Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Rom 1 watch, 23: The inescapable self-referentiality and incoherence -- thus, arguably, self refutation -- of evolutionary materialism (whether dressed up in a lab coat or not)

Yes, I agree: that's quite a controversial assertion!

Indeed it is "fighting words" to many who imagine that adherence to evolutionary materialist scientism -- which (as we highlighted last time) dominates current science and educated thought, especially on origins -- is the very epitome of being a bright, informed, intelligent and rational thinker in our day.

But, I think the assertion in the title for this post is well-warranted.

Why is that?

Let us see.

As a first point of departure, let us look at an illustration of the multi-level architecture of the brain-CNS embedded controller for our bodies:

Of neurons, organised networks and Brains. The worldview-level challenge is to bridge between brains and rational minds, where milli-Volt electrical potentials and ion flows are not at all equivalent to proof, truth or knowledge. Nor do networked signals equate to meaning, apart from a conversion to a symbol system which may be embedded in the design of the control network, but a functional architecture expressed in a specific complex organised entity that has in it much information does not explain itself, nor -- as was brought out last time -- is it credible on needle in haystack grounds that it comes about by incremental wandering around in a space of possibilities through blind chance and mechanical necessity. Rather as that which obviously began somewhere, at some time it calls out for an adequate cause. The only empirically well warranted explanation for FSCO/I is  intelligent design. Here, of our own brain-body systems.
The Derek Smith two-tier controller loop model helps us analyse such a system:

In the Smith model, a lower tier input-output loop controller is supervised by a higher tier one, which provides strategic level guidance and purpose. (It is helpful to think in terms of guiding fingers to key in words in this caption, where the mechanics of controlling fingers is a different order of problem from the purposeful statement of a sentence in English using ASCII symbols that are triggered by keying particular keys in sequence.) The issue at stake is not the in-loop controller but he higher order one, or the difference between brain and mind. Can knowing, purposeful, conscious mind be explained materialistically?

 Obviously, the challenge is to bridge the gap between brains and minds. This is a longstanding issue, and it is in fact one that has never been adequately answered by advocates of evolutionary materialism. It needs to be frankly put on the table for serious discussion instead of being the elephant we are all pretending is not in the middle of the room.

To see what I mean, here for first example is a classic challenge by J B S Haldane, from the turn of the 1930's, that aptly captures the essential point:
"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms." ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]
In more recent days, we can see the Nobel Prize winning co-discoverer of DNA, Sir Francis Crick trying to put a more positive spin on the problem, in his 1994 The Astonishing Hypothesis:
. . . that "You", your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons." This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.

No wonder, that ID thinker Philip Johnson has replied that Sir Francis should have therefore been willing to preface his works thusly: "I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."  Johnson then acidly commented:  “[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” [Reason in the Balance, 1995.]

Patricia Churchland (as cited by Alvin Plantinga) further brings out the problem with the idea of substituting nervous systems for mind with its capacity of cognition:
Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in . . .  feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principal chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival [[Churchland's emphasis]. Truth, whatever that is [[ --> let's try, from Aristotle in Metaphysics, 1011b: "that which says of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not" . . . ], definitely takes the hindmost.
The underlying problem is inadvertently brought out by Dawkins in A Devil's Chaplain, 2004, p. 46

For, on evolutionary materialist premises, the cause of the belief system of evolutionary materialism, "must" also be reducible to forces of blind chance and mechanical necessity that are sufficiently adaptive to spread this "meme" in populations of jumped- up apes from the savannahs of East Africa scrambling for survival in a Malthusian world of struggle for existence.

 The underlying problem, however, is ancient; and it is rooted in the core ideas of such a materialism-driven worldview. 

That is why it is inescapable. 

Thus, it can already be seen peeking around the edges of Lucretius' classic C1 BC philosophical poem On The Nature of Things, Book I, Chapter 4:

[[Ch 4:]  . . . All nature, then, as self-sustained, consists
Of twain of things: of bodies and of void

In which they’re set, and where they’re moved around.

For common instinct of our race declares
That body of itself exists: unless
This primal faith, deep-founded, fail us not,

Naught will there be whereunto to appeal
On things occult when seeking aught to prove
By reasonings of mind
. . . .

whate’er exists, as of itself,
Must either act or suffer action on it,
Or else be that wherein things move and be:
Naught, saving body, acts, is acted on; 
but the inane [[i.e. void] can furnish room.  And thus,
Beside the inane and bodies, is no third
Nature amid the number of all things
. . . 

