Heaven and the Human Mind: A Response to Stephen Hawking (Featuring St. John of Damascus)


Stephen Hawking was interviewed by the Guardian last Sunday concerning his views of the afterlife and, to no one’s surprise, he denied the existence of the afterlife. His reasoning, however, is shockingly bad. This is because Hawking makes two completely contradictory claims: On the one hand he says that Heaven is merely wishful thinking, but on the other hand he says that our brains are like computers. How can a computer – something that lacks free will – have wishful thinking – something that requires free will?

A computer, by definition, can only know what has been programmed into it. Even computers that learn still lack free will proper because they’re stuck with the programming they have. If you program a computer, say Hal 2000, to murder everyone on a space ship, then Hal 2000 will murder everyone on that ship. It might learn new and creative ways to murder the people, like sucking them into the vacuum of space, but ultimately its sole purpose is to murder everyone on the ship. Thus, the computer is stuck with its programming. I will deal with that later, but first let us look at Hawking’s belief in Heaven directly.

If this is true for humans, then where is the moral responsibility? More importantly, how does Heaven become wishful thinking if we are programmed with knowledge? Ultimately, while Hawking’s religion is science, his reasoning forces us to believe that Hawking is ultimately irrational in his beliefs.

If Hawking is correct and Heaven is wishful thinking, then where did a belief in Heaven come from? Some might say a coping device, others as a means to control people, but none of these escape the irrationality of the belief. Allow me to demonstrate. Let us assume that Heaven is a fairytale, one that has no factual element to it, but a belief in Heaven aids in survival (or some segments of a species benefit from believing in Heaven and such a belief leads to further propagation). If this is the case, then natural selection has guided a vast multitude of the human population (including those currently alive and all humans who have ever existed) into believing a falsehood for the sake of its survival. Thus, natural selection is more concerned about what helps us survive rather than discovering the truth. If this is the case, then we cannot trust our cognitive abilities.

If our cognitive abilities can rationalize any belief and the majority of humans can believe in the belief, but the belief is false, yet a survival trait, then how can we trust our reasoning on anything? For all we know we are simply being deceived by our current noetic environment in order to aid in our survival, but later on as we evolve we could lose the necessity for the specific false belief. Yet, there’s no reason to believe that one false belief couldn’t be replaced by another. The end result is we can never trust that we have knowledge; if Heaven is both a false belief and a survival trait, then then all beliefs are irrational.

Alternatively, if Hawking would contend that Heaven is both a false belief and has no survival benefit, then we must ask how a belief in Heaven developed in the first place. Arguing that it’s a coping mechanism or an explanatory filter simply begs the question and uses the conclusion to justify the premises. For the very question I’m asking is how could the material imagine the immaterial, something it has (supposedly) never come into contact with? In a purely material world, our minds would be causally determined. All material is in a determinant cycle of cause and effect, so if our minds were a part of this cycle then all of our thoughts, actions, and beliefs would be part of this cause and effect. The question, of course, is how can the immaterial arise out of a purely physical cycle of cause and effect? I am not here to offer any answers, but simply to point out that science must offer a non-circular answer to this challenge, something that has yet to be done (and possibly never will).

More importantly, however, is if our minds are simply computers then we lack free will, which also proves the irrationality of Hawking’s belief! Turning to St. John of Damascus’ defense of free will, we read:

Now, if man is not an effective principle of action, to which of these causes are we to attribute human actions? It is definitely wrong ever to ascribe immoral and unjust actions to God; neither can they be ascribed to necessity, for they are not the actions of things which are always the same; nor can they be ascribed to fate, for they declare that the things decreed by fate are not contingent but necessary; nor to nature, for the works of nature are animals and plants; nor to chance, for human actions are not unusual and unexpected; nor yet to spontaneity, for they say that that is spontaneous which befalls inanimate things or brute beasts. Indeed, nothing remains but the fact that man himself is acting and doing is the principle of his own works and is free.

What is more, if man is not a principle of action, then his power of deliberation is superfluous, for to what use would he put his deliberation if he were not master of any action at all? All deliberation is on account of action, and it would furthermore be absurd were the  most excellent and noble of the faculties in man to prove useless. Besides, when a man deliberates, he does so on account of action, because all deliberation is on account of and for the sake of action. (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 2, Chapter 25)

Keeping in mind that if our minds are nothing more than computers, which means we have no free will, the Damascene offers up seven reasons why we do in fact have free will:

