can be construed as objective physical events or facts. That's a leap of faith you're making PK.
    8) The prediction that you're making - that technology will progress to omnicompetence - is a philosophical and historical thesis. You need to show that something other than an aspiration lies behind your confidence.
    6) A radical thought here - perhaps you should actually read Chalmers, and see just what he's proposing. It comes very close to Panpsychism. He wants to view consciousness as a fundamental property like spin or charge. I referenced his views indirectly on the blog. I don't think you'd find them comforting at all.
    7) To suggest (like Helio) that consciousness is an emergent property misses the point. Pay attention here, and you might see where you're going wrong.
    An emergent property supervenes on more basic properties or substances. Digestion would be an example. Life might be another. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. There are functions performed by the connected whole that could not be predicted by studying the isolated component parts.
    Take a watch. Break it into it's parts, and if you had no prior experience or knowledge of watches, you would not be able to predict what the parts were for. However, as soon as the parts are assembled in the correct manner, your knowledge of the physical parts explans everything that you need to know about the watches behavior and functions.
    The difference with consciousness is clear. Knowledge of the physical parts does not explain the emergence of a non-physical event/fact. You have no idea why certain types of physical complexity correlate with non-physical facts.
    8) The only other hope for materialistic explanations is to suggest, like Churchland and Dennett, that subjective awareness should be eliminated from our data. Otherwise known as cheating.
    9) And you haven't seen the point about first person experience. The *only* direct access we have to mental events is first person reports. We can infer mental events from brain states
    once agents tell us what they are experiencing. Or we can recognise certain states, like pain or fear, in others without making any inferences at all. But we do not enter into that person's experience and feel it "from the inside." We don't feel their pain, however much we sympathise, or whatever "mirror neurons" might be firing in our own brains. I do not know, nor will I ever know what Vermeer experienced while painting "View of Delft", or what Munch felt before e painted "the Scream" (which was one of the selling-points of Expressionism as I see it).


    PS Have a good weekend. I enjoy the exchanges, even if I haven't gained your respect.
    PPS At some stage, if you get time, I would like to get your ideas on "Scientific Consensus" etc.

  • Comment number 79.

    A quick reflection on bluffing. Take your last paragraph. The "Graham, Graham, Graham" (preceded in earlier paragraphs with the astonishing revelation that Physicist knows more physics than someone who just reads the occasional popularisation) gives the impression that an intellect infinitely superior to my own, vast and cool and unsymapthetic to my arguments, has spotted the obvious flaw in a trivial religiously motivated argument.
    (a) the argument is not religiously motivated (as it is has been advanced by atheists and denied by Theists)
    (b) the argument has been totally misunderstood/misrepresented (that consciousness is mysterious in a materialist universe counts against materialism; that we know what consciousness is by direct experience, and all our experience shows that it is felt, fundamental and basic; no amount of information from a third-person point of view can let us know what a first person experience is like; that conceivability based on knowledge and experience is the issue, not imagination; and that an inference is being made from what we do know about consciousness, not what we don't know).
    (c) that nothing will falsify physicalism/materialism for some folk.
    (d) so the argument seems to be that even if no evidence can be offered in favour of materialism, and even if evidence can be offered for dualism, materialism wins because PK is a physicist and is more intelligent than I am.
    Presumably a person is not allowed to have philsophical, religious or moral opinions until they are bi-lingual and have 6 years study in Applied Mathematics behind them.

    Couldn't a person just admit that this is one area in which materialism is very weak? But that more than one argument makes a world-view so they'll be sticking with materialism in the meantime?
    Or is bluff and bluster more fun?

  • Comment number 80.

    I'm also pretty sure that you're not reading the arguments, and very sure that you're not reflecting on them.

    eg. From the start I made it clear that the argument could be falsified (so what?! that makes it false, or improbable??); that a inference was being made from direct experience, and history, and from the conceptual limits of material explanations; that I never said anything about the function of a brain event explaining consciousness (I said there is a difference between a brain function and mental experience; that I explained the disanalogy between physicalities like radioactivity and suggested a better analogy; that the "privacy" of conscious experience has nothing to do with practical measurements and everything to do with what is unique to consciousness; that point6 was not an argument against materialism but your belief that we will be able to measure experience given time.

  • Comment number 81.

    Dear guys,

    This is entertaining!


    A satisfied reader.

  • Comment number 82.

    Hi John,

    Glad you like it. No time today or tomorrow for my reply to Graham though.

    Any chance you'd give us your own views on it?


  • Comment number 83.

    Hail King Graham,

    You say you require the element of obligatory insults in our exchange. Far be it from me to refuse a royal edict. So here it goes.

    I love to see a bit inferiority complex shining through in your posts (finally, it's well deserved, what took you?). You bring up academic titles and your lack of it. I never mentioned mine, I never do, that's your frustration. And it's not exactly a sign of confidence that you once again have to proclaim own your superiority in philosophy. Small hint: it's better if others do it.
    But I guess I shouldn't hold it against you. Contrary to your suggestion that I need to read some history, reading history is long-time a hobby of mine. I read all about your royal family background. And about the rule they long adhered to about only marrying other royals, the limited gene pool that that meant, and the rather less than pretty results that followed from it after a number of generations. I shouldn't be so hard on you, as you can't help the way you are. You're a victim.

