Hey everyone. I know it’s been a week since I’ve posted, but it’s better than two weeks or a month. I actually have two half-completed posts sitting in my drafts, so those will be up eventually. It has been my goal to write at least one a week (preferably two), and I intend on meeting that goal.
To comment upon prior WIPs, I still plan on continuing those, believe it or not. One of the half-completed drafts I speak of is actually Philosophy of Love pt.2. I have also finally come up with my arguments against skeptical theism. I know precisely what I want to argue, but I have yet to put it all down on paper and word it nicely; Why You Ought to be Skeptical of Skeptical Theism will be coming soon, and no, you don’t need to be skeptical of that. Hypothetical Christianity is something I want to continue, but it takes a considerable amount of time and effort. I often end up doing way more reading than I ever could writing. Let me state that it’s still not over yet, though.
Substance dualism, or the belief in two types of substance: matter and spirit/soul, is a popular metaphysical stance. It is implicitly ingrained into many religions. In philosophy, it is often contrasted with materialism/physicalism/naturalism, a form of substance monism which asserts only the physical or natural world exists.
Atheists are almost always naturalists — there are exceptions, but it’s a very good rule of thumb to assume they are naturalists. It should be noted that some are more zealous naturalists than others; some atheists can become quite frenzied over their metaphysical stance and it’s led to the philosophical epithet fundamaterialist.
Theists are typically dualists, but not always. Some theists believe God actually exists within this dimension and is made of matter just like you and me, but it’s just a special type of matter. I regret to inform you I’m not joking. Another type of substance monism worth mentioning, though rare, is called immaterialism. It’s the stance that everything is a result of consciousness and all things are mental, not physical. To be honest, it’s pretty rare nowadays, but I thought I should throw it out there since it is significant.
WHAT IS AN ARGUMENT FROM INCREDULITY?
An argument from/appeal to incredulity occurs when a person reasons from disbelief or intuitive “feelings” that X just can’t be because it just “isn’t possible” or “contradicts common sense.” cl, owner of The Warfare is Mental (see blogroll), diagnosed common problem of evil arguments as appeals to incredulity. I actually think his diagnosis is correct, but POE arguments can be fixed and reconstructed without incredulity; reasoning in favor of dualism it seems is not fixable. More on that when I post my essay on skeptical theism and the POE.
Incredulity is dualism’s best friend. It is the only thing that keeps it alive, and it is fueled mostly by superstitious myths. The only evidence that may be in favor of dualism is the near-death experience. For more on NDEs, I recommend Michael J. Sabom’s Recollections of Death. You should be able to find it at your county library, though you may have to wait for it to be shipped from another place. It is a fantastic, nonpartisan book.
Dualism is pretty much the only belief system I’ve ever seen that exists from gaps. The incredulity is actually difficult to detect, but I’ll show you how to translate the rhetoric to the actual assertion. Most arguments in favor of dualism reduce to this:
1. We cannot fully understand certain phenomena scientifically/certain phenomena cannot be reasonably accounted for under physicalism = I cannot accept that certain phenomena can be explained without appeal to the supernatural.
2. Dualism (usually in the form of some religious belief) accounts better for certain phenomena than materialism = It seems to be the case/common sense would dictate that dualism is a better candidate for understanding certain phenomena.
3. Dualism is true.
Notice the italicized statements? That is is the incredulity that is latent in pretty much all arguments supporting dualism. Now, this doesn’t necessarily falsify dualism, even though appeal to incredulity is still a fallacy — but what we can learn from this is fascinating.
INCREDULITY AND SUPERNATURAL OVER THE YEARS
Don’t worry, this won’t be a history lesson. Besides, most of this is common knowledge.
It used to be thought that the planets were held in place by some divine force, i.e., God. It turns out that “divine force” is really just gravity. In the interests of intellectual honesty, I should let you know that physcists don’t really know what the hell gravity is, but that’s really a philosophical question and not a scientific one. We understand it mathematically and our calculations are useful and apparently true; after all, they correspond to reality.
Rene Descartes, the founder of substance dualism, didn’t grasp how the mind and body could be the same thing, so he posited they must be separate. Neuroscience and psychology have dealt serious blows to dualism in this form (there’s some aspect of consciousness we don’t understand, thus dualism). We now understand almost everything about cognition and brain functioning without appeal to a soul or incorporeal element to cognition.
Everyone used to think, and many still do, that the current complexity in life we observe is impossible given strictly natural circumstances. We now understand the complexity of life through evolution and natural selection, though not without some mystery or trouble.
Hopefully you’ve noticed the pattern by now: incredulity comes up with strange ideas about reality. Science comes up with rational ideas supported by trial, math, and observation. That leads me to my next and final point…
THE BASIC PROBLEM OF ALL SUPERNATURAL IDEAS
Ever hear of the terms deduction and induction? It’s a confusing but huge distinction that is unfathomably important to understand. A superb explanation can be found here, but I will paraphrase below.
Deductive reasoning works from the general to the specific. It starts out with an idea, it generates testable statements or hypotheses, then it tries to see if reality coincides with those statements and ultimately that idea. In flow format, it goes: theory -> hypothesis -> observation -> confirmation. If you read the link, this is referred to as the “top-down” approach. Scientists tend to dislike deduction because it can lead to insanely erroneous conclusions. Although the deductive approach is also used in science, it is mostly the muse of philosophy. I would not recommend brushing off deduction just because science isn’t always a big fan of it. It’s still a useful and equally valid way of theorizing about the world.