  1. God can’t cause evil, meaning we are responsible for our immoral actions – while evoking God won’t do much for a response to Stephen Hawking, the truth does still stand. If we are merely the result of millions of years of programming, then we aren’t responsible for our actions. If we murder it was due to bad programming or proper programming that geared us towards the murder; either way, it’s not our fault. Try as we might, when a computer deletes our essays, our files, or crashes it’s not as though the computer wilfully did these actions; something in the line of cause and effect caused the computer to act that way. The same would be true of humans who committed immoral actions if we were nothing more than a physical mind.
  2. Necessity begets the same results – if our actions are the result of cause and effect, then the effect necessarily follows the cause. Put a human in a situation and he will act a certain way. Put him in that same situation and it’s likely that he will act differently. In other words, human actions are always different even when placed in extremely similar or same situations. Yet, if you put a leaf in a situation and a different leaf in the same situation, the two will act the same. The reason is they follow from cause and effect, but it would appear that human minds do not.
  3. We can’t be fated because then everything would be necessary – This argument is more along the lines of theistic fatalism and how it would make God determined, thus it’s not really applicable to the argument at hand. However, one application we can garnish from the argument is that if everything is a result of cause and effect, then everything we see necessarily occurs, which would leave us no recourse to challenge it. The starving child in Africa necessarily occurs; the stars do not hear her cries, the cosmos doesn’t care about her plight, and ultimately we shouldn’t feel good or bad about it happening; it’s simply a necessary occurrence of nature. While this doesn’t disprove what Hawking’s said, it does show that it’s impossible to live logically consistent with the idea that our brains are nothing more than computers.
  4. Nature produces brutes, not rationality – Turning back to what I said earlier, in a system of cause and effect where false beliefs exist as a survival mechanism, we cannot trust our rationality. The reason is that nature isn’t interested in producing rationality, but instead producing survival traits, even if that forces us to irrationally accept false beliefs.
  5. We can’t argue for random chance, because to a certain degree humans are predictable – While all humans are unique and will produce different reactions in different circumstances, to a certain degree we’re also predictable. This would rule out any arguments saying that human actions are simply a result of anomalous random acts spurting off from the procession of cause and effect. That humans, to a certain degree, can be predictable (though not determined) would show that the mind isn’t anomalous to any system of cause and effect, thus we must find a way to explain how humans can be different in our reactions, yet predictable (this cannot be done through physical forces).
  6. Humans are not 100% spontaneous – Our actions don’t happen in a vacuum, thus any arguments saying that our actions are simply spontaneous are also false. While we’re not determined and we are the origin of our actions, our actions happen as a reaction to the causes we experience, rather than a necessary following of those causes. This is the definition of libertarian free will, as opposed to autonomous free will.
  7. We hold the capacity to reason, but if we are in a cycle of cause and effect then we have no reason to be reasonable – If we have no choice, then why do we deliberate? If I’m predetermined to order the number two at McDonalds, then why do I sit there and try to decide between the number one and number two? Go to a restaurant with an indecisive friend and you’ll quickly discover that we’re not pre-determined or part of cause and effect. If our desires (causes) force us to decide what we will eat (effect), then there should be no need for deliberation. We should simply pick it and go about our way. Thus, if we’re causally determined, then again we’re irrational because we are forced into whatever “choice” we “pick!” So if we’re causally determined then Hawking is left without any rational means to condemning those who do believe in Heaven, for they have no other choice.

I hope it can be seen with relative ease that though Hawking might be a brilliant physicist, he’s a horrible philosopher. His denial of Heaven is implicitly irrational, as is his statement that human minds are just computers. Ironically, his argument for Heaven’s non-existence can only be rational (remember, something can be rational without being true) if Heaven actually exists. For if Heaven exists then God exists, and if God exists then we could argue that free will exists as He created us in His image. It is in this free will that we could invent our own version of Heaven. But of course, it would be no invention as there would necessarily have to be a Heaven. In the end, Hawking must believe in Heaven in order to rationally, though unfactually, declare that Heaven is a fairytale. To hold to his current position is simply irrational. 


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43 thoughts on “Heaven and the Human Mind: A Response to Stephen Hawking (Featuring St. John of Damascus)

  1. Hey Joel!

    you probably don’t remember me. we had a facebook debate some years ago when you were shilling ID for dembski and you got very mad at me. good times!

    anyway, glad to see you’re sticking to philosophy these days. i did find it amusing that you wrote this with a straight face:

    “If this is the case, then natural selection has guided a vast multitude of the human population (including those currently alive and all humans who have ever existed) into believing a falsehood for the sake of its survival. Thus, natural selection is more concerned about what helps us survive rather than discovering the truth. If this is the case, then we cannot trust our cognitive abilities.”

    without even considering that what you propose as a wild hypothetical might be totally true!

    anyway, good luck on the thing and all that

    1. My point is that if it’s true, it’s irrational, thus proving that naturalism can’t be rational even if true.

      1. “thus proving that naturalism can’t be rational even if true.”