    Sofar for the insults. Then some remarks about the general picture of the discussion. You bemoan the lack of evidence I present. It would be well to remember that the burden is almost entirely on you for that. Let me remind you why.

    My position has been a rather careful one. The idea is simple. Some simple elements of our consciousness are at present rather well explained purely from physics. Where at some point that wasn't yet the case. Other parts of our consciousness are only partly explained from physics, or not at all yet. But the pattern of how we went from understanding nothing to understanding part of it bodes well for the future. If we optimistically extrapolate the picture, we might imagine a point where we understand all of it. Fully accepting that that optimistic extrapolation introduces great uncertainty for the idea. But as I've fully accepted that, many times restated that I do, I don't make any overly ambitious claims. I haven't even quantified my estimate of the likelyhood that it will work, if it's 90%, 10%, 1% or a billionth of a billionth of a billoionth. So I don't have very much territory to defend.

    You by contrast have made sweeping statements, without any reservation, claiming to have 100% certainty. You have put hugely more on your plate than I have on mine. So the burden of evidence is mostly yours. That might be a good thing for you to keep in mind, given your bemoaning of my lack of evidence.

    I'll deal with your specific point in the next post. No time for reading the urls you posted or discussion on scientific consensus etc I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 84.

    Point 1 and 2 in your post 78. You made an ignorant mistake. You now try to move the goal post by saying 'But what if I had said something else than I did, like....'. You didn't say something else, one of your five original arguments was just pure bunk. The end.

    Point 3, did you miss something? Yes, you missed the word 'phase' in connection to the wave function I brought up. That makes a rather critical difference. The wave function exists of a real and imaginary (in the mathematical meaning of it) part. The real part can be related to things we can observe, like the electron density for wave functions that represent electrons. The imaginary part is out of our reach.
    I will say something else here, positive. While you had missed a part, this is the first time (that I remember from the top of my head) that you try to argue science from science, rather than by throwing isms and author names about. While it was in error, which is perfectly ok, it was the best bit you've produced sofar. And I feel I may need to state it separately here, given our exchanges sofar, but it is true: no sarcasm on this one. I mean it. Point 3 is going in the right direction.

    Your points 4 and 5 do not rebut any of my rejections of your original 5 points, a useless distraction in our discussion (though I sure like the point where you felt you had to drag in academic titles, yummie).

    quick remark: your numbering is off (I'll refrain from using the obvious space for put-downs here, I've already served you your course of obligatory insults). It's up to 8, then goes down to 6 and from there goes up to 9.

    Point 6, first occurrence, fMRIs, did I mention those anywhere? I was merely pointing out to you that you seemed unable to distinguish between our technological limitations at some point in time and things which are fundamentally impossible. Could you please explain in small reasoning steps what I'm supposed to do with point 6? How any of that helps any of your five original points. I don't get it, I think.

    Point 7, first occurrence, bemoaning my lack of evidence presented. See second part of my previous post.

    Point 8, first occurrence. There is where you go into distortion. I never predicted technological omnipotence. I said nearly the exact opposite in fact, how technological failure to fully get to the bottom of conscious thinking doesn't prove the fundamental impossibility to do so. Scraping to bottom of the barrel Graham, that you have to attribute invented statements to me to attack, which I never actually made.

    Point 6, second occurrence. Advising me to read a particular author. So definitely running on emtpy then, as far as presenting reasoned arguments is concerned.

    Point 7, second occurrence. Yummie, one where ignorance of quantum physics trips you up again, badly. You say

    "The whole is more than the sum of the parts. There are functions performed by the connected whole that could not be predicted by studying the isolated component parts."

    Graham, when physicists give a quantum mechanical description of something (assuming that we would like to use quantum physics to describe the workings of the mind, which I would certainly deem the best candidate know today) it describes the behaviour of all particles that make up the object. That description comes in the form of the all-particle wave function. The splitting-up into parts that you find troublesome, never occurs. You get a description that basically says 'everything together does THIS'. That means that the individual atoms, electrons, etc are in that description, but generally not individually distinguishable. So the general case works in the opposite direction of what you assumed. That really, really bums out the point you were trying to make, doesn't it?!
    Scientific knowledge trumps pseudo-philosophical tosh once again.

    Point 8, second occurrence. You mention Churchland and Dennett, but don't present their case in any detail. Please elaborate.

    Point 9. Thank goodness, you Majesty. I hadn't spotted much postulating in all of your post. I was almost beginning to think your signing of the post as KERP was unnecessary. But in point 9 you come to the rescue.

    "The *only* direct access we have to mental events is first person reports."

    At present, mostly true. How wonderful that you then use yet new verbal wrapping paper to repeat what is again a matter of 'I doesn't work right now, therefore it will never work, no matter what we try and learn.' What was the name of that third Lord of the Rings movie again? Oh yes, I remember. The return of the King!

