Monday, 26 April 2010
(book review) "The Christian Delusion" - Ch. 2: Christian Belief through the Lens of Cognitive ScienIntro:
This series is an atheist's review of an important anthology critical of Christian beliefs called, "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" (TCD), that is likely to be popularly discussed across the web. I'll be reviewing the book in light of just about every other response to TCD on the web (pros and cons) and responding to new Christian objections as I find them. I think this will be the best that I personally can contribute to advancing our collective conversation about these important roadblocks to solidarity in our culture.
Chapter 2, "Christian Belief through the Lens of Cognitive Science," by Valerie Tarico:
Atheist reviewer, Jim Walker, explains:Psychologist Valerie Tarico presents us with a look at Christian belief through the lens of cognitive science, showing that cognitive research provides a sufficient explanation for the phenomenon of belief. Indeed, in the past, many Christians argued that there was simply no explanation for the "born again" experience. Tarico claims: "We now now this is not the case. Humans are capable of having transcendent, transformative experience in the absence of any given dogma."What can I say. This chapter is awesome. I'm sure many Christians will manage to find ways to misunderstand anyway, but I think for the most part this will end up being their own fault in this case. This post will focus on the misapprehensions that I can find around the internet in response to Valerie Tarico's chapter.
Contents of My Review (the "CliffNote" version):Tarico Vs. Eller:
I respond to Christian reviewer, Looney: Has Christianity converged on manipulative techniques or is it too plastic to even label a single entity?Both the similarities and differences need to be explained and the orthodox Christian interpretation is not the best explanation.On Certainty:
I respond to Christian reviewer, Patrick Chan: So which is it, cognitive science or culture?Both! And then some.I respond to Christian reviewer, Paul Manata:If Christians were unified on what that one right belief was, there might be a contradiction between Eller and Tarico.Manata quote mines Eller pretty hardcore to pull this "contradiction" off.
I respond to Christian reviewer, jayman777: Can humans be trusted with metaphysical conclusions?Jayman777 objects that Christians aren't supposed to be any more infallible than atheists, but Tarico's point is that humans can't really be trusted to evaluate far-reaching metaphysical claims.I respond to Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser (and Christian reviewers, Steve Hays, Manata, Jason Engwer, and Dusman): Does Tarico defeat her own conclusions of certainty?Um...only if you take her rhetoric to an incoherent extreme. But why would a charitable reader do that?
I respond to Hays:Would Tarico's position make science impossible?No, and she already explained why.
Does bias cut equally both ways for theists and atheists?Potentially, but Tarico already conceded that.
Are subliminal biases uncorrectable if Tarico is right?Given the ignored context of Tarico's quotes, not necessarily.
Psychology Vs. Religion:
I respond to Looney (and Rauser): Has psychology explained religious experiences?Looney says he's familiar with how this kind of psychology works and asks why he should care? I explain that though his interpretation is possible, naturalism is a sufficient explanation and in any event there are many Christians who should probably at least be informed about what is attributable to psychology even if God may still be responsible in some way or some circumstances.
I respond to Hays:It seems Hays didn't read carefully, and even a fellow Christian contributor to The Infidel Delusion (TID) knows better.I respond to Chan: Does Tarico commit the genetic fallacy to explain away religious experiences?No. Tarico never implied it did. See Richard Carrier's chapter.Um, no. And even Manata admits this elsewhere in TID.I respond to Manata:Tarico never claimed every congregation does things the same way. Manata doesn't get into how he actually converted and maybe he should.Um, given how much the authors of TID and other Christian reviewers didn't pay close attention the first time around, wasting their review on obnoxious misrepresentations and red herrings, they really don't have the right to complain.Skeptical Denialism:
I respond to jayman777 (and Looney): Did Tarico only focus on the "born again" experience?
For some reason two reviewers here seemed to think Tarico was only explaining one aspect of religious psychology. While she never claimed to be covering everything, there were several other factors covered in the chapter.Random:I respond to jayman777: Are skeptics in denial of religious experiences?Jayman777 complains that skeptics tread dangerously close to being in denial that Christians have any religious experiences at all. I sympathize, but ultimately this is about interpretation of actual experiences and arguments to the better explanation in context of a vast and arbitrary religious landscape (plus all of the anomalous non-religious experiences, too), rather than denial.I respond to Rauser: But what if we see some really good evidence?Then we'd have some really good evidence wouldn't we?I respond to Engwer: But how can we be sure every miracle claim is false?Why not show that one of them is true first?I respond to Looney: Why didn't evolution favor a predominantly atheistic mentality?I attempt to answer on Tarico's behalf (assuming evolution had much to do with religion at all) that atheism has no content and doesn't enable mental shortcuts for framing the human experience like theism tends to do.I respond to jayman777:Are abstract theologies a recent invention?Short answer: Even if early Christianity had a more advanced understanding of their deity, that doesn't mean the OT authors did.Does it make sense to pray to an omniscient being?Short answer: It can. I explain that there are other issues, though.
Do all Christians base their faith on emotional states?Short answer: No. But it seems that often even sophisticated theologians hinge their arguments on an underlying sense of entitlement.I respond to Rauser: Is Tarico unreliable as a guide to the heart of Christian belief?Rauser gets a little picky, but can he hold his point?I respond to Engwer:Maybe, but not nearly as much as Engwer misrepresents their statements.Should Ed Babinski not be so confident of his conclusions in chapter 5?Maybe, but that backfires worse for the authors of TID.Engwer complains that a hallucination doesn't account for all the evidence very well, but he ignores the lameness of the best evidence (Paul's own words) in favor of what isn't as credible on the same issue (Luke-Acts).I respond to Chan (and Dusman):I respond to Manata:
What about Alvin Plantinga's argument against the reliability of naturalistic minds?Most planets probably don't have life, most evolved organisms do not do a lot of thinking, we know most thinking organisms have faulty minds, and the idea that "maybe" none would if evolution is true is meaningless in the face of our direct experience with our own minds and the fact of evolution. And why wouldn't magic minds have perfect truth finding abilities like we know we don't have?
What about the demarcation problem in science?This red herring doesn't appear to apply to anything relevant here.
What about the problem of induction?Christian philosophy does not have a solution to the problem of induction, so it doesn't make sense to complain when other worldviews don't either.
Couldn't God have made our minds in such a way they naturally conclude God exists?"Maybe therefore probably" is fallacious.Isn't Tarico and Dawkins' position on the popularity of religious thinking a conspiracy to avoid the truth of Romans 1:18-21?Paul says EVERYONE is without excuse for specifically knowing that God exists and that they are morally accountable to Him, not just that "most people seem to have a tendency towards some kind of religious thinking." Slight difference.What about the mind/body problem?What about the mind/body problem impacts this chapter? I know of no philosophical consensus coming down on the magic side of things.How can materialism account for beliefs?Does Tarico not know anything about theistic philosophy?Physical computers can be constructed to have files that have direct implications for a robot's behaviors. This is analogous enough to belief.
