Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
God is a necessary precondition for reason: my closing statement

This is my final statement in my debate with Steve Zarbi on the moot: the Christian God is a necessary precondition for human reason.

Continued from Steve’s second rebuttal «

Steve, to close off my side of this debate, there are three particular points to which I’d like to draw close attention. It would be poor form for me to present new arguments at this stage, so I’ll do my best to avoid that—but I want to at least highlight these issues so that anyone following this exchange can consider them carefully and come to their own conclusions. These three points are three different ways in which you have begged the question.

I. Your view of what reasoning can be

This, I think, is the most problematic of all the aspects of your position. You want to deny me the ability to “define reason as something that can’t be performed by physical systems”. This in itself is natural enough, since you hold to a materialistic view of the world. The problem is that you’ve offered no reasons, no justification for saying that we shouldn’t exclude physical systems as reasoning systems. This isn’t merely a matter of definition, as if I’ve simply got a word wrong. It’s a matter of ontology: of what reasoning actually is. I have given arguments, and I think quite good and certainly very respectable arguments, which put very great pressure on this notion that human reason can possibly be a physical process. I have shown that, in principle, reasoning implies something more than the physical. If it is reducible to the physical then it is not actually reasoning as we understand it, in which case any attempt at argumentation self-destructs. But you have tried to short-circuit these arguments by saying that, from the outset, I should not be discounting physical explanations for reason; nor supposing non-physical explanations. It is as if you want to ignore the arguments themselves and say that my conclusion must be wrong because yours is right. But in light of my arguments, the burden of proof is on you; not on me. You have not met that burden.

II. Your view of what reasoning is

Indeed, quite the opposite is true. In trying to defend your belief that reason can be a physical system, you’ve actually shown the opposite. You’ve been willing to go so far as to assert that conclusions are in no way caused by their premises—yet you have not even attempted to disprove the arguments I presented showing that human reasoning, in order to be human reasoning at all, must involve conclusions caused in some way by their premises. Again, you’ve tried to short-circuit my argumentation by saying that it is the logical structure which is important, while the premises and conclusions plugged into this are irrelevant. You would say that we have a simple case of input and output—and you claim that neural networks prove this to be the case. But you’ve given no argument as to why we should accept this assertion. On the face of it, it’s clearly false. Yet even if it’s true, you have still (a) begged the question against meaning, and (b) failed to account for the logical structure itself.

a. Meaning

You say that meaning is a relationship between input and output; but you’ve failed to show that this meaning can become meaning in the first place. As I’ve explained, the relationship between input and output only becomes meaningful if there is a mind to interpret it to begin with. The input and output of neural networks is meaningful because we interpret it. It does not interpret itself. In principle, neural networks are simply mindless physical systems performing mindless physical transactions. That is all they are until we interpret these transactions as logical operations. But that requires our minds to already be more than physical systems performing physical transactions. To say that neural networks show that reasoning occurs in the brain begs the question by assuming that reasoning is occurring in these neural networks, when ipso facto nothing more than basic physical transactions are occurring, and the reasoning about them is actually happening in our minds. The neural network does not reason. It does not have a first person perspective by which it can consider its own input and output.

Now, you allege that a neural network which models itself would have such a perspective—but it’s hard to take such an assertion seriously. Why would this be the case? You’ve once again made no argument to persuade me; you’ve just offered speculation which, in principle, cannot answer the difficulty posed. There is no difference at all between a neural network modeling some other physical system and a neural network modeling itself. Both are still third-person objective physical transactions. You cannot simply assert that the latter kind produces some remarkable, personal, subjective quality. How does a system modeling itself produce a first person perspective? Why does it not just produce a third person objective representation of itself? The bridge of principle remains firmly planted between your assertion and the reality. Although you accuse me of defining what reason is to suit my beliefs, it’s quite clear that in fact it is you who has assumed that the limitations of what is possible must coincide with your beliefs about reality. You then invent arbitrary but fantastical explanations to the problems inherent in those beliefs.

b. Logical structure

Even if your claims regarding input and output are accurate, you have still failed to provide any account for logical structure itself. Logical laws, as I have said, are not physical laws. You have not addressed this problem at all. Neither are logical laws merely useful procedures established by a consensus, as you claim. Again, I have already shown this. If logical laws are merely procedures we’ve agreed upon, then (i) they were not agreed upon when minds first developed, which contradicts your own position anyway since minds can only develop when physical systems perform logical operations; and (ii) these laws could have, in principle at least, looked different. Yet I have already shown that they could not have looked different. That was one of the foundational facts which I used to establish my position over yours in the first place.

III. The castle of science versus the castle of religion

You mention building our castles, our worldviews, from the ground up. Science does this, you say; religion does not. But how so? You talk about how the Copernican Principle; you say that science and reason build on more solid foundations because they are based on humility. How? Again, you present no argument here—you simply ask me to believe that if your worldview is true, then it is true. But what relationship is there between humility and truth? How does assuming that we are not special guarantee better results in understanding reality? What if we are special? So once again you beg the question by assuming the very position you want to prove.

The Trinity

Finally, although you present an argument against the doctrine of the Trinity, you do so at the expense of failing to justify your own worldview in light of the underlying question which only the Trinity answers. Now, I’m not in a position here to refute the argument you present, but I can still say for the record that it is indeed easily refuted. In fact, since it only works against a non-Christian formulation of the Trinity, it isn’t even an argument against my position at all. This being the case, and in lieu of any argumentation against my more basic point about the problem of unity and plurality, that point stands.

In conclusion, it seems to me that you have failed to establish both the falsehood of my position, and the truth of your own. You have failed to refute the arguments I have presented which demonstrate that the Christian God is a necessary precondition for human reason. Indeed, you have only interacted with these arguments in a very limited way at all. The arguments you’ve presented contra mine, and those in favor of your own position, primarily rely on question-begging and speculation—yet even if they do succeed, they are too limited in their scope to adequately refute my position, as I’ve previously shown.

This being the case, I must close as I always do, by pleading with you to reconsider what I have said in this exchange. The incoherence of your naturalistic worldview is clear, as is the obvious coherence and truth of Christianity. Therefore, turn and believe it, for God will not turn away anyone who comes to him for forgiveness and salvation.

Continued in Steve’s closing statement »

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