    Hail Graham, King of Empty Repeated Postulates!


  • Comment number 85.

    I see I've poorly chosen my words in the second part of post 83. That could lead to confusion, or open up my posts for criticism. Let me hereby correct. It would be better to replace the first two occurrences of "of our consciousness" with "the workings of our minds", to avoid any mix-up between consciousness and what you like to see as very very separate phenomenon of conscious experience.
    So when I then say "a point where we understand all of it" I mean where we understand all aspects of the mind. Ones I had mentioned, like sensory perception, arousal and storage of memories in adhesive molecules, your favourite of personal experience, and any others not yet mentioned.

    Sorry for sloppy initial formulation.

  • Comment number 86.

    I just also read your somewhat upset sounding post 79. It was clear to me in your post before that you seemed aware you're running on empty, or very nearly so. But I hadn't picked up yet on the small hints of frustration, or maybe even some anger, as clearly as in post 79. At the end of your rant you write two bits. First

    "Presumably a person is not allowed to have philsophical, religious or moral opinions until they are bi-lingual and have 6 years study in Applied Mathematics behind them."

    You bring up peoples education again, rather than just presenting better arguments. The two are not unrelated of course. So I gave you a bit of a kicking on e.g. point 7, second occurrence. Well, that's one point where a purely scientific answer does put your philosophical argument in its grave very effectively. Just plain wrong, stemming from lack of scientific knowledge on your part. Should I refrain from advancing my argument because my scientific education gives me an advantage over you? Shees, quit the pathetic whining. If you can't stand being trumped in a discussion occasionally, then seeking discussion on a blog is not the wisest thing to do.

    You also said

    "Couldn't a person just admit that this is one area in which materialism is very weak?"

    Did I ever say it wasn't? I certainly never said it was a strong case. Not stating it either way actually. Read the second part of my post 83 again (plus errata to it in post 85), I take a rather careful position.
    I feel we are nearing the end of our discussion as your recourse now seems to be criticizing me for positions I never that I never took, that are your inventions. And also the anger, frustration and 'How can you be so mean to me. Me, the kind and gentle man against whom you so nastily apply the cold brute force of academic education. YOU ARE SO MEAN!!'.

    Go and have a long, cold shower Graham, come back when you're ready to try and present some reasoned arguments again.


  • Comment number 87.

    1) Do I feel inferior to you? I've never met you. Don't be silly. And I'm not angry or upset with you, or the discussion. I certainly don't think you're mean. I'm just pointing out where the bluff lies. You're making an argument from authority in lieu of substantial arguments for materialism.
    You refuse to say whether materialism is weak and speculative in this area. That is anything but a carefully laid out position. It is a refusal to take a positon. Which means I'm far from "running on empty." To be honest, I'm only warming up.
    2) I didn't claim certainty. I've oft repeated that my view, like any inference, could be falsified. But if consciousness has a low probability on materialism, and a high probability on religious worldviews, doesn't that mean that I have an argument against materialism and for a religious worldview?
    3) You do seem strangely proud of your academic achievements (but then going on about my lack of scientific training the only way you can score any points). Whatever. A bit of self-deprecation wouldn't hurt.
    In any case I'm pretty sure your scientific arguments reduce to philosophical tosh. Which is to say, your views aren't coherent or convincing.
    For example, what's the alternative to first-person reports of another persons conscious experience? Mind-reading? We can only make the necessary correlations that will allow us to make inferences to mental states from brain states by first *asking* people what they're feeling. And we'll *never* enter into their experience by examining their brain states.
    Another example. Suppose "measurement" turns out to be too crude a term(possibly - I'm discussing this with some other folk). "Mathematical description" seems to capture the essence of my original point, and retain the force of the argument. Forcing a refinement in terminology is one thing, defeating an argument quite another.
    But if you don't like the idea that physical reality has a stucture that can, in principle, be described by mathematics, the difference between what is physical and no-physical should be intuitively obvious using examples from the physical sciences. You can't dodge the argument with these sorts of quibbles.
    4) I've looked at three types of Scientific explanation - by reduction, by scientific law, and by emergence. All three are used regularly in Science, and none will account for consciousness.
    Now, again you reply with more astonishing news. Macroscopic objects have a wave function. Who'd have thought it! Esoteric knowledge indeed.
    So you've offer a reduction. Consciousness can be reduced to a quantum state of the brain. Which is an explanation by reduction. Which I've already dealt with.
    In any case I was waiting on Penrose making an appearance, and I'll describe why many *materialist* researchers don't see QM as having any explanatory power in consciousness studies below.
    5) How are Hameroff's and Penrose's views superior to say Koch's? QM is a bit mysterious. Consciousness is a bit mysterious. So there's probably a connection. Is that the argument?
    Let's look in a bit more detail. Penrose takes microtubules, tiny structures built from a lattice of the protein tubulin, which determine the strength of signals between neurons in the brain. The long tubular nature of the microtubules and the *possible* presence of ordered water outside
    them *may* help isolate the interior and permit largescale quantum behaviour. So you can get a quantum superposition of states that is maintained and spread to surrounding tubulins.
    Now according to Penrose wavefuctions do collapse, and they collapse due to the different space-time geometries of each state in the superposition. So if a particle is in a superposition of being in two different positions the curvature of space-time will differ according to where the mass of the particle is more likely to be. Once the difference in geometries reaches a certain level the particle becomes entangled with it's environment, the superposition becomes unstable and collapses into one of it's possible states.
    Now two points. It's not at all clear what "particle" refers to in this account. And the mechanism of collapse is speculative.
    Penrose and Hameroff suggest that a quantum superposition extends over many neurons and lasts for the order of a second. The brain is thus seen as being in a macroscopic quantum superposition. Penrose and Hameroff then argue that basic conscious acts are to be identified with wavefunction collapse. As I said explanation by reduction.
    Now it's not at all clear that the "large, warm, wet" brain can exist in a Quantum superposition of states long enough. Or so Koch says. Chalmers agrees. And they can do all those sums that impress you so much.
    But more to the point it's not at all clear how the collapse of a wavefunction can be the cause of conscious acts, or be a conscious act. Which leads us back to Hawkings quip - "his [Penrose] argument seemed to be that consciousness is a mystery and quantum gravity is another mystery so they must be related."
    There is no reason to conceptually link the collapse of a wave-function and consciousness. And explanations are all about conceivability. And materialism prides itself on the economy and power of it's explanations.
    (It also seems that there is more to a person that a series of conscious acts. We have not even commenced a discussion of the unity of the person, free will, human responsibility and human rationality.)
    6) What are you meant to do with Chalmers? Well, stop making lazy assumptions about his proposals. And I suppose you could read some of his work if you wanted. But I can't see you buying pan-proto-psychism.
    7) It is the magnitude squared of the wave function that relates to *what we can observe* and that includes a contribution from the imaginary part. Isn't it? Unless you want to maintain that the wave function is physical real itself, I'm not sure what you're achieving here. As I've said the outcomes are measureable.


