Over at the Skeptical Zone, Dr. Liddle has graciously responded to my post, A quick question for Dr. Liddle and other skeptics. I began by asking: “What is Dr. Liddle’s definition of “matter,” and why does Dr. Liddle believe that an intelligent being has to conform to that definition?”
What is matter?
In my post, I proposed seven possible definitions of matter, and in her response, Dr. Liddle gave an eclectic definition which invoked most of the criteria I had suggested. For Dr. Liddle, it is axiomatic that matter must be composed of “stuff,” although she adds that “the configuration and energy of that ‘stuff’ is also part of what I mean by ‘material.'” She also maintains that “an entity capable of intelligence and volition must have some non-zero quantity of mass-energy.” She stipulates that anything composed of matter must be spatially extended, but not necessarily within our universe, and that it must also be composed of “a great many nested parts.” Finally, she declares that matter must behave “in ways that can be predicted by laws,” where those laws are understood as “regularities that enable us to predict the world can be described mathematically, even if that math includes stochastic terms.”
That’s a fairly comprehensive definition, although I would note in passing that the criteria she uses for defining matter are a mixture of material (matter must be composed of spatially extended “stuff” associated with some quantity of “mass-energy”), formal (matter must be composed of nested parts, and it must be suitably configured) and epistemic (matter must behave in a way which is predictable, at least in a statistical sense), which invites the further question: is it the “stuff” that is ontologically basic, or its form, or the laws that it conforms to? Which is fundamental, and why? Dr. Liddle writes: “I include … configuration and energy in my definition, and these are extremely important.” She adds: “The same amount of matter (as in mass) in a different configuration and/or energy state would be a different ‘thing’ in my view, even though both ‘reduced’ to the same ‘matter’.” So it appears that for her, the most important thing about matter is its form.
Dr. Liddle mistakes me for a reductionist
Dr. Liddle continues:
As for why an intelligent being has to be a material entity, configured in a particular way, with particular energetic properties: well, I think that intelligence and volition in terrestrial animals, particularly large animals including us, is a capability that derives from the our material configurations as biological organisms with brains. In an earlier post of yours, in response to one of mine, I think you essentially agreed that “philosophical zombies” – in the sense of a physically identical being to, say, me, but without consciousness, is incoherent (forgive me if I misunderstood you). But that is certainly my position – that our capacity to think, intend, feel, perceive, act, love – are a direct consequence of our material configuration, and that a materially identical entity would necessarily have those capacities too. Conversely, I see no reason to think that an entity without that material configuration (or something comparable) could have those capabilities.
I am afraid Dr. Liddle has misunderstood the intent of my post, Zombies, duplicates, human beasts and consciousness. What I asserted in that post is that it was metaphysically impossible that there could be any beings which look and behave just like human beings, but which lack mental states of any sort. In other words, there are no zombies. I was particularly critical of the suggestion that there could be creatures that look like human beings and are capable of conversing just like a human being, but are incapable of reasoning: if this were true, it would warrant radical skepticism about other minds, and it would mean that we could never identify anything as the work of a mind. I added that I didn’t believe in duplicates either: indeed, I argued that it was metaphysically impossible that there could be any beings which look just like human beings (even if they behave differently), but which lack mental states of any sort. Finally, I asserted that it was metaphysically and nomologically possible but temporally and theologically impossible that there could be any beings which look just like human beings (even if they behave differently), and which also have lower-level mental states, but which lack the ability to reason.
Nowhere in my article, however, did I claim that the mental powers or mental states of human beings and other sentient animals were a consequence of their material configuration (as Dr. Liddle believes) or of their physical powers. What I did assert is that there are “law-like connections between physical events and lower-order mental events.” That is not the same thing as declaring that our lower-order mental capacities can be explained in terms of our physical capacities. To obtain that conclusion, you would need to assume the truth of reductionism: the view that higher-level properties are always explicable in terms of lower-level ones. But I’m not a reductionist, and I never claimed to be one.
My “top-down” view of mental states
For my part, the fact that I see the color red whenever a ripe tomato is placed before me, under normal viewing conditions, is a fundamental fact about me as a human being, and I certainly don’t think that the physical processes occurring in my brain and my environment in any way “explain” my mental experience of the color red. (To cause an event in a regular fashion is not the same thing as to explain that event.) Indeed, I find it a source of continually amazement that I can see any colors at all, under any conditions: “the vision splendid” is how I described it in my last post. Instead of embracing reductive materialism, I prefer a “top-down” explanation of my ability to undergo experiences: I think it is a fundamental fact about our universe that sentient creatures have experiences which are reliably caused by physical stimuli affecting their highly organized brains and nervous systems, and these mental states are just as fundamental a feature of the cosmos as the physical states that trigger them.
As regards our higher-level mental states, I was careful to state that there are no law-like connections between physical events and acts of the intellect and/or will – i.e. rational thoughts and rational choices. Hence there is no possibility of explaining these paradigmatically human mental states in terms of underlying physical states.
Does God have to be configured in the right way?