        if you subscribe to the assertion that only things which are logically rational are true. that can’t really be proven, given that we are discussing how natural selection might mold cognitive processes to believe irrational things for the survival of the organism.

        i mean you turn around right when you reach the point, that an objective understanding of ‘truth’ can be entirely illusory, declaring that it cannot be so because of a misunderstanding as to what Hawking meant by ‘computers’.

        in your own words:

        “On the one hand he says that Heaven is merely wishful thinking, but on the other hand he says that our brains are like computers. How can a computer – something that lacks free will – have wishful thinking – something that requires free will?”

        and hawking’s:

        “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he added”

        you completely misunderstand his words. whereas Hawking was just discussing the lack of supernatural involvement in cognition, you take a leap of faith and declare that Hawking is talking about free will. you’re just inserting cognitive determinism out of nowhere and creating an extended non sequitur. essentially your entire argument is placing words in Hawking’s mouth. good job

      2. Wrong. Re-read what I stated.

        I’m stating that if naturalism is true, then it is still an irrational belief by its very nature. That’s not based on a misunderstanding of Hawking. Go look up Alvin Plantinga’s argument concerning naturalism and you’ll see where I’m going with the argument.

        Secondly, if there isn’t an immaterial involvement in cognition, then ipso facto there is no free will. I explained this in the article. To say that the mind is like a computer where the parts break down after death is to say that the mind is purely material, which disallows for free will.

  2. I quit reading after the first paragraph when I saw intractable fallacies ensuring a long walk to nowhere.

    First: Dr. Hawking did not cite heaven being wishful thinking as his reason for disbelieving. That was just his assessment of the idea. I can’t speak for him, but one might assume his reason for disbelief is that there is simply no evidence for heaven to exist.
    Secondly, you go on to say that this view is shot down by the fact that Hawking compared the brain to a computer and computers, merely running programs, cannot wish. A computer can, however calculate scenarios which are more desirable than the current one, and then it would, effectively be wishfully thinking. The computer might then calculate the likelihood of these more desirable alternate scenarios. The computer would then, during this critical evaluation of the wishfully thought data, discard the unlikeliest.
    Heaven would be among the discarded data. As nice an idea as it is, it is nice and nothing else.

    You have unfairly criticized a great mind’s reasoning faculties using two tandem fallacies which put you in the unenviable position of your assertion being so bad it’s not even wrong.

    1. For all the bravado you didn’t really say anything. Attempting to critique my position after only reading a paragraph doesn’t do anything except show that you’re reactionary and not intellectual. You’re unwilling to see something through before you begin to criticize it; in short, you’re a non-thinker.

      On your first point, saying, “there’s no evidence” and “it’s just wishful thinking” is the same thing. In other words, you’re attempting to nit-pick my argument, but summarize his argument in the exact same way that I did, just using a different phrase.

      On your second point, you completely missed what I was saying. Re-read and try again.

      Finally, what fallacies did I commit? If you mean that I falsely represent what he’s saying or that my argument is wrong, that’s not the same thing as a fallacy.

      I know this response is less than cordial, but I’m not going to waste my time on people who come on saying that I’m missing the point (then failing to show what the point was) and then saying I’m being fallacious in my argumentation (and then failing to point out what the fallacies were).

      1. You say I say nothing, and that I’m claiming you miss the point while not stating what the point is. I never said you were missing the point, and the point I was making is that your reasoning on this subject is iffy at best. It may have seemed like there was no point addressed because you have not made any points, just reframed the statements of a scientist to shoehorn in a metaphysical argument against a point the man wasn’t making. It’s hard to make a salient point against something so wonky. This is what the phrase “so bad it’s not even wrong” means.

        Moving on.
        Joel, there is a big difference between the reason “no evidence” and the assessment “wishful thinking.” This is the kind of semantic abstract distinction you are very good at; one is a validation of the other, they are not interchangeable ideas. “There was a stop sign” and “I’m stopping the car” are not the same idea. I’m stopping the car because I saw a stop sign. A stop sign is not the act of stopping the car, just like finding no evidence of something is not calling it wishful thinking, nor is calling something wishful thinking the same as not having found evidence of it.

        As to the second point and the matter of fallacies. Upon rereading this piece I still feel my assessment is accurate.
        I was just illustrating that the idea you kick your piece off with is flawed from the start. Computers are quite capable of wishful thinking. That was all.
        So the point between the two was a. you misunderstood the man or misappropriated his words, and then b. used a flawed argument against that misinterpretation.
        I don’t know what named fallacy or set of named fallacies that is.
        Maybe you can tell me.

      2. I said you didn’t say anything because you didn’t say anything. Even now, you’re not really making a valid argument; you’re simply skirting around the issues to protect someone who is a great physicist, but a horrid philosopher. The fact is Hawking made a philosophical statement and one that was incredibly bad. So I’m not “shoehorning” anyone, but merely following his reasoning to its logical end.

