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C.S. Lewis On The Validity of Reasoning

The S was for Staples!
From Miracles (Touchstone edition, 1996, pp 23-24; original 1947):

All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside our minds really “must” be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them—if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work—then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.

It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight. A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have to be reaching by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished…It would be an argument which proved that no arguments was sound—a proof that there are no such things as proofs—which is nonsense.

Thus a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (Possible Worlds, p. 209.)

We are more than we seem to be; we are more than meat machines.


Update

64 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis On The Validity of Reasoning Leave a comment

  1. A few things:

    1 – Professor Haldane was an atheist.

    2 – Tarski’s undefinability theorem shows that “truth in the standard model of the system cannot be defined within the system”.

    3 – It is interesting how the “meat machine” perception is repugnant even to some atheists. In particular I am thinking about Roger Penrose‘s book “The Emperor’s New Mind”.

    The fascinating thing about this book (IMHO) is not his arguments’ against the possibility a machine can think like a human does, but how clearly his convictions weaken chapter after chapter until eventually, in desperation, resorts to Quantum Mechanics to make human mind “special”.

    Since Galileo we humans just hate someone tells us we are not the center of the Universe.

  2. “You find it surprising that I think of the comprehensibility of the world… as a miracle or an eternal mystery. But surely, a priori, one should expect the world to be chaotic, not to be grasped by thought in any way. One might (indeed one should) expect that the world evidenced itself as lawful only so far as we grasp it in an orderly fashion. This would be a sort of order like the alphabetical order of words. On the other hand, the kind of order created, for example, by Newton’s gravitational theory is of a very different character. Even if the axioms of the theory are posited by man, the success of such a procedure supposes in the objective world a high degree of order, which we are in no way entitled to expect a priori. Therein lies the miracle which becomes more and more evident as our knowledge develops.”
    — Albert Einstein, Letter to M. Solovine

    1. If, pace Einstein, reason is not at the center of reality, everything “just happened” for no reason. Once you interject ‘reason’ into the universe, you’ve posited a ‘god’ of some sort, and this is the one thing a materialist cannot do and remain an atheist.

    2. So if reason exists, it comes from unreason (by logical necessity). Hence:
    …2a. The universe is irrational from the beginning.
    …2b. We are not from the beginning
    …2c. So our ‘reason’ comes out of unreason.
    Reason is thus an accidental byproduct of unreason.

    3. This means that everything collapses into unreason. The rational efforts of human beings, including Einstein, Darwin, Briggs, YOS, Fran, Dawkins, Lewis, et al. are of “no more significance that the clucking of a chicken… Chickens cluck, cows moo, horses neigh, and human beings write long learned tomes about how everything is meaningless.”

    Such nihilism is less the death of religion than it is the death of science and even of humanism.

  3. YOS,

    If no Multiverse theories were around I might agree with you, for example Kurt Godel said:

    But I am convinced of this [the afterlife], independently of any theology.” It is “possible today to perceive, by pure reasoning” that it “is entirely consistent with known facts.” “If the world is rationally constructed and has meaning, then there must be such a thing [as an afterlife].”

    Which I believe is in line with what you just said but, Godel, Einstein and others back in these days had no knowlege of Multiverse theories.

    Once you have an gigantic number of universes to find one with “meaning” is simply an statistical fact that we can explain thanks to the Antrophic principle.

    If it could be proved that our Universe is all there is then I’d be more incline towards the God hypothesis, but that hardly seems to be so.

  4. Pure sophistry Briggs. Replace human with dog in the above and see how silly it sounds. It then becomes necessary to make a special case for the human soul, which is a form of special pleading and inevitably leads to solipsism. I wish it were otherwise.

    There, that will set the cat among the pigeons.

  5. Briggs,

    The quickness of your response itself implies that there was very little time for thought – an example of the autonomic nervous system? In any case you never believe me – isn’t that a given? In fact I sometimes don’t even believe myself.

  6. Scotian,

    All replies are pre-programmed, yea since the beginning of the multi-verse. “I” have no choice but to write what I write.

  7. Scotian: Your last statement may explain why no one believes you. If you don’t believe you, why would waste time doing that?

  8. But we have no choice but to be concrete thinkers. That’s what the atoms in our tiny little brains are dictating to us. It may be only for the brief period of time while we are typing and we may go on flights of fancy later, but at the exact moment of typing, we are forced into the concrete mode. You see, it is not our fault. It was forced onto us by the universe in which we currently reside. If we were to change universes (you know, through that portal that marginally opens up and you can hear people on the other side talking but there’s no doorway at present), then we might be able to type something less literal. However, until that happens or the non-literal atoms force the literal ones (or maybe that’s synapses made of atoms? ) down, we are stuck in the literal mode. We would apologize, but an apology indicates we had a choice.

  9. From Sir Edward Victor Appleton’s speech at the 1947 Nobel Banquet:

    Ladies and gentlemen, you should not … overrate scientific methods, as you will learn from the story of a man who started an investigation to find out why people get drunk. I believe this tale might interest you here in Sweden. This man offered some of his friends one evening a drink consisting of a certain amount of whisky and a certain amount of soda water and in due course observed the results. The next evening he gave the same friends another drink, of brandy and soda water in the same proportion as the previous night. And so it went on for two more days, but with rum and soda water, and gin and soda water. The results were always the same.

    He then applied scientific methods, used his sense of logic and drew the only possible conclusion — that the cause of the intoxication must have been the common substance: namely the soda water!