How can materialism account for subjective experiences like pain?That qualia is anything special is probably a systemic illusion generated by the most sophisticated computing system we know of in the universe. Magic minds wouldn't even need a brain.
What about the zombie argument?A zombie brain that could literally perform all the sophisticated interrelated functions of the mind would have to be analogous to our minds and would probably have the same qualia "problem." If qualia doesn't do anything, why does it even "exist?"
What about The Argument from Knowledge?Humans lack a mental function that can translate information into the necessary physical perception transaction and therefore the example is meaningless.Is it better to be somewhat ignorant and know when you are being bamboozled by sophistry, or is it better to act like a jerk and be flagrantly wrong like Manata?Outro: 5 out of 5 stars.Awesome chapter. Well written.
Tarico Vs Eller
Christian reviewer, Looney, claims:Chapter 1's argument is that Christianity is wildly multifarious to the point of being meaningless. Dr. Tarico argues that exact opposite:Tarico's point is that when there is commonality, there is a very natural reason for those commonalities. Religion has found and exploited virtually every psychological gimmick there is. Both the similarities and the differences in religion need to be explained, and when we combine the perspectives of both authors (of chapter 1 and chapter 2) we have a much more plausible account of religion than the alternative view Tarico calls attention to at the beginning of her chapter (page 48):Rather, natural selection is at play. Over millennia of human history, religious leaders have hit on social/emotional techniques that work to win converts, just as individual believers have hit on spiritual practices they find satisfying and belief systems that fit how we process information.Why is Christian belief so widespread and powerful? The traditional answer is: because it's true, and people who haven't hardened their hearts recognize this when God's plan of salvation is presented to them.
Christian reviewer, Patrick Chan argues the opposite as though Tarcio's chapter didn't just follow Eller's chapter on culture:Other scientists also using neuroimaging studies believe they have discovered significant cultural influences in human cognition, which again could indicate that religious belief is not solely determined by the underlying neurophysiology. Similarly, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, quantum physicist Henry Stapp, and psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz have published research and written books which would seem to contradict Tarico's contentions.Presumably Chan is reacting to this quote from Tarico: "cognitive research does offer what is rapidly becoming a sufficient explanation for the phenomenon of belief." However, Chan ignores the kind of belief she is focusing on that she explains in the rest of that paragraph on pages 62 and 63. I doubt she'd disagree with Eller, but Chan could ask her if he is that concerned about it. Or, he could just read some of her response to TID:The possibility that Christianity—along with say Islam, Hinduism—is a human construction raises fascinating questions about the human potential to be simultaneously sure and mistaken. It raises questions about the power of culture to script a world view. [emphasis mine]Not just cognitive science!?!? Oh noes... It's like she doesn't disagree with Eller at all.
Round 3 of the Eller vs Tarico wars is with Christian reviewer, Paul Manata:...Tarico begins her chapter by contradicting Eller, claiming that Christianity is primarily a religion about right belief, orthodoxy. So far so good.I'm just as certain as Manata is that Tarico thinks there's only one version of right belief out there in Christianityland. Oh wait, no I'm not...
Round 4 comes from Manata again on Tarico's chapter as well:Moreover, why doesn't Tarico complain about Eller? Eller claimed that If..."Christians would just be rational, would just listen and think...they would see the error of their ways" (25). It seems like someone thinks that reason and logic would compel those who heed its deliverances, pace Tarico.No, see in context (not that I make a habit of defending Eller), Eller is posing this as a hypothetical question that he's also addressing in terms of human biases (of the cultural variety). He was saying, "Gee you'd think everyone would just be reasonable...turns out, not so much." So there's no contradiction here at all. It's just quote-mining.
But Manata persists:Indeed, even Tarico seems to indicate that if we would follow logic to its logical conclusion, then we wouldn't believe some of the silly things we do (54).Oh dear...she actually thinks there's hope if we call attention to our biases. Wouldn't it actually undermine the book if atheists thought writing something like TCD couldn't be successful at all? Perhaps Manata should keep his compounded interpretive errors to himself. [The same goes for Dusman]
Liberal Christian reviewer, jayman777, says:In the first section Tarico notes that humans are not entirely fair-minded and rational. She believes Christianity faces a core problem: “Arriving at belief in an infallible God by way of an inerrant Bible requires an unwarranted belief in yourself” (p. 53). I am not sure why this is a core problem for Christianity any more than it is a core problem for any other belief system. It is not like Christians claim to be infallible themselves.It's a problem for "any other belief system" that deals with far reaching metaphysical claims. Surely atheism/agnosticism can be understood to be much more conservative in nature. They don't necessarily entail metaphysical naturalism. Tarico specifically labels humanity as "social information specialists" not metaphysicians, mystics, and philosophers.
Tarico says (page 56):...our brains are optimized to process information from and about other humans.Not solve the mysteries of the universe? WTF?
Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser has this problem:Tarico goes on to make some striking claims, at least striking for anybody who has read some epistemology. Here's the most important one:"We humans are not rational about anything, let alone religion." (48)[...] In other words, this is a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. [...] You see on any plausible definition of knowledge, if it is irrational to believe p then one cannot know p. You said none of our beliefs are rational. Therefore, on your view we cannot know anything, with or without certainty.
Um...no. Tarico obviously means we are not FULLY rational about anything. If we take her statement as ultra literally as reviewers like Paul Manata do, Tarico could be read to deny that rationality is even a part of the equation at all. Wow, she must really be dumb. Or...maybe there's some serious interpretative charity failing going on here. I think the message is supposed to be that some people are of the mistaken opinion that we can ever completely operate outside the realm of our passions. Naturally this is impossible since we'd have no motivation to operate at all without at least some desire(s) at work. We're never quite free of cognitive bias. Ta da!
*sigh* Nonetheless, Christian reviewer, Steve Hays jumped on the same idea as Rauser:Is she certain that certainty is unattainable? But she can't be certain that uncertainty is unattainable since, by her own admission, that's fallacious.
Certainty, in physicalist terms at least, is a physical state of the brain. Even if we all for this certainty machine to achieve a 100% status on one of its beliefs, those physical states are only representational (presumably) of what we call the real world. When the system spot checks any given belief, there is the ever possibility of a non-correspondence, including the very check on that check without escape (yes, even this sentence). It's a logically possible fallible state of affairs and we aren't necessarily entitled to a better situation.
Since certainty is, by definition, a feeling of knowing, and since she admits we have this feeling then, per Tarico, we can know with certainty.
Not unless she says she's certain about that. If she says, "It's one mile to the gym," does that make her certain because she didn't say, "I'm almost certain (like there is such a thing, ha!) that it's one mile to the gym"? It can be implied.
Christian reviewer, Jason Engwer points out:But the existence of a false sense of certainty in some contexts doesn't prove that there can't be a true sense of certainty.
Was that Tarico's argument? It could just so happen that all of our subjective certainties (or even some of them) really do correspond 100% to the external world, but in "absolutist" terms that's just a blind hit. In other words, we can't even be certain about our uncertainty if we recognize this. Reality is confusing isn't it? At best, you might be able to get something like, "I think therefore I am," but good luck with the ever diminishing returns after that.
