# Can Science Disprove God?

Alternate title: “The Problem With Supernatural Explanations”

People often tell me “science can’t prove that God does not exist, because you can’t prove a negative”. How often?

Ok, it’s really not that often.

It’s said that you can’t prove a negative because you can’t exhaustively examine and eliminate every place in the universe, so you can’t be 100% certain that something does not exist. Interestingly enough, however, the claim that “you can’t prove a negative” is itself an unrestricted negative. It effectively says “there are no proofs of unrestricted negatives”. If so, then no one can prove that no one can prove an unrestricted negative. And if no one can prove that no one can prove an unrestricted negative, then it must be logically possible to prove an unrestricted negative. The claim is self-refuting.

It should not only be possible to prove a negative, but I intend to show that a number of them have already been proven.

How would you go about proving a negative? 2,500 years ago, Parmenides realized a fundamental rule of logic–the law of non-contradiction. Anything that involves a logical contradiction cannot exist. We know for certain that there are no married bachelors, highest numbers, or triangles with other than 180 degrees (in Euclidian space, at least). These things are self-contradictory, because nothing can both have and lack some property at the same time. So, one way to prove a negative is to show that something contradicts itself.

God is traditionally defined as a supreme being–as St. Anselm put it, “a being than which none greater can be conceived”. As an analogy, however, imagine a supreme number. We know this can’t exist, because every number can have 1 added to it, creating a larger number. A supreme number would be able to have 1 added to it, and would not be able to have 1 added to it, and that’s impossible. The notion of a supreme being could be just as incoherent as a supreme number. (Sidenote: there’s also no such thing as a smallest number)

Other contradictions exist in the traditional definition of God. He is said to be all-good, making him both perfectly merciful and perfectly just. If he is perfectly just, he always makes sure everyone gets what’s coming to them, and that the punishment fits the crime. If he is perfectly merciful, he’s always lenient and forgiving. He can’t possibly be both.

These are just a few inconsistencies in the traditional conception of God. Here are others. Theists will invariably reply that, properly understood, the properties of God have no contradictions. They could be right, and it could be logically possible for God to exist (I don’t think the traditional definition can be rescued, though). Does this mean we cannot prove he doesn’t? No, actually. It’s not necessary to show that something cannot exist because it’s logically impossible. It’s sufficient to show that it is epistemically unnecessary–that it is not required to explain anything. Science has proven the non-existence of many things in this way, such as phlogiston, the luminiferous ether, and the planet Vulcan (not the Star Trek one–that one is still possible). Let me be very clear before we move on–scientific proofs do not establish perfect certainty, unlike logical or mathematical proofs. There is still the possibility of doubt. But they are proofs nonetheless, for they establish their conclusions beyond a reasonable doubt, and that is all that is needed to justify them.

Some quick science history–phlogiston, the luminiferous ether, and Vulcan were theoretical entities that were postulated to explain various observations and phenomena. Phlogiston attempted to explain heat, the ether was thought to be the medium of light propagation through vacuum, and Vulcan was hypothesized to explain perturbations in the orbit of Mercury. Science has since shown that these phenomena can be explained without them. Heat is caused by the movement of atoms, light is propagated by photons (weird-ass wave/particle things), and Einstein’s theory of relativity explains wobbles in Mercury’s orbit. By demonstrating that phlogiston, the ether, and Vulcan aren’t needed to explain anything, science has shown that they do not exist.

God is a theoretical entity postulated by theists to explain various phenomenon–the origin of the universe, the apparent design inherent in the universe, and the origin of life. Modern science can explain all of these things without resorting to God(1). In the words of Laplace, science has no need of that hypothesis (2). Phenomenon which remain currently unexplained, such as human consciousness, quantum entanglement or the exact steps of abiogenesis (see my last post) will very likely be illuminated with further work. By showing that God is not needed to explain anything, science has proven that there is no more reason to believe in the existence of God than to believe in the existence of phlogiston, the luminiferous ether, or Vulcan. This may help explain why more than 90% of the world’s top scientists disbelieve or doubt the existence of God.

Now, at this point, I’m reminded of another thing I often hear/read: “science is close-minded and arrogant, ignoring the possibility that there are things it doesn’t understand”, or the charge that science is “reductionistic”, as if that’s a weakness instead of a strength. This is because science, and scientists, prefers natural explanations over supernatural ones.

They do so not because of any metaphysical bias or closemindednes, but because of one simple reason. Natural explanations produce more understanding than supernatural ones. To say “God did it”, or an equivalent supernatural statement, is to simply offer an excuse for having no explanation.

How are explanations determined to be “good”? The quality of an explanation is determined by how much understanding it produces (how much ground the explanation covers), and how much it unifies and systematizes our existing knowledge. The extensiveness of this unity is measured by various criteria, including simplicity (the number of assumptions made), scope (the types of phenomena explained), conservatism (fit with existing theory), and fruitfulness (ability to make successful novel predictions and direct further questions).

Supernatural explanations are inherently inferior to natural ones because they do not fit this criteria well. They are usually less simple because they assume the existence of at least one additional type of entity (or an entire unseen realm of entities). They have less scope because they don’t offer mechanisms of how the phenomena in question are produced and thus they raise more questions than they answer. They are less conservative because they imply that certain natural laws have been violated or heavily contradict existing knowledge. And they are usually less fruitful because they don’t make any novel predictions. That is why scientists avoid them.

The realization that the traditional God of theism is not needed to explain anything–that there is nothing for him to do–has led a number of theologians to call for the rejection of this notion of god. In Why Believe in God? Michael Donald Goulder argues that the only intellectually respectable position on the god question is atheism.  In Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Reverend Spong, former Episcopal Bishop of New Jersey, argues that the traditional theistic conception of God must be replaced by one grounded in human relationships and concerns.  Both agree that religion should not be in the business of trying to explain the world.

What if we don’t yet understand a certain phenomenon, and have no explanation? Does that immediately mean it has a supernatural explanation? No, of course not. It’s far more likely that it’s only our ignorance of the natural forces in play that currently prevent us from having an explanation. Many things–earthquakes, eclipses, disease–were once attributed to supernatural causes or beings but can now be explained in purely natural terms. Apparent miracles are not contrary to nature but contrary to our knowledge of nature.

Given the inferior explanatory power of supernatural claims and the incompleteness of our knowledge, theists are only justified in offering God as an explanation for anything if they can prove that not only do we not currently have a natural explanation, but that no natural explanation is possible. And I believe that that is an unrestricted negative that cannot be proven.

(1) See, for example, Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable; Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time; Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos.

(2) When the French physicist Pierre Simon de Laplace explained his theory of the universe to Napoleon, Napoleon is said to have asked, “Where does God fit into your theory?” to which Laplace replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

By demonstrating that God is not needed to explain anything, science has proven that there is no more reason to believe in the existence of God than to believe in the existence of phlogiston, the luminiferous ether, or Vulcan. This may explain why more than 90% of the world’s top scientists disbelieve or doubt the existence of God.
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I'm a computer science senior at Utah State, graduating in December 2010, becoming a first-generation university graduate. I'm a co-founder of SHAFT and am off-again on-again active in USU's Linux Club and the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery, a professional organization for computer science). I'm getting increasingly nervous about what to do after graduation, but I'd like to start a software company, and my dream job is making video games for my own studio. I suppose I could say I was "raised atheist", but it honestly never occurred to me until around high school. I grew up in Cache Valley and so am of course familiar with the Mormon church, but my mom never took me to a church, and encouraged me to explore different ideas and make up my own mind. What ended up happening was that I discovered Asimov and Clarke and Sagan, and that was that. My hobbies include voracious reading, gaming (digital, tabletop, whatever), programming, and at one point playing jazz and rock tenor sax (buying a new sax is one of the biggest reasons I need to finish college).

