The Making of an [A]Theist

In his fascinating The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief Jim Spiegel offers a unique thesis. It goes something like this: Rather than denial of God’s existence leading atheists to immoral behavior, immoral behavior leads atheists to denial of God’s existence. Spiegel claims

Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts. Such doubts are mere symptoms of the root-cause—moral rebellion. For the atheist, the missing ingredient isn’t evidence but obedience. [Emphasis his.]

Clearly “there are moral dynamics involved in the abandonment of faith” (Ps. 14:1; Rom 1:18). But (and this is a large, theoretically-laden “but”), I wonder if this is backwards or even a non sequitur. Could it be first that most atheists have honest intellectual doubts and, as a result, see no reason to justify their moral behavior to a god he/she does not believe exists? After all, it makes little sense to live according to moral guidelines issued by a non-entity! If there is no moral Lawgiver, then, on an eternal scale, everyone is free to live however they choose. Naturally there are temporal consequences to going against the accepted moral guidelines of a given culture, but if the atheist’s beliefs are true she has nothing to fear beyond death.

Supporting his thesis, Spiegel marshall’s Alvin Plantinga’s findings (see Warranted Christian Belief) showing that atheists cannot know their beliefs are true given a priori commitments to Darwinian naturalism, which has no mechanism for discerning the truth of beliefs. Consequently, atheists are “cognitively handicapped…[and] genuinely desensitized to truth such that they cannot perceive it even when they encounter it” (p. 57). The God-given spiritual receptors are deadened by a life lived in rebellion. Thus, the atheist is condemned to a kind of self-defeating epistemic futility.

If Spiegel’s thesis is correct, could this angle work for the making of a theist? Can good conduct result in enhanced cognitive abilities that lead to belief in God? Could our spiritual receptors be enlivened by living a life of obedience? Immediately Blaise Pascal‘s famous Wager comes to mind. Although Spiegel did not bring up the Wager (nor did he show how Romans 2:14-15 might bear on his thesis!), at least an endnote acknowledging this angle would have been nice. Perhaps he plans a sequel “The Making of a Theist.”

Sidebar: The Making of a [Pascalian] Theist

Pascal’s Wager has a rich history and not a little controversy surrounds its meaning. Essentially, it goes something like this. When a person insists that it is prudent to remain on the fence about belief in God, Pascal asserts a wager must be made. If one wagers that God exists, and in fact he does exist, there is everything to win including an eternity of happiness as well as the prudential benefits of living a morally upright life. Alternatively, if one wagers that God exists, and in fact he does not exist, then there is no eternal happiness to lose yet the prudential benefits of living a morally upright life can still be realized. While every wager carries a degree of risks and rewards, the benefits of living as if God exists far outweigh a life lived as if there is no moral Lawgiver. Therefore, betting that God exists is both a reasonable and prudent commitment. [There are many other permutations to Pascal’s Wager, but I’ll not explore those here.]

As Pascal insists, one cannot suspend a commitment to the existence of God and remain on the fence indefinitely. When the fence-sitter recognizes that a wager must be made (since failing to wager is itself tantamount to wagering), Pascal calls on her to enter into a kind of “spiritual experiment.” In fact, it is at this point that Spiegel’s thesis is aided by Pascal who claims that unbelief is “because of your passions, since [prudential] reason impels you to believe and yet you cannot do so.” That is, one’s passions (i.e., moral behavior) gets in the way of what is prudent to believe. Instead, Pascal enjoins his skeptic to curb their passions so as not to “counteract the clear command of prudential reason” (see Groothuis, p. 80 On Pascal). Upon doing so, “the doubter will end up believing quite naturally and will become more ‘docile,'” which means a kind of “neutralizing of these inhibiting passions such that belief becomes possible” (Groothuis, p. 84).

Following Augustine, Pascal maintained that one is either motivated by “concupiscence or charity—in other words, by one’s fallen nature or by grace. If one is dominated by concupiscence, religious truth is unavailable. If one is willing to suspend or at least attenuate foul passions, charity may break through and faith ensue” (Groothuis, p. 85). Thus, the making of a theist could involve a kind of challenge or wager to enter into a “spiritual experiment” by living as if there is a moral Lawgiver thereby increasing one’s chances to believe that God exists. Pascal’s charge to his skeptic is telling for the making of a theist:

“I would soon have renounced pleasure,” say they, “had I faith.” For my part I tell you, “You would soon have faith, if you renounced pleasure.” Now, it is for you to begin. If I could, I would give you faith. I cannot do so, nor therefore test the truth of what you say. But you can well renounce pleasure and test whether what I say is true. Pensées, 240

Back to Spiegel

Why Pascal was not invoked remains a mystery, since the Wager would have enhanced Spiegel’s thesis. Whether or not he sufficiently tells the whole story of unbelief, Spiegel has contributed some important insights on the relationship of moral psychology to atheism. And, despite my spin on the book’s thesis and excursus (rant?) about Pascal, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief is worthy and deserves a careful and thoughtful read. Check out this site to download the introduction, discussion questions, and more.

