jeudi 19 mars 2015

Her Examples Analysed

1) Research of the Gaps, 2) Her Examples Analysed

Greta Christina thinks that an« overwhelming amount of evidence » supports the idea that consciousness is just a (by)product of biological processes. What she cites as such is mainly a phenomenon which to « dualists » (there is another meaning of the word than I will right now explain, a more proper ones) is known as parallelism – parallel behaviours of mind and of observable biological matter. In this context, I mean by « dualism » the position that mind and matter are two different kinds of substance rather than one and the same or one of them being an accident of the other. Most of the examples of parallelism were well known all of the centuries when « dualism » was it.

And that means basically for most of 2000 years, or even more. When Eusebius of Caesarea enumerates opinions of philosophers on diverse subjects, one of the points he makes about Epicurus or Democritus or both (will look up in Praeparatio Evangelica) is that he considered all matter as endowed with some kind of consciousness, even that of dead bodies.*

The bishop of Caesarea could of course, with a few centuries intervening and these being full of « dualists » especially the time closer to himself, have misunderstood what they were really saying. He could have misunderstood Epicure as much as Schoenborn misunderstands St. Thomas Aquinas, when the latter says that God governs the Cosmos by created causes or secondary causes and the former, the later writer, understands this as meaning:

  • corporeal / physical causes rather than spiritual substances;
  • apparently also an infinite number of them so that one could always point back to another and another of these like the scientists most often do, and for each even deduced one start searching for the most natural one behind that, until one gets to a « we don’t know », and excluding direct both divine and angelic action, while St. Thomas’ point about God being First** Cause (i. e. both First Mover and First Upholder) is that an infinity of intermediate steps is excluded and that lack of a first would make all of the relatively more prior only intermediate.

In « both » misunderstandings, if we shall dare to console Schoenborn by assuming Eusebius misunderstood Epicure as he misunderstood St. Thomas, we find a distinct possibility that if the later author of each pair had caught the earlier one in a position further away from his own than the one he grasped, he would have felt some extreme revulsion, so that the understanding taken for granted is really an act of piety against the older author of each pair. Subjectively, from the point of view of the younger, that is : since no author is as such pleased by being misunderstood. This possibility is of course a suspicion of mine, not an ascertained fact that I know. What is an ascertained fact is that Schoenborn does so misunderstand St. Thomas Aquinas and that it is a misunderstanding. I know both positions, and know they are not the same. But since I haven’t read Democritus or Epicure, I cannot so say that Eusebius is certainly misunderstanding him. I know Eusebius’ version and I know other versions more modern of what Epicure thought – but not Epicure’s own or Democritus’ own. So, at least for the centuries since Eusebius up to St. Thomas and well beyond, but ending some time before Schoenborn, Greta Christina, myself, every educated man in what was then the Roman and is now the Western Sphere of Culture was taking for granted « dualism » - that mind and will are another kind of thing than bodies and force interactions between these, and, at least at a created level, neither is totally dependent on the other.

The real position of St. Thomas Aquinas is such that Schoenborn would nearly certainly have considered it as being either naïve or superstitious or both, and certainly unworthy of the subtlety of St. Thomas – unless he excuses him by having lived in a prior century « with less accurate knowledge » - a pretty common meme these days. Did Schoenborn really ever come across the idea, which I think this « Thomist » considers unworthy of a Thomist, that only a finite number of definite steps in the causation chain lead in any given moment from First Mover and Upholder, from First Cause, to any given ultimate simultaneous effect, and that an angel or a demon might immediately be behind any observation at hand, especially if involving movements of material objects, except for day and night, since the turning of the Cosmos around Earth is dependent on God alone as First Mover?

