The absurd Christian link between morality and the existence of compassion

The following images feature a discussion between myself and a apologetics-trained Christian on the issue of what reality would be like were there no morality:

I am still not sure whether this individual reflects the opinion of the majority of Christians. I hope not.

PDF Version: jim-price.pdf

Well, that escalated quickly…

Before I forget the details, I will post an interesting account of an encounter with a fairly well-know atheist activist. We’ll call him Bill.

This activist has a channel on YouTube, and he mentioned that he was in the process of preparing a video on Bayes Theorem.

I thought this was a great idea, and recommend he collaborate with an “actual practitioner” of Bayes Theorem. I personally know many practitioners in the fields of AI and economics.

Bill somehow took offense to this, asking if I thought he was unqualified to speak on Bayes Theorem.

I ask him why he was creating a false dichotomy. Both he and the practitioner could obviously both be competent. I suggested he was quite competent to speak on the theorem, but that having an actual practitioner would perhaps make the episode more interesting.

Bill then told me that I had clearly thought he was unqualified. I said that was untrue. He responded that I was lying about my view on his competency.

Some of his loyal followers on the thread joined Bill in telling me I intended to somehow disparage him.

At this point I messaged Bill directly. You’ll find that exchange below.

At this point I was blocked.

It does seem odd that Bill thought that a degree in philosophy is irrelevant to Bayes Theorem. It is rather central to epistemology and philosophy of science.

Perhaps Bill just had a bad day. But others can learn from Bill’s lack of charitability and unjustified anger.

Let others own their motivations. Don’t tell them what they think. Ask questions if you are unclear about their motivations. Remain charitable. And don’t be threatened by honest suggestions.

Facebook Discussion On Free Will

I posted in the Facebook Group “Naturalism” the following:

I’d like feedback on the following notion of free will.
Humans are objectively determined, but subjectively free to choose. The key is understanding that a human mind is likened to an eddy in a flow of air or water. The material causes create an eddy of recursive causation that never escapes from objective determinism, yet when conceptually extracted as a subjective being, that eddy of recursive cognitive processing does indeed make choices.
I find this conception of the free will “problem” to be quite satisfactory and completely coherent. But I’d like your polite feedback.

After requests for elaboration, I posted this follow-up:

Hi Guys.

Let me start by referencing first the term “conservative”. That term in isolation is far too ambiguous. Only when preceded by “political”, “fiscal” or “social” does the term take on a meaning rigorous enough for intelligent dialogue.

Now let me move on to a concept more similar to “free will”: Love. Naturalists will agree that objective love does not exist, but exists only in the subjective realm. Love has an objective material correlate in neuronal/hormonal states, but there is no objective love out there in the world.

But to say love, therefore, does not exist is to stipulate the term in a way quite distant from convention. Humans can quite productively employ concepts that exist in only the subjective realm. These include all emotions and fiscal concepts. Our value of green paper is wholly subjective, possessing a value that does not exist outside the mind. Emotions and fiscal concepts perhaps bracket free will along the continuum of concepts that have real subjective substance, though no objective substance.

So, If we can simply preface “free will” with either “objective” or “subjective”, this will narrow the denotation sufficiently to allow for a more rigorous assessment of the concept within those two distinct domains.

In conclusion, while there is no objective free will, our subjective experiencing of free will in much the same way we experience the “illusion” of love, plus the utility the notion has in common parlance, justifies, in my opinion, the ontological status of “real” subjective existence as much as any emotion we can name.

If we start refusing to recognize the existence of subjective entities such as “dollar”, “anger” or “choice”, we hobble our linguistic productivity.

So, I feel that it is not only justified to accept the existence of subjective free will and its accompanying nomenclature such as “choice” and “decisions”, it is linguistically productive and illuminating.

Hope this has been clear.


Love is not supernatural

One of the most popular arguments for the supernatural, emotionally weighty yet fallacious, is the notion that, if X cannot be explained by material causation, there is likely a supernatural cause. There are three reason this argument fails.