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18 thoughts on “The Making of an [A]Theist”

  1. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the review – looks like a great book. I recently wrote a piece on “faith” as understood in a Cristian context that also deals somewhat with acceptance of evidence – you may find it interesting:

    http://spiritualmeanderings.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/faith-reflecting-on-evidence/

    On the mind/brain topic, I’d like to add a point which may be useful. J. B. S. Haldane, the geneticist and evolutionary biologist who founded population genetics, considered himself firmly atheist. He wrote the following, which – while I do not claim that it proves anything – I think you may enjoy as a thought exercise:

    “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.”

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Sentinel. Appreciate your remarks and will take a look at your blog.

      Am familiar with the Haldane quote. Thank you. Since my opponent seemed to hold fast an a priori commitment to materialism and the scientific method as the only means of discovering truth, then it seemed fruitless to continue the discussion. We were talking pass one another more than growing in understanding. Sadly, Arizona Atheist did not see that “truth” is not found in a lab or measured in a beaker.

  2. I have not read the book yet but i plan to soon. As far as disobedience and true intellectual barriers, I wonder if many atheists are just not intellectually honest about what they really see or is possibly there to believe. If this were the case then wouldn’t this be a form of disobedience and therefore prove Spiegel’s point?

    1. Hi Craig:
      Thanks for stopping by here. While some atheists may be torn intellectually, I doubt “many” are. Of course, absolute certain is not available for many of our beliefs (save those that are logically certain).

      Nevertheless, for those who are torn, you (better Spiegel) may very well have a point.

      To be fair, what I find terribly sad is that many believers can “offer arguments for Christianity but not for God.” HT: http://trevinwax.com/2010/04/13/undercover-at-thomas-road-an-interview-with-gina-welch/.

      1. Paul, In reference to my devotions this morning it is true that the unbelieving mind is darkened to the truth, so yes, many may not struggle internally such that they are being disobedient consciously. However, I believe in the “sensus divinitatus” in Rom. 1 so I think at some basic level all unbelief is willful disobedience.

        As far as Trevin Wax goes, I follow his blog and I like a lot of what he has to say. I do agree with you that in his interview he seemed to be on the wrong track in his defense and questioning. Would like to say more about that but I gotta run!

  3. Hi Mr. Adams,

    I’ll just go ahead and copy/paste my question from Amazon.

    If atheism is supposedly about “moral rebellion” why is it that study after study shows that theists are no more moral than atheists (some studies even give atheists the edge)? If atheists are supposedly in denial about “design” in the universe, then why were all of Spiegel’s arguments for design incorrect? Atheists disbelieve for intellectual reasons, as the author even quotes a few atheists, but ignored those reasons entirely and argued the reason was psychological. He was clearly reading what he wanted into the statements made by atheists (with the exception of Nagel, as far as I can tell) and builds his case around his own faulty assumptions.

    Thanks.

    1. @Arizona Atheist:
      Thanks for your comments here. A few ideas in response:

      1. Asserting something is so does not make it so. By citing “study after study shows…” or “Spiegel’s arguments for design are incorrect” without offering your sources for these or counter arguments that try to convince does not persuade. You may be right there are studies offering evidence to the contrary of Spiegel’s thesis, or that his version of the design argument is faulty, but I remain unconvinced by your mere assertions.
      2. You claim “atheists disbelieve for intellectual reasons.” Are you speaking for all atheists? As my original post suggests, I would agree some do disbelieve first for intellectual reasons. But I’m not sure we can make a sweeping claim that all do. In Spiegel’s defense, while I do think he’s overstated his case, there are some atheists no doubt who wish to justify a lifestyle that is not morally accountable and then seek reasons for the behavior in their belief system. In fact, I can recall times when I decided to do something knowing is wrong, only to find later that I had little justification for it, and then seek to resolve that dissonance by finding beliefs to support the very thing I’d done so as to appease my psyche. That psychology is involved in belief formation does not, therefore, make it untenable altogether as you suggest. Thus, our experience does map to this kind of “do first, then believe” methodology.
      3. Having said all of this, you are absolutely correct that many theists are no more “moral” than their a-theists fellows. Theism does not immediately usher anyone into morally perfect lives. What theism does do, however, is give one an epistemological grounding (rational justification) for moral law that is objective. As Bill Craig (among others) has argued, atheists and theists alike can do good without believing in God, but goodness has no objective grounding without a moral Lawgiver.