## 71 thoughts on “Can Science Disprove God?”

1. Needless to say, I think you embrace reductionism much too easily. What of poetry, beauty, consciousness, love, morality, freedom? Even Dawkins admits that these things remain “mysteries”.
I am not a big fan of ontological arguments (like Anselm’s) to begin with, but I think your number analogy is a misanalogy and so does not actually upend the argument.

Most of the rest of your post argues against a “god of the gaps” view. But it leaves untouched a Thomistic view. Broken record warning: read Machuga’s ‘In Defense of the Soul’ (he argues against the god of the gaps view as vigorously as one can). And his argument – following Aristotle and Aquinas – is that materialist science cannot (not just that it hasn’t) basic phenomena like intentional language. Materialism simply does not have the resources to explain intentionality. It can explain the “how” of things, but it cannot make sense of basic utterances like ‘the turtle came ashore IN ORDER TO lay eggs’. Read the book, see what you think. Until atheists take arguments like that seriously, they are just knocking down either straw men or at least very low lying fruit. Machuga had the atheist Huenemann pretty well stumped on the question of intentional langague when he came out to give a talk 2 years or so ago.

• James – you would love Machuga’s book (whether you are persuaded or not). He has chapters on artificial intelligence and evolution. Right up your alley, I would think.

• Two more thoughts on the reductionism of science.
a) I think James should be leery of advancing science as a “master science of everything” when science, on its own, cannot justify its own most basic presuppositions. See Hume.
b) For one of the most compelling arguments against reductionism, read Heidegger’s ‘Question Concerning Technology’. I’ve never known anyone whose read this and not come away thinking Heidegger had something of a point.

• I’ll mostly likely have to wait until summer (or at the least spring break), but I’ll read the book and write a review on the blog.

• > “is that materialist science cannot (not just that it hasn’t) basic phenomena like intentional language”

I assume the verb missing is explain. If that is the case, I don’t find your assertion satisfactory (though as an aside, i don’t think it is the totality of your implications given the reference to Machuga, so in many ways the following is a criticism of only a part of a larger whole). Science can explain intentional language by explaining why humans use it, why humans are predisposed to assume intention without evidence, and why it isn’t necessary. That our language asserts intention does not at all imply that intention is actually present. We humans find it ascetically pleasing to assume an intention of will to certain things (but not all things, we are very selective), but preference does not at all dictate the truth of the matter. Our language and manner of thinking is built on this preference (or perhaps our preference is built on our language, linguistical patterns have repeatedly been shown to affect our manner of thinking) and so we have a proclivity to use terms such as “In order to”.

You say “the turtle came ashore IN ORDER TO lay eggs” but I see no more reason to accept that phrasing of things than “The rock fell after being thrown IN ORDER TO hit the ground” or “the dirt absorbed water IN ORDER TO become mud”. We see the latter assertions as clearly a ridiculous way of stating the matter. Our way of thinking about rocks and dirt don’t allow us to subscribe intention to them (and certainly physics clearly shows that neither the rock nor the dirt have a say in those respective scenarios so even if we *could* think about dirt as having intention, it would be foolish to do so), but our way of thinking about turtles does. However we ultimately have no reason to assume the turtle really is capable of intention other than preference, unless there is emperical evidence suggesting the presence of intention.

Materialistic science can explain your turtle behavior without resorting to questions of intention, and in fact assuming intention actually complicates any explination substantially. In your case of turtles science can absolutely explain WHY a certain behavior exists, in terms of what conditions caused a behavior to be selected for, how a behavoir is genetically encoded and expressed during development, and how that genetic encoding and expression mechanism themselves developed. In your specific example the why is reasonably simple on the surface (when getting to gene expression and resultant behavior it increases in detail, but that’s true of any system when you remove abstraction) – turtles come to land to lay eggs because their ancestor was a terrestrial reptile and they inhereted an egg type that requires terrestrial nests as a result. Since their evolution from that terrestrial reptile they have not been exposed to the combination of random mutations that allow for aquatic eggs and the selective pressures that would favor that mutation, hence the continued use of terrestrial nests. Rather than say “the turtle came ashore in order to lay eggs” it would be more accurate to say “the turtle came ashore to lay eggs because it has not evolved the capacity to lay eggs in the water”.

At no point does questions of intention or decision for the turtle enter the question. It comes to shore to lay eggs on land as a result of genetic definition and expression (as a result of evolution) – to bring intention into the picture you then have to explain the origins of the intention, the constraints on the inention, and the EVIDENCE for the intention (and if it had the possibility to intend otherwise). You have to support a scenario that violates Occam’s Razor, which is not intrinsically impossible, but quite a bit more burdensome and very likely not correct.

Incidentally I think it is incorrect to focus of science explainging How. Science is fundementally the exploration of WHY in addition to HOW, and continues to encroach on areas where it was previously held that it could not explain. Mental illness used to be daemons invading the soul – thanks to science we now know why many people are schizopheric – how toxoplasmosis affects the brain and causes schizopherenia, why they then act the way they do, and how to counter the physiological affects that cause the symptoms with medication (see the mixing of why and how). You say “What of poetry, beauty, consciousness, love, morality, freedom”, to which love and morality have had significant advances in scientific explination – by no means near complete, but certainly more useful than assuming they are some intrinsic, unexplainable property (it also does a good job explaining WHY those things are subjective rather than absolute) – actually trying to understand them can lead to treating sociopaths who lack the mechanisms that trigger such things.

that point plays into why many of a scientific bent see science and religion as conflicting. Ultimately both are two ideas for modes of thought to explain phenomena, and science is well aquainted with determining the stronger of competing ideas (the “teach both sides” is a fundemental disregard of the fact that science is designed to weed out the weaker side). The strength of materialistic science over theistic explination – it has utility (also, it is testable so you are actually able to scrutinize validity of claims and measure competing ideas. Theological beliefs are useless at providing arguement against other theological beliefs, and thus FSM). Unless theistic explination can give rise to application it amounts to nothing more than trivia – it is information without knowledge and that has no utility. Science may not be able to disprove the existance of *a god* (it certainly can establish that specific claims of a diety don’t pass muster – the abrahamic meddling god *is* a testable entity by testing claims made for that god, and basic philosophical review can test the logic of religious assertions) though James has made a valiant attempt to assert otherwise, but science does bring into question why any god matters. Is a god any better off if his existance isn’t questioned, but his relevancy is?

Incidentally, while I have not read “In defense of the soul”, I have read a deal of criticism that at least tries to summerize the thesis. If the criticism is correct and accurate, Machuga fundementally relies on the Aristotle assertion that all things are composed of *form* and *matter/shape* (I have next to no regard for Aristotle, who was incapable of basic observation of physical objects as seen by his models for the motion of bodies, and a flawed reliance on deductive logic – so tieing any arguement to him has an uphill battle with me. I admit that the nuances of form and matter as asserted by him are likely over my head however). The fundemental assertion is that we can know the shape of things, because we can measure them, but that those shapes do not imply the actual identity of an object. A watermellon may be ovular, but being ovular does not make it a watermellon. Instead it has some intrinsic watermellonness, its form, that makes it what it is, and this is not quantifiable. In essence he asserts that an object has meaning that can only be explored by philosophy, and science is relegated to quantifiables. For example science can quantify what I am, but not who I am (and thus who I am is defined by my soul). Is this a correct understanding?