        Concerning wishful thinking and a lack of evidence – in all that you typed, you never showed how the two are different. The analogy of a stop sign doesn’t apply to what we’re talking about at all. Saying, “There is a lack of physical evidence” doesn’t make a statement for or against something. We can still reason towards something that lacks physical evidence. But to say that Heaven is “wishful thinking” because of a lack of evidence makes a metaphysical statement, one that I am fully capable of attacking. And that’s what I did. So when I say, “This is because Hawking makes two completely contradictory claims: On the one hand he says that Heaven is merely wishful thinking…” I’m not misreading Hawking at all. I’m saying exactly what he said. If you bothered to read the article from the Guardian, you would see that Hawking was quoted as saying, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

        So how am I misrepresenting Hawking? The fact is, I’m not. I’m summarizing his statement.

        On the second part, computers simply aren’t capable of wishful thinking because they lack free will. The problem with your analogy is that it doesn’t really understand the idea behind “wishful thinking.” While a computer can contemplate two different outcomes and which one is more desirable, it can’t create those outcomes ex nihilo nor can it have the ability to choose between the two programs unless programmed to. Furthermore, the calculus you provided assumes that humans also have ‘wishful thinking’ on what is perceived as the best outcome, but even this isn’t always the case. The point I was making, however, is that the human brain is unlike a computer because the mind has free will, whereas a computer lacks free will.

        As for the fallacies, no, I’m not committing any fallacies. If you don’t know enough about philosophy to know the basic categories of material fallacies, then how can you say my argument is “flawed” or “fallacious”?

  3. No, you are pretty much putting words in his mouth and then making the argument something else entirely. You are also creating false equivalences left and right.
    The fact remains you are assuming Hawking’s reasons and poorly invalidating his analysis of the afterlife based on a metaphor he made. Free will has nothing to do with it. If computers can wishfully think, and humans obviously can as well there’s no functional difference between the two imagining better alternatives. Moreover human minds can’t fashion thought ex nihilo either; parameters are always fed into the function.
    Hinging the existence of the afterlife on the existence of free will, is an interesting idea, but ultimately a non starter and completely restricted to your personal interpretation of Hawking’s words.

    (Bonus points: if it can be demonstrated there is no free will then that justification of the afterlife evaporates with it.)

    1. As to the fallacies enumeration I’d say you’re performing a argumentum ad ignorantiam on an Ignoratio Elenchi.
      That’s immaterial though as isolating and identifying fallacies is a muddy area. They can be spread across multiple arguments and can, without the fallacious arguer’s awareness, be obscuring the logical inconsistence in the argument since there’s apparently valid reasoning which supports it.
      Just as the process of identifying fallacies is muddy so is the practice of philosophy itself. One can reason themselves into any position if they straddle enough schools of reasoning and employ enough mental smoke and mirrors on themselves.

    2. How am I putting words in his mouth? Begin to substantiate your claims or you’re not going to get a response from me.

      What I’ve done it taken exactly what Hawking has stated and run with it. I’ve quoted him, I’ve pointed to what he says in the interview, and the best you can come up with is “nuh-uh!” Sadly, this is generally the best that naturalists/atheists can offer by way of intellectual responses.

      Secondly, I never hinged the existence of the afterlife on the existence of free will. You have it reversed; I showed that the existence of free will proves the existence of the afterlife. If you disproved the existence of free will (which is inherently self-defeating, but that’s for another day) then you would simply be disproving a proof for the afterlife, but not the afterlife itself.

      Third, as I stated in another comment, if you equate the mind to a computer – something purely physical – then by default you have denied the existence of free will as purely physical minds cannot have free will. So it’s not an interpretation, it’s the logical conclusion from the analogy he uses.

      1. You put words into his mouth by claiming his analysis is his reason. I’ve clarified that, yet I’ve allowed that we are working within your interpretation of what he said. So your second “aha!” paragraph is kind of moot although it speaks of your misunderstanding of what naturalism and intellectualism are.

        And you certainly did make that argument. I’m not debating that that’s what you’re saying, or whether or not there’s an afterlife. I’m just asserting that your reasoning is flawed as you are assuming from the get go that a human mind is unlike a computer in any way. You are hinging fact on a metaphor being wrong, when that metaphor is apt.
        I’m still asserting your error is two-fold; you equate a metaphor to fact, which is never a good thing to do, and then you claim it can’t be because it’s not a good metaphor, which it is.

        I don’t know what qualifies “good” philosophizing, but that’s certainly bad logic.