Manata (and Dusman) agrees:The stock pile may be small, but it's there. A paradigm case is that a person knows that she exists with epistemic certainty since it would be impossible for her to doubt her existence. Her existence is a necessary precondition for her doubting her existence.Manata will need to explain how this affects the substance of the current debate in relation to the many cognitive biases which seem to propel the vast majority of religioning.
While we're on the topic of blowing Tarico's rhetoric way out of proportion, let's have some more Manata:Tarico admits to a radical relativism, holding a social constructivist approach to our view of reality (60). [...] If Tarico wants to avoid these absurdities [that Manata was kind enough to create on her behalf], she needs to detail what her precise views on these matters are.Oh noes! Manata is holding interpretative charity hostage! Do what he says, Valerie! Think of the children!
Rauser decides to be ever so "gracious" despite all this:Let's pretend that Tarico didn't make indefensible and self-defeating claims about rationality and knowledge. Let's pretend that instead she simply advocated for a healthy dose of fallibilism such as is de rigueur in contemporary epistemology.
Um...you mean like what she actually wrote in her chapter where she clearly advocated (page 55):and that:
This doesn't imply, though, that all ideas are created equal or that our traditional understanding of knowledge is useless. As I said before, our sense of knowing allows us to navigate this world pretty well--to detect regularities, anticipate events, and make things happen. In the concrete domain of everyday life it works pretty well for us.Hays uncritically lunged for the red meat as well in the opening of his review of Tarico's chapter in TID:
...certitude is coming to be seen as a vice rather than a virtue.If, on the one hand, we are hardwired to filter out counterevidence, then that undermines cognitive science. For cognitive science would also be prey to confirmation bias.Maybe that's why Tarico said this (page 55):Nonetheless, it is a healthy mistrust for our sense of knowing that has allowed scientists to reach beyond everyday life to detect, predict, and produce desired outcomes with ever great precision.Healthy as in a non-undermining mistrust? Uh oh...
Hays adds:...confirmation bias cuts equally against theism and atheism.
It's almost like Tarico already said that (page 54-55):...how can anybody claim to know anything? We can't, with certainty. Those of us who are not religious could do with a little more humility on this point.Yeah, I know. Where did that come from in a book like The Christian Delusion? You should see how kind Tarico is in her response to TID:Consider, for example, the status of the Triabloggers—all intelligent, knowledgeable, articulate thinkers capable of more abstraction than most.
Aw shucks... And that even after Manata went well out of his way to be such a jerk, too (though she does then turn to politely compare them to 9/11 truthers, haha). It seems Tarico's balanced treatment of the topic has been swallowed up by her less sensible male cohorts since she's just been quote mined to make her fit the mold of everyone else (hey, there's that confirmation bias stuff!). Although I should say that this mutual bias is not quite symmetrical given how far out of the range of human expertise the nature of the God topic is as I pointed out above.
Hays says:So why would this essay be included in a book critiquing the Christian faith? For this essay can be turned against the various contributors. Infidels are neither fair-minded nor reasonable. They have built-in biases that stack the odds against objectivity. They filter out evidence that falsifies their atheism. And this operates at a subliminal level, so it's uncorrectable.
In context, obviously Tarico is saying that subliminal biases are identifiable and therefore manageable to a greater degree than would otherwise happen.
Manata claims Tarico is jumping to conclusions:
...the fact that we have to go off the sparse data of brain-damaged patients is precisely one of the problems in cognitive science (Okasha, Philosophy of Science, 115).Is it enough of an issue that this affects Tarico's point (Manata was referencing page 54 in TCD) that our sense of knowing can be triggered in dubious ways? No. Manata elsewhere wonders why Tarico bothers to alert us to the obvious that we can be wrong about things (so why does he accuse her of jumping to conclusions??), but having the extreme examples tells us just how far and how deep this can go. People often have a deep intuition that they are entitled to their most valued beliefs, and even those can be undermined.
Well, but maybe Tarico is some crazy epistemic lune after all. Or...maybe she isn't:
I am struck, primarily, by the perception that the reviewers, in attempting to state their case, overstate mine. Psychology is a profession focused not on possibilities but on practicalities – not on how things might function in an abstract, philosophical sense, but rather on what we can know about how they do function in the ordinary lives of ordinary humans (and sometimes other species). Psychology asks and attempts to answer a set of questions regarding the contingencies–-replicable cause and effect relationships—that govern people’s lives. At this level of analysis, there is a tentative but useful distinction between knowing and not knowing. [emphasis mine]Teh Christians overstated your case??? No wai... Later Tarico says:
[The authors of TID's] presence provides a powerful example of how very sophisticated our lines of logic can be in the service of fallacy.
At least some Christians (like jayman777) can straightforwardly agree we share our limitations without being so superficial in general:...Tarico states that our sense of knowing (correctness, certainty, conviction) works well in our everyday lives but that it is not perfect. The realization that certainty is not possible calls for some humility. We can agree on this but this means that all humans, not just Christians, face a problem in acquiring knowledge.True enough. It seems though that many atheists are convinced that by and large Christianity is persisting mainly because of the cognitive biases. Naturally they can't expect those who attempt to rigorously defend the whole worldview to agree that matters.
Psychology Vs Religion
Looney continues:This chapter's other major argument is that religion is reflected in biologically observable effects. I suppose this is radical to some, but gets a "Duh!" reaction from me. Perhaps it is because I view God as the author of biology, which is so radical today.And Rauser makes the same "objection":Unfortunately Tarico tends to make points which beg the question. For instance, she observes that "we tend to overattribute events to conscious beings" (58), a tendency called "hyperactive agency detection." Well okay, maybe we do. But does that mean a Christian is never justified or rational in believing that God is acting in the world?
When dowsers learn about the ideomotor effect they tend to move the goal post of explanation back and step and ask, "Well what is causing the brain to send those imperceptible arm movements?" Similarly, when people learn the psychological causes of religious experiences and how they aren't special to their brand of religion, they can still claim God is responsible for stimulating that experience, or setting up those social circumstances to begin with.
Hays apparently doesn't agree that Christian beliefs are formed by normal belief generating mechanisms (I guess they are magically placed in the mind apart from entering into conscious experience from the "front door?") and misrepresents Tarico's arguments like they only cover belief in anything at all for any reason:Even if Christian belief had the same belief-forming mechanisms as other beliefs (e.g. our belief in the existence of an external world), how would that undermine Christianity? If God is the Creator, he designed our belief-forming mechanisms.
Engwer apparently got the point and I guess doesn't read Hays' sections very critically:
[Tarico] notes that beliefs are often formed by unreliable means (53-54). [...] Tarico's chapter makes some good points that are worth considering, and her naturalistic explanation for Christian belief surely is an accurate assessment of many professing Christians.
I'm not sure I'll ever understand how Hays and Engwer can occupy the same few pages and maintain respect for each other. I'm still very curious about this mystery.