  • Comment number 88.

    Oh and (a) far from banging on about QM I've only ever discussed it with you on W&T because you raised the issue.(b) At least we're entertaining John. He's quite high standards.


  • Comment number 89.

    I'm not really interested in this tiff, but;

    "Some simple elements of our consciousness are at present rather well explained purely from physics"

    PK, could you explain this? I'm not aware of any system of physics that explans ANY element of consciousness. I know there are a lot of causal theories, and correlations can be drawn. but what system of physics "explains" happiness, or joy, or despair?

  • Comment number 90.

    Hello guys,

    I'll take some time for a more extensive reply to Grahams post 87 lateron.

    Bernards_Insight, that bit you flagged up was wrongly phrased in my post 83. I had realized so, see erratum I put up for that post in post 85. Stating that various aspects of consciousness are today well explained by science was in error, sorry again for any confusion.


  • Comment number 91.

    Ah, Fairy nuff. I must have missed your clarification among all the name calling.


    So consciousness is not well explained by science then. Today.

  • Comment number 92.

    The name calling might be immature.

    But he started it.

    And hopefully there are some substantial points in there.

    (In any case, what round are Brian and you on now?)

    I think it's fairly clear that PK has very little respect for me(if any), but he's assured me that the name calling is to be taken in good sport.
    If I voice respect for him again I'll sound obsequious. I'll just point out that the feeling isn't mutual.


  • Comment number 93.

    Hail to the King.

    Thank you for demonstrating your ignorance of science by citing the crank work of Penrose and Hameroff on quantum effects in microtubules!! Graham I love you for that! Little did you know that you just held up a piece of work that has as much credibility in research on consciousness as geocentrism has in astronomy?!?!?
    That bit on quantum gravity effects in microtubules more than anything else is what Penrose did to obliterate his credibility gained from other real scientific achievements. Anyone with any knowledge would instantly know it's hogwash. First of all there is no good theory yet of quantum gravity at the moment. Theoretical research is littered with the corpses of previous attempts to incorporate gravity into QM. On the length scale of neurons gravity effects would be outweighed by other interactions by many orders of magnitude anyway. The time scales are off by possibly even more orders of magnitude (physical effects related to consciousness, like synapses, are, from the top of my head, at least a million times slower than the fading of coherent quantum states that you mention, probably more than millions). So it's a completely different regime in terms of length scales, time scales and also energies involved. With Penrose not presenting anything on how to link these different universes.
    How wonderful. You just made yourself look like someone in a black sorcerers dress, carrying a broom and crystal ball, walking into a convention centre that is hosting a medical science conference. The other attendant are smiling at first, thinking that you're joking. Until it dawns on them that you are serious. That you actually want to seriously talk about these fairy land ideas.
    If you'd like to read a science paper (hey why not, there's a first time for everything!) that pours rivers of icy cold water on Penrose's fantasies, then try Physical Review E 61 (2000) p4194-4206. And if you find a reply that meets scientific standards then I'm sure you'll point it out to me. Hint of caution: if you think holding up Penrose's reply to the Phys. Rev. E paper will bail you out, you are inviting more torment on yourself.

