108th Philosophers’ Carnival

Welcome to the 108th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! I don’t know what is going on with the Carnival but  the last few editions have not had very many interesting submissions and I did not get a lot of acceptable submissions for this issue…but I know that there are interesting posts out there  so I scoured the internets to find the best that the philosophy blogosphere has to offer…I also checked a few other disciplines for some food for thought.
  1. Tuomas Tahko presents Draft: The Metaphysical Status of Modal Statements posted at ttahko.net.
  2. Andrew Bernardin presents Beneath Reason: An Iceburg of Unconscious Processes posted at 360 Degree Skeptic.
  3. Eric Michael Johnson presents Chimpanzees Prefer Fair Play To Reaping An Unjust Reward posted at The Primate Diaries.
  4. Terrance Tomkow presents Means and Ends posted at Tomkow.com, saying, “If your only available means of doing something are impermissible, does it follow that it is impermissible for you to do that thing? Judith Jarvis Thomson says, “yes”. Tomkow argues, “no”.”
  5. Thom Brooks presents The Brooks Blog: Thom Brooks on “A New Problem with the Capabilities Approach” posted at The Brooks Blog.
  1. Over at Conscious Entities Peter discusses Justin Sytsma’s recent JCS paper in Skeptical Folk Theory Theory Theory
  2. Over at Alexander Pruss’s Blog said blogger discusses Video Games as Art
  3. Not to long ago we had a very interesting post over at Brains on breeding pain free livestock. Anton Alterman has a somewhat polemical but interesting response at Brain Scam in Pains in the Brain: On LIberating Animals from Feeling
  4. Over at Siris we are reminded how malleable language is and the effect it has on reading past philosophers in Every Event Has a Cause
  5. Over at Practical Ethics Toby Ord asks Is It Wrong to Vote Tactically? I don’t want to spoil it for you but he thinks the answer is ‘no’
  6. Over at Evolving Thoughts John Wilkins discusses Plantinga’s argument that naturalism is self-refuting in You and Me, Baby, Ain’t Nothing But Mammals
  7. Did you know that a Quine is a computer program that can print its own code? It’s true and over at A Piece of Our Mind John Ku discusses them in Meta Monday: Ruby Quines
  8. Over at Neuroschannells Eric sums up his current views on perception and consciousness in Consciousness (13): The Interpreter versus the Scribe
  9. Over at Specter of Reason there is a discussion of Pete Mandik’s Swamp Mary thought experiment in Swamp Deviants, Part II
  10. Over at the Arche Methodology Blog Derek Ball asks Do Philosophers Seek Knowledge? Should They?
  11. Over at Philosophy on the Mesa Nina Rosenstrand wonders if Neanderthal’s raped early Humans in They Are Us? News from the Primate Research Front
  12. Is the idea that the mind in the head an a priori prejudice? Ken Aizawa thinks not in So, why does common sense say the mind is in the head?
  13. Over at Inter Kant Gary Benham discusses Free Speech and Twitter
  14. Over at The Ethical Werewolf Neil Shinhababu discusses his recent run on Bloggingheads and Hedonism
  15. Over at Logical Matters Peter Smith talks about Squeezing Arguments and comments on Fields characterization of them in Saving Truth from Paradox
  16. Over at In Living Color Jean Kazez discusses just how outrageous espousing moral realism really is in Torturing Babies Just for Fun is Wrong
  17. Over at Philosophy Talk: The Blog Ken Taylor discusses Culture and Mental Illness
  18. Over at In the Space of Reasons Tim Thornton discusses Aesthetic Self-Knowledge
  19. Over at the Philosophy North Blog Aiden McGlyn discusses The Problem of Vanishing Warrant
  20. Finally, have you heard about this Philosopher’s Football match? Virtual Philosopher has a nice report of the madness in Philosopher’s Football -Match Report from the Ref.
That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of philosophers’ carnivalusing our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival |

The (New) Agnostic’s Manifesto: Part 1 –Preamble

There is no denying that we live in an age of religious extremism; hell even the atheists are extreme nowadays. But just what ought one to believe about this? As some of you may know, I advocate agnosticism which is the view that the most rational thing to do when one is in our position is withhold judgment. I claim that we do not know that God exists, but nor do we know if He doesn’t exist. Furthermore I claim that we have good evidence on both sides of the dispute. Some of the traditional arguments for God’s existence are rationally compelling, some of the arguments against the existence of God are also rationally compelling. Given this the only rational choice, I argue, is agnosticism. To believe in God is to believe something with insufficient evidence; so too, though, is the belief that there is no God. Neither belief is supported by the evidence.  But before I try to give an argument for what I say above I want to say a few introductory things.

1. Religion vs. Theism

But this does not mean that I am, or have to be, agnostic about organized religion. The verdict is in on that one and I am in agreement with the Richard Dawkins of the world. Religion is at best silly and at worst pernicious.  Sadly a brief look at history reveals that it is mostly pernicious. It is people with religious beliefs that fly planes into buildings, blow themselves up at public places, shoot doctors who perform abortions, go on crusades, believe in talking snakes, etc, etc, etc.

This is to be distinguished from theism which is the belief that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving being who created the Heavens and the Earth. Belief in theism in not associated with any one religion. It is, in fact, the thing that unites (most of) the major religions.  Belief in theism automatically rules out (most if not all) religious beliefs. A supremely loving God would not command you to blow up innocent civilians or to go on crusades or to hate gays, etc, etc, etc.

Thus ‘should I believe in theism or atheism’ is a question that can be rationally addressed (the answer is believe neither: be agnostic), but ‘should I be a Christian or a Muslim’ is not (the answer is be neither: they are both silly). Each of the beliefs specific to these religions, aside from theism, is, in its own way, patently absurd and ridiculous and is obviously the creation of man.

2. Universal Agnosticism?

Some agnostics, like Bertrand Russell, argue that we have to be what I call universal agnostics. That is, they argue that if we are agnostic with respect to the Christian God then we must agnostic with respect to the Greek gods, the Hindu gods, etc. I do not think that this is true. I think that the evidence we have FOR the existence of God is sufficient for us to conclude that IF there is a God then it will be the all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing one that the theist posits.

3. Reason vs. Faith

The question I am interested in this ‘what should a rational person conclude vis a vis theism?’ I am not interested in questions of faith (by which I mean believing in something without evidence or in spite of the evidence). Faith, in my opinion, can be a good thing in small doses but when it gets to the point where it is totally immune from reason then we have crossed into the danger zone. This way lies religious beliefs and fanaticism. So, in this sense, it is possible for an agnostic to have faith. It could happen that someone convinced themselves that they should withhold belief in theism but nonetheless wanted the social benefits of a religion. They might conclude ‘I know that rationally I shouldn’t believe but I can’t help it, I just have faith that there is a God’. This kind of ‘Humean’ faithful agnostic is strange, but according to me, possible and consistent (not the view I have or recommend, though).

Invoking God doesn’t Save Descartes from Skepticism

Descartes argues that God could not be a deciever and so his clear and distinct ideas, which presented themselves to him as self-evidently true, really were necessary truths. If it was the case that Descartes had this strong belief that there are physical objects when there weren’t any really then God would be the Evil Demon; but that isn’t possible. God wouldn’t allow Descartes to be decieved in this way. I often joke that Descartes must not have read the Book of Job because God does allow Job to be decieved (though, it is true that God is not the one doing the decieving) into thinking that it is God who is the one responsible for Job’s misfortunes. But actually, after having thought about it for a bit I now think there is a serious problem for Cartesian epistemology here.   

How are we supposed to rule out that we are not in some Job-like situation in which God allows the Evil Demon to decieve us into thinking that there is a physical world (in order to test us or whatever). So even if you grant all of Descartes’ premises you still don’t really have any justification to believe in the existence of the physical world because you can’t rule out this final Evil Demon scenerio (i.e. the one where God allows him to decieve you).