  4. This doesn’t follow:
    “The end result is we can never trust that we have knowledge; if Heaven is both a false belief and a survival trait, then then all beliefs are irrational.”
    It is true we must be suspicious of all beliefs, because human thinking is littered with systemic biases, but it does not follow that all beliefs are irrational. It is absolutely true that some beliefs are built rationally, just not all of them are, and it can be difficult at times to distinguish between them.

    1. You’re missing the point. I’m stating that if naturalism is true, then our minds are geared towards what aids in our survival, not necessarily what aids in obtaining truth (or in what is rational). Thus, if Heaven is simply a by-product of a survival mechanism, yet Heaven doesn’t exist, then our minds were deceived into believing something is rational, though not real. It follows that if naturalism is true that we can never trust our cognitive abilities to guide us towards what is rational because it could be that our cognitive faculties are simply aiding in our survival while causing us to believe in something false. We would never be able to reason our way out of it, for our reason itself would be suspect as it would be under charge of our survival instinct.

      1. I understood your point fine, my point was that “we can never trust our cognitive abilities to guide us towards what is rational” and “all beliefs are irrational” are dramatically different statements. The fact we can’t implicitly trust our reasoning in no way removes our ability to reason. Trust isn’t a binary thing, it is a spectrum, I’m highly trusting of my ability to determine the answer to 2+2, but I have very little trust for my ability to discern whether the hot bartender is totally into me. Capital Truth is unknowable, but this doesn’t stop us from making useful guesses.

      2. If we can’t trust our cognitive abilities then we can’t guess at what is true, because we would never know what is real. That “2+2=4” would still be an irrational belief, because we wouldn’t have any way of knowing that it really does equal four. To know this would require us to trust in our cognitive abilities, but if naturalism is true then we can’t trust in our cognitive abilities.

        Again, look up Alvin Plantinga’s argument concerning the self-defeating nature of naturalism, because no, you’re not understanding it. You’re begging the question with your answer, which is a fallacy.

      3. Shouldn’t the existence of irrational people invalidate your argument? It is a simple fact that our cognitive abilities do not guide towards the rational, have you seen Jersey Shore? If you are correct about your point, and I’m correct about the existence of irrational people, then you must believe that neither of us are capable of making a sound argument, or that we are somehow different from the irrational people, which is it?

      4. Actually I have a better example than Jersey Show: every person who is in any religion that you don’t personally agree with. According to your view point, they have all been tricked into thinking what you would call a not real belief is rational.

      5. Whoops didn’t see your new post. I can’t help but notice you’ve totally failed to address my “trust is a spectrum” and “absolute trust is not required to reason” points. Would you care to address them?

      6. I don’t need to address them because they’re irrelevant and miss the point. It’s a red herring, and I won’t address it.

        For the last time, I’m stating that if Hawking is correct, naturalism is true, and we have no free will, then we cannot trust our cognitive abilities, period. This would render all beliefs, including the belief that I am currently typing on a computer, irrational.

      7. Yeah, and I’m saying “we cannot trust our cognitive abilities” is obviously correct. And that the consequence of that is not that all beliefs are irrational. This is because trust is a spectrum, having 100% absolute trust is anything is nonsense. We can have a lot or a little trust in our rationality on any given topic, and still lead sane lives. I was assuming you were interested in having some kind of discussion on your ideas, if all you want to do is re-state the same sentence over and over again, I’ll leave you to it in peace.

      8. If all beliefs are irrational, then why are you posting on here? You have nothing to say. That’s not an insult or an attempt to silence you, but if all beliefs are irrational then why try to say anything at all? That’s the whole point of the argument; to say all beliefs are irrational is so silly and stupid that no one would ever believe it.

        But in the end, you’re either purposefully contradicting yourself or unwittingly contradicting yourself. If you say, “We cannot trust our cognitive abilities,” then we can’t have this little “trust spectrum” you keep bringing up. If we cannot trust our cognitive abilities, then we cannot trust our rationality. That’s the whole point of the argument. What about this do you not get?

      9. I explicitly said “And that the consequence of that is not that all beliefs are irrational”. You are obviously not reading what I am writing, I’m sorry we’ve wasted our time.

  5. “I’m stating that if naturalism is true, then it is still an irrational belief by its very nature. That’s not based on a misunderstanding of Hawking. Go look up Alvin Plantinga’s argument concerning naturalism and you’ll see where I’m going with the argument.”

    yeah i know plantinga, his argument is flawed in that it fails to explain a spectrum of possibly rational decisions which can be made by an imperfect, irrational cognitive force.

    just because a mind is irrational does not mean that it is incapable of rationality. we can, and have, devised systems of rational thinking – logic, mathematics, empirical science, etc.

    it’s especially disingenuous to claim that evolutionary processes lead to irrational thinkers, which disagrees with naturalist philosophies of mind, therefore god. you’re kind of proving the irrationalist point by leaping to your pet religion without considering that yes, you might not be rational all the time.