    That’s from Ronald Clark, Sir Edward Appleton, 1971. Clark adds, “Appleton was pleased but a little surprised at the huge success of the story. Only later did he learn that the Crown Prince drank only soda water — ‘one of those unexpected bonuses which even the undeserving get from Providence from time to time,’ as he put it.”

  10. Logic — One key detail can change everything:

    A man’s wife disappears and he’s accused of killing her. At the trial, his lawyer tells the jury, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have amazing news. Not only is my client’s wife actually alive, but she’ll walk through that door in ten seconds.”

    An expectant silence settles over the courtroom, but nothing happens.

    “Think about that,” the lawyer says. “The fact that you were watching the door, expecting to see the missing woman, proves that you have a reasonable doubt as to whether a murder was actually committed.”

    He sits down confidently, and the judge sends the jury off to deliberate. They return in ten minutes and declare the man guilty.

    “Guilty?” says the lawyer. “How can that be? You were all watching the door!”

    “Most of us were watching the door,” says the foreman. “But one of us was watching the defendant, and he wasn’t watching the door.”

  11. Did C.S. Lewis assert that a prayer made after an event entreating for a different outcome than actually occurred can lead to a change in what actually happened — records suggest he believed this, not thinking past the implication that “divine foreknowledge” is also a form of circular reasoning that mandates predestination:

    On the morning after a battle, Mary prays that her husband has not been killed. Is this a coherent plea? It would seem that the matter has already been decided: Her husband is alive or dead. If he is dead, then in order to grant Mary’s prayer God would have to change the past retroactively.

    “If one does not think of [such a] case, the idea of doing something in order that something else should previously have happened may seem sheer raving insanity,” writes Michael Dummett. “But suppose I hear on the radio that a ship has gone down in the Atlantic two hours previously, and that there were few survivors: my son was on that ship, and I at once utter a prayer that he should have been among the survivors, that he should not have drowned; this is the most natural thing in the world.”

    Perhaps God can grant Mary’s prayer without changing the past: Perhaps, using divine foreknowledge, he interceded at the time of the battle knowing that she would later pray for this. “One of the things taken into account in deciding [the outcome], and therefore one of the things that really causes it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering,” writes C.S. Lewis.

    But this entails an oddity of its own — such favors, it seems, are available only to those who are in some doubt about a past event. God will intercede today for a prayer tomorrow — but only an uncertain person would make such a prayer. “I may pray that the announcer has made a mistake in not including my son’s name on the list of survivors,” Dummett writes, “but once I am convinced that no mistake has been made, I will not go on praying for him to have survived. I should regard this kind of prayer as something to which it was possible to have recourse only when an ordinary doubt about what had happened could be entertained.”

  12. Ah, but you see Sheri the humour only works if there is a nugget of sincerity buried within. It is extremely difficult to avoid the conclusion of behavioral determinism – dogs must bite – without resorting to magical thinking. This is why critics resort to sarcasm and misrepresentation so quickly, as seen in this post’s embedded video. I would like to see a sincere discussion about free will versus determinism as I have not completely made up my mind yet. This is the true meaning of the comment that you objected to – at least partly.

  13. Good examples of the point of my last comment, Ken. I must have prayed for them retroactively and they only appeared when the screen refreshed after I pressed the post comment button.

  14. You doubt that I was sincere? Okay, probably not. Right now I am listening to a Native American near tears because a football team uses the name Redskins, so I am having some difficulty maintaining objective thought. If I veer off, my apologies (yes, sincerely).

    I would be willing to participate in a serious discussion of determinism versus free will. Would it be appropriate to do so in this thread or do we need a different venue? I promise no sarcasm. Where do we start?

  15. Ken, in your example of Mary praying her husband is not dead, you presuppose that the only answer to prayer by God is “yes”. The answer can be yes, no or later. Her husband being dead would qualify as a “no” answer, due to the fact that the prayer was said after the physical reality of his death. It could also be “no” even if he were still alive, but God did not choose to intervene.
    God does not always say “yes”.

    (It does sound like a cop-out for when prayers fail, but the other choice, that God would answer every prayer yes, is not likely. That would result in logical contradictions, etc. So the idea that God can say “no” seems more likely. It’s not a cop-out, just going with a logical God who doesn’t alter physical reality on a second to second basis, as always saying yes would require.)

  16. I have always found it strange the religious high opinion of CS Lewis. I think he’s a twit. And this style of argument gets us no where. OK it’s all true, our minds are faulty and rationalism is incorrect, as i said this applies just as much to the other side.”all possible knowledge…….” now Briggs, you don’t suppose your knowledge of morality is on a firm footing do you?

  17. Sheri,

    Wasn’t that the theme of the Almighty Bruce movie?

    As to the free will debate, I would start with this observation. As individuals we must act as if we had free will. What else is possible? This does not prove anything one way or the other as this illusion could be hard wired as part of the consciousness deal. But what is telling, I think, is that we assume that other people do not actually have free will. We expect them to act in entirely predictable ways and are rarely wrong about this – sometimes, but rarely. Aren’t there relationship books written with this very theme? What we look for are relatively minor differences and then classify personality types based on these differences. Using the ever popular dog analogy, I know how my dog will react under various circumstances. Walkies, Phoebe?

    I also think that tying this debate to responsibility for criminal behavior is a red herring. Conclusions about the proper level of discipline or punishment have nothing to do with theories of free will versus determinism and it is difficult to see how they could.