Hays adds:Invoking cognitive science doesn't explain away evidence for the Resurrection...
Duh. Tarico covered many of the subjective ways religious beliefs can be formed and most probably weren't generated by a historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. For the sophisticated minority who do epistemically swing that way, that's what Richard Carrier's chapter 11 is for.
Chan misrepresents Tarico's fundamental argument:[Tarico] contends Christian religious beliefs and experiences can be explained by neuroscience and neuropsychology, and, as such, falsifies Christianity. The problem is, if this is her argument, it commits the genetic fallacy: if one can explain the origin of a phenomenon (Christian religious belief), then the phenomenon is false.
No, actually Tarico completely avoided that (even Manata agrees opposite of Chan's "speculation" later in TID, compare page 23 to 34...) by leaving things open-ended (pages 62-63):Understanding the psychology of religion doesn't tell us whether any specific set of beliefs is true. I might believe in a pantheon of supernatural beings for all the wrong reasons (childhood credulity, hyperactive agency detection, theory of mind, group hypnotic processes, misattributed transcendence hallucination), and they still might exist... [however,] ...cognitive research does offer what is rapidly becoming a sufficient explanation for the phenomenon of belief. [...] One general principle that has worked well for humans seeking to advance or refine our knowledge is called "parsimony," also known as Occam's Razor. It can be paraphrased thus: "Usually the simplest explanation is the best one" or "Don't multiply entities unnecessarily." If we can predict storms by looking at barometric pressure and cloud formations, then there is no need to posit the existence of storm spirits or angry ancestors causing us trouble. [...] It's not that we know for sure that the [supernatural] explanation is wrong, but simply that it is unnecessary for predicting or treating [relevant problems]."
At the very least a typical believer can read about the various cognitive possibilities and make an informed decision about their religion if in fact they are putting too much epistemic weight on their subjective experiences.
Manata says:She has a theory that conversion is explained fully naturalistically and finds a couple examples that seem to support this. But for every example I can give a counter example where the criteria are not met. Try my unhip, boring, dry, and weird OPC church for a couple Sundays. None of the marketing and persuasion strategies Tarico generalizes about are true of my church.Gee, Paul, what were the psychological circumstances of your conversion? Care to share? Perhaps he cleverly solved all the mysteries of the human condition and then concluded Jesus died for his sins. Good for him. Probably not what happened though.
After Loftus posted Tarico's response to TID, Manata had this to say:Tarico makes a claim about our responses to her chapter in TCD that bears no resemblance to anything any of us wrote. She doesn't quote any of our arguments against her, interacting with them and showing where they goes wrong. She simply repeats her refuted claims and self-refuting claims, as if re-asserting refuted points somehow dissolved the refutations and self-refutations.Manata seems to think he brought something up of substance (I don't have a link for something that didn't happen), didn't improperly represent Tarico's arguments, and didn't go off on wild philosophical tangents that didn't relate to Tarico's case. That's not Tarico's fault.
Then there's this from Christian blogger Peter Pike:By the time I got to Manata’s debunking of Valerie Tarico’s naturalistic reductionism in chapter two, the perfect metaphor had formed in my head: Collectively, these Triabloggian authors were firing intellectual howitzer shells point-blank into a cardboard shanty town.
If by "cardboard shanty town" he means "strawman" (or strawwoman, in this case) and irrelevant directions, sure.
Christian blogger J. D. Walters, while correcting Dusman for the same interpretative crimes that virtually all the Christian reviewers were guilty of says:...we should be careful not to dismiss legitimate questions too easily by framing them in an extreme way which makes them easy to knock down. [...] My point in sharing this story is that, while the fact that certainty is primarily a feeling does not mean we cannot be objectively certain about anything, it should at the very least make us cautious and not take it for granted that the beliefs we hold with the most conviction are necessarily the best grounded. And it is quite well established psychologically that the feeling of certainty is NOT reliably connected with the grounding of the beliefs one feels certain about. This is not cause for universal skepticism, but it is cause for some skepticism.
No wai... That's like just what Tarico herself said in response to TID:Psychology is a profession focused not on possibilities but on practicalities – not on how things might function in an abstract, philosophical sense, but rather on what we can know about how they do function in the ordinary lives of ordinary humans (and sometimes other species). Psychology asks and attempts to answer a set of questions regarding the contingencies–-replicable cause and effect relationships—that govern people’s lives. At this level of analysis, there is a tentative but useful distinction between knowing and not knowing.
It would have been nice if TID hadn't been so shallow and reactionary about things.
Jayman777 cautions:[Tarico] asserts that cognitive science provides a sufficient explanation for the phenomenon of religious belief. I might agree with her if all deities were very limited and the only reason people became believers is because of the born-again experience she describes. Unfortunately, for her, at least some people become believers for intellectual reasons and/or because they are convinced they have witnessed a genuine miracle (something far more grand than a sense of peace).
As I told Looney in the comments, the born again experience isn't the only thing she covered. Other Christian reviewers like Engwer and Chan noticed this (see page 23 in TID). There was also childhood credulity, hyperactive agency detection, theory of mind, group hypnotic processes, misattributed transcendence hallucination, etc. I didn't get the impression that Tarico was excluding other means of persuasion. Tarico even adds a few in her response to TID:For generations Christianity has implicitly or explicitly exploited certain psychological phenomena-the born again experience, mystical visions, glossolalia, or a quiet certainty of God’s presence-insisting that they were the unique domain of believers, evidence of salvation. Thanks to advances in the social sciences, we now know otherwise. [...] Because of advances in our understanding of the human psyche, we have a better and better understanding of the circumstances that trigger such experiences. Understanding these phenomena means that believers or potential believers or former believers need no longer be bound by the explanations offered in the service of recruitment or retention.
Eller might rightly be accused of being overly narrow in focus, though I'm sure in practice he'd have to admit otherwise. Both authors probably could have taken a moment to address how they generally approach the exception categories neither of them covered.
Jayman777 concludes:Perhaps some atheists are content to deny that believers became believers for such reasons. If so, they should at least be aware that Tarico’s so-called explanation comes across more as a denial of our testimony than an explanation of it.
I do understand that though I'm not sure I see anywhere in the text where Tarico is really overstating her case. Maybe jayman777 can point out some quotes. Even when specific claims are directly addressed, it can come off as though the skeptic believes even the subjective experience didn't happen. Sometimes that's the believer's fault though, too, if they feel attacked. We all have to deal with a world where lots of people are making all sorts of "extraordinary happening" claims. Did those people really get abducted by aliens? Did that angel really save that girl from drowning? Etc. Obviously we have to go case by case. Perhaps jayman777 might indulge us on some specifics of his particular experience(s)?