      Hope this helps.

      1. Mr. Adams, thanks for the reply.

        1. Asserting something is so does not make it so. By citing “study after study shows…” or “Spiegel’s arguments for design are incorrect” without offering your sources for these or counter arguments that try to convince does not persuade. You may be right there are studies offering evidence to the contrary of Spiegel’s thesis, or that his version of the design argument is faulty, but I remain unconvinced by your mere assertions.

        I agree, but I have those facts right here. Here are a few studies that prove my case:

        In 1934 Abraham Franzblau found a negative correlation between acceptance of religious beliefs and three different measures of honesty. As religiosity increased, honesty decreased. In 1950 Murray Ross conducted a survey among 2,000 associates of the YMCA and discovered that agnostics and atheists were more likely to express their willingness to aid the poor than those who rated themselves as deeply religious. In 1969 sociologists Travis Hirschi and Rodney Stark reported no difference in the self-reported likelihood to commit crimes between children who attended church regularly and those who did not. David Wulff’s comprehensive survey of correlational studies on the psychology of religion revealed that there is a consistent positive correlation between ‘religious affiliation, church attendance, doctrinal orthodoxy, rated importance of religion, and so on’ with ‘ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, dogmatism, social distance, rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity, and specific forms of prejudice, especially against Jews and blacks.’

        As far as problems with Spiegel’s design arguments:

        He argues that the expansion rate of the Big Bang had to be accurate to within one part in 10-55. Any slower and the universe would have collapsed. Any faster and there would be no stars or planetary systems.

        My answer (citing Victor J. Stenger):

        “[t]his has an easy answer. If the universe appeared from an earlier state of zero energy, then energy conservation would require the exact expansion rate that is observed. That is the rate determined precisely by the fact that the potential energy of gravity is exactly balanced by the kinetic energy of matter.”

        “So, instead of being an argument for God, the fact that the rate of expansion of the universe is exactly what we expect from an initial state of zero energy is a good argument against a creator. Once again, we have no fine-tuning because the parameter in question is determined by a conservation principle, in this case conservation of energy.”

        He also brings up the long discredited claim that there aren’t any transitional fossils. That issue has been done to death so many times I don’t feel the need to respond to that here.

        2. You claim “atheists disbelieve for intellectual reasons.” Are you speaking for all atheists? As my original post suggests, I would agree some do disbelieve first for intellectual reasons. But I’m not sure we can make a sweeping claim that all do. In Spiegel’s defense, while I do think he’s overstated his case, there are some atheists no doubt who wish to justify a lifestyle that is not morally accountable and then seek reasons for the behavior in their belief system. In fact, I can recall times when I decided to do something knowing is wrong, only to find later that I had little justification for it, and then seek to resolve that dissonance by finding beliefs to support the very thing I’d done so as to appease my psyche. That psychology is involved in belief formation does not, therefore, make it untenable altogether as you suggest. Thus, our experience does map to this kind of “do first, then believe” methodology.

        Yes, people do things for emotional reasons, I’m not doubting that, but as far as the subject of disbelief goes, going from my own experience, and every other atheist I’ve spoken with and read their books, I’ve yet to find an atheist who disbelieved for an emotional reason, other than Thomas Nagel (assuming he wasn’t being taken out of context, but it seems he wasn’t, though I’m not 100% positive), who Spiegel cites to support his case. Funny thing is, though, is that he was the only atheist he could find who did so. There might be some atheists who disbelieve for emotional reasons, but Spiegel failed to find any to help support his case.

        3. Having said all of this, you are absolutely correct that many theists are no more “moral” than their a-theists fellows. Theism does not immediately usher anyone into morally perfect lives. What theism does do, however, is give one an epistemological grounding (rational justification) for moral law that is objective. As Bill Craig (among others) has argued, atheists and theists alike can do good without believing in God, but goodness has no objective grounding without a moral Lawgiver.

