Mind, Brain, Monism, Dualism or Origins & Science
Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (Macmillan: 2007), pp. 180, 185.
The concept of a universe materializing out of nothing boggles the mind. What exactly is meant by "nothing"? If this "nothing" could tunnel into something, what could have caused the primary tunneling event? And what about energy conservaton? ... The initial state prior to the tunneling is a universe of vanishing radius, that is, no universe at all. There is no matter and no space in this very peculiar state. Also, there is no time. Time has meaning only if something is happening in the universe. We measure time using periodic processes, like the rotation of the Earth about its axis, or its motion around the Sun. In the absence of space and matter, time is impossible to define. ¶ And yet the state of "nothing" cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus "nothing" should be subjected to these laws. The laws must have existed, even though there was no universe. ... A quantum fluctuation of the vacuum assumes that there was a vacuum of some pre-existing space. And we now know that the "vacuum" is very different from "nothing". Vacuum, or empty space, has energy and tension, it can bend a warp, so it is unquestionably something. As Alan Guth wrote, “In this context, a proposal that the universe was created from empty space is no more fundamental than a proposal that the universe was spawned by a piece of rubber. It might be true, but one would still want to ask where the piece of rubber came from."
Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (Basic Books: 2000), p. 145.
Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise "from nothing". But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We've realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a "point", it is latent with particles and forces — still a far richer construct than the philosopher's "nothing". Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what "breathes fire" into the equations, and actualised them into a real cosmos. The fundamental question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" remains the province of philosophers
Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Penguin: 2007), p. 244
If something can be self-caused, why can't the universe as a whole be the thing that is self-caused? This leads in various arcane directions, into the strange precincts of string theory and probability fluctuations and the like, at one extreme, and into ingenious nitpicking about the meaning of "cause" at the other. Unless you have a taste for mathematics and theoretical physics on the one hand, or the niceties of scholastic logic on the other, you are not apt to find any of this compelling, or even fathomable.
"Against Materialism" in The Waning of Materialism, eds. Robert C. Koons and George Bealer (Oxford University Press: 2010), pp. 3-4.
Why have materialist views been so dominant? Part of the answer is that it is far from clear that dualist views, at least those that go much beyond the bare denial of materialism, are in any better shape. But it must be insisted that the inadequacies of dualism do not in themselves constitute a strong case for materialism: arguments by elimination are always dubious in philosophy, and never more so than here, where the central phenomenon in question (that is, consciousness) is arguably something of which we still have little if any real understanding. Instead, materialism seems to be one of those unfortunate intellectual bandwagons to which philosophy, along with many other disciplines, is so susceptible — on a par with logical behaviorism, phenomenalism, the insistence that all philosophical issues pertain to language, and so many other views that were once widely held and now seem merely foolish. Such a comparison is misleading in one important respect, however: it understates the fervency with which materialist views are often held. In this respect, materialism often more closely resembles a religious conviction — and indeed, as I will suggest further in a couple of places below, defenses of materialism and especially replies to objections often have a distinctively scholastic or theological flavor.
"Against Materialism" in The Waning of Materialism, eds. Robert C. Koons and George Bealer (Oxford University Press: 2010), p. 7.
A second sort of defense in favor of materialism appeals to the general idea of naturalism. Here again we have a view, like materialism itself, to which many, many philosophers pay allegiance while offering little by way of clear argument or defense, but here the view itself is much harder to pin down in a precise way. Indeed, even more striking than the absence of any very clear arguments is the fact that many recent philosophers seem so eager to commit themselves to naturalism — to fly the naturalist flag, as it were — while showing little agreement as to what exactly such a commitment involves. Thus naturalism seems to be even more obviously an intellectual bandwagon than materialism. (In addition, naturalism, for some of those who use the term, seems to just amount to materialism, which would make an argument from naturalism to materialism entirely question-begging.) ¶ Is there any genuine support for a materialist presumption to be found in the vicinity of naturalism? One version of naturalism is the idea that metaphysical issues — or philosophical issues generally — should be dealt with through the use of the methods of natural science. If this is accepted, and if it is true that following the methods of natural science leads plausibly to an endorsement of materialism, then at least some presumption in favor of materialism might follow. But both of the needed suppositions are in fact extremely dubious, to say the least. There is simply no good reason to think that the methods of natural science exhaust the methods of reasonable inquiry — indeed, as has often been pointed out, there is no plausible way in which that claim itself can be arrived at using those methods.
The Niomachean Ethics of Aristotle, trans. Robert William Browne (George Bell and Sons: 1889), pp. 252-4.
Now he that sees, perceives that he sees; and he that hears, that he hears; and he that walks, that he walks; and in every other case, in the same manner, there is some faculty which perceives that we are energizing; so that we perceive that we are perceiving, and understand that we are understanding. But this is the same as saying that we perceive or understand that we exist; for existence was defined to be perceiving, or understanding. Now, to perceive that one is alive, is of the number of those things which are pleasant in themselves: for life is a good by nature: and to perceive the good which is inherent in one's self is pleasant. But life is eligible, and particularly to the good, because existence is to them good and pleasant; for by the consciousness of that which is absolutely a good, they are pleased.
"Cosmological Arguments" in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, Charles Taliaferro and Paul J. Griffiths, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: 2003), p. 252.
On the other side, the hypothesis of divine creation is very unlikely. Although if there were a god with the traditional attributes and powers, he would be able and perhaps willing to create such a universe as this, we have to weigh in the scales the likelihood or unlikelihood that there is a god with these attributes and powers. And the key power ... is that of fulfilling intentions directly, without any physical or causal mediation, without materials or instruments. There is nothing in our background knowledge that makes it comprehensible, let alone likely, that anything should have such a power. All our knowledge of intention-fulfillment is of embodied intentions being fulfilled indirectly by way of bodily changes and movements which are causally related to the intended result, and where the ability thus to fulfill intentions itself has a causal history, either of evolutionary development or of learning or of both. Only by ignoring such key features do we get an analogue of the supposed divine action.
The Evolution of the Soul (Clarendon Press: 1986), p. 191.
There is a crucial difference between these two cases. All other integrations into a super-science, of sciences dealing with entities and properties apparently qualitatively very distinct, was achieved by saying that really some of the entities and properties were not as they appeared to be; by making a distinction between the underlying (not immediately observable) entities and properties and the phenomenal properties to which they give rise. Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. The former falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanics — for molecules are particles; the entities and properties are not now of distinct kinds. But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the phenomenal from its causes, and only explaining the latter.
Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Intervarsity: 1983), p. 49.
Computers function as they do because they have been constructed by human beings endowed with rational insight. And the results of their computations are accepted because they are evaluated by rational human beings as conforming to rational norms. A computer, in other words, is merely an extension of the rationality of its designers and users, it is no more an independent source of rational insight than a television set is an independent source of news and entertainment.
The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge University Press: 1992), p. 50-1.
So far no attempt at naturalizing content has produced an explanation (analysis, reduction) of intentional content that is even remotely plausible. A symptom that something is radically wrong with the project is that intentional notions are inherently normative. They set standards of truth, rationality, consistency, etc., and there is no way that these standards can be intrinsic to a system consisting entirely of brute, blind, nonintentional causal relations. There is no mean component to billiard ball causation. Darwinian biological attempts at naturalizing content try to avoid this problem by appealing to what they suppose is the inherently teleological, normative character of biological evolution. But this is a very deep mistake. There is nothing normative or teleological about Darwinian evolution. Indeed, Darwin's major contribution was precisely to remove purpose, and teleology from evolution, and substitute for it purely natural forms.