  18. cotian:
    Could have been the theme of the movie–I only remember seeing clips, but that sounds right.

    I am not sure that we have to act as if we have free will. More and more, everything we do is believed to be genetic, innate, not our fault. That belief is certainly not universal but the idea is growing.

    I agree that this might all be an illusion but don’t think that matters. It’s all we have. I also agree that both beliefs (free will and lack thereof) are “hard-wired” into us. Following the religious account of Adam and Eve, originally it seems we did not recognize “free will” but rather lived in a state that made free will unnecessary. However, when tempted to not follow God’s instructions, Eve chose to follow Satan instead. She also seemed to feel this was not really her fault–the serpent tricked her. This would seem to indicate that Eve possessed free will but was not fully aware of this until an event made it clear to her that she did have a choice. Immediately thereafter, she also was aware of blame shifting.

    Human beings as a group posses a fair amount of predictability. Individuals are much harder. The fact that we expect people to behave in a certain way is probably more a product of wishful thinking or maybe the idea that statistical predictions are much better than is actually true. One of the reasons I think we have such a hard time predicting other’s behaviours is the fact that we lack knowledge of all the variables. Emotions also enter into this.

    Your dog is mostly learned behaviour on the part of the dog. Bottom line, it’s Pavlovian. The dog likes walks, he runs to the door. He hates walks, he runs under the bed. We like to think the dog “chooses” but it really is just the dog finding some things rewarding and others not. I would say that is hard-wired in the dog. In a sense, the dog possesses free will in a limited fashion, because he can choose yes or no. That “choice” is built upon risk/reward so ties back to the hardwired part.

    I agree that the argument about responsibility for criminal behaviour is a red herring. Even if the person cannot help being born a serial killer and sociopath, we cannot allow him to rip apart society. It’s a matter of survival. It would be sad if he had not choice, but it does not change what we must do. It could eliminate probation, however, if we knew that a serial killer is always a serial killer.

    If I seem to lean in both the determinist direction and part in the free will direction, that is because I’m not really sure you can draw a line and say we either have free will or we don’t. In most of life, we do have free will. However, free will is limited by physical realities in some cases, by genetics, etc. We can choose, but the choices are tied to our physical self as well as our experiences.

  19. @Fran:
    Re: Multiverse. You write as if you thought “meaning” were a physical body that was present or not present in the universe. Bring me ten yards of meaning, or three gallons of meaning and we’ll talk. Better yet, show me a “multiverse.” Or do you mean “multiple universes”? They are not the same thing. For many, they are merely a scientificalistic was of avoiding the problem. Into which of the great many chips and pieces of marble did Michelangelo put the David?
    There is an easy-to-follow essay from a physicist here:
    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/06/04/the-large-hadron-collider-the-multiverse-and-me-and-my-friends/comment-page-1/#comment-103822
    which references an earlier essay (2008) here:
    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/09/on-the-edge-of-discovery

    @scotian:
    What makes you thing dogs do not have souls? “Soul” is the translation of “anima” which simply means “life.” “Does X ‘have’ soul” ≡ “Is X alive?” It is as true of puppies and petunias as well as people. The question is what are the powers peculiar to each? (The substantial form of inanimate being is not called “soul” for this very reason; but if a basketball were alive, “sphere” would be its soul.)

    Possibly, you have a Cartesian-scientific dualistic notion of soul.

  20. Sheri,

    We probably do not disagree much on this topic which may limit the discussion. I have a few comments, however.

    “genetic, innate, not our fault”: I have never understood this combination of words. How does genetic or innate causes translate into “not our fault”? Maybe other people have a different definition of fault than the usual dictionary one.

    We definitely have to act as if we had free will. Otherwise we would be the passenger and not the driver of our life and be constantly surprised at what we were doing at the time.

    I probably do not take biblical stories as seriously as you do.

    Certainly dogs must be trained as to proper household behavior but mostly they are just dogs and treating them as human is a serious mistake. Cesar Millan makes this point quite emphatically in his Dog Whisperer show. I think that Pavlov was making a different point.

  21. YOS,

    I wish that you would stop projecting opinions onto other people. It is a very bad habit. If you read closely you will see that I did not say that dogs do not have souls nor have I said that humans do. I have not expressed any opinion on the matter at all but have only made a logical inference. Also the fact that the origin of the English word soul is a translation of anima tells us very little of its English definition. This is similar to complaining about the current English definition of decimate because it had a different meaning in the original Latin. There is probably a Latin name to this logical error but it escapes me at the moment.

  22. YOS

    Multiverse. You write as if you thought “meaning” were a physical body that was present or not present in the universe.

    And you are exactly right; with no human like creatures there is no such thing as meaning, love, friendship or beauty.

    Bring me ten yards of meaning, or three gallons of meaning and we’ll talk.”

    92Kg of meaning is typing the reply.

    Better yet, show me a “multiverse”.

    .

    I can’t, but even the Christian physicist you linked says “The multiverse idea has real physics arguments in support of it”.

  23. Scotian–I guess perhaps the world “fault” is not a good choice. Most of the time, I read people to be using the word to mean guilt or responsibility, as in “it’s his fault the car did not get washed”. This implies “he” had a choice and failed to make the correct one”. I think you could also just say that fault is the moving force or the reason that something happened, without the moralistic tone. Perhaps one should say genetics that cannot be acted upon via free will remove any moral responsibility for the act?