        Objective morality from religion? I don’t see how. The Euthyphro Dilemma is an age old argument that theists haven’t been able to get around yet. Morality is subjective and changes over time. There are also secular moral systems, such as the social contract, that can be used to ground morality. Besides, as Spiegel even admitted, many theists fail to live up to this supposed objective standard so what’s the point in making such a claim in the first place? This is a consistent observation throughout history.

        I’m looking forward to your reply.

        Take care.

        1. @Arizona Atheist
          Without engaging your responses precisely and entering into an outright debate (not the point of my review of Spiegel’s book), let’s assume all of your points are valid, true, and worthy of belief and commitment (as you clearly do). In fact, let’s assume that a) all religious beliefs having to do with God are sheer nonsense and every human is nothing more than a collection of cells that is a product of Darwinian natural processes, all of reality is made up of physical properties, the sum of which have only partially been discovered via scientific means, and there is no life after death but only the expectation of becoming “food for worms” (thank you, Nietzsche) b) the universe has no design or Designer, and c) any sense of morality is pure social convention or the product of our genetic coding (Dawkins’ position) with an appearance of objectivity but, at the end of the day, is subjective, relative, constantly changing, and therefore an illusion.

          If these things be true, from whence comes this sense of immaterial realities that seemingly all humans have innately, namely a) consciousness b) truth [which your arguments require if they are “believable”] c) justice d) good and evil, e) beauty f) love, g) …. you get the idea. Surely these purported immaterial realities did not erupt from only physical properties. In other words, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. If any or all of your assertions about the nonexistence of God are true, then how can you know this objectively without at least committing to the existence of at least one immaterial reality, (“consciousness”)? Seems to me you can, at best, only state your preference; yet I “prefer” otherwise. Since I prefer otherwise, there is no basis to claim my preferences are objectively wrong, ill-informed, false, et al. unless you are committed to some of the aforementioned immaterial realities. And, your commitment to them entails belief in something beyond the physical, for which you have no ontological basis without a belief in God, who grounds their existence. If you admit at least “consciousness” and “truth” (to deny these is to commit the most basic intellectual error = self-refutation), then from whence do they arise?

          P.S. Please, do call me “Paul” (my momma didn’t name me “Mr.” …. wink)

          1. Hi Paul,

            If these things be true, from whence comes this sense of immaterial realities that seemingly all humans have innately, namely a) consciousness b) truth [which your arguments require if they are “believable”] c) justice d) good and evil, e) beauty f) love, g) …. you get the idea. Surely these purported immaterial realities did not erupt from only physical properties. In other words, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. If any or all of your assertions about the nonexistence of God are true, then how can you know this objectively without at least committing to the existence of at least one immaterial reality, (“consciousness”)? Seems to me you can, at best, only state your preference; yet I “prefer” otherwise. Since I prefer otherwise, there is no basis to claim my preferences are objectively wrong, ill-informed, false, et al. unless you are committed to some of the aforementioned immaterial realities. And, your commitment to them entails belief in something beyond the physical, for which you have no ontological basis without a belief in God, who grounds their existence. If you admit at least “consciousness” and “truth” (to deny these is to commit the most basic intellectual error = self-refutation), then from whence do they arise?

            I don’t understand why you’d think consciousness would have to be something immaterial. It’s true that science is just beginning to understand the brain and has a long ways to go, but as far as what we know so far, consciousness is nothing but a combination of various processes of the brain. There have even been books written on it, such as Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained, unfortunately, I have a very long reading list and haven’t gotten very far in that one yet so I can’t give you a lot of detail, but consciousness seems to be the work of not one part of the brain, but many working together to create this state we call consciousness. Even still, just because something is currently unexplained doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a natural explanation.

            Even more though, I do not understand why you argue that truth, justice, good and evil, beauty, and love are immaterial. Love is simply a combination of various chemicals that are released into the brain that gives you that euphoric feeling when you care deeply for someone. Beauty is simply an individuals’ subjective belief as to what is attractive; truth is simply something that is true and is corroborated by the actual state of things; good and evil are largely subjective, just as morality is. All of these things can easily be explained naturally without any need of religion or immaterialism.

            So, by accepting all these things, consciousness included, doesn’t lead to any kind of contradiction. For all but one (so far at least) of the examples given each has a logical, verifiable naturalistic explanation.

            Since you noted that you don’t care to debate is there anything you would like to simply discuss?

            Thanks!

            1. Thanks, once again, for your contributions and invitation here.

              Let’s discuss consciousness. Consider J. P. Moreland’s argument that consciousness consists of at least four features that are not accounted for by physical states of affairs.