Top 10 Posts of 2008

OK, so the year isn’t over yet…but these are the most view posts so far…

–Runner up– Reverse Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction

10. Question Begging Thought Experiments

9. Ontological Arguments

8. The Inconceivability of Zombies

7. There’s Something About Jerry 

6. Pain Asymbolia and Higher-Order Theories of consciousness

5.  Philosophical Trends

4. A Short Argument that there is no God

3. Has Idealism Been Refuted?

2. God versus the Delayed Choice Quantuum Eraser

1. A Simple Argument Against Berkeley

More on the Ontological Argument

The traditional version of the ontological argument is usually criticized for treating existence as a predicate. If existence is a predicate, then it is a predicate that always applies, and as Russel quipped that is the sign of a mistake. A predicate must be fail to apply to some objects in order to count as expressing a genuine property.  But Kripke has shown that it is easy to introduce an existence predicate into our formal language that avoides this and related difficulties. We do so as (1),

(1) E(y) (y=x)

Where ‘E(y)’ is the standard existential quantifier and identity is understood normally.(1) is an existence predicate because it is an open sentence that can be satisfied by the values of the free variable x. Intuitively (1) says that x has the property of being identical to some thing (y) and this captures what we mean when we say that existence is a property.

(1) can fail to apply, the model is very easy to give. Imagine a universe of two distinct objects A and B. Now, say that there are two distinct worlds in this universe one containing only A and the other containing only B. E(y) (y=B) will be false at the world where only A  exists.

As Kripke points out the problem only arises when one mistakenly thinks that the claim that existence is a predicate is the claim that (2) makes

(2) (x) (E(y) (y=x))

(2) says that every thing exists and this cannot fail to apply and is a necessary truth, but it is also not a predicate (it is not an open sentence, it is closed by the universal quantifier ‘(x)’).

So if existence is a property then it makes sense to think it is the kind of property that God must have, since He is a being who would be without equal and if He lacked the property of existence then I or you would be His equal and better. So, He must exist. To concieve of God not existing is to concieve of an object that has everything and yet lacks something which is just as contradictory as concieving of an object that is triangular yet lacking three sides.

Ontological Arguments

The ontological argument for the existence of God is often greeted with skepticism by atheists and theists alike. I don’t want to talk about particular versions of the argument, but about why people are suspicious of them. It seems to me that we are quite ready to accept ontological arguments in other areas.So, consider geometry. Why can’t there be any square circles? Because the very concept is contradictory. We infer from this that reality must be a certain way; it contains no square circles.  Isn’t the basic strategy behind the ontological argument for God the same? Why must there be a God? The concept of God’s non-existence is contradictory. Infer from that that reality must be a certain way. Now, I don’t mean to be saying that the ontological argument is a good argument or not. I only mean to point out that ontological arguments aren’t as strange as they seem.

God Vs. The Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser

This is the name of an experiment first proposed in 1982, and is the one that I have had in mind when talking about God and quantum mechanics. I realized that most of the comments I have received seem to be taking me to be talking only about the standard double-slit experiment; this is of course my own fault since I haven’t done a very good job of indicating what I had in mind. So, let me describe these results and then reformulate the argument.

We have to build up to this, so let’s start with the quantum eraser experiment. Here is how Brian Greene describes the experiment in his recent book The Fabric of the Universe.

A simple version of the quantum eraser experiment makes use of the double-slit set up, modified in the following way. A tagging device is placed in front of each slit; it marks any passing photon so that when the photon is examined later, you can tell through which slit it passed…when this double-slit-tagging experiment is run, the photons do not build up an interference pattern.

As he goes on to point out, this is what we would expect. Since we measure the photon’s path, we get the photons acting like particles. But then it gets weirder. As Green continues, the quantum eraser asks,

What if just before the photon hits the detection screen, you eliminate the possibility of determining through which slit it passed by erasing the mark imprinted by the tagging device?