    I do seriously know people who believe life is as you described no free will: “Otherwise we would be the passenger and not the driver of our life and be constantly surprised at what we were doing at the time.” This is a sincere belief on the part of the individuals involved. Admittedly, it seems to have developed as a result of repeated failures on the part of the person (virtually everything in their life did not work out in the way they tried to make it). Their belief is they have no control over things, so why even try and pretend like you do? Life is just a series of things that happen to you, not because of you, and there’s no point to trying to control any part of it. It’s not as uncommon as one would think.

    I used the Bible story because most people are familiar with it. I suppose there are other ways to explain it. I still have not found a good explanation in evolution for how humans developed a belief in the soul (religious one, not “life” as YOS notes). Perhaps you know the answer to that one?

    I didn’t understand your meaning with the dog. I’m on your side on this one–to the point that I have been attacked rather nastily on blogs for saying my dog is my dog and not my child. I also object to the Walt Disney world where animals are like people. (My point was Pavlov was saying the dog is responding to stimuli, not running to the door to great you because he unconditionally loves you. You have the food, the leash and hand to pet him. You have meet the dog’s “conditions” for staying with you. It’s a learned behaviour based on behavioral principals, not that the dog is like a person.)

  24. Sheri (@ 12:31),

    RE: “…example of Mary praying her husband is not dead, you presuppose that the only answer to prayer by God is “yes”. The answer can be yes, no or later.”

    Actually, I found all that somewhere else & simply shared it here; the issues raised are really two:

    1) a late prayer (asking for a very particular favor after a matter has been decided, is not cogent; and/or,

    2) if God acts conditionally relative to the prayer–but in a way that crosses the time-space continuum (“time travel” via foreknowledge, which presumes pre-destination — that all our actions have been foreordained…that there really is no free will) then what’s presented is a sort of divine variant of the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schr%C3%B6dinger%27s_cat

    This is ironic because C. S. Lewis is on record espousing a situation the ramifications of which (he apparently didn’t think thru) he himself disagrees.

    That & the other examples (all plagiarized) I posted here are examples of perfectly logical, but wrong, conclusions obtained by rational step-by-step analyses in which some key detail is ignored out of choice to illustrate that when ignorance of the “real world physics of the situation” are not fully accounted for, philosophical application of “logic” is sure to lead one astray–but provide a very false confidence the conclusions reached are inviolate.

    Resort to generic logic/philosophy is also the approach favored by those intent on reaching a particular answer as opposed to the truth (all while maintaining the image/self-delusion of the search for objective truth); the student trial scene in the cult classic Animal House is actually a good [only slightly exaggerated, if even that] example of what many do with serious intent.

    Resorting to philosophy for reaching conclusions is exactly analogous to an engineer ignoring actual test & other real-world objective quantitative data for a computer model (e.g. a climate model).

  25. Schrodinger’s Cat paradox is both fascinating and gives me a headache.

    Your example of climate models is great. I am appalled by how many things in climate science are based on only models–or actual readings are discarded and proxies brought in. Sadly, more and more of the world runs on computer models and studies. Now, if we could just get people to accept a virtual solution and keep them from messing with the real world as part of it, that would be useful.

    One can certainly go astray using logic and ignoring reality. It is quite possible to take a number of facts and come to many different logical conclusions, some of which are mutually exclusive.

  26. Schrodinger’s cat is easy enough. The cat in the box is both dead and alive. When you open the box and look, your own wavefunction becomes correlated with the cat’s, and you are a superposition of someone looking at a dead cat and someone looking at a live cat. You experience both outcomes, and both parts of the superposition are “you”.

    Which one of you you end up being appears from the inside to be random, but is not determined until you open the box. You could argue similarly that until Mary has heard the news, her husband may be both dead and alive, and she only becomes widow and wife at the moment of revelation. Technically, that’s not true. The correlation of states occurs far earlier even if Mary doesn’t know it, but in theory it could.

  27. I understand how the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox works. Understanding it does not mean it doesn’t give me a headache. Your extrapolation to Mary is quite interesting. In theory, if we worked like things do at a quantum level, her husband could be both dead and alive, though I think that would end when someone finds the breathing person or the dead body. If you stretch far enough, it could be real. Then you get into whether or not anything exists if we don’t interact with it, does the world even exist or does it come into being when we start interacting?

    Let’s go back to determinism versus free will. Determinism would be that everything that happened was in someway mapped out beforehand and there is no changing it? That every action occurs for a reason and that reason cannot change. If you were born to be president, you would be. If you were born to be a ruthless dictator, you would be. In religion, I understand this to be equal to “pre-ordained”, as in your life is already known to God before you are born and you turn out the way God planned for you. This could involve free will if you add that people can reject God’s plan. It goes with “Everything happens for a reason”, I think.

    Free will means we actually do have choices, they are not an illusion (assume this for now) and we choose where our life goes within the context of physical reality.

    Are these close to accurate or do I need to adjust my definitions?

  28. Interestingly, Schroedinger proposed the paradox as a way of illustrating the incoherence of the underlying theory.

  29. “I think that would end when someone finds the breathing person or the dead body.”

    That’s one version. The other is that the person who finds the body turns into a mixture as well.

    The quantum multiverse is deterministic. But it’s not that events are mapped out, it’s that every event that *could* happen *does* happen, it’s just that we see only a part of the picture, and so think that just one particular possible sequence has been picked out.