Rauser brings this up:Let's say you check into room 237 at the Overlook Hotel and suddenly a red crayon writes "redrum" on the wall. That event could be explained in a way consistent with the laws of physics, but don't tell me you wouldn't be pooping your pants.Would we even be having this blog to book conversation if we were stuck in a supernatural movie like The Shining or Ghostbusters? This is the "hypothetical therefore true" fallacy as though not having good evidence is the same as having good evidence. What's the point of that kind of observation unless you honestly believe skeptics are supposed to act like this in fictional contexts?
Engwer complains:Just how ignorant would a Christian have to be in order to argue that every allegedly supernatural experience claimed by a professing Christian is supernatural?Every popular extraordinary claim would be true by this metric. If just one sighting of bigfoot... If just one sighting of UFO's... If just one sighting of Elvis... Therefore every popular crazy claim is true! OR we could have a more reasonable standard given that it is obvious many claims persist AS CLAIMS. We could put the burden of proof on showing at least one of these events/phenomena is perfectly genuine.
Engwer continues:Yeah, but what was their standard again? Let's get a little more specific. The true miracles had to be done by good moral people who professed Jesus. Wow. For more on this kind of cultic thinking see Richard Carrier's discussion in chapter 13 of Not the Impossible Faith.
The Bible itself refers to false miracle claims, naturalistic explanations offered for Jesus' miracles, false conversions, etc.
Engwer insists:And what were their "impressive" standards?
Discussions about how to distinguish between true and false miracle claims are found frequently in the patristic literature.
To his credit, Engwer is by far the most reasonable guy over at Triablogue. I've said so many times and probably will say so many more. He links to a post where we were chatting called "Exploding the Naturalistic Box" where he attempts to criticize skeptic and debunker, James Randi. As I told Engwer, I'm not interested in mining the circumstantial evidence of just a few instances over a long career of successful debunking. Randi is just one skeptic. He's not the scientific consensus that fails to validate anything supernatural. What could be important though is the evidence that is supposed to "explode" naturalism. However, I can't help but notice that Engwer is basically only somewhat more convinced than not by the supernatural "thoughtography" evidence in question (where some dude, named Ted Serios, supposedly could impose pictures onto camera film with his mind in various controlled circumstances). Further, everyone seems to agree that this Serios guy did at least SOME cheating. C'mon. Is that an explosion? Maybe a flesh wound at the most? Engwer points to another believer's blog for further details, but even that guy, Michael Prescott, in the comments of his last post on the topic says this:So they don't even find their own evidence impressive. Are we supposed to just believe what we read in print as though that necessarily corresponded perfectly to what actually went on? Aren't there any other thoughtographers around that numerous labs can rigorously grill to their empirical content? Needless to say, my naturalistic box is still quite sealed, thank you.
I admit that I find Serios perplexing. On the one hand, the YouTube video certainly does not inspire confidence (to put it mildly). On the other hand, the accounts you cite make it hard to accept the sleight-of-hand hypothesis. I doubt I'll ever know what to think about Ted. Maybe that's how he would have wanted it.
Actually, the lid of my provisional naturalistic "box" is always wide open, waiting for some good evidence to waltz in without me having to coax it beyond my reasonable doubts. ;)
The following would make a great audience question from Looney, for Tarico if she were giving a public presentation:There is the statement that evolution caused the mind to be more suited to religion, which begs the question of why survival of the fittest didn't favor atheism.If I could venture a guess, I'd say that Tarico might go back to something else from the chapter (page 52):What we're always trying to do is get to a coherent plot line. Consider what it's like to read a novel: when there are too many contradictions or loose ends, or the conclusion is ambiguous, we grumble and lose interest. What we want is a story where the mysteries get solved and everything gets tied up in the end. In everyday life, we operate the same way. [...] Our compulsion to think in "stories," to ignore threads that don't fit the plot line, and to fill in any gaps, may be at the heart of the religious impulse.Atheism has no content and doesn't function to help pull the threads of life together into some coherent plot line. Theism on the other hand does tend to fit that niche quite easily if you don't think about it too much. If you do think a lot about religion, the reverse can be true by a very large factor. Atheism on balance can actually end up being a lot simpler, because you aren't dealing with the vastly important and unknown intentions of a very judgmental invisible deity who might see things very differently than you do and not care to explain until it is too late. On the other hand, it seems many people are able to plug their intuitions right into whatever they happen to expect a personal God to want from them. But, others do find that the more you know about all the bizarre excuses you need to really make Biblical Christianity square with the facts in any rigorous way, the more convoluted and nebulous your convictions about life can become. So it just depends.
Jayman777 claims:[Tarico] says that more abstract theologies (e.g., an omniscient deity) are a relatively recent invention. The problem is that things like omniscience have been a part of Christianity since its beginning. It is not a new idea that arose in the last couple centuries. Christians have long realized that the Bible contains anthropomorphisms and that we do not have a full understanding of God’s mind.
The question is over whether that "realization" of anthropomorphisms is retroactive interpretation by later theologians or whether Tarico is basically correct. At face value, the God of the Old Testment is not the same kind of God that later theologians describe. He's much more like the result we'd expect from the agency projection that Tarico describes.
Jayman777 says:I will merely note that prayer is not solely about trying to influence God’s behavior and it is conceivable that an answered prayer was predestined.I don't have a problem with that in and of itself (any more than I'm concerned about whether a piece of artwork I can create in the future already happens to be hanging on Jesus' wall in his office). What I do have a problem with (as a former Christian) is that there is simply no interactivity to it. Since the relationship is so much about imposed interpretation, too many possible interpretations easily apply even within the confines of the Christian worldview. A prayer life is just too plastic to be any more meaningful than non-theistic meditation on positive values.
Jayman777 says:I’ve run across quite a few Christians who want it to be clear that Christianity is not dependent on your emotional state.I come from a Missouri Synod Lutheran background and that was their standard response as well. The idea is that your subjective feelings aren't the arbiters of truth though they can properly reflect it. Various denominations lean on what outsiders would consider subjective feelings to varying degrees in their "official" epistemology.
Often times however, I do find that when I get a sophisticated Christian philosopher down to where we part ways, it turns out things seem to be turning on their sense of metaphysical or epistemic entitlement at a fundamental level. An intellectually honest philosopher would leave things open ended and not try to refute a scientific hypothesis with their subjective emotional states (unlike Alexander Pruss, contributor to The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology). So the bottom line is that's still emotional state dependent (to a flagrant degree, imo). Discovering the reasons a Christian philosopher takes an important argument seriously over another may take a bit more investigation than it does with a Christian who may constantly reference something more obvious like their born again experience.
Rauser claims:...[Tarico] seeks to undercut the knowledge, justification and rationality that Christians believe they have in holding the set of core claims that constitute Christian belief. (Unfortunately, Tarico is not always a reliable guide to what those claims are. For instance, twice she refers to the "propitiatory" death of Jesus as being at the "heart" of Christian belief (48, 55). But there has always been an enormous amount of opinion among Christians on the atonement, and only a minority, including many in the evangelicalism that Tarico left behind, would hold to a propitiatory atonement.So what are the actual stats oh more-reliable-guide-to-the-heart-of-Christian-belief that you must be, Mr. Rauser? And more importantly, he's going to need to make this semantic or conceptual spectrum difference matter. But Rauser doesn't do that. And it makes it look like he's just trying to find some trite way to undercut the undercutter.
