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Aristotle Redux: A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” Part 3

Aristotle Redux: A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” Part 3

A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos”

Part 3 of a review in three parts by Ian Kluge

In part 1 of and part 2 of his review of Thomas Nagel’s controversial new book called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, Ian Kluge describes the book as attacking the foundations of modern science on the basis of its inability to explain the nature of the mind.

Nagel believes there is a gap between conscious experience and our physical description of our reality, leading Nagel to conclude:

Materialism requires reductionism; therefore, the failure of reductionism requires an alternative to materialism (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, p. 15).

What are those alternatives? Ian describe Nagel as exploring “monism” and “pan-psychism”, resurrecting “Aristotle’s concept of potentiality as a constitutive aspect of nature,” and exploring “the lack of a guiding principle in evolution.”

The conclusion of Ian’s review is below.

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Aristotle Redux: A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” Part 2

Aristotle Redux: A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” Part 2

A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos”

Part 2 of a review in three parts by Ian Kluge

In part 1 of his review of Thomas Nagel’s controversial new book called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, Ian Kluge describes the book as attacking the foundations of modern science on the basis of its inability to explain the nature of the mind.

Nagel, a philosopher of impeccable intellectual and philosophical credentials, says that science must make a new start:

The great advances in the physical and biological sciences were made possible by excluding the mind from the physical world … But at some point it will be necessary to make a new start on a more comprehensive understanding that includes the mind.

Part 2 of Ian’s review starts below.

The Subjective Experience Problem

Nagel believes in the “irreducibility of conscious experience to the physical (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, p.68).”

This is because, by their intrinsic nature, subjective experiences are not available to external objective scientific studies. We can study the external, objective brain correlates of this subjective experience but not the inner subjective experience itself. Indeed, if we had access to someone else’s subjective experience, we would be able to experience their feelings instead of only studying the bio-electrical correlates. This irreducibility also points to a huge explanatory gap. How can inherently unconscious matter lead to consciousness and subjectivity? Something is missing from our explanations which, as we shall see below, Nagel attempts to supply. From this failure to develop an adequate understanding and explanation of consciousness and subjectivity, Nagel draws his conclusion:

Materialism requires reductionism; therefore, the failure of reductionism requires an alternative to materialism (p. 15).

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Aristotle Redux: A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” Part 1

Aristotle Redux: A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos” Part 1

A Review of Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos”

Part 1 of a review in three parts by Ian Kluge

Starting with its title – Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False Thomas Nagel’s new book sparked controversy and invited attack from the scientific community.

How many fingers can one man poke in how many eyes at the same time? In the title alone, he challenges materialism, the materialist-physicalist concept of nature and neo-Darwinism. and asserts that they are “almost certainly wrong.” In effect, he calls into question some of the ontological foundations of modern science as a whole. To make matters even worse, he offers Aristotle’s concepts of potentiality and teleology as possible solutions to the problems he identifies.

Sharpening the sense of outrage, at least in some quarters, is Nagel’s distinguished career as a philosopher. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and recipient of fellowships from the National Science Foundation. Moreover, he is a self-professed atheist and has no religious dogmas to defend. He believes that science must provide objective knowledge and will have no truck with the vagaries of postmodernist subjectivism. He believes that:

[T]hought and reasoning are correct or incorrect in virtue of something independent of the thinker’s belief, and even independent of the community of thinkers to which [a person] belongs (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos. p.72).

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Drive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will Part 3

Drive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will Part 3

Free WillDrive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will

Part 3 of a review in three parts by Ian Kluge.

Editor’s Introduction: Two weeks ago Ian Kluge introduced his review of the latest book by Sam Harris – the prolific and controversial new atheist thinker. According to Harris:

… free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control . . . Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them. (p. 4)

Last week, Kluge looked in depth at Harris’s evocation of the famous experiment of Benjamin Libet and Harris’s claim its shows that we don’t have free will. This week, Kluge addresses other areas where he thinks that Harris’s arguments fail to convince. The book, he concludes, shows the perils of scientism.

Kluge continues:

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Drive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will Part 2

Drive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will Part 2

Free WillDrive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will

Part 2 of a review in three parts by Ian Kluge.

Editor’s Introduction: Last week, Ian introduced his review of the latest book by Sam Harris – the prolific and controversial new atheist thinker. According to Harris:

… free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control . . . Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them. (p. 4)

The scientific evidence, Harris claims, is the famous experiment of Benjamin Libet. which he interprets as showing that the mind makes decisions before we are consciously aware of the decision. The idea is that there is “brain activity recorded on the EEG actually precedes our awareness of our intention”.

Claims along those lines suffer from serious interpretative problems, according to Kluge.

Back to the discussion

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Drive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will Part 1

Drive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will Part 1

Free WillDrive On Through: A Review of Sam Harris’s Free Will

Part 1 of a review in three parts by Ian Kluge

Whenever he encountered a poorly made argument, one of my old philosophy professors used to say, “We could drive trucks through that one.” What he meant was that an argument was so carelessly constructed that there were huge logical holes in it, problems like non-sequiturs, equivocation, insufficient evidence and correlative fallacies. As I read Sam Harris’s Free Will (2012) I could hear Professor Rueben Bonney behind me, intoning, “We could drive big trucks through that one.”