    But that doesn’t necessarily contradict free will, although it depends on exactly what you mean by the term. (There’s a philosophical position called ‘compatibilism’ that asserts this.) A lot of people think of it in terms of the outcome being defined prior to the event, by outside influences. In this picture, this is not the case. The split does not occur until the moment of decision, and which branch you go down is not determined prior to the event because different parts of you actually go down both branches. It’s not determined by any external force, it’s entirely due to your own individual quantum behaviour.

    The responsibility is yours, too. The part of you that gets punished or rewarded is the part that took that particular track.

    Everything happens. All choices are defined in the beginning by what is possible, and all of them are explored. And yet each individual part, thinking it is all there is, experiences a world of decisions and consequences all of which originate within itself.

    It’s a matter of perspective – from outside everything is known and determined, but from the inside with only part of the picture visible there is choice. The part on each alternate path is the part that made that choice.

    There’s no way to tell, though. This picture of the world is mathematically very attractive, but for some reason people find it difficult to accept. Who knows?

  30. “Interestingly, Schroedinger proposed the paradox as a way of illustrating the incoherence of the underlying theory.”

    He did. But it wasn’t the underlying theory that was incoherent, but people’s attempt to interpret in classical terms. They thought the universe must not just *appear* classical, it had to actually *be* classical, and it therefore had to somehow jump from multiple alternatives simultaneously to a single definite alternative, by some magical process that nobody really understood.

    He was quite right. The stitching together of quantum and classical picture is quite incoherent.

  31. Sheri,

    Quote “Life is just a series of things that happen to you, not because of you”: you are right, many people do have this experience. Borrowing a phrase from a book that I read many years ago “Nothing is ever their fault, yet chaos reigns around them”. There’s that word fault again. Is this an argument for or against free will? I don’t know.

    As to an evolutionary explanation for belief in the soul, I would hesitate to hazard a guess. It may just be an emergent property with no real explanation or proof of the existence of God, to cover all bases.

    Assuming that NiV was serious, and he probably wasn’t, no physicist believes that the cat is both alive and dead (I hope!) as a superposition of wave functions. Schrodinger presented this as a though experiment challenge to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics which he thought implied this absurdity – it doesn’t. It can also be thought as stimulating the discussion about the interface between the quantum and classical world.

    Determinism does not automatically lead to predestination because of the chaotic nature of the classical world. This is a common mistake in the free will – determinism battle. Also moving past the classical – quantum boundary we have indeterminacy (not strictly speaking chaotic). As to what God knows, God knows. That last is a joke for all the concrete thinkers among us.

  32. I am getting the feeling (mixed with a bit of thought) that there are so many ways of defining determinism and free will, this whole discussion may be moot. If we add multiple universes (which are theoretical at best) we devolve into what C S Lewis seemed to be describing. Nothing can be proven or known or everything become possible. Science fiction writers drool over these ideas but they are not really useful as to what happens in the “real world”.

    So, for the moment, let’s abandon Schrodinger, quantum physics and all the mathematical representations of the universe (which can lead us back to Haldane?) and explain what the difference is between determinism and free will. Are these concepts mutually exclusive or can parts of the universe be deterministic and part of it involve free will? Is there even a definition upon which we can agree?

  33. @Fran

    Why yes, Haldane was an atheist. Quoting him in support of the notion that materialism is incoherent is a hint, is it not, that this is not an argument about the existence of God, but about the nature of reason. You can tell the difference between theology and epistemology, yes? Later, but in similar vein, you point out Barr’s Christianity as if that were relevant to his thoughts on multiverse theory.

    Perhaps it is just a difference of style. Briggs, Lewis, YOS, Barr offer arguments based on evidence and reason. You cheer for your tribe and sling mud on those not of your tribe. It does not move the conversation forward. I find the style that involves reason more enlightening.

    @Andy
    You seem to be under the impression that reason=materialism, and that Lewis was arguing against both. If so, do read the excerpt again more carefully. Stick to a subject long enough to understand it before changing the subject to morality, eh?

  34. there are so many ways of defining determinism and free will,

    Why not stick with the original definition? I think half the problems Late Moderns have with these things comes from over-elaborating on the original ideas and then finding that the elaborations lead to paradoxes.

    Since Fran seems caught up in the ad hominem that Dr. Barr is a Christian when he says that most physicists have a problem with the multiverse notion, let’s try this:
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/nothing-to-see-here-demoting-the-uncertainty-principle/?_r=1

  35. YOS

    Since Fran seems caught up in the ad hominem that Dr. Barr is a Christian when he says that most physicists have a problem with the multiverse notion, let’s try this:

    First, none of my words imply or suggest that Dr. Barr is wrong because he is a Christian. Some of the greatest minds in history were Christian so this is an argument I’d never use to attack someone. Therefore the “ad hominem” thingy is a product of your fertile imagination.

    Second, Dr. Barr does not say in the link you posted that “most physicists have a problem with the multiverse notion”, he says “…we live in a “multiverse” (an idea that most physicists hate)”, and they hate it because they would like to find out a self-contained math formula that would explain why particles have the features they have instead having to accept them as a random fluke, but they don’t have any problem with it in the math or physics science sense, the theory is sound.

    Dr. Barr also says “Does the multiverse undercut the argument for God based on the “anthropic fine-tunings”? It weakens it, but does not destroy it, as I explain in my book “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith”.”. If you’ve read the book I’ll be interested in knowing why the anthropic principle only weakens fine-tuning, I’d say it totally wipes it out, but it seems the Gates to Heaven are pay-walled.