Engwer claims:...a Christian doesn't have to claim certainty in order to have faith (Mark 9:24 and its surrounding context). Trust is trust, even if its object is considered a probability rather than a certainty. Tarico isn't the only contributor to the book who misrepresents faith (78, 191).Since most Christians do not seem to frame their Christian convictions in terms of probability, it seems atheists can hardly be faulted for "misrepresenting" faith. Often times the belief in God is a certainty and the walk with God is the humble uncertainty ridden faithie part. How do you even have a relationship with God that's predicated on answering a metaphysical question well beyond the realm of general human expertise without excessive confidence? See my post: Vox Day on "Sam Harris and Christian Arrogance" for more on this from me. All too often it is the Christians who pretend like all faith is created equal in order to cover for the obvious probability gaps in their reasoning which is a much more egregious epistemic crime than Tarico may or may not be guilty of here. Let's evaluate the supposed misrepresentations. Engwer uses Jason Long as another example (page 78 of TCD):...the inherent unfairness of a system in which an all-powerful being mistreats anyone who has the intellectual curiosity to arrive at its existence through reason rather than through faith.
That's a harsh dichotomy, but ultimately Engwer is misrepresenting more since so many Christians really do seem to finish the epistemic race to the God conclusion with a significant dose of faith to trump abductive reasoning to the contrary. For them, faith really isn't faith in the ordinary sense, so much as it is an after the fact, intellectual smokescreen for unjustified levels of certainty. If Engwer wants to start a much more reasonable, intellectually honest Christian culture that actually exercises reason, faith, trust, and probability in the normal senses, more power to him. But if he wants to pretend like anything in the Bible demonstrates the hallmark of responsible epistemology (rather than the opposite), he's going to have some problems.
Engwer also directed us to page 191 to show the supposed faith misrepresentation which is ironically John Loftus' chapter on divine miscommunication:We find the virtues of faith to be more important than reason in the NT too (Mark 9:23, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16), which has led many believers into some bizarre fatal doomsday cults. We find texts on prayer that have led Christians to pray in faith to be healed rather than go to the hospital (Mark 11:22-24, James 5:14-15).
Will Christians take any ownership of this issue rather than blaming the messenger? In context, Loftus is presumably pointing out real historical examples of people getting faith "wrong" based on their reading of the Bible. Read those verses! That's not Loftus' fault.
These last two issues from Rauser and Engwer seem to be good examples of how Christians tend to be too sensitive about petty details about their belief system that just don't matter that much to the debate between worldviews. They may not want to be told there is no Christianity and that there are only Christianities (which is a somewhat overstated claim), but atheists don't want to be accused of misrepresenting a heavily splintered faith (which gets just as overstated) when they attempt to address what they believe probably represents the mainstream of Christian thought.
Engwer does move on to make what seems to be a good point:[Tarico] asks:Engwer ignores several other better points from Tarico in that same paragraph leading up to that one which point out the implausibility of religious confidence in general (and Loftus' chapter on divine miscommunication could further that point). However, this seems to pose just as many internal inconsistency problems for the writers of TID as it does for Babinski and Tarico. Babinski thinks he has a good case interpreting the overall Biblical evidence in terms of its views on cosmology as Engwer says. But Hays, Engwer, and Paul Manata are going to try to overturn that anyway with what they think is a better case. Right? Either they are going to claim they have magic feelings (which is a dead end as has already been addressed), or present some heavily contentious case that could just serve to re-validate Tarico's point after all. So, I would say that Tarico's point is more important than Babinski's in the sense we really shouldn't have to have advanced scholarly debates to figure out if we are delusional about our best friend Jesus or not. Jesus should just show up publicly to clear up fundamental disputes at the very least and then books like TCD and TID wouldn't have to be written. But hey, when in Rome (you know, whatever your excuse for Jesus' negligence is), you're going to have to deal with Babinski's scholarly case. Also, as Richard Carrier points out, it is logically possible for the Bible to be clear enough on some damning issues while not clear enough on other critical issues and so there is no necessary contradiction.How can a minister with a high school education - or a doctorate, for that matter - be convinced after two thousand years of theological blood feuds that he knows how God meant the book of Genesis to be interpreted? (52)
She should pose that question to another contributor to the book, Edward Babinski, who suggests that he knows what cosmology Genesis teaches. A Christian could claim to have a supernatural certainty that comes from God concerning the Bible's meaning, but he could also arrive at conclusions about Genesis that he considers probable rather than certain, much like Babinski.
Engwer says:Tarico's suggestion that Paul's Damascus Road experience was possibly a temporal lobe seizure (62) is a grossly inadequate suggestion that doesn't even come close to explaining all of the relevant data.He links to a blog post where he links to yet another article and states his general case to consider Paul's conversion more likely than not. However, everything he says there amounts to trusting all of the source material way too much, picking sides in other contentious debates over authorship, and pretending like any of the things he mentions are rigid enough to prevent some embellishment from slipping through the cracks. Didn't he just read this chapter on human bias and concede that there are important things to consider? That applies to ancient Christians, too. No one has such strong expectations of human reliability anywhere else.
Notice, when we read what Paul actually wrote in Galatians 1:11-24 where it seems he really has been challenged on making it all up, his response isn't exactly one that brings up anything Luke-Acts does (and Acts can't even get its own story straight: Acts 9:3-8, 22:6-11, 26:12-18), or that Engwer does and is rather easy to blow off: "I can't be making it up because I used to believe something different." Wow...I'm converting now. Can't help but notice that pretty much every single infomercial ever has exactly that theme. I suppose I've been deluded all my life and should have bought all those ab machines, anti-age creams, and miracle diet plans. I may need to give Kevin Trudeau a call, too.
Random Chan (and Dusman):
Chan says:...if Tarico is an atheist, evolutionist, and metaphysical naturalist, then it is quite possible her cognitive faculties are unreliable and thus she would not be able to make veridical observations in the first place. Her own beliefs would not necessarily have any correspondence to reality. Here she would need to address Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism for starters. [emphasis mine]Not necessarily? "Maybe therefore probably" is a logical fallacy. Can theists explain why God's mind is reliable or how we know exactly what kinds of minds an unknown creator would even want to make? Maybe She wouldn't be interested in making minds that form beliefs that necessarily have any correspondence to reality? How would we know? It would be kind of silly to start our epistemology where we don't actually start (yet that's what these theists do). Plantinga needs to refute the theory of evolution "for starters" rather than dismissing the direct mutual evidence of semi-reliable cognitive faculties as well as the scientific fact of evolution. There's no reason to single out the cognition machine that is the brain from the vast tree of other feats of engineering evolution has produced.
Dusman actually ends connecting some dots hypothetically that perhaps he should be connecting in terms of evidence for evolution:...if naturalism and evolution were true, and given the conjunction between them, Tarico's comment about rationality would seem to hold since our cognitive faculties would be unreliable.