    While the rest of your post was not the unmitigated disaster that was the Penrose roll-out, I did find plenty wrong in that too.

    First I'll note a similarity to our previous iteration. You made a mistake, I pointed it out, you then tried to worm your way from under it by saying 'Yes, but if I had said something different...'. The same happens in point 4 of post 87. You tried to argue that understanding of the individual parts could never explain the whole. I pointed out that QM gives you the explanation from the whole, not the individual parts. So you were wrong, the end. You bringing in different types of explanations like reduction etc is merely a diversion. You were simply wrong, no point wasting so many key strokes trying to obscure that.

    In point 6 it's back to mentioning authors again, without stating what their arguments are, or whether those are the arguments you are advancing in support of your original 5 points. What's the use Graham?

    And a third familiar bit (this one a more recent development in your posts) is you attributing points to me and attacking them, while I never made them. In points 3 and 1 you say I'm of proud of my academic achievements and make arguments from authority. I never do the latter and I remember mentioning my academic credentials on this blog only in response to either you or Orthodox-tradition (then under the identity of pb) bringing them up. So I would say it is the very opposite of what you say. Please give some examples of me mentioning my academic record other than in direct response to you bringing it up and some examples of me advancing argument from authority (which, anticipating your response, I point out is not the same as making arguments from knowledge I obtained as part of my education).

    And I sense your frustration that I took my careful, reserved position. Difficult to get your finger behind that, isn't it? So you seem to try to get me to take a less careful position, your point 1. I'm not biting.
    I'll be happy to point out your lack of substantiation behind your position of certainty instead. That's right, you seem to realize how bad a position that was to take, as you try to backtrack from it in point 2. But let me point out your own words how in the past you said things about how materialism would never give the full explanation. From your own blog:

    "Whatever else we believe about beliefs we should immediately concede that they are not physical parts or events. This is very easy to illustrate."

    "Assume that you can see how the physical “whole” works by studying each physical “part”, understanding how they all relate and being able to predict every physical interaction. Even with all this knowledge you will not have encountered a single thought."

    "First person experiences are not merely physical events. There is a subjective element that cannot be described, let alone explained, in scientific terms."

    Etc. No reservations there.

    You have now in two posts sought to attribute statements to me that I certainly don't recall making (but I'll hold off on the final verdict, giving you the chance to show me wrong) and you try to distance yourself from your own initial position. Can't blame me for thinking that you're running empty.
    But do keep posting. Your Penrose roll-out alone will keep me cheerful for a while. You said you were just warming up. I certainly hope that there is more where that came from.


  • Comment number 94.

    Bernard - I'm at at open night, and incredibly bored, so I'll fill the time.
    Perhaps I should clarify my case, lest it was lost amongst the name calling (I could be wrong, but I imagine that you would advance a similar argument).

    1 Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence

    2 Mental states cannot be given a complete explanation that only uses physical causes

    3 Mental states exist

    From 1 and 3 it logically follows that:

    4 Mental states require an explanation

    And from 2 and 4 the conclusion follows

    5 Mental states must be explained by something other than physical causes.

    (1) Seems to be a presupposition of all rational enquiry. I won't defend it further at the moment.

    (2) Is a carefully worded statement. Physical states *may* be used in an explanation. But they will never give a complete explanation.
    So we need to be careful we analysing what I am asserting. There are obviously some ways by which science can explain conscious events. One example: I can explain why Jones is conscious and Smith is not conscious but explaining that I gave Smith a sedative and Jones a stimulant.
    So Christof Koch may find exactly which "neural correlates" must be present for a human to be conscious. But neither Koch's experiments do not explain *why* or *how* matter can produce conscious events.
    There is more to a good explanation than identifying a cause, or strong correlations. That is rather like explaining how morphine put a patient to sleep by citing it's "dormative effect". True, but hardly enlightening. Some coherent account linking cause to effect is called for. This needs to be conceivable. Of course what is possible and what is conceivable may differ at times. But explanations are all about conceivability.

    (3) May be disputed by the physicalist. The physicalist may assert that what seem to be mental states are in fact identical with (that is in fact reducible to) physical states. The theory of "mental states" that removes these states and replaces them with "neuro-physiological states" or "collapsed wavefuctions".
    (a) Against this, it needs to be noted that (i) we do not infer mental states, but rather experience them directly (ii) that mental states have properties that are radically different than physical states. Three examples. They are irreducibly first-person experiences (no amount of third person information allows you to enter into them), they can have intentionality (be "about" other things that they are not in a spatio-temporal realtionship with), and they have a "felt" quality that cannot be measured. Furthermore they can be difficult impossible to locate in spatio-temporal terms. Consider - Is a pain in my hand, my brain, my nervous system, or all of the above?
    Where is the thought "2+2=4"? In one brain? Spread over many brains? The content of all those mental states is contained in one proposition. So where is that proposition?