              First, there is a raw qualitative feel — a “what it is like to have it” — to a mental state. For example, pain hurts. A physical state may cause pain, but the physical state itself can be completely described in the vocabulary of physics and chemistry, or in the commonsense vocabulary of the physical world. Being hurtful, however, is not describable in the vocabulary of any of these.

              Second, many mental states have intentionality — “ofness” or “aboutness” — which is directed towards an object. A thought, for instance, is about the moon. But no physical state is about anything. The brain is a physical object, but a brain state cannot be about the moon any more than a rock or a cloud can be about the moon. Only a state of mind can be about the moon.

              Third, mental states are internal, private and immediately accessible to the subject having them. A scientist can know more about my brain than I do. But I have direct knowledge of my mind which is not available to anyone else.

              Fourth, mental states fail to have crucial features that characterize physical states. Unlike physical states, they have no spatial extension (it doesn’t make sense to ask how tall or wide someone’s thoughts are) and they have no location either (which is why it doesn’t make sense to ask where someone’s thoughts are). In general, mental states cannot be described using physical language.

              Thoughts? Oh, but wait…the moment you offer your “thoughts” you enter the non-physical world. ;-)

              1. Hi, I’m happy to discuss things with civil and kind individuals such as yourself since I’ve run into many..shall I say… jerks during my many discussions.

                As I said, my knowledge of consciousness is slim at best but I’ll do my best here.

                A thought, for instance, is about the moon. But no physical state is about anything. The brain is a physical object, but a brain state cannot be about the moon any more than a rock or a cloud can be about the moon. Only a state of mind can be about the moon.

                The brain is similar to a computer in that in can process information and “think” about various things, just as a computer is not a math equation but it can “think” about them and solve them. There is nothing immaterial about that, just as there is nothing immaterial about a computer processing something.

                A physical state may cause pain, but the physical state itself can be completely described in the vocabulary of physics and chemistry, or in the commonsense vocabulary of the physical world. Being hurtful, however, is not describable in the vocabulary of any of these.

                I’m assuming he is referring to our feelings being hurt and how he describe how we feel and it’s not possible to describe this? I don’t see how, since we have words that describe these feelings we feel, such as happy, sad, etc. But feelings are based upon, to my limited knowledge, the chemicals in our heads. Chemical imbalances can cause emotional fluctuations so it’s clear emotions are tied to the chemicals in our brains, just as the feeling we call “love” is caused by a release of various hormones and other chemicals.

                mental states are internal, private and immediately accessible to the subject having them. A scientist can know more about my brain than I do. But I have direct knowledge of my mind which is not available to anyone else.

                Actually, that’s not true Pretty cool, huh? ; )

                Clearly, there is something ..for the lack of a better word ‘mechanical’ about our brains since a computer can “read” it and we know where these thoughts are stored. There is also the technology that allows people who cannot move to control a computer and other electronics by thought alone.

                Unlike physical states, they have no spatial extension (it doesn’t make sense to ask how tall or wide someone’s thoughts are) and they have no location either (which is why it doesn’t make sense to ask where someone’s thoughts are). In general, mental states cannot be described using physical language.

                Actually, as one of the above articles I cited said, the hippocampus is “believed to be most heavily involved in episodic memory”, even though various parts of the brain are also involved. With brain imaging we can target where certain thoughts and whatnot come from.

                Again, we don’t know a lot about the brain but the evidence suggests that consciousness and, yes, even our thoughts are not in any way immaterial. They are simply products of our brain, just as computing cycles of a computer are caused by mechanical processes. I don’t think you’d argue your computer has any immaterial properties would you, and it’s the same with the brain. It’s just our “bio-computer”, which was crafted by natural selection, not humans, is not the greatest and explains the many faults that we have with it, since it’s not nearly as reliable as a simple computer made by humans.

                Hopefully I answered your questions well enough since my knowledge is pretty limited.

                1. Thanks for your kind words. It’s truly sad there are so many theists who are “jerks.” I wish I could say I don’t know any, but….. In fact, I’m sure that I’ve fallen into that camp from time to time.

                  Since you mentioned civility and kindness vis-a-vis being offended, hurt, disappointed, (or what have you) by theistic “jerks,” I’ll use that to make my point in reply. That I can measure with instruments the physical/material brain states you experience when someone offends you is no argument against the immateriality of consciousness. It merely points to the interaction between mind and body (with thanks to Descartes!). Allow me to explain.