If so, I would assert that the limitation is not with science, but with the language used to express it, and that falsely this lack of language is seen as an implication that the unexpressable (and thus, unscrutinizable) exist. One only has to look at the history of mathmatics to see how our understanding is restricted by our language to express ourselves (this is an excellent primer: http://betterexplained.com/articles/a-quirky-introduction-to-number-systems/ however as a quick summery, division did not exist for the romans because roman numeros did not support division. That did not mean that division was not actually physically possible, but rather that it couldn’t be expressed. clearly they could still take 160 men and divide them into two centuries, because for some quirk of language a century was 80 men), and similarly the essence of something is restricted by our ability to express it. That science cannot quantify who Josh is is a limitation in the capability of science reading and expressing things AT THIS POINT and not an implication that I have a soul (though I have many soles) or that such a capability in the future is impossible. I would argue that genetics has arisen as a language of expressing both form and shape on a species level, and for simple species, on an individual level as well; specifically species whose percieved intention for their action, to tie into the begining of this bloated post, is actually relatively approachable algorithms.

I don’t find philosophical arguements to define bounds for science compelling – rhetoric is a poor tool to define the constraints of science. Scientific tools such as the uncertainty principle are capable of providing actual scientific arguements for what science can’t know, and have the benefit of actual physical evidence.

Anyway, now that I typed twelve pages of overly verbose and poorly presented text, hopefully my premises are not based on faulty assumptions of your intended critiques of science or Machuga’s thesis. If so, like a deductive arguement based on faulty premise, this post was mostly worthless (see, there I go jabbing at the long dead Aristotle again, a nasty habit of mine) so I would apologize for wasting the time of anyone reading it.

• wow, that post seemed long in notepad, but not anywhere near as long as it does here. I’m really sorry everyone.

• Long story short, I think it is impossible to rid our explanations of things of “in order tos” and that materialism is simply not up to the task of explaining intentional signs. If people care to consider the argument, read Machuga. You may not be convinced, but most of the arguments on this blog against theism aim for low lying fruit. That might be fun and useful, it probably helps you knock off most religious people you encounter (who may well have, to borrow from Huenemann, a “contrived” theism). But whatever else it might be, Thomism is not low lying fruit. If it was the sort of thing that sophisticated atheists could convincingly disprove, well then Huenemann would have delivered me from my faith years ago (we’ve had at this exact debate – both in person and on the usuphilosophy blog – more times than I can count).

• One last thought (I admit it is an aside) – how come Hume and the problem of induction never comes up on this blog? Shouldn’t you empiricists all be radical skeptics? In other words, you should not trot out your science as an explanation for anything since Hume shows that science has no ground? If science is just an arbitrary story we tell – albeit a very reliable arbitrary story – doesn’t that take considerable sheen off the “science can explain this” line that constantly comes up on this blog? If you cannot even justify [efficient] causality, what kind of a story do you have to tell?
That is not an anti-science rant. My view is that science has a ground and it can get real knowledge (not just customary assertions). But I turn to a non-materialist metaphysics and a non-positivist epistemology to show that, as I think one must.
I keep dragging Huenemann into this, but it is striking how different his posture is than most SHAFTers. He is a thoroughgoing skeptic, not at all overheated with claims about science as a master mode of understanding. In short, I have complained before that I don’t think SHAFTers take the spectre of Nietzsche seriously enough (in moral questions) and they don’t seem to take the spectre of both Nietzsche and Hume seriously enough (in epistemological questions). It strikes me that Huenemann, to his credit (and demise is really haunted by them both.

2. Stumped?! Moi?

I agree with Kleiner in recommending Machuga’s book — very smart, delight to read. In the end, I think materialists do have to say that intentionality emerges, either as a kind of mere appearance or as a kind of shorthand, out of purely nonintentional phenomena. So, literally when you come right down to it, the turtle does not come to shore IN ORDER to do anything. Rather, it climbs up on the shore, digs, lays, etc., because it has genes telling it to do so, and it has those genes because its cousins who lacked them didn’t fare as well. We use the language of “IN ORDER TO” in this case as a way of describing the long process of natural selection whittling down possible behaviors until the only ones left are the ones that make good evolutionary sense.

• My rebuttal would be that the materialist, then, fails to explain much of anything. He excludes what most us of take to be the most interesting part of the explanation.

• Kleiner, will you please elaborate on what the materialist excludes? It seems to me that Huenemann’s is a complete description of why the turtle does what it does.

3. On the original post: I have a scientist friend who says it is unscientific to rule out the possibility of God’s existence. But it was hard for him to take seriously the possibility of a massless demon dancing invisibly in my cupped hands. I would suggest that he wouldn’t take that possibility seriously because it was obviously contrived. And in cases where theism is fairly obviously contrived, out of the natural foibles of human psychology, or out of lousy science, I think it is also pretty easy to discount the possibilities. The trick is to find a genuine, intelligent theism that isn’t just contrived. AND the trick is to delineate a non-question-begging sense of “contrived”!

4. Your point that not being able to prove a negative is itself a negative assertion and therefore self-refuting is brilliant, and now I’m jealous I didn’t think of it.

The whole argument against materialist explanation for intentionality is a perfect example of where philosophers, I think, often tie themselves in knots trying to impute connotation where there isn’t really enough data or theory yet to have a clear understanding of a process. Trying to postulate why the chicken crossed the road before we fully understand its brain function is an exercise in futility. I’m not against trying, of course, especially when it will secure for you a paycheck, but we should keep our conclusions in perspective.

• The problem (taking off my materialist hat for the moment) is that absolutely no amount of brain science will answer the question Kleiner is posing about intentionality. Let me switch the example to a clearer one. Imagine someone who wants to understand why the calculator gets the right answer. If that person starts delving into the circuitry, the flow of electrons, etc, the person will be missing out on the most relevant part of the explanation, which has to do with the calculator’s programming — and the programming cannot be read off its circuitry (since the circuitry can be said to instantiate an infinite number of distinct programs).

• I don’t think science or philosophy can answer the question of intentionality. The best you can hope for is motive.
And I may be missing the point, but you can go into calculator memory and look at the programming to see How it performs. If you want to know Why it does what it does then you’re left with questions like “Why does 1+1=2?” and “Why does somebody care about solving this particular equation?”

• Thanks, Huenemann. Excellent example.
Let me quote Machuga on the point, since I don’t think I can improve much on the how he makes the point:

“William Paley popularized the “Watchmaker” argument for a supernatural designer. He argued that the only way to adequately explain the observed complexity in nature is to posit a divine designer. Aristotelians [and Thomists] totally reject this use of final causes. They never use final causes to fill in gaps in scientific understanding or to explain mere complexity.