    Also, who hates multiverse? Definitely not string theorists like Alan Green who reach a near ecstasy experience when talking about it. Definitely not scientists like Stephen Hawking who used the idea to solve his own Hawking’s Paradox and, in any case, they might like nature to be one way, but nature is the way it is whether we like it or not.

    Finally, I am not sure what are you trying to achieve by demoting Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Quantum Mechanics challenges everything we sustain as reasonable in our lives and there is no one single interpretation of QM that reach the 50% acceptance among physicists (and that includes the Copenhagen interpretation in which Schroedinger’s cat challenged everyone’s “common sense”).

    Accepting one interpretation or another has deep scientific, philosophical and even religious consequences, but the jury is still out in this one and it seems is not coming back any time soon.

  36. Andrew Brew

    Why yes, Haldane was an atheist. Quoting him in support of the notion that materialism is incoherent is a hint, is it not, that this is not an argument about the existence of God, but about the nature of reason. You can tell the difference between theology and epistemology, yes?

    The conclusion Briggs reached after that passage was “We are more than we seem to be; we are more than meat machines.” Which sounds pretty theological to me and, in any event, theology and epistemology can intersect.

    Later, but in similar vein, you point out Barr’s Christianity as if that were relevant to his thoughts on multiverse theory.

    Of course it is, a full acceptance of the anthropic principle needs no God to explain why the universe is tuned for life.

    Perhaps it is just a difference of style. Briggs, Lewis, YOS, Barr offer arguments based on evidence and reason. You cheer for your tribe and sling mud on those not of your tribe. It does not move the conversation forward. I find the style that involves reason more enlightening.

    Show me the cheering, also, show me the mud, ’cause if you can’t maybe it is on your glasses.

  37. I really don’t think I think reason=materialism. I have no idea why you made that up. I merely commented on the Problems for all if reason is seen as suspect. It gets us no where. Perhaps you should take your own advice?

  38. You see how quickly the language degenerates, Sheri, when we allow others into the debate. I think that you may be correct about the overlap between free will and determinism which seems to expand the more one looks into it. Ultimately, I think, the debate devolves to the concept of the ghost in the machine and no amount of reasoning will ever resolve the issue.

    The cat is well and truly among the pigeons.

  39. Yes, Scotian, I see your point.

    My apologies to YOS (and thank you for the link on multiverses), but I am not sure what he means by “the original definition”. I am going with the “we are more than meat machines”, which would mean we have to be different from plants and animals to actually posses free will. My usual comment would be that there must be a God and we must be different from the rest of creation because any other species as self-destructive and clueless as humans would not have lasted 1000 years, let alone several thousand.

    We can approach this from behavioral psychology as Scotian originally noted. Humans are hard to predict, whereas animals are much easier. Of course, you can run with that being due to the complexity of humans. It is more scientific and experiments can be run to show how much of behaviour is predictable. Perhaps it’s more important to look at what is not predictable when looking at free will.

    As for the quantum mechanics and mulitverse, even if you can explain how the world could have come into being without God, this does not prove that God does not exist. Steven Hawking saying “Now we don’t need God to explain the universe” does not prove God does not exist. You can explain gravity and how it works without using any particle physics, but that does not mean particle physics do not exist. I would note that one cannot actually disprove the nonexistence of something, so I suppose the only other option was trying to come up with a workaround and claim that if you can explain something without God, he doesn’t exist. It’s an invalid argument.

    Theoretical physics is just that-theoretical. The mathematics is a prediction tools for the behaviour of particles that I can envision no possible way to ever prove the existence of directly. It’s like a mathematical algorithm that can predict stock trades based on the phase of moon and how many people live in New York City. If it works, it’s useful. However, the underlying assumptions about the moon phase and population of NYC may work not because of their direct involvement, but rather a coincidental fluke of math. We can never actually see an electron. If Heisenberg is right, nothing even exists until we observe it. It’s all fun and games and really cool math, and we did unfortunately build a really nasty bomb with it (ruining the one clean source of energy available at present) but bottom line is, it really has no effect on the existence of God, nor on most of our daily lives. It lives in people’s heads and huge, pricey equipment that records evidence that something happened but can never actually see the event itself.

  40. First, none of my words imply or suggest that Dr. Barr is wrong because he is a Christian.

    That’s why you boldfaced in: “even the Christian physicist you linked says “The multiverse idea has real physics arguments in support of it”. If it’s irrelevant, it’s irrelevant. The geocentric universe had real physics arguments in support of it and, like string theory, had no known way of obtaining empirical evidence to contradict it. The multiverse is a very nice sort of epicycle — and, like the old epicycles, it accounts for observation nicely — but it was suggested by a deficiency in the theories rather than observational or empirical data.

    But I ask again: are you speaking of the multiverse theory or the multiple worlds theory?

  41. “We are more than we seem to be; we are more than meat machines.” Which sounds pretty theological to me

    Why? Searle, Nagel, and others are atheists. The “meat machine” metaphor is a left-over poetic image from the Age of Machines, the 19th century. We are more than a balance of humours, too.

    the anthropic principle needs no God to explain why the universe is tuned for life

    The epicycle needs no gravity to explain why Mars sometimes moves backward on its orb.

    The Anthropic Principle does, however, seem to confuse imagining something with empirical evidence for something. As for the irrelevancy of fine-tuning to theism, see here: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/the-ugliness-of-a-finely-tuned-universe/

  42. My apologies to YOS (and thank you for the link on multiverses), but I am not sure what he means by “the original definition”.