— 1: Some minds in some contexts are incapable of comprehending some explanations. This is a limitation of cognition.

Example A: The phenomenon of lighting had no material explanation at one time, and was co-opted by supernaturalists as evidence for a supernatural realm. The explanatory scope of science and the depth of cognitive power in most individuals at that time made a scientific explanation of this phenomenon impossible. Was it proper for humans at that stage of human understanding to default to a supernatural explanation such as an exhibition of the disapproval of some God? Or should they have simply and honestly said “we do not know”?

Example B: A child or mentally challenged individual cannot comprehend the notion that a beloved dead pet no longer exists in any realm. Their minds simply don’t have the capacity to conceive of non-existence. To conclude from this lack of conceptual power that the pets must continue to exist in an immaterial world is fallacious.

Example C: It is difficult for unschooled human minds to deal with scopes of size and time that are not common to mundane human scopes of activity. The notion of incremental changes over time of millions of years in respect to evolution or the formation of mountains is not easy for the untrained mind to grasp. A specific one-in-a-million event within the trillions of events that have happened over time is unsurprising, but considered miraculous by those unable to grasp the enormity of the space of events. Untrained minds have quickly defaulted to the notion that a supernatural force is at work when it is simply their cognition that is not at work to the degree necessary for comprehension.

— 2: Language is intrinsically limited, and this linguistic limitation often fools humans into thinking what is ineffable is evidence of something supernatural.

Example A: Human languages cannot describe the deep essence of quantum superposition or entanglement. Scientists content themselves with describing merely the results of the experiments since their is no semantically adequate framework available to satisfactorily describe the causal dynamics and underlying concepts that would accomplish understanding. (This linguistic failure may, admittedly, be wholly emergent of the cognitive failure of humans minds to conceptually grasp these concepts. Where you have comprehensible concepts, there you’ll usually have soon following a jargon to effectively express those concepts. You’ll have to take that up with physicists.)

— 3: Some questions are conceptually illegitimate. This is the most important point here.

Example A: The fact that we cannot scientifically explain the jealousy of monkeys does not mean their jealousy requires a supernatural realm in which to operate. The claim “You can not explain love” (or any other emotion) as a defense of the supernatural is illegitimate. Science operates on the objective side, intrinsically external to subjectivity, while subjective feelings (qualia) are experienced in a domain inaccessible to the descriptive power of objective science. This essential division does not suggest subjectivity is not wholly dependent on and emergent of an material substrate. To ask how subjective sensations can emerge if there is only a material world is to ask an illegitimate question since the dynamics of the brain, for example, are experienced subjectively, not objectively, in the subjective mind.

Example B: We experience the material wavelengths of light in different ways. The fact that colorblindness reduces two different wavelengths into one perceived color does not mean there is no longer two different wavelengths. The objective world is ontologically prior rather than our subjectivity. Subjective experiences do not require a supernatural substrate on which to operate since the material substrate is more than adequate. It is like asking for a satisfactory scientific description of the smell of roses, and when met with silence, claiming smells must therefore occupy a supernatural realm.

— How might a supernatural realm (in which no material causes are behind certain phenomena) be demonstrated? Here are a couple ideas.

1. Near-death experiences. This has been recently invoked by many apologists, but it appears all such claims are either a) limited to one subjective experience (and recantation: and replete with conceptual inconsistencies such as the manifestation of various Gods, devils, Heavens and Hells.
2. Because the material realm is commonly understood to be limited to physically and temporally bound causation, demonstrating causation that transcends these physical and temporal limitations would be a good start. If mental thoughts stop aligning with brain processes, perhaps then we can begin entertaining supernatural explanations. We currently observe a high correlation between brain states and mental states that only increases as we untangle the workings of the brain.

The central point is that we don’t, if we are rational, default to the notion of a spiritual realm when encountering no explanation on an emotionally unsatisfactory explanation for mental phenomena that, by their very nature, are not accessible to the realm of scientific explanation. The emergence of subjectivity from objectivity does not warrant the claim that the supernatural must therefore exist, especially given the highly correlative ties between brain states and mental states.