Final causes are properly applied in biology when they describe what an event or thing is. There is nothing factious in biologists describing the first pair of claws on a lobster as pincers or saying that the turtle came ashore to lay her eggs, yet both of these descriptions presuppose final cause. …

Of course many modern biologists think that Darwin’s discovery makes final causes unnecessary. But it is only Paley that is refuted by Darwin; Aristotle’s [Aquinas'] arguments are untouched. The reason is simple – without an appeal to genetic codes, natural selection is unintelligible. But like words, no code can be understood in wholly material terms.” [this latter point is the point that Huenemann makes with his calculator example]

• As a computer scientist, I’m not sure I follow the calculator example.

A calculator’s programming certainly can be read off of its circuitry. You just have to look in the memory and not on the processor. Let’s assume the calculator is programmable and not hard-wired. The circuits of the computer carry out logical operations with–most likely–NOR gates. Given a layout diagram of the calculator’s circuitry and clock timing, and the program in the calculator’s memory–which is read off the calculator’s circuitry–it’s possible to provide a wholly materialist explanation of how the computer executes a statement corresponding to 1 + 1 and produces the correct answer. I’d probably have to teach you about 2′s complement binary representation, K-maps, assembly programming and a bit of electrical engineering to understand the working of the logic gates, but there’s no “magic” happening at any level of a computer’s operation.

A computer’s circuitry is capable of instantiating an infinite number of programs, but at any given point it has a finite set of programs that work in a known way (because a physical computer has a finite amount of memory).

Of course, I’ve been tainted with computer architecture and theory of computability classes.

• On the computer example. What you can do is create an isomorphism between what the circuitry is doing and a program (which is an interpretation of what the circuitry is doing). You can’t just read the program off the circuitry, because the circuitry is neutral among the infinite number of programs that match the same inputs with the same outputs.

Here’s what I have in mind. Let’s say we want to add 2 and 2. You point at a physical process and say (suppose) “That’s where the counter is counting from 0 to n=2 once, and then doing it again, resulting in 4″. I point at the same process and say “That’s where the changer is translating from full units into half units, and that’s where the changer is taking the resultant translation and doubling it.” One always has to interpret the meaning of what the circuits are doing; and the fact that all programmers agree upon a single interpretation (if that is a fact) does not change the fact that it is an interpretation.

• Oops, I forgot the point about NOR gates — that’s interpreting a piece of circuitry as what’s called a Sheffer stroke in logic, which is of course equivalent to a negated disjunction, or a conjunction of negations, or a negated biconditional with one argument also negated, or … the point is, you pick the interpretation that you like most.

• If equivalent circuits produce the same output when given the same input, does the interpretation matter?

NOR gates are only used in physical circuits because they’re the cheapest to manufacture. I can write several programs which are black-box equivalent, and I only prefer one over the other because it’s more efficient in time or some other cost.

I think I do see your point, though. Computers “push around symbols”, and at some point the symbols need to be interpreted as meaning something. And the claim is that no materialism, however nuanced, can explain how that interpretation is done. Do I have it?

• When we interpret a NOR gate as either performing an OR and then negating, or negating and then ANDing, that’s just a high level way to help people understand the function of the gate. Science can still explain exactly what is happening (voltages are applied to transistors which allow current to flow, etc.) and when you get specific enough I don’t see much room for interpretations.
I think science has the potential to do this with any object, but when you talk about people and free will I’m uncertain if science can explain intentions (given all the data that could be collected in a situation).

• I don’t understand all this science talk, but I’m wondering if this is like the example of the robot who sees red? (That is, we can build a robot and program it to go around the world, reacting to things that reflect 700nm light, but we can never program it to have the subjective experience red.) This is sort of a shot in the dark, but I think this extra layer of subjectivity (the experience red) seems similar to the layer of judgment you have to apply to the circuits to decide whether the calculator is counting to two twice or doubling translations.

• Darn, I foolishly hit the wrong reply button with my last response, and moreover hadn’t refreshed so missed much of Jame’s response since my last pageview – and have thus now fragmented a common thread. Anyway, Huenemann, when you say:

“That’s where the counter is counting from 0 to n=2 once, and then doing it again, resulting in 4″. I point at the same process and say “That’s where the changer is translating from full units into half units, and that’s where the changer is taking the resultant translation and doubling it.” One always has to interpret the meaning of what the circuits are doing”

This is partially true – without context a state transition can represent multiple interpretations. That said, context CAN be known based on other observations – if prior to the observation of the circuit state changes I knew the calculator recieved 2+2 in the form of input, without recieving other input, I could infer context and have certainty in which interpretation was correct.

Context is a difficult problem, whether it is in computer science, or a natural science, so I don’t want to trivialize that. It is certainly signiciantly more difficult when looking at something as complex as the human brain than it is on the level of a calculator – however there is no reason to suspect that it has infinite complexity (that would invalidate a whole host of theories – which *could* be the case, but hardly the most likely outcome)

• I realized I ended up being more complicated and obscure than I need to be. OBVIOUSLY whatever it is that calculators do needs interpreting. For when you look inside a calculator, you will never find the number 1, or addition, or equality, or division, etc. (I’m ignoring what might be printed on a circuit board, of course, since that would in any case be just a numeral, not a number.) The processes which the calculator undergo have this super neat feature: that you can use them to solve math problems, just like you can use an abacus or a sliderule. But whatever you use, you need to interpret the results.

Thew problem of “intentionality,” or how to figure out meanings, is a pretty subtle problem in philosophy — it has taken me maybe 15 years to feel somewhat comfortable handling it. You materialists who want to know how a materialist might think about the problem could read Dennett’s book, The Intentional Stance. But to underscore Kleiner’s point: don’t stop there! Read the intelligent nonmaterialist foes of Dennett (and, yes, there are loads of them). Anyone who thinks materialism is OBVIOUSLY the truth just hasn’t done enough reading.

• To try and wrap my head around the problem statement, as you propose -

Per the calculator example (which is probably thoroughly off track now), or even more abstractly, any electronic computer- you have the transistor sequence in the appropriate on/off (assuming binary transistors, even though trinary transistors are now trivial to produce) 01000001. This could be a byte, two nibbles, the upper or lower part of a word, dword, or whatever representing a memory location, operation, symbolic or numeric value, or any of a hundred other things.

When investigating the programing it is necessary to determine not just this meaning, but the meaning of all abstracted inputs, the circuit state changes, and the subsequent outputs. If we additionally had no knowledge of the purpose of the object (i.e. to calculate mathematical transactions), any analysis would be further complicated, and as the number of unknowns that require interpretation increase so does the degree of arbitrariness of our conclusions? (essentially as context is continually diminished our determination of various meaning is reduced in confidence)

Is this the gist of the problem assertion, or at least rough ballpark?

5. Does G-d exist?

I have no proof. I see no proof. I see no dis-proof. I desire a positive answer to the question “Is there G-d?” To paraphrase one of the last aphorisms of Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale theologian – 1923-2006).

“Does G-d exist? If the answer is yes, then nothing else matters. And if the answer is no — nothing else matters.”

• Just to clarify, when you say “G-d” are you referring to the Judeo-Christian god in particular? Because that quote wouldn’t seem applicable to a passive deist god.

• I disagree with that quote.
I would say,

“Does god exist? If the answer is yes, then nothing else matters. And if the answer is no — everything else matters.”

• The Quote:

The quote assumes an ultimate purpose or no purpose to existence. While I prefer the possibility of purpose (seen or unseen), I am not unkind towards a philosophy of life that finds existential purpose filled with kindness and altruism. Purpose in existenz is just fine. I have much more in common with the kind atheist than the monster theist. My guess is G-d does, too.