Harris’s goal in Free Will (2012) is simple.  He wants to persuade us that

… free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control . . . Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them. (p.4)

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Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism Part Two

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism Part Two

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism

Part 2 of a review by Ian Kluge.

Editors Note: In part 1, Ian introduced Alvin Plantinga’s important new book as follows:

In his new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism, Alvin Plantinga shows how misunderstandings about science have led to what are in reality pseudo-conflicts. He aims to show that “there is no [serious] conflict between Christian belief and science . . . [and that] there is conflict between naturalism and science.” (p. xii) In addition, he strives to show that while there may be some superficial differences between religion and science, there are deep and irresolvable conflicts between science and naturalism. According to him, the real clash is between religion and “a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, unorchestrated by God (or anyone else.” (p.xii)

Below, is the second half of Ian’s review:

How could we use the laws of our universe – the only universe about which we can know any laws – to prove either theoretically or experimentally that a universe with completely different laws is possible, let alone that it exists? We can speculate, of course, but we can never acquire concrete specific evidence to make our speculations more than unscientific pipe-dreams.

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Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism (Part #1)

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism (Part #1)

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism

Part 1 of a review by Ian Kluge

For almost two decades now, we have witnessed a spirited, at times acrimonious debate between the defenders of science who are generally new atheists and the defenders of religion who are usually, but not always, Christian. While some participants may seek a final knock-out punch for one side or the other, a smaller group strives to find ways of actualizing the Baha’i doctrine of the essential harmony between science and religion. In the words of Abdu’l-Baha, “Science and Religion should go forward together; indeed, they should be like two fingers of one hand.” [1] Elsewhere he adds, “for true science is reason and reality, and religion is essentially reality and pure reason; therefore, the two must correspond.”[2] Each focuses on reality and employs the methods of reason. Ultimately “truth is one. . .”[3]

It follows from this that any apparent conflict between science and religion is either a misunderstanding of science or religion or both. In his new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism, Alvin Plantinga shows how misunderstandings about science have led to what are in reality pseudo-conflicts. He aims to show that “there is no [serious] conflict between Christian belief and science . . . [and that] there is conflict between naturalism and science.” (p. xii) In addition, he strives to show that while there may be some superficial differences between religion and science, there are deep and irresolvable conflicts between science and naturalism. According to him, the real clash is between religion and “a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, unorchestrated by God (or anyone else.” (p.xii) As if this weren’t enough, Plantinga also shows that, contrary to Humean dogma, miracles can be explained scientifically without violating any classic or quantum laws of nature. Finally, he introduces the concept of “design discourse” as an interpretation of Paley’s and others writings about design.

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Keeping the Baby — de Botton’s Religion for Atheists

Keeping the Baby — de Botton’s Religion for Atheists

Ian Kluge

Community, Identity, and Peace

Alain de Botton plans to throw out the bathwater — but keep the baby. The author of  Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion thinks humanity will be better off if we toss the metaphysical superstitions encumbering all religions but keep the many insights and practices that are still beneficial for human development. In his view, ‘God’ was just one answer to questions about value, meaning, community, identity and peace (to name just a few) that have always been and will always be with us.

They are part of the human condition. Thus, while

God may be dead . . . the urgent issues which impelled us to invent him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the take of the seven loaves and fishes. (1)

The supernaturalist answers, says Botton, are assuredly false, but the questions themselves are real — and won’t go away despite our wrong answers in the past. In short: the bathwater goes — but the baby stays.

In de Botton’s view, atheism and especially the new atheism have missed this distinction and demanded that we abandon both God and existential issues to which God is one possible answer. He says, it is “not that secularism is wrong, but that we have too often secularized badly.” (3)

This leads him to conclude that the

error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed. Once we cease to feel that we must either prostrate ourselves before them or denigrate them, we are free to discover religions as repositories of a myriad ingenious concepts with which we can try to assuage a few of the most persistent and unattended ills of secular life. (3)

In short, he demands an objective view of religion, one that is motivated neither by excessive love or antipathy. As the Baha’i Writings say, a researcher must “cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth.” (4)

With this counsel in mind, de Botton makes a valiant effort to achieve objectivity in his reflections about certain religious insights and practices he thinks will be useful in the secular world.

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The God Debates #3: Fine-tuning God

The God Debates #3: Fine-tuning God

Part 3 of a discussion and critique of John R. Shook’s The God Debates

Ian Kluge

Let us look at one more example of Shook’s straw-man methodology. He says, “The basic ‘fine-tuning’ argument for god has this form:

  1. If god exists, then it is highly probable that this universe would permit life;
  2. The universe is organized to permit life;
  3. In the naturalistic “multiverse” theory it is not highly probable that the universe would permit life;
  4. It is more reasonable to accept the theory that makes it more probable that this universe exists;

Conclusion: God exists.(8)

First of all, what reputable theist — philosopher or theologian — has ever argued for this hodge-podge? Can Shook document anyone but a philosophical naïf presenting this argument?

Once again, we are back to the main problem in The God Debates — Shook is  making up straw-man parodies of theist arguments in order to refute them. This example shows how far he is willing to go. All sorts of different arguments are mixed up: the existence of God, the existence of life, a gratuitous premise about multiverses as well as a debatable premise on what is or is not reasonable to believe. These are so sloppily put together that they do not form any kind of argument at all, and it is disingenuous to lead readers to think that intelligent theists argue like this or that this is the best theism can do.

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