    (b) Another example. Suppose we create an artificial intelligence that experiences conscious states. Suppose that it experiences "pain". The physical description of the AI may be radically different than the physical description of a human or animal experiencing pain. All that they have in common is the "felt quality" that gives unity to that class of mental events. Saul Kripke made this point (no pseudo philosopher, he) - that it is the felt quality, not the physical state, that is essential mental events/states. Frankly, this is just common sense, so much so that detractors have labelled it "folk psychology".
    (c) In terms of scientific evidence - Children are capable of attributing knowledge and ignorance to themselves *before* they are capable of attributing those states to others; they are capable of attributing certain perceptual states to themselves *before* they are capable of attributing such states to others.
    When asked what another person thinks or wants, toddlers do not respond at chance. Rather, for an important class of cases, they tend to attribute their own mental states "egocentrically."
    What does this evidence suggest - Access to one's own mental states provides a crucial basis for attributing mental states to others. And that we do not "infer" our own mental states using any theory. We know our states directly. Any scientific method of identifying mental states would involve inferences. So some psychological evidence reinforces the proposition that mental states are intrinsically private, first person and felt. If you need scientific data to tell you what you already know, you might find that reassuring.
    (d) I mentioned mathematical measurement/description to give the flavour of something said by Galileo "In order to understand the universe you must know the language in which it is written. And that language is mathematics." We can examine the physical world using quantitative methods, or mechanistic models (although, we might feel that by so abstracting our scientific concepts from the physical world something is lost even about physical truths).
    However mental experiences resist such treatment. So this seems to be one way of illustrating (not defining)the difference between the physical and mental world. (Definitions of "physical" and "material" that give necessary and sufficient conditions are lacking. We have to make do with paradigms, and I happen to think Galileo's has stood the test of time.
    The following quotes may give a flavour of what I am trying to say about reality (and the PCW Davies-Feynman exchange also brings the difference of the mental into focus).
    Newton - "God created everything by number, weight and measure."
    Einstein - "How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought independent of experience, is so admirably adapted to the objects of reality?"; "But there is another reason for the high repute of mathematics: it is mathematics that offers the exact natural sciences a certain measure of security which, without mathematics, they could not attain."
    "I.. once asked Richard Feynman whether he thought of mathematics and, by extension, the laws of physics as having an independent existence. He replied:""Where is it, what is it, where is it located, what kind of reality does it have?' And yet you came upon it. When you discover these things, you get the feeling that they were true before you found them. So you get the idea that somehow they existed somewhere, but there's nowhere for such things. It's just a feeling...Well, in the case of physics we have double trouble. We come upon these mathematical interrelationships but they apply to the universe, so the problem of where they are is doubly confusing...Those are philosophical questions that I don't know how to answer."


  • Comment number 95.

    Just noticed your post Pete. Have you been on the booze?!! I was criticising Penrose, and you've basically repeated my criticisms. Relax, man. Now, how exactly do you see QM helping your case here?

    Let's see - you can't tell the difference between a reduction and emergence. Helio raised the issue of emergent states, so they needed to be dealt with. You then offer a reduction to a Quantum State of the Brain (or something extremely vague...)

    I could accuse you of being many things, but never careful or reserved. Or of having a position...

    Last paragraph of my blog
    "But of course my theory is falsifiable. Maybe the methods of science will change as radically as they did in the 17th Century, and consciousness will become just as explicable on physicalist as theistic terms. But just because a theory is falsifiable it doesn’t mean it’s wrong or even bad.
    In fact, isn’t falsifiability a virtue?"...

    The concluding paragraph is usually quite important when trying to put a piece in context, isn't it? ...

    Other than that, nothing to respond to.
    Because you're not actually reading the arguments. You're looking for an opportunity to throw insults.

    Quite a surprise.


  • Comment number 96.

    OK, you did a better job of criticising Penrose. But why? Why not just point out that I was making a lazy assumption about your views?

    I think you miss scuba-diving in beautiful surroundings, and you're taking it out on me (;

  • Comment number 97.

    Oh, I should point out that you latched on to one statement in a Chalmer's quote, and then claimed that it did away with my whole argument. Pot. Kettle. Very black indeed.


  • Comment number 98.

    Psychology isn't a science. Biology isn't a science. BMJ isn't a scientific journal.

    Odd that.

  • Comment number 99.

    The King is dead.

    I felt our exchanges were nearing their conclusion, as noted in my previous posts. Now it seems the end is here. At the end of post 95 you pull out the 'You are so mean, such insulting language' card as reason to withdraw. Contrary to your earlier statement that it didn't affect you anything. Well fine, as you wish.
    But that was at the end of post 95. Such treasures came before that. After that Penrose present you now lavish even more gifts on me tonight. Such generosity makes me wonder. Your intentions with me are still honourable and platonic I hope?