Which god is ‘G-d’?

As to “G-d” … I have a reverence towards the One G-d who is Goodness, requires goodness, but is Mercy, too. These terms (including ‘G-d’) I hold at a distance because I am incapable defining them perfectly (Thomas’s theology of analogy), but it is my lot to try. As a Christian I will talk about worshipping ‘The G-d of Abraham’ when with a Jew or Muslim. They often nod in appreciative agreement. So it is proper to say that I am referring to the Judeo-Christian god in particular, but I have minimal mental constructs that I require of ‘G-d’ than most Christians and Muslims so your assumptions about what I ‘require’ of G-d are probably wrong.

The descriptions of the Christian-Jewish-Muslim god by athiests and skeptics present abhorrent images that are deservedly criticized. Too often these descriptions of the tribal god (“who is on our side”) are horribly accurate. However, sometimes the athiest/skeptic will unfairly constructed a straw-god to bash that the Christian/Jew/Muslim does not recognize.

I do appreciate the thoughtful critique when it is done kindly or is given with a touch of humor. (Mr. Deity is brilliant). However, I am not very fond of ugly raw humor or hateful criticism. SHAFT falls in the appropriate and humorous criticism catagory. Thanks.

Many of the arguments against god in the original post really seem to be swinging in the empty air. An iron clad argument to disprove god seems to be just as unlikely as Anselm’s proof of god. One is starting inside nature to prove or disprove a transcendent being. Hmm. I give little weight to the attempts. Since I have never been a supporter of any god-of-the-gaps arguments for god, I don’t really accept the no-gaps/no-god argument either.

One Jewish concept of G-d is that G-d hid himself at/for/in creation. His hiddenness is a primary attribute used to make the human act of kindness the representation of the brilliant light of G-d in a vast wilderness. So the Jew would say to theist and atheist “Go repair the world”.

I am a bit surprised that no one commented on the Jewish Athiest theology (Predicate Theology) that I referred to on a different post. I would suggest that trashing theism in general is not a worthy enterprise for the atheist. Certainly criticizing ugly theism is a very good enterprise. But perhaps defining what it means to be a ‘good’ atheist and a ‘bad’ atheist might be a more useful topic. It probably parallels the topic of a ‘good’ theist and a ‘bad’ theist. Indeed, I suspect that it is identical to the theist version!

• Short version of Predicate Theology:

Quoting Harold M. Schulweis from his article on Predicate Theology on “Speaking of Faith” Website:

————————Beginning of quote

Subject and Predicate Thinking
In the following session I drew two Columns of religious claims on the blackboard:

Column A
God is merciful
God is just
God is forgiving
God feeds the hungry
God cares for the sick
God raises the fallen
God protects the innocent
God punishes evil

Column B
Column B
Extending mercy is Godly
Doing justice is Godly
Forgiving is Godly
Feeding the hungry is Godly
Curing the sick is Godly
Raising the fallen is Godly
Protecting the innocent is Godly
Punishing evil is Godly

I asked how many could believe in Column A. A few hands were raised, but not most. Asked why they did not believe in Column A, they answered, “I would love to believe the God of Column A, but too many things stand in the way.” They listed family tragedies, the atrocities of the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda and the Sudan, the beheading of innocent people, the suicide-homicides of terrorist bombers. In the presence of disaster, they cannot say “Yes” to the affirmations of Column A.

At the end of the term, I asked myself, “What is it that I am seeking to transmit to the class? What message am I attempting to communicate through Predicate thinking? Is it my goal to develop their fidelity to the Noun Subject, or to the verbs of the Predicates? Put differently, what kind of atheism threatens Jewish faith?

I fear the atheism of the Predicates more than I fear the atheism of the Subject. What sharpened this thought is the arresting rabbinic commentary based on the prophet Jeremiah, who says that God declares, “They have forsaken Me and not kept My laws.” Some sages explain God’s lament to mean, “Would that they had forsaken Me, but kept My laws, since by occupying themselves with the laws, the light which they contain would have led them back to the right path.” (Lamentations Rabba, Proem II) Translated into Predicate theology, the Midrash means that it would be preferable for the Subject God to be abandoned and the moral Predicates followed than to cling to the Subject and deny the Predicates. For by pursuing Godliness, the people would be led back to a credible faith. To hold to the Subject while forsaking the Predicates is to submit to Goethe’s Devil. The atheism which denies the existence and values of the Predicates shakes the foundations of Judaism.

———————end of quote

• Vince – I am more sympathetic to natural theology than you are, but perhaps we might find some common ground. Like Aquinas, I think natural theology can get us somewhere. But, like Aquinas (analogy) I think God always remains at a distance. And, to paraphrase Jean-Luc Marion, I think saying God exists says the least interesting thing we can say about him.
The argument here has morphed into an argument about materialism. Again, I am more sympathetic with the task of metaphysics than you are, but it strikes me that materialism is not only false, it is also a sort of “hardness of mind” that is a sister to the hardness of heart. As such, debunking it seems worthwhile.
Regarding predicational theology — can I raise my hand to both columns A and B?

• Kleiner,

I believe you actually did comment on the Predicate Theology in my previous comment as well. Thank you. I choose columns A and B too, but the I think that the important questions to the theist are ‘Is it ok for the atheist to just choose B?’ and ‘Is it probable that choosing just A is worse than choosing neither!?’

Ir is true. I am strongly influenced by the Kierkegaard-Barth disapproval of natural theology. I am not opposed — just not endeared to natural theology. Indeed, I am growing less interested in metaphysics as a past time because it seems to be giving importance to the unprovable … humanly speaking. Instead, the task of pursuing Column B is primary for those who raise their hand and those who don’t raise their hand to Column A. … How very Jewish of me. Right relation with G-d can only be accomplished in focusing on right relation with humans in community. … How very unChristian of me. Theology proper (study of G-d) is less important to me. I am beginning to devalue the ordering of my thoughts about metaphysics with the exception that I really do desire Column B to matter at some level of reality (metaphysically).

But I do thank you for fighting the good fight against the ‘coldness of mind’ materialism. I do enjoy reading these discussions.

• Vince – Marion (who I think is playing ball in the same neighborhood as Buber and Levinas and that fine Jewish tradition which you find so attractive) once wrote that (close paraphrase) ‘anytime anyone ever does theology the first thing they should do is apologize because they are going to get it wrong’. Maybe we should expand that — ‘anytime anyone does [metaphysical/natural] theology they should not only apologize but admit that they are spending their time on second and not first things’.
I fight these battles and consider them worthwhile. I think the “perennial philosophy” and its intelligible and coherent way of talking about reality is worth defending, and I think it can bolster the faithful and be transformative for culture (I am thinking of social ethics questions). And I am endeared by it too, and probably committed to a more robust synthesis of faith and reason than you (I like Kierkegaard but he also makes me nervous). That said, my heart and a considerable part of my mind is with the personalist & phenomenological tradition (for example, JPII and the Theology of the Body, Levinas, Marion) that is much much closer to the sorts of things that occupy you (Buber in particular). ✚

• JPII and the Theology of the Body. On your recommendation a long time ago, I put a copy on my shelf. I am still waiting to jump in. I always seem to come across a more urgent book. I seem to have found the time to re-read a Cardinal Ratzinger’s book lately. Maybe I can find the time for JPII.