                  The mind interacts only with the brain (nothing external enters the mind without first passing through the brain). A material event causally stimulates the senses (e.g., when I hear someone speaking in another room or see the desk in a room when the light is turned on). From a chain of physical causes the material event leads the brain to process it, which creates an awareness in the mind of the physical event. The mind, then, being affected by the brain, acts on the brain that in turn affects the body, which reacts accordingly (we “hear” or “see” or “feel”). For all material/external events, therefore, the brain is the link or bridge between mind (metaphysical) and matter (physical). Yet it is the “person” (that deepest metaphysical subject underneath and behind the physical “you”) who becomes “aware” via consciousness of a physical event. [Consider the hand (= mind) that animates a glove (= body). The glove does not animate the hand. My material presence is merely a vessel for housing my soul/mind/consciousness.]

                  To complicate things and to be fair to Descartes, it’s a two-way street. While a physical event can cause a mental event/awareness, it could go the other way, e.g., dreaming, imagining, remembering can cause one to sweat or experience increased heart rate. Though the mind “wanders” and “dreams” and the brain is involved as a vessel to the body, it is the mind/consciousness that perceives the dream, causing the brain’s impulses to communicate to the body, yet it is the mind which “knows.”

                  Similarly, it is the person who feels loved, not the chemicals that cause the feeling. That I can know there are other minds (such as yours as you read this) does not discount that your brain is engaged as a kind of bridge between your consciousness and the thoughts you’re apprehending. Of course a computer can churn out 1s and 0s (I understand MIT is working on a trinary system as well) that collectively comprise code to imitate human responses. But this does not discount the notion that “information” itself is a metaphysical reality composed of a relationship between a string of letters and the ideas they communicate to a subject. For example, the characters “*#)C84&L”!@;” mean nothing, whereas the characters “content” conveys a thought (even when translated in other languages) that only humans can understand. A computer sees “content” as a series of 1s and 0s but does not “know” it as a thought. Only minds can “think” and only humans can “know” in their “knower” because they have a mind that is conscious. Simply because I can monitor the corresponding brain states you’re having while reading this post does not mean you are merely a machine taking in a bunch of characters and assigning meaning to it based upon learned social convention.

                  At the end of the day, my friend, I would encourage you to consider whether or not your worldview, and particularly your view of the human species, is existentially viable. Can you honestly live with the notion that love is merely a chemical emission? I doubt your significant other would find that very appealing!

                  1. Thanks for your kind words. It’s truly sad there are so many theists who are “jerks.” I wish I could say I don’t know any, but….. In fact, I’m sure that I’ve fallen into that camp from time to time.

                    Since you mentioned civility and kindness vis-a-vis being offended, hurt, disappointed, (or what have you) by theistic “jerks,” I’ll use that to make my point in reply. That I can measure with instruments the physical/material brain states you experience when someone offends you is no argument against the immateriality of consciousness.

                    You’re very welcome. In regards to myself, I’ve also been guilty of letting my emotions get to me in discussions a few times, only because the last few people I’ve tried discussing things with I get talked down to and insulted on a continuous basis while trying to have a discussion. So, I can understand that. People can only take so much until they lash out at their abusers.

                    It seems we’ve gone off a slightly different path here. I gave you reasons why thoughts are not immaterial and you respond with this mind-brain duality. The fact that scientists can “read” a person’s thoughts was simply an answer to your argument that thoughts are themselves immaterial, which I think those facts throughly refuted that claim. This mind-brain duality is an illusion. Everything we experience comes from the brain itself.

                    The mind interacts only with the brain (nothing external enters the mind without first passing through the brain). A material event causally stimulates the senses (e.g., when I hear someone speaking in another room or see the desk in a room when the light is turned on). From a chain of physical causes the material event leads the brain to process it, which creates an awareness in the mind of the physical event. The mind, then, being affected by the brain, acts on the brain that in turn affects the body, which reacts accordingly (we “hear” or “see” or “feel”). For all material/external events, therefore, the brain is the link or bridge between mind (metaphysical) and matter (physical). Yet it is the “person” (that deepest metaphysical subject underneath and behind the physical “you”) who becomes “aware” via consciousness of a physical event. [Consider the hand (= mind) that animates a glove (= body). The glove does not animate the hand. My material presence is merely a vessel for housing my soul/mind/consciousness.]