    In point 5 of post 87 you spent 428 words seriously discussing the ravings of a partial lunatic (or cynic who discovered that writing books can be an easy way to make a living, if sufficient numbers of people like you buy them). Such an amount of serious attention for something that should simply be summarized as 'nonsense' by anyone with a clue, oh my FSM! When I point out to you how you demonstrate your scientific ignorance by the attention you pay to that idiot Penrose, you try to worm your way out of your error (yes, there is a pattern here, we've seen that before), this time by divorcing yourself from him, claiming your position is actually close to mine. Bwahaha! You don't expect me to fall for that do you, especially after you even brought up "neuro-physiological states" and "collapsed wavefuctions" again in the same sentence in your post to Bernards_Insight. You must regret not having seen my post earlier before you seriously rolled out the "neuro-physiological states" or "collapsed wavefuctions" bit again, tripping up your attempts to divorce yourself from that blunder. I think there is no way out of this one for you Graham. You've shown with electron microscope resolution that you simply do not know even some of the most basic things about the science you like to make far-reaching statements on.

    And such a coincidence that you now withdraw from the debate, after I called you out directly over things like where I ever made arguments from authority, not letting you get away from your errors with verbally intensive diversions, etc.
    But so, the king is dead. Long li....good riddance?

    Final question then to those members of the audience who still have the patience to follow any of this. John and Bernards-Insight being the only ones who have so indicated. Your views on final stages of the exchange I've had here with Graham?

    Your humble subject,

  • Comment number 100.

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This is very like conducting a discussion with a Young Earth Creationist. You search for insults, you bluff, you bluster, and you avoid serious argument.

    And then you ask for the applause of the audience?!! Do we have self-esteem issues PK? ( ;

    We're not on Pop Idol, son. Just having a conversation. Relax and enjoy it would be my advice.

    Anyway some responses - the first two responding to insults, the rest substantial

    i) Not that it's relevant, but I do not care what you call me, or what you think of me. (I've never met you.) I am enjoying the discussion, and I am very keen to continue it. I would be very disappointed if you gave up before addressing some of the questions that I've raised and will restate. I'm not withdrawing from the debate until you define your position, and until you give some (any) reason for inferring that we have a good reason to believe that consciousness can be given a purely physical explanation. Something beyond an aspiration, or a promissory note.

    What made you think I was withdrawing??!! Seems odd.

    ii) I compliment you because (a) I've learned manners (b) you seem to think that proving you are smarter than the person you are debating has some relevance to the outcome of the debate (c) you keep implying that I view myself as an expert on QM, who is self-deceived. Once more - I'm not an expert on anything. I'm not smart or well-educated. Regular posters know this. I'm not good at soccer or video-games either. I don't sit up at nights feeling inferior.(If you want to wound my pride, suggest I'm a poor Dad, or a bad son or brother, or that I can't teach. Those things matter to me far more to me than my IQ.)

    iii) The bluff actually gets nauseating after a while. You took four paragraphs to discuss Penrose. Two of those contained substantial argument. Pot. Kettle. Black.
    INSUBSTANTIAL ASIDE (And you won't acknowledge that you didn't read my post or my blog correctly. I'm hurt ( ;
    And Penrose is an idiot? He didn't just advance an idiotic argument? Everyone in QM agrees with you? That he's an idiot? What's your evidence? What your colleagues think? A survey of book reviews? Or are there stats about physicists opinions of Penroses' brain?)

    Didn't I already indicate that Hawking's quip dealt with Penrose?
    And can you explain exactly how that quip doesn'y apply to your position? Are you advocating Stapp's position? "My approach is to recognize, among other things, that quantum theory probably gives only a partial description of the causal
    connections between our experiences. ...it allows there to be another causal strand that is
    entangled with the physical, but is not causally determined by
    physical. It acts through conscious experiences that "supervene" on
    the physical, but that are not causally determined by the physical." Well, that would be dualism (although Stapp maintains it is a pragmatic position, not a truth claim).
    Or what about Wigner? - are you advocating his view that conscious agents cause wavefunction
    collapse? I'm told the idea provides an intelligible solution to the measurement problem. Basically, everything physical can be described by the dynamical equations of quantum mechanics, but conscious minds cannot. Have I got this right?
    This means that electrons can be in superpositions of spin states, macroscopic devices can be in superpositions of their states and even brain states can be in superpositions.
    Minds, however, cannot. Once an observer looks at the measuring
    device the wavefunction collapses. Again, is this an adequate summary of his view?
    This interpretation does have some pretty odd consequences. For example,
    Schrodinger’s cat really is in a superposition of dead and alive states until someone looks in the box (unless the cat is conscious!). Furthermore, before conscious beings ever appeared on earth the world must have been a very strange place indeed as superposed states would have been the order of theday. If this view is correct the nature of the world depends very strongly on
    minds. So I can see why most physicitst reject this interpretation of quantum mechanics.
    But how does this interpretation sit with theories of the mind? Clearly this is
    a dualist position since minds are not part of the physical world.

    iv) Now, personally, I *don't* think these theories help the dualism I'm defending. So why mention them? (a) they again illustrate that the difference between the physical and the conscious world is intuitively obvious. (b) I can't critique your position until you set it out. So I have to content myself to attack what you may be thinking. (c) It shows that QM suggests dualism to those who want to speculate about the conscious world just as much as it suggests materialism to other researchers. In and of itself it does not lead to materialist conclusions about the nature of mind. Just don't want you to get carried away...
    In any case, until you set out a position, you fall prey to Hawking's critique. Just because QM is mysterious and consciousness is mysterious, it does not mean that there is a connection.

    iv) I didn't say YOU identified consciousness with collapsed wavefunctions or neuronal-physiological states. It's Koch who is searching for the "Neuronal Basis of Conscious Perception" and Penrose who wants to identify "basic conscious acts are to be identified with wavefunction collapse". They were examples of reduction offered to *Bernard*, if he can be bothered. Google "neurophysiological state", and you'll see that this is a popular reduction. Bluff and insults do not make an argument. They're fun, but they do not make an argument.

    v) Our positions seem to be polar opposites. We might agree Penrose is wrong, for different reasons. Something has gone very wrong if you assume that agreement on this is a sign that I'm in sympathy with your view, or that I would attach any significance to this agreement.