    “Secondly, if there isn’t an immaterial involvement in cognition, then ipso facto there is no free will. I explained this in the article.”

    you explained it with assertions that don’t follow. you did not prove it to any meaningful degree. i am not convinced by your argument.

    “To say that the mind is like a computer where the parts break down after death is to say that the mind is purely material, which disallows for free will.”

    yeah you say that, but is it true?

    “If all beliefs are irrational, then why are you posting on here? You have nothing to say. That’s not an insult or an attempt to silence you, but if all beliefs are irrational then why try to say anything at all?”

    because rationality is not the highest or best form of an argument? you’re kind of assuming that rational = good, irrational = bad

    i mean yeah it’s great and all to be able to bleep bloop robot your thinking to be super logic man, but that’s not really possible – everyone makes mistakes due to irrational factors. you’re upholding rationality to an absurd degree, which explains why you dismissed the value of irrationality

    1. Your argument is self-contradictory – if our minds are irrational, how can they develop rational systems? Further, how do we know such systems are rational if we can’t know what is and isn’t rational? If you say we can know what is rational through rational systems, then your argument is circular.

      As for saying that the evolutionary process would necessitate an irrational mind contradicting naturalist arguments concerning the mind, yeah, you’re right. Naturalism isn’t a consistent system and is full of contradictions, which is why it’s false. The whole point of the argument, however, is to show that if naturalism is true, then by necessity our minds must be irrational.

      Dealing with determinism, I’ll simply leave you with the vast majority of atheist philosophers and naturalist philosophers (not to mention scientists) who argue for either a soft form of determinism or hard form of determinism. Very few academic atheists believe in free will – the lone exceptions are Dawkins, Harris, and the like…but who takes them seriously? The simple truth is that purely material objects are subject to cause and effect, meaning if our minds are purely physical then they are no exception.

      As for rationality – yes, rational is good and irrational is bad. That’s pretty self-evident. At least in terms of discovering what is truthful.

      1. “Your argument is self-contradictory – if our minds are irrational, how can they develop rational systems? ”

        if we’re going into full semantics here i wouldn’t call humans irrational. i would call them not-rational, maybe quasi-rational. but we can develop rational systems by building up from logical steps and observing the outcome, then tweaking our model.

        “If you say we can know what is rational through rational systems, then your argument is circular. ”

        we know what is rational by observing how closely rational systems produce viable output. we know that theories of radiation decay are rational because they accurately predict isotope ratios, etc.

        “As for saying that the evolutionary process would necessitate an irrational mind contradicting naturalist arguments concerning the mind, yeah, you’re right. Naturalism isn’t a consistent system and is full of contradictions, which is why it’s false. ”

        haha ok whatever if you say so (roll eyes)

        i mean you keep asserting that but you’re not going through any of the real legwork to convince anyone who doesn’t already share your asserted belief structure, which makes for a poor argument

        “The whole point of the argument, however, is to show that if naturalism is true, then by necessity our minds must be irrational.”

        this is only a bad thing if you take the extra leap and say that irrational is the same as non-rational, and that irrational minds can never be rational. both of which are not necessarily true given your argument

        “Dealing with determinism, I’ll simply leave you with the vast majority of atheist philosophers and naturalist philosophers (not to mention scientists) who argue for either a soft form of determinism or hard form of determinism.”

        so you’re giving up? some debater you are

        “Very few academic atheists believe in free will – the lone exceptions are Dawkins, Harris, and the like…but who takes them seriously?”

        haha you’re giving up, this is funny. you’re seriously not even interested in conversation

        “The simple truth is that purely material objects are subject to cause and effect, meaning if our minds are purely physical then they are no exception.”

        …assuming that our minds are not capable of causing an effect on themselves. which would be some degree of free will, right?

        i can sit and think of things that make me really angry with the sole intention of making myself angry. not free will?

        “As for rationality – yes, rational is good and irrational is bad. That’s pretty self-evident. At least in terms of discovering what is truthful.”

        yeah but you’re not connecting the arguments fully. you reject that human minds are irrational, without considering that they may be quasi-rational, simply because you buy this argument that if irrational they can never be rational. thus nihilism. but there’s a lot of assumptions embedded in that argument that you’re not taking the time to pick apart, to the weakness of your assertion. too bad.

      2. Eric,

        You’re right, I’m not interested in a discussion with you because you’re not educated on this matter, but you act like you are. What do I have to gain from such a position? For instance, you’re not getting the entire argument that I’m laying forth, you’re woefully ill-informed on the naturalistic arguments concerning the mind (you’re acting as though free will can exist in a purely materialistic universe, when hardly any naturalist philosophers would agree with that), and you show yourself to be truly ignorant of the material presented. So why would I want to have a conversation with you on this?

