Saturday, February 18, 2006

Commentary on Carrier-Wanchick Debate

I have spent some time reading the rebuttals in the Carrier-Wanchick debate. No doubt I am biased, but I do not think Wanchick is fairing very well. I am not going to offer any kind of complete analysis here, but have some isolated comments.

Epistemological Method

Carrier began his opening statement by describing his method:

If we want all our beliefs to be more likely true than false, then we must proportion our beliefs to the evidence. So if our reasons to believe are few and unreliable, our confidence should be low, and if our reasons to believe are many and reliable, our confidence should be high, with an appropriate continuum between. That mean's if we have no reason to believe something, then we should not believe it, and if we have much better reasons to believe something than we have not to, then we should believe it.

This is very similar to something I wrote very early on in this blog, in "Would You Believe It?":

Third, our commitment to beliefs ought to be consistent with the evidence supporting those beliefs. When evidence and reason is insufficient, we should delay commitment. When supporting evidence is found, strengthen commitment. When contrary evidence is found, commitment must weaken. When commitment to belief exists apart from evidence and reason, we cease to be rational, and we will very likely end up believing falsehood.

So, we do not pretend certainty where things are uncertain, and we believe today what is best supported by the evidence that we have today, leaving tomorrow's beliefs for tomorrow's evidence.

For instance, when Carrier argues that all pertinent observations show various mental activities occurring only in the presence of physical minds, he is not claiming that immaterial minds are impossible or even improbable, only that we have no positive evidence for them. Wanchick protests that "this doesn't demonstrate that probably no immaterial minds exist." This is true, but beside the point. We have not observed any invisible pink unicorns either, and so we do not believe in them, until such time as they are actually observed. It is not a question of possibility but of practicality. There are uncountable possibly true but actually false statements that could be made. Being possibly true is not sufficient grounds for belief, and being possibly false is not sufficient grounds for disbelief. Both possibilities are grounds to remain open to later confirming or disconfirming evidence.

Confirmed Predictions

Wanchick, at the end of his attempted rebuttal of Carrier's "Basic Argument for Naturalism", says:

Alas, far from millions, I can't recall even one instance where scholarship confirmed naturalistic predictions over theistic ones. I can recall, though, myriad examples of the reverse: the discovery of the universe's origin, life's incalculable complexity/order, the lack of transitional fossils and sudden appearance of animal kinds in geology, the universe's delicate fine-tuning, the recalcitrance of mental and moral properties to materialistic explanation, the historicity of Jesus' resurrection, etc.

Wow. The computer with which he wrote those words is, by itself, the result of many (hundreds? thousands? millions?) confirmed naturalistic predictions. When space probes land on Mars or Titan, it is confirmation of naturalistic predictions. When he drives his car to work, more predictions are confirmed. When Hurrican Katrina destroyed New Orleans, it was confirmation of naturalistic predictions. I could go on and on.

And what of Wanchick's examples of theistic predictions? Is complexity of design the hallmark of intelligent design, or is simplicity? Transitional fossils? They are not so uncommon. Sudden appearance of animal kinds? Not so sudden, and recent fossil discoveries hint toward even less sudden appearances than previously thought. Historicity of Jesus' resurrection? That is hardly confirmed. Each of these deserves more detailed rebuttals, but those will have to wait.

Also, Wanchick takes issue with Carrier's examples of lightning, orbital motion and disease being theistic predictions, saying

For classical theism doesn't hold that lightning, disease, or the order/maintenance of the solar system are generally products of direct supernatural intervention.

While these are not necessary predictions of theism, each of them has been "explained" at various times in theistic or other supernatural terms. (Of course, some predictions predicated on naturalism have proven false too, but the eventual explanations have also been naturalistic.)

Material and Immaterial Minds

Wanchick reasons invalidly:

... Carrier claims that God could've created us with immaterial "brainless minds" (BMs). This entails that human minds are disembodied in some possible world (PW); consequently, human minds are possibly disembodied in every PW. But if anything can possibly exist disembodied, it is not a material substance, since material substances can't exist without matter. Therefore, human minds are immaterial substances.

It does not follow that if human minds are disembodied in some possible world (and therefore possibly disembodied in every PW) that human minds are necessarily disembodied. Only disembodied minds need be immaterial. So it remains possible that minds are material, contrary to Wanchick's claim that minds are immaterial in all possible worlds.

Worse, Wanchick later states:

But in fact Carrier himself has already conceded that substance dualism is true. For we saw in AMBD that human minds are necessarily nonmaterial.

First, Carrier conceded nothing of the sort. How could he, since he has not responded yet? And as we just saw, Wanchick reached the conclusion about necessarily immaterial minds through an invalid argument. Putting false conclusions into Carrier's mouth will not help Wanchick's case.

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