    Still, I'll bet Penrose is smarter than you.

    vi) Now, what is your position?
    Take this very, very odd post.

    "The idea is simple. Some simple elements of our consciousness are at present rather well explained purely from physics. Where at some point that wasn't yet the case. Other parts of our consciousness are only partly explained from physics, or not at all yet. But the pattern of how we went from understanding nothing to understanding part of it bodes well for the future. If we optimistically extrapolate the picture, we might imagine a point where we understand all of it. Fully accepting that that optimistic extrapolation introduces great uncertainty for the idea. But as I've fully accepted that, many times restated that I do, I don't make any overly ambitious claims. I haven't even quantified my estimate of the likelyhood that it will work, if it's 90%, 10%, 1% or a billionth of a billionth of a billoionth. So I don't have very much territory to defend."

    Now post 95 paragraph four makes it very clear that from the start I admitted that my position was falsifiable, and that I might be wrong. I subsequently made it clear that I was inferring from what we DO know that physicalism will never explain consciousness. This is softer positions than Plantinga's or Swinburne's, who argue that it is a logical truth that materialism is false.


    philosophy.nd.edu/people/all/profiles/plantinga-alvin/documents/AGAINSTMATERIALISM.pdf -

    ---**Now if you feel that I can attach a probability of .9, or.99, (or greater???!!!!) to the proposition that physical causes are not sufficient to produce conscious states, and that I can be entirely rational in attaching such a probability to that proposition, you have conceded that it is entirely rational to reject materialism. If you concede that point, we've nothing more to argue about. That's all I wanted to prove.**---

    In fact, when discussing worldviews I think it is the most that can be achieved. Decisive knock-down arguments are rare.

    vii) Let's show where you haven't followed the argument. On my blog I dealt with explanations by reduction or scientific law. Helio - and I made it clear in point 7 in post 78 that I was responding to him - raised an important type of explanation I had not discussed; Emergence. So I explained why I don't see that as a helpful explanation either.
    So you type
    "You tried to argue that understanding of the individual parts could never explain the whole. I pointed out that QM gives you the explanation from the whole,
    not the individual parts. So you were wrong, the end. You bringing in different types of explanations like reduction etc is merely a diversion. You were simply wrong, no point wasting so many key strokes trying to obscure that."

    No it's not a diversion. I never said that Emergence was the only type of scientific explanation. If I say that everything that exists is either A or B or C, and you reply, well I can think of Z, which is not a B, I can safely ask - what is the relevance? If it is an A or a C you haven't produced a counter-example.
    And in fact I didn't say that explanations were confined to Emergent states, or Physical Laws or Reductions. Just that these seemed to be most pertinent to our discussion.

    (Nor is every Emergent State/ Entity comparable to the analogy of the watch. The point is (a) the whole is more than the sum of the parts. In fact the functions, roles and identities of the parts can be changed by the whole but (b) the whole is not an inexplicable mystery given our knowledge of the parts and their properties. A living cell is a very good example.)

    "When physicists give a quantum mechanical description of something (assuming that we would like to use quantum physics to describe the workings of the mind, which I would certainly deem the best candidate know today) it describes the behaviour of all particles that make up the object. That description comes in the form of the all-particle wave function. The splitting-up into parts that you find troublesome, never occurs. You get a description that basically says 'everything together does THIS'. That means that the individual atoms, electrons, etc are in that description, but generally not individually distinguishable." Not at all like an emergent state then!

    Anyway, is consciousness identical to a wave-function? Or does it supervene on a state described by QM? What is your point? Do you have one?

    viii) I think you were correct and "measurement" was too crude a term. "Description" gets closer to my meaning. The sense I'm after is given in the Feynman quote above.
    What follows from this? You spotted a mistake. A poor choice of words. Now how does this show that materialism is true?

    ix) You seem to be quite irate that I should have an oinion on this at all. So once more, these are *not* my arguments. It would be horribly rude to dream up an interpretation of QM and then foist it on you having read a grand total of two books dedicated to the topic. And it would be insufferably arrogant to pronounce that science would not answer all our fundamental questions if I had not consulted and read scientists, and scientifically trained philosophers, who produced arguments to this end. Historians and other philosophers contribute to the argument.
    So *I'm* not pronouncing on this topic. I'm assembling arguments produced by others that I have found convincing.



Page 1 of 4

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.