Where is the problem?

Simple, the matter [or, brain]- mind gap

So, following Hume in his guillotine argument, we may freely express how:
1 -->  we see the usual blindly mechanical couplings of cause and effect through interactions of particles and combinations thereof in space and time per laws/forces of nature, with some chance processes tossed in for good measure; then

2 -->  "all of a sudden," we are "surpriz'd" to hear Lucretius (and his modern disciples) speaking of a "third" factor: "reasonings of mind" that are capable of both "faith" and "pro[of]."

3 --> So, we must ask: How does/could such come to be? 

4 --> That is, how can mind be grounded in matter and energy, interacting through blind chance and mechanical necessity? (Including through claimed processes of evolution, where we note the Churchland observation: Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage . . . Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost)?

5 --> Or, can it be so grounded? For, if we must have a worldview-level foundation adequate to explain mind in ourselves, matter and energy interacting through blind chance and mechanical necessity are unpromising causal ingredients.
And, as Darwin put it, if we somehow come up with an explanation of mind through blind forces of evolution, why should we be willing to trust the deliverances of such a "monkey's mind":
"the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

Elaborating (per an argument that traces in modern times to people like Lewis, Plantinga and so forth):
a: Evolutionary materialism argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature; from hydrogen to humans by undirected chance and necessity. 

b: Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of
purposeless laws of chance and/or mechanical necessity acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of happenstance initial circumstances.
(This is physicalism. This view covers both the forms where (a) the mind and the brain are seen as one and the same thing, and those where (b) somehow mind emerges from and/or "supervenes" on brain, perhaps as a result of sophisticated and complex software looping. The key point, though is as already noted: physical causal closure -- the phenomena that play out across time, without residue, are in principle deducible or at least explainable up to various random statistical distributions and/or mechanical laws, from prior physical states. Such physical causal closure, clearly, implicitly discounts or even dismisses the causal effect of concept formation and reasoning then responsibly deciding, in favour of specifically physical interactions in the brain-body control loop; indeed, some mock the idea of -- in their view -- an "obviously" imaginary "ghost" in the meat-machine. [[There is also some evidence from simulation exercises, that accuracy of even sensory perceptions may lose out to utilitarian but inaccurate ones in an evolutionary competition. "It works" does not warrant the inference to "it is true."] )
c: But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this meat-machine picture.  So, we rapidly arrive at Crick's claim in his  The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994): what we subjectively experience as "thoughts," "reasoning" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as the unintended by-products of the blind natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains that (as the Smith Model illustrates) serve as cybernetic controllers for our bodies. 

d: These underlying driving forces are viewed as being
ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance shaped by forces of selection [["nature"] and psycho-social conditioning [["nurture"], within the framework of human culture [[i.e. socio-cultural conditioning and resulting/associated relativism]. And, remember, the focal issue to such minds -- notice, this is a conceptual analysis made and believed by the materialists! --  is the physical causal chains in a control loop, not the internalised "mouth-noises" that may somehow sit on them and come along for the ride.
(Save, insofar as such "mouth noises" somehow associate with or become embedded as physically instantiated signals or maybe codes in such a loop. [[How signals, languages and codes originate and function in systems in our observation of such origin -- i.e by design --   tends to be pushed to the back-burner and conveniently forgotten. So does the point that a signal or code takes its significance precisely from being an intelligently focused on, observed or chosen and significant alternative from a range of possibilities that then can guide decisive action.])
e: For instance, Marxists commonly derided opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismissed qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways?  Should we not ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is little more than yet another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze? And -- as we saw above -- would the writings of a Crick be any more than the firing of neurons in networks in his own brain?
f: For further instance,  we may take the favourite whipping-boy of materialists: religion.  Notoriously, they often hold that belief in God is not merely cognitive, conceptual error, but delusion. Borderline lunacy, in short. But, if such a patent "delusion" is so utterly widespread, even among the highly educated, then it "must" -- by the principles of evolution -- somehow be adaptive to survival, whether in nature or in society. And so, this would be a major illustration of the unreliability of our conceptual reasoning ability, on the assumption of evolutionary materialism.
g: Turning the materialist dismissal of theism around, evolutionary materialism itself would be in the same leaky boat. For, the sauce for the goose is notoriously just as good a sauce for the gander, too.