When collecting data and doing science, inductive reasoning is what you’ll more commonly encounter. However, in modern science, there is more or less a blend between the two: there may be deductive reasoning within an inductive theory or vice versa. In fact, the scientific method is just a fancy name for induction. Yep, that’s right… science owes everything to philosophy and mathematics, but more on that in another post. Induction is referred to as the “bottom-up” approach. In flow format, it goes like this: observation -> pattern -> tentative hypothesis -> theory. When you read about the scientific method in school, it probably went something like that.
Almost all supernatural ideas cannot be proved or disproved. We have very little that correspond to reality, and none that I know of that follow any patterns in occurring or clear chain of reasoning. In other words, they don’t make any sense. Mysterious answers to mysterious questions is probably the best canned response we have here. However, an answer implies we understand something. That is never the case with supernatural answers. Supernatural answers to “supernatural questions” are as various as they are closed off from inspection. They are sometimes fascinating conjectures that sometimes coincide with observations, but we never have anything all-inclusive.
Scientific answers, on the other hand, we do learn something from and we can do useful things with. But then there’s the problem of induction. Both approaches are flawed, but science much less so. It would be silly to deny science’s power over the supernatural’s power in explaining things. Take, for example, the existence of ghosts.
THE SUPERNATURAL IN ACTION
The supernatural can’t shut up about ghosts: they’re demons, they’re departed souls coming back, they’re souls in purgatory. They’re all of the above. Sometimes they are from God, sometimes they are from the natural human spirit in the river that is collective consciousness. Do any of these ideas have any merit? Most certainly. In fact, anyone could make a convincing case for them with some research, but that doesn’t make it true.
Then science steps in with an especially clever idea. What if hauntings and ghosts are the results of certain sound frequencies? No, seriously (links to a .pdf, right-click and “save target as…” to download). An engineer/scientist by the name of Vic Tandy, or V.T., stumbled upon this theory through two disturbing experiences at his workplace.
V.T. was a hard-nosed skeptic that put his trust in science. He had always heard rumors that his workplace was haunted, but he had a myriad of plausible explanations. Since he was self-assured, he never put much stock into the theory of an actual haunting. After all, he worked in a lab where life support equipment was designed: “there was always some piece of equipment wheezing away in a corner.” Surely other people were just superstitious and easily spooked, right?
Not to mention, the workplace had a good supply of all sorts of bottled gases (carbon dioxide, oxygen, anesthetic agents). Any of them could be causing people to hallucinate or feel uncomfortable. He was totally unconvinced until he got spooked — twice. The experiences were consecutive, with one at night and the other the following day. Both times he was alone, only heightening his fear.
One night V.T. was getting some seriously creepy vibes. He was depressed, sweating yet cold, and uncomfortable. Deciding to take a break, he got up to take a break and get some coffee. On his way out of the room, he passed the desk with the gas bottles. He inspected all of them and they were all properly sealed. So much for that theory. When he sat back down and began writing, he started to feel as if something was watching him. Then, a gray figure manifests to his left and sits down next to him. It made no sound. When he faced it, it disappeared.
V.T. was severely shaken up, but still unconvinced. The next day, V.T. had plans to participate in a fencing competition and he needed to do some work to a foil blade before the event. He went into work early because there was a particular bench that seemed perfect for the job. He arrives and puts the blade in a vice. It would only take five or so minutes to do, so he leaves the strange room to grab some oil. When he came back he could hardly believe his eyes. The end of the blade not being supported by the vice was intensely vibrating.
Even though it was weird, this didn’t seem nearly as strange to V.T. as the gray apparition did. After all, the blade vibrating means it was receiving energy. What kind of energy causes vibration relative to frequencies? Sound. V.T. was being victimized by what is called a low frequency standing wave.
There was a sound frequency being emitted at 18.9 Hz, which happened to be the perfect frequency. Why was it the perfect frequency? Coincidentally enough, it was the perfect amount to bounce off each of the parallel walls and then meet in the middle: a standing sound wave. This led to an odd amount of energy in the middle of the room. V.T. came to this idea by sliding the blade across the floor in a drill vice and observing the vibrations to increase until becoming level with the desk in the middle of the room, and then the blade did the same thing until it ended up at the other side of the room.
That’s a pretty awesome observation, but how does it account for the gray apparition and other reported paranormal events? To realize that, V.T. had to do research. It turns out that NASA reports that the resonant frequency for the human eye is 18 Hz. This would cause vision to jitter and vibrate violently, which could easily cause a gray smear in the field of one’s vision that would be interpreted as a human figure.
Low frequency sounds are responsible for all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, such as hyperventilation, fear, excessive perspiration, shivering, etc. Hyperventilation can induce panic attacks if given enough time!
There’s only one more thing we must account for. What was causing the sound and why did it go undetected? An extractor fan was found to be the culprit and it was changed in a way that avoided the emission of the low frequency sound, eradicating both the creepy stuff and the standing wave. The reason it went undetected for so long is complicated.
Everyone has different sensitivities to sound and not everyone would experience the same effects. Low frequency sounds are also hard to detect, especially in the presence of other background noise; there was plenty of that in the workplace.
THE BATTLE OF KNOWING
Truthfully, the most daunting task scientists and philosophers face is what is and isn’t reliable. What we can know for certain and what we can’t know for certain. Nonsense and facts are easily sorted apart, but what about when the line of truth is moved or appears to be somewhere else than where it should normally be?
We are notorious for perceiving falsities as truths because we change what happens or why it happens to our liking. Our outlook tints the image we look at and distorts it. Our perception is most certainly always distorted. Likewise, an image can alter our perception. When these two things blend, reality gets an ugly treatment.
I would like to conclude by saying our assertions and observations are loaded with personalizations and inaccuracies. We are prone to misperception beyond our own perception and seemingly rational arguments can be reduced to biased fallacies by simply changing the angle we look at them from. The truth can be found, but here’s the problem: there’s one truth and billions of us.