The answer, as it turns out, is that the interference pattern shows up again. Which, is , uh, weird. But again it gets weirder with the delayed-choice quantum eraser. Greene describes it thus,

It begins with [the set-up of the quantum eraser], modified by inserting two so-called down-converters, one on each pathway. Down-converters are devices that take one photon as input and produce two photons as output, each with half the energy (“down converted”) of the signal. One of the photons (called the signal photon) is directed along the path that the original would have followed toward the detector screen. The other photon produced by the down-converter (called the idler photon) is sent in a different direction altogether. On each run of the experiment we can determine which oath a signal photon takes to the screen by observing which down-converter spits out the idler photon partner. And once again, the ability to gleen which-path information about the signal photons– even though it is totally indirect, since we are not interacting with any signal photons at all– has the effect of preventing an interference pattern from forming.

OK, so far so good. This is just a fancier version of what we have already talked about, with the exception that we are now no longer causally interacting with the signal photon. Everything we know about the signal photon we learn by observing the idler photon. But even so, we get the photons acting like particles. But we aren’t done yet. Again Greene

 Now for the weirder part. What if we manipulate the experiment so as to make it impossible to determine from which down-converter a given idler photon emerged? What if, that is, we erase the which-path information embodied by the idler photon? Well, something amazing happens: even though we’ve done nothing directly to the signal photons, by erasing which-path information carried by their idler partners we can recover an interference pattern from the signal photons[!!!!!!]

OK, so what this seems to show is that it is not anything that we do to the photon that determines which way it will behave. Rather what determines this is whether or not we are able to know which path the photon takes to the detector. Nothing changes here except our ability to know which path the photon took.

We can hammer home this point with one further modification of the experiment. Suppose that we set it up so that we could only get which-path information from some of the photons (and further that which ones we get this information about is random). Again Greene.

Does this erasure of some of the which-path information– even though we have done nothing directly to the signal photons– mean that the interference effects are recovered? Indeed it does– but only for those signal photons whose idler photons [had their which-path information erased]…If we hook up equipment so that the screen displays a red dot for the position of each photon whose idler photons [had their which-path information erased] and a green dot for all others, someone who was color-blind would see no interference pattern, but everyone else would see that the red dots we arranded with bright and dark bands– an interference pattern.

So, it is the knowledge of which-path information that determines which way the photons behave. Since God always has which-path information, whether he obtains it in such a way as to effect the physical world or not, He will never see the interference pattern. Or in other words, the wave like nature of reality will be hidden from Him.

Sheez! That took longer than I thought!!  

God and Quantum Mechanics: Round Two

I was re-reading the comments on an earlier post where I proposed a dilemma for God’s knowledge of the nature of the reality. I argued that if God knows the outcome of the the random events hypothesized in (some interpretations of) quantum mechanics then his knoweldge of these outcomes will interfere with the physical process in such a way as to ‘hide’ the wave-like nature of matter. If this is the case then God’s knowledge is necessarily limited and we would have discovered something about nature that God can’t know (i.e. that matter has wave-like properties).

 In the comments the main response, given separately by Richard C. and Eric Weinberg, seemed to be that God’s knowledge would be achieved in such a way that it did NOT interfere with the physical process. It would not bring out the collapse of the wave-function and so His knowledge is not mysterious. I disagreed with this objection, but then I started thinking that even if I grant the objection there is still a problem here. So let’s grant it and assume that God knows the outcome of teh random physical process in such a way that it does not disturb the process and so does not collapse the wave-function.

 But if that is the case then we have the same, but opposite, problem that we had before. Instead of the wave-like nature of reality being ‘hidden’ from God, it now looks like it is the particle-like nature of reality that is ‘hidden’. For, if His knowledge does not collapse the wave-function then He won’t ever see the constituents of reality acting like particles!