NB: This issue can be addressed at a more sophisticated level, cf. Hasker in The Emergent Self (Cornell University Press, 2001), from p 64 on, e.g. here as well as Reppert here and Plantinga here (briefer) & here (noting updates in the 2011 book, The Nature of Nature).
Victor Reppert helps us by putting this in a nutshell that brings out what happens when we reduce mind, thinking and reasoning to "internalised mouth-noise signals riding on the physical cause-effect chain in a cybernetic loop":
. . . let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, together cause the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts . . . [[But] if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and [[so] we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions. [[Emphases added. Also cf. Reppert's summary of Barefoot's argument here.]
In short, it is at least arguable that self-referential absurdity is the dagger pointing to the heart of evolutionary materialistic models of mind and its origin. An audio clip by William Lane Craig that summarises Plantinga's argument on this in a nutshell, is useful:

In other words, evolutionary materialism-driven naturalism and scientism face a challenge that they cannot be rationally argued, as they provide no bridge from matter and energy interacting by blind chance and necessity, to all the familiar properties and capacities of mind.  And, for over 2,000 years, no bridge has been in prospect. We therefore see yet another compartmentalising of reality and our view of it, leading to an unexplained elephant in the middle of the room.

Putting that another way, unless your worldview's foundations have in them something that adequately grounds mind and its capacities, forever after, you will be challenged to find a basis for mind. Where, matter and energy blindly interacting by chance and necessity patently are not adequate for that.

But, we are not locked up to such. 2300 years ago, Plato pointed out an alternative that grounds reality on a foundation capable of accounting for what we see and how we can reason and credibly know about it:
Ath. Then I suppose that I must repeat the singular argument of those who manufacture the soul according to their own impious notions; they affirm that which is the first cause of the generation and destruction of all things, to be not first, but last, and that which is last to be first, and hence they have fallen into error about the true nature of the Gods.

Cle. Still I do not understand you. 
Ath. Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the nature and power of the soul [[ = psuche], especially in what relates to her origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the body, must not the things which are of the soul's kindred be of necessity prior to those which appertain to the body?

Cle. Certainly. 

Ath. Then thought and attention and mind and art and law will be prior to that which is hard and soft and heavy and light; and the great and primitive works and actions will be works of art; they will be the first, and after them will come nature and works of nature, which however is a wrong term for men to apply to them; these will follow, and will be under the government of art and mind. 
[[ . . . .]

Ath. . . . when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle? . . . . self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.  [--> This discussion of the self-moved actuating cause opens up a way to understand the self as a conscious entity with a mind of its own]

[[ . . . .]

Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?

Cle. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?

Ath. I do. 

Cle. Certainly we should. 

Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?

[[ . . . . ]

You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?

Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things? 

Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.

And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?  

Ath. Then we are right, and speak the most perfect and absolute truth, when we say that the soul is prior to the body, and that the body is second and comes afterwards, and is born to obey the soul, which is the ruler?

[[ . . . . ]

If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path. [[Plato here explicitly sets up an inference to design (by a good soul) from the intelligible order of the cosmos. And, it is a point where Plato points towards theism as a serious worldview option in place of the paganism of Greece in his day.]
So, we must upend the lot, and instead of grounding mind in matter, ground matter in Mind -- or, as Plato puts it, Soul. 

Where in fact the first datum of our conscious experience of the world is actually mental. We do not experience the world as blind clusters of atoms under blind forces of chance and necessity. We EXPERIENCE the world as conscious, aware, knowing, thinking creatures.

So, though it is invisible, mind should be our first accepted reality.

Which fits with the observational evidence that the observed universe -- the ONLY observed universe (never mind all those multiverse speculations you see so confidently depicted or discussed as though they had seen them over at the zoo) -- had a beginning and so cries out for an adequate cause. A cause that must be credibly capable of creating a cosmos fine-tuned in dozens of ways right from the basic physics involved, for Carbon-chemistry, aqueous medium cell based life.

A cause that is thus credibly intelligent and purposeful. A Mind.

And no, this is not offered as a proof beyond reasonable doubt or an inductive generalisation. Instead, it is an abductive inference to best explanation: what underlying candidate cause adequately and best explains what we do see?

(BTW, such abductive reasoning is a major part of science, courtroom practice, management, what detectives do, and common sense reasoning; just, we don't usually know the technical name. A simple summary is, where puzzling facts F1, F2, . . . cry out for explanation, which of possibilities E1, E2, . . . is best as covering the facts, fitting together logically and in terms of cause-effect patterns and forces, and is simple but not simplistic, rather than an ad hoc patchwork of this and that put forth only to patch holes?)