        Perhaps if you approached it more appropriately, offered good arguments, admitted your ignorance in certain areas, and displayed a true desire to understand what was going on I’d be more willing. But you haven’t done that. You keep using circular argumentation (i.e. arguing that we can still recognize rationality when I’ve already pointed out that such a recognition would be impossible if naturalism is true, thus using your conclusion to verify your propositions) and ignoring the crux of my argument. You keep trying to make this argument that we’re non-rational, or that irrational minds can sometimes be rational, but this completely skirts around the entire argument I’ve made; if our cogntiive faculties aren’t geared towards rationality or towards truth and can purposefully deceive us in order to aid in our survival,

          then we can never know what is rational, we can never know what is truthful, we can never trust our conclusions; in short, we cannot reason to see what is reasonable.

        That you have consistently failed to get this only furthers my point of why a true discussion with you is a waste of time.

        Again, I’m not trying to be rude, but honestly you new atheists sometimes need to realize that your “reasoning” is just annoying to people who have studied philosophy. So yeah, I’m not interested in a conversation with you until you actually begin to understand the argument I’ve been making.

  6. i mean really i could say that the great dao provides immaterial free will and it’s just as valid as crediting the abrahamic protestant god. there are effectively an infinite number of gods, goddesses, and other supernatural forces which can be praised for giving humans free will, if you don’t want to roll with the evolutionary argument

  7. “You’re right, I’m not interested in a discussion with you because you’re not educated on this matter, but you act like you are.”

    haha, how very prideful of you!

    i’m sorry if you don’t like my vernacular but that’s your problem. i’m pretty well versed on these arguments, but if you want to belittle my intelligence instead of engaging with an alternative perspective that’s your prerogative. i can only encourage you to learn, i can’t force you to do it

    “or instance, you’re not getting the entire argument that I’m laying forth,”

    i do, but you’re just saying that i don’t as a rationalization for why i don’t agree with you.

    “So why would I want to have a conversation with you on this? ”

    maybe you’ll learn something? god forbid you learn something

    “That you have consistently failed to get this only furthers my point of why a true discussion with you is a waste of time. ”

    whatever, dude. you simply don’t understand that it’s not a question of comprehension, it’s a question of disagreement. you can’t imagine how someone could disagree with your impeccable logic, thus i must simply be ignorant. your pride is blinding you.

    “Again, I’m not trying to be rude, but honestly you new atheists sometimes need to realize that your “reasoning” is just annoying to people who have studied philosophy. So yeah, I’m not interested in a conversation with you until you actually begin to understand the argument I’ve been making.”

    alrighty then. have fun being the smartest theologian in the lonely hearts club, let’s see how far that kind of attitude gets you in academia

  8. Hi it’s me again. I have some meta-notes that I think you should consider. Have you ever got someone who liked your reasoning that didn’t already agree with you? You don’t seem to understand the difference between an assertion and an argument. If your other writings are anything like this all someone who disagrees with you is going to see a bunch of unfounded assertions, and if they bother to point them out, all you are going to do is insist they failed to understand the argument and reassert them. This is incredibly unconvincing. Why do you think people so regularly fail to understand your arguments? Are your readers so dumb, or is your writing so terrible?

    Another thing that is incredibly unconvincing is references to education. Maybe you know Eric well enough to know what education he does or doesn’t have, but I assure no one is impressed with whatever random undergrad degree you have. No one cares that only some philosophers agree with a point they are making, no (sane) person makes an argument because the argument is popular.

    1. I’ve actually had a bunch of people comment on multiple posts where there was disagreement. Most of the time it’s easy to see their point or to have a productive conversation. The problem with you and Eric is that neither of you actually understand the argument I’m making, whereas I’ve made the argument before and had productive discussions with naturalists. So it falls on the two of you, not on me.

      And to answer your question about someone who liked my reasoning, but disagreed with me – yes, plenty of times. I’ve in turn read people or talked with people who I disagreed with, but still admired how they got to their conclusions.

      Also, if you failed to understand the argument and continue to fail to understand the argument, then I have no other recourse to take. I’m not trying to convince you of anything nor do I expect you to be convinced; you can’t even get the basics of the argument down, so there’s no attempt for me to try to convince you of anything. In this case, you and Eric just don’t get it.

      1. “The problem with you and Eric is that neither of you actually understand the argument I’m making, whereas I’ve made the argument before and had productive discussions with naturalists.”

        i understand it. i’m just not putting it in proper formal philosophical language, because i am not a philosopher.

        not being a philosopher is not the same as being incapable of philosophical thought. this is something you don’t understand.

        anyway, if you are writing a philosophical blog for the masses that can only be properly understood by philosophers, then you are failing as an educator.