Either way, it looks like we have discovered something about reality that God couldn’t have discovered on His own…

Free Will and Omniscience, again

A while ago I was obsessed with trying to show that God’s foreknowledge of our actions was incompatible with Human free will. I have had some time to reflect on the issue and I want to take another stab at it.

So, let ‘K’ be ‘knows that’ and ‘G’ stand for God, and ‘R’ for Richard Brown (me). Then (1) says that if God knows that I will do some action then it is necessary that I do that action.

(1) (x)(K(G,R,x) –> [](D(R,x))

(1) captures the intuition that God’s knowledge necessitates our actions. I think that this is true, so to prove it I tried to show that denying it leads to a contradiction and, since it can’t be false it must be true. Here is the proof.

1. ~(x)(K(G,R,x) –> []D(R,x)) assume

2. (Ex)~(K(G,R,x) –> []D(R,x)) 1, by definition

3. (Ex)~~(K(G,R,x) & ~[]D(R,x)) 2, by def

4. (Ex) (K(G,R,x) & ~[]D(R,x)) 3, by def

5. K(G,R,a) & ~[]D(R,a) 4, EI

6. K(G,R,a) 5, CE

7. []K(G,R,a) 6, necessitation

8. ~[]D(R,a) 5, CE

9. (x)[] (K(G,R,x) –> D(R,x)) assumption (2′)

10. [](K(G,R,a) –> D(R,a)) 9, UI.

11. []K(G,R,a) –> []D(R,a) 10, distribution

12. ~[]D(R,a) –> ~[]K(G,R,a) 11, contraposition

13. ~[]K(G,R,a) 8,11 MP

14. []K(G,R,a) & ~[]K(G,R,a) 7,13 CI

15. (x)(K(G,R,x) –> [](D,R,x)) 1-14 reductio

The main objection centered on step (lucky number) 7 and my use of the rule of necessitation. 7 says that it is necessay that God knows that I perform action a. That means that it would have to be true in every possible world that God (in that world) knows that you perform action a. This may seem unreasonable if one thinks that there is a possible world where you do not perform action a. But if actions are events that can be named then it is easy to show that they must necessarily exist, in which case I would have to perform that action in every world where I exist, and snce it is just as easy to show that I must necessarily exist it follows that God would indeed know that I perform action a in every possible world and so 7 comes out true. So if one accepts S5 then one should not have a problem with 7.

But suppose that one rejects, or modifys S5 to avoid the embaressment of necessary existence? Then 7 starts to look fishy again. But is it? Say that there is some world where I do in fact perform a and some other world where I do not. Call them ‘A’ and ‘~A’. The in A God knows that I perform a but in ~A He doesn’t know that I perform a because it is false that I perform a and God does not know falsehoods. But is it really true that in ~A God does not know that I perform a? He knows everything, so He knows what is possible and so He knows that there is a possible world where I do perform a. Yes, but that just means that He knows “possibly Richard performs a’ not ‘Richard performs a'”, or in symbols; he knows <>D(R,a) not D(R,a). This I admit, and so it seems that there is a conception of God’s foreknowledge that is compatible with Human free will. But there does seem to be a sense in which He still knows that I do a; He knows in which possible worlds I do it and in which I don’t. But maybe that isn’t enough to justify 7 and so enough to avoid the issue.

But notice that it is a conception of God as confined to particular possible worlds where he knows all and only the truths in that world that is the actual world. The possible worlds are not real worlds but formal descriptions or specifications of how the actual world could have been and God has maximal knowledge of that. If one were a modal realist and thought that the possible worlds were real worlds that exist then there would be a problem here. In each world God would know either that you perform action a in that world or that you perform it in world-x. In both cases He knows that you perform action a and so it will true in all worlds that He knows that you do a. So 7 would be true again.

So I conclude that there are some interpretations where 7 comes out true; in which case there are some metaphysical systems in which God’s omniscience is incompatible with Human free will. Or He’s a dialetheist…