Kierkegaard does scare me as well but I recognize his problem as only considering self in isolation. But I am fascinated by his use of paradox as a necessary concept to embrace in living.

6. “the programming cannot be read off its circuitry ”

You can most certainly reverse engineer a program from circuitry – in fact that is EXACTLY what lead to the cloning of the IBM BIOS and the rise of the IBM Compatable computer in the 80s (and thus the generic PC and the rise of Microsoft). This isn’t theoretical stuff, but every day occurances in the embedded computer space. Why would you think this couldn’t be done? If we can engineer something, why would we be unable to understand the technology enough that we would thus be unable to reverse engineer something?

On the same basis, what grounds do you have to assert that brain science would never be able to answer Kleiner’s question? The human brain is exponentially more complex than the circuit layout and programming of a TI-92 (exponentially is not the same thing as infinitely), so we do not *currently* have the capacity to reverse engineer and reproduce the hardware, software, and stored data in the same way that we could a texas instruments calculator (incidentally, ALU and FP circuits and associated firmware used in calculators are actually pretty straightforward, even in the more advanced calculators – TI is relying on designs from the early 90s still) at this time, but simple neural arrangements such as that found in arthropods are at the point now where we can modify them and have them control autonomous robots (the work of Valentino Braitenberg at MIT was already making breakthroughs in artificially reproducing arthropod neural structures in the mid 80s). Simultaneously we have made huge advancements in our understanding of the human mind, of memory functionality, of sensory processing, chemical and electrical signalling, and a wealth of other areas. We get increasingly precise captures of brain state via a variety of mechanisms (fMRI being the most stunning breakthrough in that area). It seems philosophically we have tried to establish that there is an unknowable to consciousness, but is there any physical evidence to support that notion? Is there evidence of true randomness that has a statistically significant effect in the brain, or evidence that there is inherent uncertainty, or observational paradox, or a physically inscrutiable element? Certainly some physicists such as Roger Penrose have mused that perhaps the brain relies on various quantum effects, which might introduce some of those elements, but those have never been established as more than musings to the best of my knowledge. Is there scientific evidence that there are portions of the brain that are inherently inscrutable?

• Thanks, Josh. That’s what I was trying to say.

When you mentioned arthropod nervous systems, I remembered reading about work using a culture of rat neurons to control a search-and-rescue robot. Of course, this didn’t have the same neural structure as an actual rat brain, but the principle is there.

As far as I know, there’s no evidence to support the idea that the brain has any quantum random components. There’s been some speculation that neurons may have some undiscovered vesicles that are truly non-deterministic, but so far there’s no reason to think so. I don’t think that would be necessary to explain consciousness anyway (to bring things back to my post somewhat).

• I’m hoping Huenemann continues with the argument. Having someone sympathetic with materialism (and who is better able to speak in some of the tribal language) take up the opposing side seems to me to be more potent.

• No, Josh, no. I haven’t done a good job of explaining what the problem of intentionality is, and you’re missing the boat. I’m going to take the lazy route and not try to explain it here, since there are enough heads growing out of this hydra already. But “bookmark” it for further investigation later, okay?

• I’ve apparently missed the boat as well.

Does it have anything to do with either of these things?

7. I actually do think the threads above are central to answering the main topic of this post because I strongly suspect the next great clash between theism and secularism will be within the context of the inner workings of the mind and the nature of consciousness. The question before science is whether there is a ghost (soul) in the machine or not, and I suspect that in light of that answer we will know whether quandaries like “intentionality” have any intellectual cachet or are merely obscurantism. And this is a question solely (if you’ll forgive the pun) before science, since religion has had centuries to deal with the subject and is quite evidently satisfied with the answers already derived. Reductionism may not answer all the questions. In fact, an over-reliance on it is equivalent to committing the fallacy of division: thinking that properties of the whole must be reflected in properties of the parts. Reductionism will never illuminate the nature of emergent properties, but extending that conclusion to mean that properties like “love, beauty, pain” must connote a supernatural realm is, again, obscurantism.

8. What I’m saying, using whatever philosophical shorthand is at my disposal (which isn’t a lot), is that non-materialism does not imply dualism. Even if you accept that things like “love, beauty” or qualia like “redness” are non-material, yet real, this in no way means you can’t be a naturalist. At the same time, I’m not discounting the possibility that these things are very close to non-existent. They may be real but only in a very tenuous way. There is the persistent human ego-centrism that these things MUST exist…therefore the beautiful sunset in the year 1 billion BC was still beautiful even though there was nobody there to see it. (I’m tempted to say, “…and therefore, God” like on the web lists of reasons for God). It reminds me of the joke I once made of the tree falling in the forest with nobody there to hear it. Does it make a sound? The answer yes, but if there’s nobody there to hear it, it goes “AAAAAHHhhhhhhhh…”

• Just a clarification: Aristotle is not a “dualist”. His metaphysics is hylomorphic. There is an important distinction. Nor would I call Aristotle’s account of intentionality “supernaturalist”, though his view does entail (somewhere down the line) an unmoved mover.

9. Like Huenemann, I think I’ll bow out of this current debate after this post. If Huenemann and I have managed to give those on this blog who have astonishing confidence in their materialism at least some pause, then mission accomplished.

Josh, no one is denying that neuroscience has made all sorts of amazing discoveries, nor is anyone denying that the brain is involved in thought/memory (and you don’t need fancy brain scans to know that, Aristotle knew that 2000 years ago). The Aristotelian point (which is driving my position) is that the material parts are never their own principle of organization. The material parts are organized in a certain way, and that organization is not itself a material entity. Rather we “interpret” that the parts are organized into a “meaningful this” or a “meaningful that”, but the “meaningful thisness” (what Aristotelians call “form”) is something above and beyond the material parts (though this does not entail that they are “supernatural”). A big part of this includes intentionality/teleology.

I don’t think the fact that we can reverse engineer things demonstrates anything otherwise. To ‘make something work’ is not the same thing as saying ‘what it is’. To say ‘what it is’, that it is an x and not a y, involves what Huenemann called an “interpretation” (I’d just as well prefer “a judgment”). To say ‘what a thing is’ is to go beyond its mere shape, as form is not reducible to shape. This is the old Socratic problem – when one asks “what is a hammer?” one wants a definition of the essence (the essence of the thing, not the word). Pointing to the the shape of a hammer doesn’t answer the question. In fact, that ‘present-at-hand’ gaze which just looks at shape ignores one of the most important things – that hammers are handy for hammering (final cause). (note – I am aware, as is Aristotle, that the artifact analogy eventually falls apart but it remains a useful analogy).

At this point, Hunt has admitted that there is some non-material principle of organization. That is a step in the right direction. Now the question is whether or not that principle of organization (form) is substantial or simply an emergent property. In other words, does form or matter have ontological priority? Aristotle’s argument is that intentionality gives us an important clue to the answer – that the lower can never be an explanation for the higher, so form has ontological priority.

It is worth getting the argument on the table. If man did not have a substantial immaterial form, then man could not have intentional language. Here is the intentionality argument (hard to resist noting from the get-go here that this is not a “supernatural”, much less “religious”, argument):

1. All relations are either physical or non-physical (i.e., intentional).
2. The relation between a word and its meaning is not a physical relation
3. The person who understands the meaning of a word is active, while the word
itself is passive.
4. That which is capable of action must subsist.
5. Therefore, the agent intellect that understands words must be immaterial and
subsistent.

