Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reppert Misses the Boat (Again)

When I first encountered CS Lewis' Argument from Reason, I told Victor Reppert that the assertion that rational thought can't arise from non-rational matter is unjustified.  His rationale for making this claim is that there are no mental elements (or "psychons") at the fundamental level of physical reality, and therefore there can be no physical structure that comprises a rational mind.  This argument is purely a priori.  It relies on a theistic presumption about mind, with no empirical data, and in fact no scientific knowledge of cognition whatsoever.  It is armchair philosophy at its worst - completely divorced from any empirical knowledge.  I pointed out some literature that might help him gain a better understanding of what is within the grasp of scientific inquiry, but of course he refuses to read it.

I'm no philosopher, and I understand that Victor has no respect for the arguments I make, but I'm not the only one to raise this objection (although many with better credentials have not bothered to waste their time trying to refute Reppert).  But Richard Carrier, for one, has made a thorough critique of Reppert's book, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason.
Finally, the most devastating fault of Reppert's book is the painting of straw men and a bad case of Armchair Science: in other words, his failure to interact at several crucial points with the extensive philosophical literature—and even worse, his failure to get acquainted with the latest scientific findings of cognitive science. I will point these failings out as we go.[7] Quite often he simply ignores the naturalist and scientific literature on a subject and declares an issue unresolved that in fact has been resolved many times in many different ways—though Reppert's readers would never know this, because Reppert ignores all these solutions. The solutions may all be failures, but Reppert has to show that they are. - Carrier
Reppert replies to Carrier:
Another way of putting my point is to say that reason presents a problem analogous to what David Chalmers called the hard problem of consciousness. When we consider seriously what reasoning is, when we reject all attempts at “bait and switch” in which reasoning is re-described in a way that makes it scientifically tractable but also unrecognizable in the final analysis as reasoning, we find something that looks for all the world to be radically resistant to physicalistic analysis.

So I maintain that there is a logico-conceptual chasm between the various elements of reason, and the material world as understood mechanistically. Bridging the chasm isn’t going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm.
In other words, science be damned.  There is no point in even trying to understand what science has discovered about cognition - I don't care, and I don't want to know.  I'm sticking to my anti-materialist guns.  I will simply declare that science can't possibly answer the question, regardless of what science actually can or can't do.  This, of course, merits applause from theists and other anti-materialists, but it doesn't score Reppert any points with people who care to understand how human cognition works.  Victor maintains that he has addressed Carrier's critique, and nothing more need be said.

More recently, Victor pointed out another critique from Larry Gillman that raises the same issue - namely that he essentially declares a whole branch of science to be null and void on the basis of his anti-materialist armchair philosophy:
Lewis’s “Argument from Reason” gives me that fishy feeling I have whenever someone tries to get the jump on science by the power of pure reason.  As I learned from reading Lewis himself, logic only tells you that if you have one penny in a drawer and put another in, there must be two pennies in the drawer; it doesn’t and can’t tell you whether there is a penny in the drawer.  To know that, you must look.  Logic alone, no matter how pure, no matter how apparently compelling, can never tell us what is physically real, in a bureau, in a brain, or anywhere else.  We must look, and that looking we call “science.”  Lewis and Reppert, in effect, rule on what science can find before science has looked — whereupon I cry Foul.  Lewis even thought he could exclude a purely naturalistic, evolutionary origin for the human brain on the strength of the Argument from Reason (Ch. 3 of Miracles).  That’s an awful lot of biological history to settle without leaving one’s easy chair.  But despite my gripes, I think that the Argument from Reason draws attention to a fascinating and knotty class of problems.  If it were reclassified as the Problem of Reason, I would have no quarrel with it. - Gillman
And how does Victor respond to that?
But my argument does not directly conclude that naturalism is false. What it concludes is that it cannot both be the case that the world is naturalistic AND that we make the rational inferences that constitute the scientific enterprise. There are two possible worlds, one with scientists in it which is not naturalistic, and a world without scientists which is naturalistic. Science is not a presupposition-free enterprise, it presuppose that there are scientists and that scientists do infer conclusions based on evidence.

And, many people think that science is only allowed to appeal to materialistic explanations, otherwise it isn't science. That seems also to be deciding scientific questions without actually doing the science.
So his answer is to accuse science of making presuppositions just as egregious as his own.  (That's what I call projection.)  There are scientists on both sides of the metaphysical naturalism question.  But science necessarily employs methodological naturalism because it concerns itself with what can be detected and tested, not because of a supposed predisposition toward non-theistic hypotheses.  It's not as though there were a choice in the matter.  But Victor does have a choice.  He can make at least some token effort to learn about the things he argues against.  After all, that book, and the argument he makes in it, is his biggest claim to fame.

I have been called ignorant because of my lack of knowledge about philosophy when arguing with the cultists at Victor's blog.  Fair enough.  I plead guilty to ignorance, but at least I try to learn.  On the other hand, Victor shows no hint of knowledge about cognitive science, and he stubbornly refuses to learn.

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