    “Free” in volition means simply that it is not determined to this or that. The will is the intellective appetite and serves for conception what the sensitive appetites (or emotions) serve for perception. Since it is impossible to want what you do not know, the will is free to the extent that the intellect is incomplete. Since we completely know 1+1=2 (in standard notation) the will cannot withhold consent. But since we do not know what World Peace consists of — what does it look like? what steps are needed to achieve it? etc. — the will has many “degrees of freedom” as regards the means to that end. “if the knowledge is indeterminate then the desire is indeterminate.” These may help:
    1. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/interior-dialogue-on-free-will/
    2. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/free-will-and-electrodes/
    3a. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/free-will-as-negligible/
    3b. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/free-will-as-negligible-ii/

  43. YOS,

    First, I am happy you’re around, thanks for the debate.

    That’s why you boldfaced in:… If it’s irrelevant, it’s irrelevant

    I am a bold man… as you can see in most of my replies. Anyhow, in my opinion it is relevant because I would not expect a Christian would give a chance to a Multiverses and Anthropic principles.

    The geocentric universe had real physics arguments in support of it and, like string theory, had no known way of obtaining empirical evidence to contradict it.

    I am not saying it is true, just that it is plausible.

    The multiverse is a very nice sort of epicycle — and, like the old epicycles, it accounts for observation nicely — but it was suggested by a deficiency in the theories rather than observational or empirical data…

    Multiple universes are a necessity in theories like M-Theory represented by its branes. They are not an adhoc thingy to get rid of God. They just naturally come out of the formulas.

    But I ask again: are you speaking of the multiverse theory or the multiple worlds theory?

    By Multiverse I understand regions of reality that might or might not affect our universe and which physical constants might or might not be similar to our universe.

    By parallel world I understand the alternative world given by a QM phenomenon. This is one of the many interpretations for QM. In this one Schrödinger’s cat is alive in one world and dead in another.

    The epicycle needs no gravity to explain why Mars sometimes moves backward on its orb.

    That’s a cute comparison with the Anthropic principle, but you are wrong in this one. The epicycle can only describe, not explain, the movement of Mars.

    In fact, epicycles could describe planets rotating in a square shape around the Sun. But epicycles cannot explain things like the perihelion precession of Mercury. General relativity does not only describes it but it also explains it.

    If Multiverses are eventually proven the Anthropic principle is simply a statistical consequence.

  44. My apologies to YOS, but I am not sure what he means by “the original definition”.

    The definition used by the dudes who started the whole “free will” thingie. The will is the intellective appetite and serves for conception what the sensitive appetites (or “emotions”) serve for perception. Since it is impossible to want what you do not know, the will is free to the extent that the intellect is incomplete. Since we completely know 1+1=2 (in standard notation) the will cannot withhold consent. But since we do not know what World Peace consists of — what does it look like? what steps are needed to achieve it? etc. — the will has many “degrees of freedom” as regards that end. “if the knowledge is indeterminate then the desire is indeterminate.” These may help:
    1. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/interior-dialogue-on-free-will/
    2. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/free-will-and-electrodes/
    3a. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/free-will-as-negligible/
    3b. http://thomism.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/free-will-as-negligible-ii/

  45. Multiple universes are a necessity in theories like M-Theory represented by its branes.

    Indeed, I have used them in some of my stories. I even created, with my cosmologist friend, a version of Kaluza-Klein mumble years ago for the sake of another story. But it was not because we had empirical evidences of such things, only that, if we assumed such things we could get what we wanted.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “regions of reality.”

    I have always said from the get-go, many years ago, that the fine-tuning of the universe is simply because if it were not fine-tuned we would not be here to remark upon it. No “multiverse” needed. No need to assume that reality is chaotic as a default condition and needs something extraneous to it in order for it to be ordered. No need to imagine either many concurrent “universes” or many successive “universes.”

    All science ever does is describe how things work.

  46. The most interesting thing about the posted quotes is that they show both C.S.Lewis and Prof Haldane as making beginner-level errors in logic. Both errors are in the same spirit as confusing the negation of a universally quantified proposition with the universal quantification of its negation (which is something that anyone who has understood first year calculus should be able to recognize).

    Lewis’ claim that we can have no certain knowledge (which I take as almost trivially true) does not imply that whatever we think we know is necessarily not true. Even if our reasoning is as unreliable as his (and I confess that my own may often be more so) we may still be right in at least some of our conclusions. So some science may indeed be “true” (though of course no true scientist would ever claim to have proved it so).

    And even a theory which did imply that there are no such things as proofs would not necessarily be inconsistent (here perhaps Lewis is confusing the concepts of theory and proof).

    Haldane too is off base. “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true” is wrong because the absence of sufficient reason to be convinced is very different from the absence of a reason to “suppose”. In fact deterministic thinking may still be valid (computers can do logic as well as we can), and even if it is not, a process of natural selection would seem to favour the evolution of more reliable thought processes over those which are less so. So my possibly erroneous deterministic mental computation still gives me reason to suppose that it is reliable – or at least that it is at least as reliable as the corresponding processes in the brains of my ancestors’ competitors.

  47. YOS: The whole “free will” thingie? You make me laugh! 🙂

    I read the articles. I suppose I was hoping for a more simplified definition (my bad, huh?) Most of this seems to hinge on mind-body versus body only and the fact that damaging the body results in people acting differently. If damage changes how one acts, then the body is determining ones’ actions. I don’t know that this logically follows. If the container and the contents are one (as in body only), then yes, it does follow. However, the contents of the container may not be the same as the container itself–minds may be the same as electrons. We have no actual proof of their existence yet we believe they are real.