Our cognitive faculties are not that reliable and that independent FACT has nothing to do with whether evolution is true or not. Theists can't pretend otherwise for their epistemic convenience. In other words our brains are apparently good enough to figure out our own brains have some issues. This is a mundane revelation that cognitive psychology rigorously confirms. Now...we can easily turn this back around on dualists again. Contrary to proponents of "the argument from reason" we might frame the first three chapters of TCD as "the argument from unreason." Dualists need to explain to us why our cognitive faculties need a physical brain at all or why they aren't 100% reliable if the mind is in fact magic and immutable. Good luck!
Dusman had quoted a physicalist philosopher, Patricia Churchland, who says this about evolution's relationship to the truth:Truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost.
Somehow Dusman construes the caboose of the train as not still being attached to the train? If it is there, it's there. Dusman says:This is exactly what Alvin Plantinga was getting at... [emphasis mine]Um...no. Obviously two rather different perspectives. Truth finding mechanisms aren't necessary for evolution (since nothing in particular is), but not necessarily excluded either as theistic philosophers tend to want to conveniently imagine.
Chan throws this red herring:Speaking a bit more broadly, the scientific method, and in fact science as a whole, has its limitations. We might start with the demarcation problem, for instance, which pertains to the parameters of what qualifies as science vs. non-science or pseudoscience.
Creationists may want to throw evolution under the bus of a demarcation problem, but the scientific consensus abroad has no such issue (that I know of, anyway). The fuzzy lines that philosophers of science struggle to peg down probably aren't fuzzy enough to matter here. And if Chan is trying to say that science isn't cut out for evaluating his religious beliefs, just what exactly is his better method for doing so? Something that sucks, I guarantee.
Chan seems to be objecting with the problem of induction next:...there are inherent problems even in making a simple observation. How many observations will a scientist need to make before he can be certain the next observation will be the same or similar enough to his previous observation(s) such that he can formulate a hypothesis? For all the scientist knows, the next observation could be entirely different than the previous observation(s).
Induction is a practical metaphysical gamble everyone is forced to make to even have coherent thoughts. Science is just the logical extrapolation of that assumption and could be adjusted if things changed. Christian philosophy does not have a better induction insurance policy and simply adds even more gratuitous assumptions about God into the equation instead without noticing its delusional blunder.
Chan says:Tarico all but argues that belief in God is nothing more than the byproduct of certain cognitive processes. [...] But if God exists and created humans, then it is possible God made our cognitive faculties function as they do. As Plantinga notes:Yes, so God made the human mind in just such a way that when we put many of what we would have to label cognitive errors together, voila: belief in God. Three lefts make a right and three errors make a religion, too, apparently. Aside from how ridiculous that is (in terms of putting us in an epistemically irresponsible bind), "maybe therefore probably" is still a logical fallacy.To show that there are natural processes that produce religious belief does nothing, so far, to discredit it; perhaps God designed us in such a way that it is by virtue of those processes that we come to have knowledge of him.
Dusman quotes Tarico and then responds:
The structure of thought itself predisposes us to religious thinking. Given how our minds work, certain kinds of religious beliefs are likely and others are impossible.Richard Dawkins agrees with this statement in The God Delusion on pp 180-181 by quoting others who say that we have "a natural predisposition to embrace religious ideas", that "[C]hildren are native teleologists", "native dualists", and "many never grow out of it"; thus suggesting that we are naturally theistic. Of course, Dawkins intimates that this occurred as a result of evolutionary development occurring in a part of the human brain that produced these false beliefs via natural selection because they promoted survival value. However, this is just another example of the atheologians trying to suppress the truth a la Romans 1:18 by denying the truth of Romans 1:19-21.
My personal take on this issue is that religious thinking is simply within the boundaries of human error (just like lots of other kinds of errors) and the most seductive/functional false ideas can snowball into whole belief systems and persist to whatever extent that they do. I'm thinking perhaps some atheists see the popularity of religion as some kind of inherent tendency in that direction, whereas in all likelihood (in my unqualified opinion), it's mainly historical accident in absence of an all powerful Thought Police to set everyone straight all the time. Regardless, a general tendency towards religious thinking (even if true) doesn't square with the apostle Paul's extreme claims in any event. See my post: Is Moral Accountability to a Creator Obvious?
Chan also presented two or three examples of where he claims Tarico somewhat misrepresented her field. Given that I'm not a cognitive scientist, I'm going to leave those back and forth claims to others.
Manata objects to this psychology level chapter with the mind/body problem:...Tarico assumes that the characteristically mental is physical. That is, she assumes without argument that features of consciousness like thought, intentions, belief content, and subjective reports are the proper subject of scientific study, being identical to, or a function of, brain states.If Manata can't settle the debate himself, then we're left with agnosticism on the issue which can't detract from a naturalistic case against Christianity. And I don't think the claim that thoughts are magic prevents people with magic thoughts from being susceptible to culture and cognitive bias in ways that have probably produced most Christians. Tarico, in her response to TID, says the same:Religion would be impotent in this world if it were dependent on the arguments of theologians and philosophers.
But guess who seems to be certain anyway:Moreover, it's not that cognitive science is insufficient to explain religious belief and conscious experiences; it's that cognitive science is insufficient to explain any belief and conscious experience.Cognitive science cannot give a sufficient explanation for belief and consciousness since those phenomena have features recalcitrant to naturalistic or scientific explanation. [emphasis partially mine]
We'll see how much that holds up. Manata continues:A materialist view of the mind can't give us a view of Christian belief through the lens of cognitive science because a materialist view of the mind can't give us a view of belief (if we assume content or semantics is a necessary feature of a belief).Oh snap. Here's how these debates pretty much always go. A Christian says something like the above. An atheist points out that computers have files with content on them that have direct impact on the operation of the computer (in other words, basic proof of materialist concept). The Christian then does one of two things (or both):A. Moves the goal post to an evolution/creation debate since obviously computers were made by intelligent agents (and pretends like we didn't think of that!).
B. Makes an argument from consciousness instead since the experience of those "files" is the only thing that tells the two apart (the "beliefs" of computers aren't "real" beliefs and could never be).
They then typically deny this has any impact on the coherency of their original assertion even though it is really two other debates. Every single mental concept that has some kind of actual function (including consciousness, since that's mapping of the mapping process itself) will likely already have some kind of limited analogy in the computer world that is easy enough to understand.
