Thursday, July 6, 2017

Reppert Still Denying Science

Victor Reppert has made yet another attempt on his blog to justify his thinking in support of his defense of the Argument From Reason (AFR).  It follows basically the same line of reasoning that he has used again and again, this time put into a fairly concise summary.  The thing is, his argument and particularly this line of reasoning has been rebutted, and a number of people have offered their sage advice to Victor: learn some science before you state what can or can't happen in a naturalistic world.  That advice has gone unheeded.

The new twist that Victor adds this time is to tie the argument in with four mutually exclusive ways to categorize propositions:
A) The proposition is true, and belief that it is true can be justified.
B) The proposition is true, and belief that it is true cannot be justified.
C) The proposition is false, and belief that it is true can be justified.
D) The proposition is false, and belief that it is true cannot be justified.
For a proposition "Naturalism is true (as opposed to theism)", Victor claims that naturalists want to think that it would fall into category A, but according to his argument, only B or D are logically possible.  It isn't that there is no good evidence to justify that belief (actually, there is plenty of evidence), but that it's impossible for anything to be rationally justified in a naturalistic world.  Forget about bringing scientific evidence to the table.  Victor will have none of that.  His basis for this is, of course, his Argument From Reason.  In the current post he presents it like this (as paraphrased by me):
1. Naturalistic science involves making inferences (a rational process).
2. At the base level in a naturalistic world, everything is mechanistic - there is no reference to mind.
3. Naturalistic determinism implies that everything in the world proceeds according to this deterministic process.
4. All scientific discoveries are part of this mechanistic process, which is fundamentally non-rational.
5. But 4 conflicts with 1.
6. Therefore, in a naturalistic world, scientific (justified) belief that naturalism is true is impossible.
This is the same old argument Victor has made all along.  I have discussed what I consider to be the major problem with it, and so have others.  Basically Victor assumes that because there is no rational process (or mind) at the most fundamental level of nature, there can be no rational processes at all.  Victor offers no justification or evidence that this assertion is true.  He simply asserts it as if it's an undisputed fact.  He assumes that by merely pointing out that natural processes are mechanistic (or deterministic), we should all agree that rational processes cannot be natural.  In other words, he is implying that rational processes are fundamentally non-mechanistic or non-deterministic - they do not comply with physical laws.  To Victor, this is so obvious that it doesn't need to be demonstrated.

But why should a naturalist agree with that?  It is, after all, just another theistic assumption that goes along with "God did it" as the most basic answer to all questions about nature.  But if you're not a theist, you probably don't accept the truth of that assumption.  As a naturalist, I believe that mind is purely physical, and that there is nothing about it that violates any fundamental physical laws.  Furthermore, I believe that rational mental process do indeed proceed in full compliance with mechanistic physical laws, but they are highly complex, and so give the illusion of being somehow separate from fundamental physical laws. 

In fact, performing logical processes is fundamentally mechanistic.  Computers do it all the time, and they do it better than humans.  There is nothing magic about making inferences.  When you point that out to theists, they always reply with something like this: "But the rational mind knows what it means, and the computer doesn't."  That misses the point.  Rational processes can be expressed symbolically because logic itself is purely mechanistic, and it works the same regardless of what the symbols represent.  Computers don't have to know what the symbols stand for.  And the notion that making inferences requires a non-physical mind is refuted by observable reality.

Nevertheless, we naturalists also understand that meaning, or intention, is also purely a physical phenomenon that occurs within the brain.  It involves a network of neural connections that link things together.  Those linkages are what we call meaning.  They associate concepts together in the brain.  Again, there is nothing magic about this, and no need to invoke "God did it." 

The bottom line is that for the naturalist, there is every reason to believe that naturalism is true, and there is no contradiction involved.  The only reason Victor thinks there is a contradiction is because he makes a question-begging assumption about rationality: "God did it."  And he's arrogant enough in his beliefs to blithely ignore all the science and all the observable evidence that justifies naturalism, and just declare from the comfort of his armchair that all naturalists hold illogical and self-contradictory beliefs.  An he thinks he's being rational.


  1. No surprise that Reppert is a science denier. Just as the power of christian theism as an explanatory paradigm about us and our relationship in the environment, the world and the universe, wains, so too is Reppert's bleating voice into the wind becoming ever more tiresome, boring and nonsensical.

    There are the troglodytes that continue to persist in plying the ancient art of scientifically-uninformed philosophy and scholars that have rightly embraced scientifically-informed philosophy. Practitioners of philosophy who have a tin ear to what the sciences inform us are nothing more than cheap proselytisers, enjoining us to think they still
    believe there is a place at the table for epistemically and ontologically-free discourse. Such belief of course is the stuff of woo-woo land. And a recent review of Reppert's site illustrates most markedly that his ''stuff' jockeys for position only with the Depak Chopras of the world.

    1. The amazing thing to me is that he doesn't recognize the possibility that his position - rationality cannot arise from the physical - might not be true, even after being informed of the error of his ways. He arrogantly insists that his armchair philosophy is right, and all the science in the world can't possibly refute it.

  2. Consider the following proposition:

    "All rational processes emerge from fundamentally mechanistic processes."

    If we assume that the prop is true and insert it into the AFR then any supposed logical inconsistency disappears. There is no logical inconsistency within Naturalism. The truth of the proposition is question about nature, not of logic. It is a factual question, not a logical question.

    1. The single most important lesson a philosopher could learn from science:

      I could be wrong.