    Some of this does deteriorate to useless speculation. We act as if we have free will because we perceive ourselves as having it. Is it “real”? There are hundreds of possibilities that would explain it away, but they are just possibilities. Our actions are like the trails in the atomic collider–they point to our having a choice.

  48. Computers can do logic as well as we can because we put that information in them. They don’t make leaps in logic and don’t think “outside the box”, as far as I know. Perhaps they do now make computers that can solve a problem with no problem solving programming input, merely by pulling together everything “known to them” and coming up with a whole new answer that no human has thought of. I don’t know…….

  49. From YOS “All science ever does is describe how things work.”

    I must apologize in advance, but whenever I read this statement or any like it I have to laugh. It is so supremely silly. To quote Wolfgang Pauli “It is not even wrong”.

  50. Most of this seems to hinge on mind-body versus body only

    There are also the mind-only folks. And those who hold the truth: the mindbody people. The anima is not a substance contained in a vessel: it is the substantive form of the vessel itself. An inanimate form is most easily grasped, since it is nearly only shape. Both sodium and chlorine are made of the same matter: protons, neutrons, and electrons (whatever they are). But what makes one a flammable metal and the other a poisonous gas is the number and arrangement of those parts: IOW, their form. The form of a living thing (an “anima”) is a more complex arrangement and includes its own principles of motion/change. Whereas an inanimate form possesses the powers of gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear, and radiative forces, the animate form contains at the least (and in addition) the powers of growth/development, metabolism, homeostasis, and reproduction. The sensitive anima adds to these the powers of sensation, perception, emotion, and motion; and the rational anima adds the powers of intellection and volition. These are shown schematically in the following diagrams:
    A) Inanimate form: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0013.GIF
    B1) Vegetative form: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0018.GIF
    B2) Sensitive form: http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0019.GIF
    B3) Rational form (added to the sensitive form): http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/WAW0010.GIF

  51. To quote Wolfgang Pauli “It is not even wrong”.

    It would be far more convincing to provide a counterexample: a scientific finding that does not describe how the world works.

  52. YOS,

    I would have to know what your statement means before I could determine its validity, hence the Pauli quote. It doesn’t seem to be about science at all, but seems to be a lament of some kind.

  53. One problem with the common claim that Science has been dethroning the human race is that of the scientific theories used to establish that point, only two (the theories of Copernicus and Darwin) have actual evidence behind them. All the others are taken seriously only because they fit the supposed pattern.

    On the other hand, Darwin’s theory can explain why human reason can arrive at the truth. Animals evolve to be able to identify true statements. A pigeon’s mind can tell the truth about bread crumbs; a cat’s mind can tell the truth about mice; and a human’s mind can tell the truth about cause and effect. False beliefs are not evolutionarily selected for.

  54. Oddly enough, the proponents of the Copernican theory, who were mainly humanists, said that it raised mankind’s importance because it lifted the earth from the bottom of the world, the lowest and most ignoble place, and located it in the third heaven. It was only much later that this was re-imagined as “demoting” humans, and so it is also an example of an metaphysical commitment coloring the interpretation of a theory.

  55. Joseph: Are you equating “truth” with “reality”, especially in the case of the bird and the cat? I’m not sure “cause and effect” are part of that “truth”. Plus, does the cat or bird “tell” you the mouse is not real or the bread is not real? Humans do that in virtually everything in life. Lies become truths: spending is saving, vaccines are good, vaccines are bad, salt is bad, salt is good, organic is better, oil is killing the planet, work is good, work is bad, etc. This trait remains over thousands of years. Humans act against their better interests much of the time. Should we not be on our way to extinction, not the dominate species?

  56. @Andy

    I really don’t think I think reason=materialism. I have no idea why you made that up.

    perhaps I misunderstood. I thought that that when you wrote “OK it’s all true, our minds are faulty and rationalism is incorrect.” You were offering your understanding of Lewis’ argument.

    I merely commented on the Problems for all if reason is seen as suspect. It gets us no where.

    Lewis is not seeing reason as suspect. His entire point is that it is impossible on reasonable grounds to suspect reason. Trusting in reason is a given before any knowledge or understanding is possible. Of course it applies to “both sides” (whoever they might be) – did somebody suggest that their own “side” should be exempted from the demands of reason?

  57. Something that calls itself the Council for Secular Humanism would like to discount the idea of a rational universe, thus subverting not only science but also, ironically, humanism:

    “From the perspective of physics today, with all due deference to Einstein, the idea of a rational universe looks odd.”
    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=edis_30_2

    The rest of the argument is at the link.

    Arguing the sed contra is one Fr. D. Lemieux, riffing on something the B16 wrote:

    “As soon as one interjects ‘reason’ into the origin or structure of the universe, one has posited a ‘god’ of some sort.”
    http://frdenis.blogspot.com/2012/03/neigh-sayers.html

    The rest of the argument is at the link.

    It is interesting to analyze the structure of the two blog posts in terms of syllogisms.
    It is also interesting that atheist thinkers like Sartre and Nietzsche thought along the lines of Fr. Lemieux’s major premise, quoted above; though for Sartre, it led him to worry himself into existential angst in a universe that consequently made no sense, whereas Nietzsche more or less gloried in the scope that gave for the superior man.

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