So, it seems so far that the best worldview level explanation for an apparently designed world that is inhabited by conscious, reasoning, knowing creatures, is that it is designed by a cosmos-building architect. Mind before matter.

How then, do materialists try to counter such an inference?

Of course, in my experience and observation over the years, many simply dismiss it or pay it no attention; that is the unmentionable elephant in the room issue highlighted above. 

Another favourite appeal, is that evolution leads to an emergence of mind from matter at some stage, and indeed some strong Artificial Intelligence advocates suggest (a now common theme in science fiction) that a sufficiently complex computer program with enough internal looping and storage, will somehow cross the threshold of being self-aware, rational and knowing. Some suggest that somehow, that which is true has an advantage so that the brain and CNS that evolves is moved towards true perceptions and reasoning.  Others dismiss consciousness as irrelevant, something that simply rides on the underlying truly causal hardware and software loop; indeed such may suggest that mind cannot influence matter.  And so forth, along similar lines.

But it is not hard to see that these sorts of responses are defective:

a --> Ignoring an issue does not make it go away, and in the end the issue is to ground self-aware, knowing, reasoning mind that apprehends truth and understands it, in a foundational aspect of our worldview.

b --> Nor, does it do to suggest something like the raft metaphor for a worldview and suggest that a foundation is not an essential issue. In simple terms, the raft depends on the support of the sea, through the principle and forces of floatation. And, if we were to shift to a space ship or the like, this too depends on underlying properties of space etc. Worldviews do need foundations that must be adequate to support what we build on them.

c -->The bare appeal to emergence runs into the problem that first, this is in effect a way of saying, poof, magic. Without grounding, we have this. How different is this from how we can explain that by ionic forces, sodium and chloride ions find a minimum energy pattern under certain circumstances, and we have a salt crystal.

d --> The appeal to the organisation and looping of hardware and software, runs into a problem -- the meaningful, purposeful, functionally specific and complex organisation is what we need to explain, not the existence of components, and the needle in the haystack challenge simply underscores the incapability of blind chance and mechanical necessity to surmount that challenge. Thus, too, we see the only empirically warranted explanation of such FSCO/I: design. As was discussed last time.

e --> This problem was long ago stated by Liebnitz in his famous analogy of the Mill, as the parts of a machine interact through blind mechanical interactions (including chance disturbances etc), and so have no inherent rationality, imagination, intent or obligation. That is, there is an inescapable gap between the physical "is" and the logical inference, the mental “vision,” the decision or the force of "ought," much less self-awareness. Citing from his The Monadology, 17:
It must be confessed, however, that perception, and that which depends upon it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is to say, by figures and motions. Supposing that there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size with the same proportions until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would into a mill. Now, on going into it he would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain perception [[i.e. abstract conception]. It is accordingly in the simple substance, and not in the compound nor in a machine that the perception is to be sought . . .
f --> By contrast, of course, mind-body dualists such as Liebnitz, are often dismissively said to be proposing an unobservable "ghost in the machine," for which there is said to be no reason to see how it can interact with the brain-body closed loop system.

  g --> However, if the proposed immaterial mind acts the part of a supervisory controller in the Smith cybernetic loop, it may act informationally (and so also conceptually) on the "bio-robot" of the brain-body cybernetic system. Thus, the logical or imaginative, creative process can intervene in the brain-body cybernetic system informationally, conceptually and logically, not by mere mechanical cause-effect chains. (One suggested means is by a quantum-level influence on the outcome physical state.)

  h --> Where, of course, to suggest that the conscious simply rides powerlessly on the underlying physical operations, as Reppert pointed out, leads straight back tot he breakdown of rationality.

So, we are back to the same basic point: we need a worldview foundational component that adequately grounds mind and its functions, the first point of our conscious experience of the world. Where matter and energy blindly interacting through chance and necessity, through physics and chemistry or through chance variation and natural selection or through the accident of family and societal circumstances are all grossly inadequate to ground consciousness, reason and knowledge. Not to mention, conscience (as will be explored next time).

That brings us back to the explanation offered in the end by Plato, speaking in the voice of the Athenian Stranger in The Laws, Bk X, 360 BC:
Ath. If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path.
That ever so unwelcome "Divine Foot" is plainly within the Door. 

Okay, keep in touch, hopefully on the morrow. END