All the while this « dualism » (on what mind is other than body) was believed by every educated man (and any normal non-educated person, since these live by scraps of the public lore of educated men), all the while this was the case, the phenomena enumerated by Greta Christina were mostly known. Towards the end of this state of « dualism » taken for granted, these came to be known as parallelism or interaction problem.*** She does enumerate an instance or two more of it than was known before recently, but adding an instance to a phenomenon does not make it a new phenomenon. But there is also another thing she enumerates, which is an interpretation rather than a fact.

When we make physical changes to the brain, it changes consciousness. Drugs, injury, surgery, sensory deprivation, electrical current, magnetic fields, medication, illness, exercise -- all these things change our consciousness. Sometimes drastically. Sometimes rendering an entire personality unrecognizable. Even very small changes to the brain can result in massive changes to consciousness... both temporary and permanent.

This works vice versa as well. Magnetic resonance imagery has shown that, when people think different thoughts, different parts of their brains light up with activity. Changes in thought show up as changes in the brain.... just as changes in the brain show up as changes in thought.

And, of course, we have the drastic change in consciousness created by the very drastic change in the physical brain known as "death."

The last item is of course the one I mean is an interpretation rather than an observed fact. Here is how she supports it:

All the available evidence points to the conclusion that, when the brain dies, consciousness disappears. (And by "when the brain dies," I don't mean, "when the brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen for a short time," a.k.a. "near death experiences." I mean when the brain dies, permanently.) The belief that consciousness survives death has probably been researched more than any other supernatural hypothesis -- nobody, not even scientists, wants death to be permanent -- and it has never, ever been substantiated. Reports of it abound... but when carefully examined, using good, rigorous scientific methodology, these reports fall apart like a house of cards.

The problem is that the research that was never substantiated has been tested the wrong way – as one would test claims about material things : by sight, hearing, smell, touch, by instruments, by repeated experiments. All of these fail except one repeated experiment known as introspection. We all know we mean things by words. And it is more and more abundantly clear no material contrivance will ever have any grasp of meaning.

This is alas hidden by observers of the latest Google gadget saying « we failed this time, but in a near future we will get it right ».

Behind this optimism, there is of course a philosophical pessimism about solving the question how the parallel phenomena interact, the so called interaction problem. But the Thomistic solution is that any created mind by its Creator has a limited but real domination over matter : soul over body as making it alive and using it for action and expression, angelic beings over objects, as moving them in place and appearance. This position was abandoned due to an inability to come up with a fool proof explanation of exactly what mechanism (I'd say wrong question, since not a question of mechanism), and as Greta Christina has admitted, the search for how consciouness arises from the purely material has equally failed.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St Joseph the Most Chaste Spouse

Still referring, obviously, to same blogpost as yesterday:

Greta Christina's Blog : "You Can't Disprove Religion": Three Counter-Examples

* Could this be behind the vampire legends? I had better check evidence from Dom Augustin Calmet’s book before I attribute this to a misunderstanding or exaggeration of a materialistic philosopheme. It is certainly in some way behind The Swamp Thing, though there we know it is fiction.

** First as in most primary in each instant, not as in Earliest.

*** Parallelism is also used to mean, I believe, the solution of « pre-established harmony » between body and mind, doing away with any real interaction. This was one solution proposed in 17th C. but the more common one … well, I’ll come to that.

mercredi 18 mars 2015

Research of the Gaps

1) Research of the Gaps, 2) Her Examples Analysed

Greta Christina's Blog : "You Can't Disprove Religion": Three Counter-Examples

The blog post is well worth studying closer, but I am taking a first bite at it and leaving aside things like:

"Well, of course," the trope continues, "many outdated religious beliefs -- young-earth creationism, the universe revolving around the earth, the sun being drawn across the sky by Apollo's chariot -- have been shown by science to be mistaken. But modern progressive and moderate beliefs -- these, you can't disprove with science. These are simply matters of faith: things people reasonably choose to believe, based on their personal life experience."

None of these have been disproven by science.