Final thought: I often wonder why atheists are so bloody scared of hylomorphism and teleology. The resistance to it strikes me as rather reactionary (and there is nothing more common these days than dismissing Aristotle without having actually read him and taken him seriously). I have not thought this through, but I don’t see anything obvious that would prevent someone from being a sort of a naturalist while also holding a basically Aristotelian metaphysics. Aristotle’s view does, way down the line, require an unmoved mover, but this is such a bare and philosophical “theism” that it does not seem too threatening, particularly since most atheists on this blog seem most resistant to “religion” and “supernaturalism” which don’t necessarily travel with Aristotle. In fact, I think many SHAFTers would find a great ally in Aristotle, since he gives a pretty good argument for why science can get real knowledge about things. So why the resistance? Perhaps it is because atheists know that, in moving toward Aristotle, they are taking a step toward Aquinas (even if the next many steps to Aquinas need not be taken). I push Huenemann on this often, and lately we’ve both been usefully oversimplified things by saying, ‘you have to either be a radical skeptic, a Kantian, or an Aristotelian/Thomist.’ Many on this blog, in light of their confidence about science, don’t want to be skeptics. Between the other two, Aristotle starts looking pretty damn good.

• I would be open to a “book club” where we all read the Machuga book and get together once a week to discuss it. I am pretty booked up this semester, as are many of you. Maybe we could do it in May or this summer?

• I appreciate your tenacity, and if you’re still around…

There are few outside the discipline of philosophy who even know what “hylomorphism” means. I had to look it up on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and now have a cursory understanding. You have to realize that you’re using specialized terminology. I get that it isn’t equivalent to dualism, but dualism is probably close enough for my purposes. Wikipedia also tells me that Aristotle believed in thought existing outside the body, a view you seem to endorse with reference to an “agent intellect that understands words.”

Teleology is easier to deal with. Atheists often have a hard time with it because they (we) don’t acknowledge an extrinsic universal purpose, “final cause,” or what have you. Since this is in direct contradiction to teleology, it shouldn’t be too surprising why it is rejected.

I’m not sure that I “admitted” to anything, since this has been my view all along. But yes, I agree with you. The question is, do these things have substance — I would prefer to say “are they real” — or are they merely properties of emergent systems. You could convince me more easily of the substance of “being a circle” than you could of “sunset beauty.” It really does get back to the “if a tree falls in the forst…” question, though I prefer the sunset beauty scenario. If tomorrow every human on earth dropped dead, would the sunset still be beautiful? I think there are very good reasons to think that it would not, barring the possibility that a stray dolphin might find it enjoyable. Why would it not be? Because “sunset beauty” is a property of the human mind, the ability to appreciate a sunset, and not a property of the sunset. And if all humans cease to exist, the property does as well.

• Crap, I’m going to get this right if it kills me:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; therefore without a beholder, there is no beauty.

Yes!

• “Tenacity” is a nice way of telling someone they are stubborn as a mule. Thanks though!

I got caught up with a philosophical argument and so did start using a bunch of “tribal language” without explaining what it all meant. My apologies to non-philosophers. Stanford encyclo is, though, a nice source so glad you found that. Two quick thoughts:

a) I think hylomorphism (the view that substances are form-matter composites, as opposed to substance dualism which holds that form and matter are two different substances) are different enough that I resist the “close enough” point. Non-philosophers might see this as quibbling, but there really is an important distinction to be made (it is the distinction between Platonists and Aristotelians).

b) I do not think “beauty is in the eye of beholder” in the regular sense of that phrase – that beauty is entirely relative to subjective/relative judgments (where x might be beautiful ‘for me’ but not ‘for you’). But that is not what Hunt was saying. I agree with Hunt’s meaning of the phrase (as do Aristotle and Aquinas!) – that without a beholder there is no such thing as beauty. This because beauty is not a substance, it is an “accidental” (non-essential) property of some substances. So Hunt and I agree here – we both think Plato is wrong on this. Hooray! The question is … is Aristotle right?

• Hylomorphism is actually a term in computer science as well, which really really confused me.

• “and there is nothing more common these days than dismissing Aristotle without having actually read him and taken him seriously”

Well to be clear, I am familiar with Aristotle, though I would not in any way claim the same authority as yourself (professionally I am an expert at software security, not philosophy). My gripe with him is primarily one based on science – his physical laws are grossly wrong, so much so that a five year old tossing a rock could observe his idea for ballistic motion are not just wrong, but wrong to the point of stupidity. Yet because of the strength of his name such laws were treated like gospel for 2000 years, with all questions of them silenced. I mean gospel in an almost literal sense, as the Roman Catholic Church relied on Aristotle’s views to justify their terra-centric view of the solar system which they wrongly persecuted Galileo for questioning. Aristotle directly used his clout to silence the deterministic notions of Atomos from Democritus on the grounds that such notions were speculative, in order to advance his own captain planet flavored view on elements, which were both speculative, and wrong. His clout, his name, and his stance of things silenced all other inquiry for two millennium; he is quite possibly the most retarding element of scientific inquiry in human existence, to physics what Freud is to psychology.

Because of that I have a hard time taking the notion that we should respect his views on gathering knowledge, since the methods his views are used to criticize have proven accurate while his own methods produce results that do not withstand even cursory observation. When it comes to results that could explain our world, his methods did not produce fruit.

His postulates are very analogous to M-Theory (or its predecessor, string theory) – beautifully logically consistent, rhetorically elegant, and not at all verified against real world phenomena (which is unfair to M-Theory – it does actually support many real world phenomena, it just has yet to produce novel verifiable predictions that are not covered by competing hypothesis. Even if superparticles are verified much of M-theory will remain entirely speculative). Empirically, Aristotle’s methods of defining physical truth were wholesale failures.

I have a hard time accepting the arguments of a man who thought that if you shaved off a piece of oak from a freshly made bed and planted it, it would grow back into a tree because the wood knew its proper form and would return to it freed from the constraints of man’s will put upon it. There is an easy experiment to establish the validity of such a claim – actually do it. However Aristotle did not care about the empirical validity of his ideas, simply the rhetorical validity, so the notion that he should verify his ideas never seemed to have occurred to him (or if they did, the experiments are lost to history). His idea of form and shape had some serious problems with reality. Even if you hold to his philosophical strengths, you have to grant that his physical assertions were pretty far off the mark.

• Though reading my own response, I will acknowledge that my emotional resentment with regard to his physical laws has made me predisposed to disregard much of anything Aristotle produced, which is hardly wise. However bias is a pretty deep seated biological behavior that is hard to overcome what with weighted judgment being so crucial to survival tactics. Regardless I will en devour to at least be aware of it.

10. Regardless of the above statements about the lack of evidence that the brain interacts with the universe on the quantum level, the most widely accepted interpretation says mind and quantum mechanics are inexplicably but definitely intertwined. Quantum states do not ‘collapse’ into a single state unless a ‘conscious mind’ decides to observe something in a particular way. Every experiment of quantum mechanics requires this connection. I believe, even the many universe interpretation of quantum mechanics requires a conscious mind to observe for achieve a multi-universe branching.

Again, this is fundamental regardless of what you state about no quantum effects in the brain. As I have mentioned before the book “The Worm and the Rainbow” ponders where the quantum brain effect reside.

