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Sense and Goodness Without God III: What There Is


To be plausible, a hypothesis should make sense, it should not conflict with any evidence, it should be a logical inference from the evidence we do have, and it should contain as few unproven elements as possible. . . if several theories are plausible, . . our best bet would be the most plausible theory. So, after meeting the criteria of plausibility, the most plausible explanation will be the one that has the greatest explanatory scope and power. A hypothesis with “explanatory scope” explains many facts, not just one or two. . . and a hypothesis with “explanatory power” makes the facts it explains highly probable.

Historically, most people have resorted to some God or Creator as the explanation of the universe. . . the theory either contradicts a lot of evidence or, to avoid that, entails a huge complex of ad hoc assumptions to explain those contradictions away. Worse, the idea that there was a god around… when there was no place for it to exist, that something acted when there was no time in which it could act… is pretty much unintelligible. Some theologians thus invent a second layer of uncreated time or space for God to work in, but this is yet another ad hoc assumption for which we have no evidence and that only creates a new problem: what caused that layer of space or time to exist?

…observe that the only things we have ever proven to exist are matter, energy, space, and time… Since we can explain everything by appealing to only those things and their properties, then (all else being equal) such an explanation is the most plausible one around – leaving no need… to go beyond them and invent all manner of unprovenentities, like gods and spirits and miraculous powers.[Also, the god hypothesis] does not have much explanatory power. It does not follow from “there is a God” [that] “God will create this universe, just as we see it,” since any description of God that people would agree with would sooner entail a quite different universe… Second, this theory does not have much explanatory scope. Almost none of the features of the universe are explained by saying “God did it (71)!

Carrier provides two theories that are more plausible than the God theory, the Chaotic Inflation Theory, and the Theory of Cosmological Natural Selection. These explanations have both scope and power, and need to rely on either no assumptions, or on a single assumption. Sounds good!

Determinism is the view that the future is as fixed as the past, and cannot proceed any differently than it actually will. . . this doesn’t really change anything for us as individuals or as a society. Determinism does not justify fatalism. . . it means we decide our future precisely by what we do in the present. . . Likewise determinism does not really mean we have no free will. For what we call ‘free will’ is really nothing more than the ability to choose and do what we want, an ability we can have even in a deterministic world (97).

I believe determinism is true because it is simple and has great explanatory power, it is a reasonable inference from the facts so far, it leads to a much clearer and more accurate understanding of many things, and alternative accounts are neither needed nor useful. As we shall see, for example, ‘responsibility’, both moral and legal, actually requires determinism. For if determinism were not true, then our actions and choices would not necessarily be caused by who we are. And what “we” (as a set of personality traits, memories, and so on) did not cause, we cannot logically be blamed or praised for (98).

I see this all as a beautiful take-down of libertarian free will. I’m tired of having to explain why it does not lead to some sort of chaos, and I don’t like the statement that we must ‘assume’ (implied libertarian) free will in order to live how we do. If one can make decisions to act outside of any personality, desires, etc. than that undercuts the very idea of holding a person responsible. The very idea of personhood depends on that (duh) ‘personality’ and emotional make-up.

The courts decision entailed the very same definition just observed. “Just any” causation is not considered, even in theory, as capable of eliminating free will. Rather, only those causes considered that make someone do what they would not otherwise want to do. . . (111)

This is fundamental to all criminal law: intent (knowledge of what one is doing and an overriding desire to do it) is essential for all criminal responsibility (112).

Double smack down on libertarian free will being necessary to have our current justice system. I would like to understand it better, but this is a big thing for me. I have, up to this point, always thought that our justice system does require a contra-causal free will. No more, although I may take some more convincing.

For it is wickedness we condemn and goodness we praise, not freedom from causation. Complaining changes nothing. But acknowledging your faults and improving yourself changes everything.

Can’t find the above quote, but it is Carrier’s case that determinism is necessary, not contrary to moral responsibility.

“Abstract Objects” are not really objects. . . but qualities or properties that are “abstracted” from individual cases. For instance, after seeing red apple after red apple, we begin to abstract from these experiences certain commonalities- appleness, roundness, redness- that can be shared by different apples, even different objects altogether.

In simplest terms, an abstraction. . . is a potential pattern of experience, a repeatable pattern of matter and energy in space-time (124).

This is something about which I was happy to have come to a similar conclusion, independently. Abstract notions are not things that “exists” but basically a description of what certain objects that do exist have in common. Therefore that whole debate between Bahnsen and Stein where Bahnsen makes a fool of Stein is answered here. No ‘law’ of logic exists in some Platonic sense.

Page 139 (6.3): Carrier answers the Chinese room objection to the brain as a sort of processing machine. The argument is that one could have a codebook of responses to questions in other languages, and reply to questions in a machine like manner without understanding. Therefore, since understanding is not occurring, but the machine-like action works the same way, there is something special about this aspect of ‘understanding.’

Carrier’s response is basically that in order to successfully mimic the human mind, the codebook would need to be sufficiently complex as to alter itself as questions come in, respond to different contexts, accumulate knowledge, learn new skills, and just be changeable in general. If you add in all the complexities the codebook must have in order to work as a successful response machine, boom, you’ve got the complexity of a the human brain itself. It would be “AI.”

Page 150 6.6: The Evidence for Mind-Body Physicalism, as paraphrased by Luke of CSA:

  • Scientists have observed human brains working in dozens of ways, millions of times. But they have never observed a mind at work without a physical brain.
  • Scientists have shown that for dozens of specific mental events, there is always a corresponding brain event. When people report seeing something, there is always activity in what we know to be the visual centers of the brain. When people report remembering something, there is always activity in the brain where we know memories are stored. And so on.
  • When scientists stimulate the brain with electrodes, this always triggers “the same mental event when the same stimulus is applied in the same place.” On occasion, scientists will even find patients for whom stimulating a certain part of the brain will always cause a particular song to play in their head, or a particular memory to replay on their mind’s stage.
  • Brain injury – or impairment with drugs or magnetic fields – “results in the loss of specific mental functions as the specific areas related to those functions are lost or numbed.” There are thousands of examples.
  • Scientists now understand many of the chemicals that make the brain work, and changing the chemical makeup of the brain changes mental states and even personality.
  • Comparative anatomy also testifies to physicalism. There is a direct correlation between increased mental powers and increased brain complexity – even within specific parts of the brain. For example, an animal with a highly developed sense of smell has a disproportionately large part of their brain devoted to smell.

And once again, as paraphrased by Luke, here is the evidence against mind-body physicalism:

Carrier lists 5 kinds of evidence that has been offered against mind-body physicalism: (1) Near Death Experiences, (2) Out of Body Experiences, (3) communication with the dead, (4) ghost sightings, and (5) recalling memories from past lives – all of which are anecdotal, ambiguous, weak, and often fraudulent.

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