                    To complicate things and to be fair to Descartes, it’s a two-way street. While a physical event can cause a mental event/awareness, it could go the other way, e.g., dreaming, imagining, remembering can cause one to sweat or experience increased heart rate. Though the mind “wanders” and “dreams” and the brain is involved as a vessel to the body, it is the mind/consciousness that perceives the dream, causing the brain’s impulses to communicate to the body, yet it is the mind which “knows.”

                    Again, these experiences are all sensed because of your sense organs and are processed by your brain, and nothing else. Your senses pick up on things in your environment and your brain processes that information, sending electrical impulses down your arm, hand, etc. in order to interact with your environment. Allow me to quote Dennett from Consciousness Explained when he is talking about why mind-brain dualism is falsified by basic laws of physics:

                    “The conscious perception of the arrow [discussing Descartes’s diagram explaining the mind-brain connection] occurs only after the brain has somehow transmitted its message to the mind, and the person’s finger can point to the arrow only after the mind commands the body. How, precisely, does the information get transmitted from pineal gland to mind? Since we don’t have the faintest idea (yet) what properties mind stuff has, we can’t even guess (yet) how it might be affected by physical processes emanating somehow from the brain, so let’s ignore those upbound signals for the time being, and concentrate on the return signals; the directives from mind to brain. […] No physical energy or mass is associated with them. How, then, do they get to make a difference to what happens in the brain cells they must affect, if the mind is to have any influence over the body? A fundamental principle of physics is that any change in the trajectory of any physical entity is an acceleration requiring the expenditure of energy that accounts for the physical impossibility of ‘perpetual motion machines,’ and the same principle is apparently violated by dualism.” (34-35)

                    With that, it seems the rest of your arguments proposing some kind of dualism have been falsified by science.

                    Can you honestly live with the notion that love is merely a chemical emission? I doubt your significant other would find that very appealing!

                    Sure, I can live perfectly fine with the fact that love is simply a chemical reaction. It doesn’t affect the love I have for my girlfriend in anyway. It’s just how I feel. The fact that I am aware of what’s causing it doesn’t change that in the slightest. And, since you mentioned my significant other, she knows about that as well and it also doesn’t affect her. It’s like, say… driving a car. We all know (to some degree or another) how a car works but we don’t obsess over it. We just get in our vehicles and drive. Just like loving…we know what causes it, but we don’t consciously think, “these chemicals are making me feel this way”, we just love and enjoy each others’ company. If that makes any sense. The fact that the cause is something mundane doesn’t take away the specialness of the feelings that are produced. Or to put it another way, take pain. I am aware of what causes it, in that it’s simply nerve impulses being sent back and forth from the injured area to my brain through my nervous system, but this doesn’t make the pain I’m feeling any different. It’s still pain, something unpleasant. It’s basically natural selection’s way of getting you to avoid doing certain things so as to prolong your existence. The same with love, I think, since it often leads to ‘love making’ and offspring. Again, just because I understand the mechanisms (more or less) doesn’t change the sensations I feel at all. The only difference is I have a conscious understanding of what’s happening. Hopefully I explained myself well enough.

                    1. Okay…Per Plantinga (see my post here), if it’s possible that something is true of me that is not true of my material state, then it follows that I am not my material substance. Thus, dualism follows. Note carefully Plantinga’s precise explanation regarding what is “possible.”

                      It seems to me you assume a priori that a) all of human experience terminates in the brain and b) the the senses reliably transmit information, which by definition cannot be more than mere electrical impulses and chemical exchanges arranged in certain learned/shared conventions. Given Plantinga’s argument above and the tenuous nature of our senses being wholly reliable, your case for humans being solely material is dubious.

                      Finally, your last paragraph is pregnant with the personal pronoun “I” which, per your anthropology, really means your material being. There really is no “I” behind or under your assertions, nor is there a “mind” making the assertions; only a brain that oozes. [Ironically, hard-core materialists are just a few steps away from the Buddhist notion anatman (= no self).]

                    2. Hi Paul, good morning. I didn’t see a “reply” button on your message so I just replied to my last message.

                      Okay…Per Plantinga (see my post here), if it’s possible that something is true of me that is not true of my material state, then it follows that I am not my material substance. Thus, dualism follows. Note carefully Plantinga’s precise explanation regarding what is “possible.”

                      That was an interesting video, thanks for sharing, but Plantinga doesn’t make any sense. Like the scientist was continually saying, it’s about what is true in reality, not what is “possible”. If there were two “you’s”, like a clone for example, then both would be conscious and you would both be “you”. It’s not as if one body is conscious and another not. That makes no sense what he said because it’s nothing but a thought experiment. An interesting one, but it leads to a false conclusion. Based upon the evidence we have about the brain, which you’ve yet to give a satisfactory answer or rebuttal to, the brain itself creates consciousness and the laws of physics rules out any possibility of dualism, as quoted by Dennett.