Manata then moves on to claim that materialistic scientists forgot to explain conscious scientists! Uh oh! He says:My experiences of colors and felt pain are not things that are objective and mind independent. There's a certain "what it is like" for me to be in pain. When I am in pain, or experience a red flash, it's not as if a scientist can crawl inside my head and see the what it is like for me to feel that pain or experience that flash of red. This isn't to deny that he won't observe any neural activity, but the description of that will never include the "what it is like" for me to be in pain. You can't pinpoint the pain.This is what I like to call an "argument from inconvenience." In other words, because we have yet to be able to process human experience in terms of atom by atom construction from the outside, well that must mean it's impossible. Dualists can't prove this is anything more than a superficial conceptual problem on their part (indistinguishable from a fallacy of composition). For example, just about everything in your computer's innards are totally unrecognizable in their abstract 1's and 0's form. Even the 1's and 0's aren't recognizable since they actually are the flow or lack of flowing of electrons. None of that is going to tell you anything if you don't know a hell of a lot about how computers work. I would wager that even computer specialists aren't even fully able to imagine every single electron flowing through elaborate computer circuits all the way up to the level of their web browser, but somehow people expect something different when it comes to the human brain which is a great deal more complicated (if not THE most complicated thing we know of)? Sure. Dualists aren't qualified to make this incredulous assessment and yet their entire case turns on it.
Manata poses the classic zombie argument:...a Zombie could exhibit the same behavioral, physical, and functional properties as we do yet lack any qualia. There would be no subjective experience of pain at all, yet the same neural activity would be taking place. This would mean that qualia would be something additional, over and above, anything physical.
If a dualist admits that physical processes (of their hypothetical "zombie") can do absolutely every single little intimate thing that a mind with qualia can do, then that by definition makes qualia a superfluous freeloader on the equation. Why is it even there if it truly is something "over and above" the physical realm? They've sacrificed plausibility in order to make their argument. The experience of pain is only one thing going on and dualists seem to expect there to be no seat of consciousness when they over-focus on just one input and output with their hypothetical zombie. In our experience of ourselves, there are tons of heavily interrelated things going on which converge on a central networking hub (you). And certain levels of processing only go on because that happens. If you layer up a multitude of sophisticated tasks our consciousness actually has to perform (and report), by the time you are really done envisioning what that might be like in order to perform all the functions we know of (and get every conceivable distinction crammed in there), you'll have a tough time figuring out what the difference between your "zombie" and a normal qualia-coated brain would be. My bet is that qualia is the systemic illusion of such well-rounded distinction making and I imagine any fully functional zombie brain would have to have this philosophical qualia "problem," as well. But we can't really know at this point.
Then Manata rolls out "The Knowledge Argument":...after 40 years [of a study of the theory of everything], Mary is released. Upon being released she is given a shiny red apple. She sees red for the first time. She now knows what it is like to experience red. This would seem to be a new item of knowledge for her. But if it is, and if she knew everything there was to know about physics, then it would appear that the subjective experience and felt quality of seeing red is something over and above the physical world.
Since normal thinking does not allow us to input the actual physical implications into our sense organs or simulate that in our brain, this is a meaningless thought experiment. A droid can have a computer file on color theory in its data-bank. That doesn't mean it has processed it through its receptors with completely different mechanical devices. Though, it would be possible to build one which could take that kind of information and simulate the image receiving in-house without turning the receptors on. Indeed, no photons would have to hit its camera eyes. Potentially you could learn what red is just by inputting the physicalist theory and perhaps one day when humans have the internet in their heads, we can directly share qualia files (dreams, memories, experiences of God, etc.). But humans don't happen to have that function right now. Hence the analogy poses no problems for physicalism at this juncture. It's just another argument from inconvenience.
If we are going to give physicalism a fair hearing (if the limited proof of concept seems insufficient), it seems that we need to wait for someone like Henry Markham who has been reverse engineering the brain from the neurons up and maybe within the next decade or two (or perhaps longer, depending) he'll be able to turn his artificial brain on in fully functional qualiatic glory. Maybe the end result of project Blue Brain can settle this for us with an interview. I await just as eagerly for the scientific theory of magic brains to compete. Meanwhile, atheist contributor to TCD, Richard Carrier, addressed these issues and more at length in these articles: "Critical Review of Victor Reppert's Defense of the Argument from Reason" and "Defending Naturalism as a Worldview: A Rebuttal to Michael Rea's World Without Design." Check 'em out.
Finally, I like how Tarico summed up her take on these last two sections (from Chan and Manata):
I do think that the abstract machinations of theologians should be answered by philosophers and thinkers who, like yourself [John Loftus, editor of the TCD], are not imbedded with the troops, if for no reason other than to keep foolishness like C.S. Lewis’s trilemma or Pascal’s wager from entering the vernacular as glib defenses of dogmas that are indefensible in a broader empirical historical context. But I am also grateful that reshaping ideology and religious practice doesn’t rely on someone winning these arguments.
Indeed. The questions have answers even if they weren't actually even needed to punch a decent hole in mainstream Christianity in the way that she did.
However, in response to Tarico's response to TID, Manata objects:Why is 'logic' treated as synonymous with 'philosophy'? What are the limitations she's thinking of? Not the ones mentioned in her chapter, I already argued those down. Empiricism? What does Tarico mean by this? Classical empiricism? Wasn't that just another failed philosophical position? A self-referentially incoherent one, at that. Or, does Tarico jsimply mean that we take observations into consideration? Well, that's been around in philosophy since the beginning. Indeed, observations give rise to philosophical problems. [...] Furthermore, why does she mention the trilemma and Pascal's wager as paradigmatic arguments for theism? Tarico seems simply unaware of the field she's trying to do battle on. Tarico is so certain of her atheism that she doesn't even need to do her homework and study the actual arguments of the position she attacks. I bet she doesn't even know a Plantinga from a house plant. A Swinburne from a sunburn. An Alston from an Alsike. And so on . . .Let me help you out, Manata. She's jsimply filed you in the "armchair philosopher that has contrived lame ways to confuse a clear issue" category. And her non-philosopher heuristics are quite on the money, imo. [Not to mention Steve Hays does basically open (and sink the credibility of) TID by saying he prefers make believe to atheism which is roughly equivalent to Pascal's wager.]
Luke Muehlhauser over at Common Sense Atheism especially liked the message of this chapter. Jason Long (another contributor to the book) seemed pretty happy with Tarico's chapter. And as I pointed out in the previous post of this series, atheist reviewer, Greg Peterson didn't care for most of TCD, but did appreciate Tarico's chapter especially.
I give this chapter 5 stars. It is well written, informative, conceptually rich, gives many great down-to-earth examples of the many ideas it presents, it is modest, intellectually honest, and arguably in tune with its target audience (whether it likes it or not). It excels in virtually every way Eller's chapter 1, Loftus' introduction, and Barker's foreword suffered. That means it doesn't appear to make use of any logical fallacies, addresses mainstream religious positions as though they are prevalent and actually exist, and doesn't flaunt its flaming skeptical objectivity in the faces of hostile ideological opponents. The few minor tweaks I could suggest aren't even worth mentioning and looking back over them it seems the author, Valerie Tarico, got around to carefully clarifying (or just avoiding) where normal Christian readers are likely to get stuck. That's outstanding. Obviously, as I've documented here, Christians found plenty of ways to be "confused," but I think I've shown how much more that was their fault rather than Tarico's using Tarico's own words from her chapter.
Next up, chapter 3, "The Malleability of the Human Mind," by Jason Long.