• I don’t dispute that. Observation causing superposition waveform collapse is really, really weird. No one knows how it happens. My post wasn’t about that.

I was saying that there’s no evidence that the operation of an individual neuron is influenced by quantum randomness or any other quantum effects. As far as we can tell, neurons operate on a purely molecular and chemical level. That doesn’t have anything to do with collapsing waveforms through observation.

• James,

It seems on some level the ‘conscious observer’ implies a brain activity that interacts with quantum outcomes. The arguments of “The Worm and the Rainbow” identify systems of neurons that act in ways that approach the binary states of of systems that require quantum statistics to describe. When thermodynamics is approached from the quantum statistics end of physics (i.e., Kettel’s book on thermodynamics), the several (or many) particle systems that have only a few ‘states’ must incorporate quantum statistics. Superconductivity and superfluidity are super-atomic situations where quantum effects become important.

While a single neuron may be chemically controlled, the associated set of neurons in a memory response act in concert with such unity that it implies they are acting as a single quantum system. Non-quantum systems have many non-interacting (quantum mechanically) units that can be reduced to thermal statistical descriptions. The unity of neural memory response is apparently not a set of chemically communicating neuron units even though each is fired chemically. Rather they seem to be delicately coupled so that they fire simultaneously … not at the speed of chemical or even electrical nerve response. The theory is that they are tuned by entangle quantum fields.

However, I am WAY out of my expertise when talking biophysics.

• Are you suggesting that neurons are entangled and communicate with each other by violating the speed of light restriction?

Because that is . . . weird.

• I believe the claim was that they worked in concert beyond the speed of the biological-chemical actions. I don’t believe the claim was faster than the speed of light. But it has been several years since I read the book (correct title and author being –”The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms” by Mae-Wan Ho.

The arguments cited scientific papers to indicate the couple neuron behavior, but the discussion tying it all to quantum mechanics was in the hand-waving realm.

• … but the hand-waving arguments seemed reasonable.

• “Quantum states do not ‘collapse’ into a single state unless a ‘conscious mind’ decides to observe something in a particular way”

The observer is not specified as a conscious mind by physics. The quantum mind theory is one produced by psychology rather than physics, and is further muddled by philosophical interpretations.

11. And I’ll repeat what my physics professor, Dr. Peak, has said multiple times. An observation may not require a “conscious mind”, as Vince says. In fact, the impression I got from Dr. Peak is that Vince’s view does not have a majority of followers.

• I have met Dr. Peak. He is a better physicist than I am, but I disagree with the impression he gave you. The tendency may indeed be to belittle the ‘conscious mind’ interpretation, but Quantum Strangeness has two main interpretations based on Schrodinger’s Quantum Physics and Bohm’s Quantum Physics. First, one is that a conscious mind decides to observe a quantum event in a particular way and the outcome of the event is determined by the particular decision. Second, all quantum events spawn a reality for each possible outcome. The observer at this moment is only experience one memory path in one of the many realities. These are the two interpretations that results from real quantum-based experiments!

Ockham’s Razor may suggest that the conscious mind interpretation is the preferred interpretation for physicists so that we have only one reality to deal with.

There are ensemble interpretations in quantum statistics that suggest that particles ‘observe each other’ making the universe physically aware of itself through constant entanglement of wave forms. Some argue that this does away with the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox, but their argument is still in the arm waving stage. I am unaware that they have demonstrated that their statistical mathematics eliminates the observer’s role in the ‘conscious observer’ experiments.

The big problem with the Copenhagen Interpretation is that the conscious observing and the wave form collapse are metaphysical … not observable. There is a treatment of the Copenhagen Interpretation the removes measurements from the physics, but it sounds like the many-worlds interpretation in reverse (every event has many probablistic histories that converge, thus, no conscious observer is needed for the collapse of the probability wave form.) This is a solution to the conscious observer interpretation??? Yah, you bet.

Now, one can avoid requiring an INTERPRETATION and say that these are the observations and they need no INTERPRETATION. This is called the “Shut up and calculate”. I suspect that is Dr. Peak’s position and he may be suggesting that this is the view of many physicists.

So we are back to the most widely accepted (maybe most widely acknowledged) INTERPRETATION — the Copenhagen Interpretation. This INTERPRETATION (sorry for the caps) is what many edge-of-physics books by very good scientists are about (“The Mind of God” by Paul Davies, “The Emperor’s New Mind” by Roger Penrose, “The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms” by Mae-Wan Ho). There are a few using the many world interpretations, too, but not many.

Regardless of your statement, the Copenhagen Interpretat

• Opps. … ion is still top dog.

• My problem with even the term “conscious mind” is that it inherently is not defined in physics, hence of no more utility than simply saying “observer”. Certainly there are theories such as the Holonomic brain theory that attempt to do so, specifically using quantum mechanics, but they are completely unsupported.

• I think ‘conscious observer’ was required because an observation is the basic unit of science and a choice by the observer makes a difference in the observed outcome of the experiment. These two components of the quantum experiments required both worlds to interpret what is observed.

I have been talking to several physicists that know and don’t know quantum mechanical specifics. Typically, they say ‘who knows’. Some felt that future theories may overcome the need for the ‘conscious observer’. Some identified the ensemble quantum theory as having solved the need for the conscious observer — this can be interpreted as the universe is conscious of itself). BUT the physicists that thought that the conscious observer had been dispelled could not identify the paper or presentation of the ensemble theory that eliminated the conscious observer requirement.

I have yet to talk with Dr. Peak, who probably is the best physicist at USU as far as knowing the specifics of the philosophy-science interface.

This informal survey supports my earlier assessment. Physicists are uncomfortable with the ‘conscious observer’ interpretation of quantum experiments. They want it to go away for the most part. But no one seems to know of a definitive demonstration that the requirement has been overcome. Rather, most physicists would prefer and have a hazy belief that the conscious observer requirement has been or will be overcome.

12. For anyone interested, I treid to sum up the problem of intentionality over on usuphilosophy.com.

13. We ought to have a reading club of the Machuga book, as well as one of these other books.

14. ..how about just rephrasing the statement to, “there are some things that you cannot prove that they do not exist.” For example you cannot prove that the universe does not exist and you cannot prove that the earth does not exist and you cannot prove that water does not exist. Also there are MANY things that science cannot prove that they do not exist or even exist such as; love, motive, joy, fear,etc. I am not even sure if science can prove that time exists. Using science to prove whether or not God exists is like using a tape measure to measure happiness.
To find out if God exists just ask a few people if they have ever heard of someone called God, I am sure someone will say yes. Do fairies exist? ..yes they do. Do unicorns exist? ..yes they do. If unicorns or fairies did not exist then no one would know what they were. Does God exist? yes. I have just proved that God exists.

15. also there is a huge problem with your argument. Your entire argument is an attempt to refute this statement “science can’t prove that God does not exist, because you can’t prove a negative”. Then you disproved the statement “you cannot prove a negative” but then you imply the fact that you disproved one part of the statement to mean that you proved that science can prove that God does not exist. While it is true that in some cases you can prove that some things do not exist such as “a married bachelor,” that does not negate the first part of the statement which is “science can’t prove that God does not exist” you gave no proof of the falsity of this part of the statement; therefore you have failed to answer the question “Can Science Disprove God?”