Chariot being drawn by horses possibly. Its belonging to Apollo is definitely disprven not by science but by Christianity. Apollo, the wicked deity of Delphy, is called "pythonic spirit" and "Apollyon" in the Bible and can certainly not get as far up as the Sun's orbit around Earth.

But I am leaving them aside for this giant first bite:

I will acknowledge freely: We don't yet understand consciousness very well. The sciences of neurology and neuropsychology are very much in their infancy, and the basic questions of what exactly consciousness is, and where exactly it comes from, and how exactly it works, are, as of yet, largely unanswered.

But research is happening. The foundations for our understanding of consciousness are beginning to be laid. There are a few things that we do know about consciousness.

And among the things we know is that, whatever consciousness is, it seems to be an entirely biological process.

In other words, since research has not shown what consciousness is, it has neither shown that consciousness is an entirely biological process, and therefore has no more claim on our confidence on such claims than the kind of theology (whether actually existing among Christians or not) which has been called "God of the gaps":

The usual atheist reply to this is to cry, "That's the God of the Gaps! Whatever phenomenon isn't currently explained by science, that's where you stick your God! What kind of sense does that make? Why should any given unexplained phenomenon be best explained by religion? Has there ever been a gap in our knowledge that's eventually been shown to be filled by God?"

Well, I deny the charge of believing in a "God of the gaps" and reply with a charge materialism is indulging in "research of the gaps" - sticking their materialistic definitions of consciousness exactly where it has not yet been proven wrong to the satisfaction even of such obtuse researchers as soul denialists.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
Vigil of St Joseph

Thomas Sherlock made a few points

1) HGL's F.B. writings : I am not sure you know Artur Sebastian Rosman, 2) somewhere else : Thomas Sherlock made a few points

He published against Anthony Collins's deistic Grounds of the Christian Religion a volume of sermons entitled The Use and Interest of Prophecy in the Several Ages of the World (1725); and in reply to Thomas Woolston's Discourses on the Miracles he wrote a volume entitled The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (1729), which soon ran through fourteen editions. His Pastoral Letter (1750) on the late earthquakes had a circulation of many thousands, and four or five volumes of Sermons which he published in his later years (1754–1758) were also at one time highly esteemed.

Who were these Collins and Woolston?

Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion

In 1724 Collins published his Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, with An Apology for Free Debate and Liberty of Writing prefixed. Ostensibly it is written in opposition to Whiston's attempt to show that the books of the Old Testament did originally contain prophecies of events in the New Testament story, but that these had been eliminated or corrupted by the Jews, and to prove that the fulfilment of prophecy by the events of Christ's life is all "secondary, secret, allegorical, and mystical," since the original and literal reference is always to some other fact. Since, further, according to him the fulfilment of prophecy is the only valid proof of Christianity, he thus secretly aims a blow at Christianity as a revelation. The canonicity of the New Testament he ventures openly to deny, on the ground that the canon could be fixed only by men who were inspired.

No less than thirty-five answers were directed against this book, the most noteworthy of which were those of Bishop Edward Chandler, Arthur Sykes and Samuel Clarke. To these, but with special reference to the work of Chandler, which maintained that a number of prophecies were literally fulfilled by Christ, Collins replied with his Scheme of Literal Prophecy Considered (1727). An appendix contends against Whiston that the book of Daniel was forged in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.


In philosophy, Collins takes a foremost place as a defender of Necessitarianism. His brief Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty (1715) has not been excelled, at all events in its main outlines, as a statement of the determinist standpoint. His assertion that it is self-evident that nothing that has a beginning can be without a cause is an unwarranted assumption of the very point at stake.

He was attacked in an elaborate treatise by Samuel Clarke, in whose system the freedom of will is made essential to religion and morality. During Clarke's lifetime, fearing perhaps being branded as an enemy of religion and morality, Collins made no reply, but in 1729 he published an answer, entitled Liberty and Necessity.