                      It seems to me you assume a priori that a) all of human experience terminates in the brain and b) the the senses reliably transmit information, which by definition cannot be more than mere electrical impulses and chemical exchanges arranged in certain learned/shared conventions. Given Plantinga’s argument above and the tenuous nature of our senses being wholly reliable, your case for humans being solely material is dubious.

                      As I noted above, I’m basing my argument upon scientific facts; I’m not just assuming this premise is true and starting from there. According to the evidence I’ve given, my premise is true. Once a person is brain dead that’s it. If there is any life after death no one has come back to tell us. Those who argue that near-death experiences are proof of afterlife don’t seem to understand that this phenomenon is easily explained though natural processes. In fact, these experiences ( NDE’s, OBE’s, etc.) can be easily recreated and induced by stimulation of certain parts of the brain which goes a long ways to proving many, if not all, paranormal events are brain based (Shermer, How We Believe, 241-244).

                      Finally, your last paragraph is pregnant with the personal pronoun “I” which, per your anthropology, really means your material being. There really is no “I” behind or under your assertions, nor is there a “mind” making the assertions; only a brain that oozes. [Ironically, hard-core materialists are just a few steps away from the Buddhist notion anatman (= no self).]

                      The brain creates this experience of “I”; the brain is self-aware so I see myself as me, just as you see yourself as “you”. And because of that, of course I’d answer your question with “I” since it was “I” you asked of my opinion about love being nothing but chemicals. : )

                      Since it seems we’ve reached an impasse; neither one of us will seem to accept the others’ premise, and you’ve still failed to give an answer to any of the evidence I’ve provided, I think the next step would be to leave it at that. Thank you for sharing your views and the video was very interesting. I hadn’t ever heard Plantinga speak before. He seems like a nice guy. I don’t know, I just got that feeling as I watched the video.

                      Thank you again for the discussion. It was fun and interesting. Take care!

  4. Couple of thoughts. His thesis seems to make sense that immorality can lead a person to deny the existence of God since we are all depraved and have been separated from God since the Fall. They truly do not have eyes to see or ears to hear. Being deadened to sin and its effects is something that no one can escape. It is a part of our nature.

    That is why we need God’s Spirit to come into us turn our hearts from stone to flesh which will cause us to walk in his statutes be careful to obey his rules. Without his Spirit we are sunk in a cesspool of depravity.

    But, there seems to be another angle to explore. Romans 1:19 tells us that “For what csn be known about God is plain to them (the unrighteous from 1:18) because God has shown it to them.”

    This indicates that God through his common grace makes known to everyone (even those far flung tribes who have never been visited by outsiders) who he is and that is some sense everyone knows that God exists. (vv. 20-21)

    This would seem to deflate his thesis.

    Since I haven’t read his book, I may be missing something. What would that be?

    1. Hey David:
      Thanks so much for chiming in here! Glad that you stopped by.

      Completely agree that we’re helpless without God first doing something in us (Eph 2:3-4).

      On the “other angle” …. I suppose there’s a danger in making too much out of general revelation (natural theology) or too little. Those who err on the former side risk compromising the Gospel message; those erring on the latter risk restricting the Gospel so much that God cannot be viewed as easing into a person’s life. Clearly Scripture claims God speaks out to all (Acts 14:15-17; Romans 1:19-32; 2:14-15; et al.). And, Rom. 1:23-31 intimates all are without excuse, as there is no higher court to appeal in claiming “we did not know.” I believe it was John Gerstner who once said that hell is an eternal “I told you so.” Harsh, but biblically responsible, given the nature, scope, and clarity of God’s general revelation to all.

      Sadly, Spiegel did not make much of general revelation, except to mention how moral rebellion has led to compromise of the sensus divinitatis (as you know, Calvin’s expression for the image of God within or “seed of divinity”). Of course Scripture does indeed speak to this phenomena re: the effects of moral rebellion. However, while I agree that God’s image is tarnished by sin and nothing humans do can reverse that effect, it is not so hopeless that He cannot repair and restore it. In fact, I would offer that, given the remains of God’s image within (however tarnished) coupled with God’s general revelation, He can work to draw the morally rebellious to himself. After all, we should not underestimate the ministry of God’s Spirit (Jn 16:8).

      Just thinking…(and rambling!)

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