        “I’m not trying to convince you of anything nor do I expect you to be convinced; you can’t even get the basics of the argument down, so there’s no attempt for me to try to convince you of anything. In this case, you and Eric just don’t get it.”

        alright then. we simply agree to disagree on the intellectual competence of the other party.

        for what it’s worth i think you’re arguing backwards – taking the position of god and then molding your argument to fit your conclusion, which isn’t philosophy but rhetoric. you have too many holes and definitional gaps in your borrowed argument for it to make sense, and i’d like to think it’s because you ignored those mistakes rather than missed them.

      2. Who are these people you’ve convinced, and of what?
        You constantly insist we aren’t seeing your point, and failing to clarify what it is about it we aren’t seeing.
        When pressed you claim that the person you’re addressing isn’t educated enough to have this discussion with you.
        I hate to break it to you, man, but most people have not been studying Epistemology and other forms of mind wizardry for as long as you have. You appeal to your long toil in the ivory tower that mere lay people cannot comprehend your great insights.
        Despite all those other lay-people you claim to have convinced of all kinds of things.

      3. I never said I convinced anyone. I said that I’ve had respectable disagreements with people who have disagreed with my reasoning (and vice versa).

        More importantly, on four separate responses in this thread alone I’ve put in bold and italics the point that you’ve been missing. There’s only so much I can do.

      4. This post is incredibly unconvincing because the evidence says you are lying. I did a survey of your other articles on this site and found only people who agreed with you, but differed on minor (non-fatal) points, and comments you failed to reply to. (And of course people in mindless agreement, and non-agreement related comments).

  9. “More importantly, on four separate responses in this thread alone I’ve put in bold and italics the point that you’ve been missing. There’s only so much I can do.”

    you continually conflate “don’t understand” with “don’t agree with” and i fear it’s a form of rationalization. oh well.

    1. No, because I’ve seen arguments against this where the person understands the argument, but doesn’t agree with it.

      The arguments the three of you have offered show that you don’t understand the argument as it’s presented. That or you don’t understand logic and that arguments must be consistent within themselves and not contradictory.

  10. Here is, what I hope, a more detailed explanation of the argument, as presented last November. It goes into a bit more detail. My hope is that you will finally understand what is going on with this argument.

    Click Here

    Certainly there are arguments against what I’m saying, but such arguments aren’t circular. Rather, they tend towards a redefining of what natural selection is or what it can do; it doesn’t say, “yeah, we can’t trust our cognitive abilities, but we can reason!” which is inherently non-sequitur.

    1. you’re still doing it. you keep asserting what you asserted the first time. repetitive argumentation is fallacious.

      quit name dropping plantinga. argue on your own two feet.

      namely, tell me why an untrustworthy, irrational cognitive force is inherently incapable of rationality in all circumstances. just because people are prone to irrational behaviors and thought does not mean that irrationality is the only capable action – we can construct external frameworks, like mathematics, which impose rationality.

      surely you would argue that we cannot trust any product of an irrational mind – yet we can externally verify these things. we know that mathematics is a rational system, because math has produced useful results. the whole of empirical naturalism, having produced things like the internet, medicine, moon landings, etc. is proven to be rational. you keep ignoring this component of the argument.

      by aping plantinga, you are making yourself prone to his errors – and when we point out those flaws, your defense is that we simply don’t understand the argument. that’s a tidy way of avoiding the question, but it’s not an answer

      it would be nice if you could inject some substance into plantinga’s argument rather than simply putting your own spin on his words

  11. Here’s the final reply and then I’m closing this topic:

    What none of you are getting is that the argument concerning the self-defeating nature of naturalism critiques the mind’s ability to recognize what is truthful and/or rational. So pointing to things like mathematics and empiricism is circular, because (so the argument goes) if naturalism is true then we can’t trust our interpretation of these events. We may think it “works,” but that could be by happy accident; the fact is, we have no way of really knowing if it works.

    The point is that naturalism necessarily leads to epistemic skepticism. I have offered argument after argument on this point and even directed you to a post where I go into detail on it. Yet, the three of you keep making the same mistakes; you’re ignoring that the argument is a critique of the mind (under naturalism). You keep saying, “But we can verify” or “but what about partial rationality,” completely ignoring that the argument is saying that we can’t trust our cognitive abilities, period. This would eradicate the possibility for partial rationality because we would never know if we were being rational, or if our conclusions and verifications were simply a mirage created via the mind in order to aid in our survival.

    That you have not gotten this point is not my fault. The three of you have almost gone out of your way to miss the point, which to me makes you appear as trolls. Thus, the topic is closed.

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