Thomas Woolston (baptised November 1668 – 27 January 1733) was an English theologian. Although he was often classed as a deist, his biographer William H. Trapnell regards him as an Anglican who held unorthodox theological views. … His influence on the course of the deistical controversy began with his book, The Moderator between an Infidel and an Apostate (1725, 3rd ed. 1729). The infidel intended was Anthony Collins, who had maintained in his book alluded to that the New Testament is based on the Old, and that not the literal but only the allegorical sense of the prophecies can be quoted in proof of the Messiahship of Jesus; the apostate was the clergy who had forsaken the allegorical method of the fathers. Woolston denied absolutely the proof from miracles, called in question the fact of the resurrection of Christ and other miracles of the New Testament, and maintained that they must be interpreted allegorically, or as types of spiritual things. Two years later he began a series of Discourses on the same subject, in which he applied the principles of his Moderator to the miracles of the Gospels in detail. The Discourses, 30,000 copies of which were said to have been sold, were six in number, the first appearing in 1727, the next five 1728-1729, with two Defences in 1729 1730. For these publications he was tried before Chief Justice Raymond in 1729. Found guilty of blasphemy, Woolston was sentenced (28 November) to pay a fine of £25 for each of the first four Discourses, with imprisonment till paid, and also to a year's imprisonment and to give security, for his good behaviour during life. He failed to find this security, and remained in confinement until his death.

Upwards of sixty pamphlets appeared in reply to his Moderator and Discourses. Among them were:

  • Zachary Pearce, The Miracles of Jesus Vindicated (1729)
  • Thomas Sherlock, The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (1729, 13th ed. 1755)
  • Nathaniel Lardner, Vindication of Three of Our Saviour's Miracles (1729), Lardner being one of those who did not approve of the prosecution of Woolston (see Lardner's Life by Andrew Kippis, in Lardner's Works, vol. i.)

Edward Chandler (born 1668?; died 20 July 1750) was an English bishop.

He gained some reputation by A Defence of Christianity from the Prophecies, &c. (1725), in answer to Collins’s well-known ‘Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion.’ - Collins having replied in his ‘Scheme of Liberal Prophecy.’ Chandler published in 1728 ‘A Vindication of the “Defence of Christianity.” The main point at issue was the date of the book of Daniel, in regard to which Collins had anticipated the views of some modern critics. He also published eight sermons, a ‘Chronological Dissertation.' prefixed to R. Arnald’s ‘Commentary on Ecclesiasticus ’ (17 48) [see Arnald, Richard], and a short preface to Cudworth’s ‘Treatise on Immutable Morality’ when first published in 1731. He died, after a long illness, in London on 20 July 1750, and was buried at Farnham Royal.

The Miracles of Jesus Vindicated (1729) was written against Thomas Woolston. A Reply to the Letter to Dr. Waterland was against Conyers Middleton, defending Daniel Waterland; Pearce engaged in this controversy as a former student of William Wake.

An anonymous volume of Memoirs appeared in 1769; and a life by Andrew Kippis is prefixed to the edition of the Works of Lardner, first published in 1788. The full title of his principal work—a work which, though now out of date, entitles its author to be regarded as the founder of modern critical research in the field of early Christian literature—is The Credibility of the Gospel History; or the Principal Facts of the New Testament confirmed by Passages of Ancient Authors, who were contemporary with our Saviour or his Apostles, or lived near their time. Part 1, in 2 octavo volumes, appeared in 1727; the publication of part 2, in 12 octavo volumes, began in 1733 and ended in 1755. In 1730 there was a second edition of part 1, and the Additions and Alterations were also published separately. A Supplement, otherwise entitled A History of the Apostles and Evangelists, Writers of the New Testament, was added in 3 volumes (1756–1757), and reprinted in 1760.

Other works by Lardner are A Large Collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Revelation, with Notes and Observations (4 volumes, quarto, 1764–1767); The History of the Heretics of the two first Centuries after Christ, published posthumously in 1780; and a considerable number of occasional sermons.