Even granting (for argument’s sake) that all intelligent life-forms existing in our universe – or even in the multiverse – have bodies which are configured in a very specific manner, and composed of nested parts, this would still fail to render the existence of a disembodied Deity unlikely. The reason is that at best, inductive logic is only valid within a category – and God, by His (or as Dr. Liddle would say, Her) very Nature, does not belong to any of the categories to which creatures belong. God, as the One in Whom we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28), is the very Author of all that is, upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17). Hence He exists on an altogether different plane of existence than ourselves: indeed, for classical theists, God is Being itself. For that reason, any attempt to reason about the nature of God, based on an inductive argument relating to all intelligent life-forms in the multiverse is as fallacious as trying to imagine what Walt Disney must have looked like, from looking at Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Pluto Pup. It is an invalid inference.
Dr. Liddle on God and Goodness
In my post, I also asked Dr. Liddle: “If you believe God has somehow wronged us by creating a world like this one, then on what grounds do you say that?” Dr. Liddle responded:
…[W]hat I meant was that even if some incontrovertible evidence for an intentional intelligent designer of life, including human life (and I certainly don’t rule it out a priori) was to be produced (and I don’t find the ID arguments I’ve encountered so far persuasive), I don’t think that leads necessarily to the conclusion that that designer had human welfare as a high priority.
I think one could just as easily, on that evidence (i.e. that “an intentional intelligent designer” unspecified must have been involved) come to very different conclusions as to that designer’s intentions. And I find it completely circular when people argue that what is Good must be what God decrees is Good, and therefore God must be Good.
I do, in fact, believe in something, for want of a better word, I call “Good”…
I just don’t see any logical relationship between what is Good and how we came to be here.
Dr. Liddle went on to say that she did not regard the Designer as having wronged us by the mere fact of creating us, and that if she were the Designer, she would be disposed to create human beings, even in a “crooked” world where suffering was an unavoidable fact of life, because she would like someone to talk to, “and to appreciate my beautiful world.”
I would like to thank Dr. Liddle for her theological clarification. I attempted to derive the goodness of God in a recent post titled, Why the best arguments for the existence of God are not stupid, where I defended a privative concept of evil, according to which evil is not a “thing,” but a defect. I then argued that although God’s decision to create is a free one, God’s love for the creatures that He has chosen to make is simply an overflowing (or necessary consequence) of His love for Himself. On this topic, I quoted from the writings of the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart:
God does not create like an omnipotent consumer choosing one world out of an infinity of possibilities that somehow stand outside of and apart from his own nature…
God creates the world of Jesus, the world conformed to his infinite love for his Son in the joy and light of the Spirit; he thereby also wills his goodness in all his creatures infinitely, which is to say he wills this world for eternal union with him in love, and he wills that we should become partakers of the divine nature.
There is no other world that God might have created, not because he is bound by necessity, but because he is infinitely free, and so nothing can hinder him from expressing his essential and infinite goodness perfectly, in and through the freedom of creatures created to be the fellows of his eternal Son.
That may seem obscurely phrased — it is, I know — but if one thinks through what it means to understand God as the transcendent source of all being, one must abandon the notion that God chooses to create in the way that I choose to buy blue drapes rather than red. God creates a realm of rational freedom that allows for a union between Creator and creature that is properly analogous to the Trinity’s eternal union of love; or, stated otherwise, God creates his own image in his creatures, with all that that may entail.
The emprirical evidence for God’s goodness
But where, it will be asked, is the empirical evidence that the Designer considers human welfare to be a high priority? In another, earlier post, I argued that the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of Nature, as well as their unexpected mathematical beauty – I say “unexpected” because there’s no logical connection between “mathematically elegant” and “liable to produce intelligent life” – is best explained by the hypothesis that there is an Intelligence at work in the natural world. I also explained why the multiverse doesn’t solve the fine-tuning problem, but merely pushes it up one level.
As if that were not enough, here’s an extract from a 2007 post by astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross:
On the Reasons To Believe website we document that the probability a randomly selected planet would possess all the characteristics intelligent life requires is less than 10-304. A recent update that will be published with my next book, Hidden Purposes: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, puts that probability at 10-1054. In the book I wrote with Fuz Rana, Origins of Life, we describe a calculation performed by biophysicist Harold Morowitz in which he showed that if one were to break all the chemical bonds in an E. coli bacterium, the probability that it would reassemble under ideal natural conditions (in which no foreign elements or chemicals would invade and in which none of the necessary elements or chemicals would leave) would be no greater than 10-100,000,000,000. In another book I wrote with Fuz, Who Was Adam?, we describe calculations done by evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala and by astrophysicists John Barrow, Brandon Carter, and Frank Tipler for the probability that a bacterium would evolve under ideal natural conditions — given the presumption that the mechanisms for natural biological evolution are both effective and rapid. They determine that probability to be no more than 10-24,000,000.
This more recent talk by Dr. Ross, given in 2012, is also worth watching.
I’m not an astrophysicist, but I will say that attempts by materialists to undermine the Anthropic Principle by pointing to the discovery of planets on which water is capable of existing in a liquid state do not in any way address the probability of life emerging on those planets. As this article by Dr. Ross demonstrates, there’s much more to making life than forming a planet with liquid water.
What about the evil in the world?
In a follow-up post to my post on fine-tuning, I addressed the atheist’s Argument from Evil. I put forward no less than seven considerations which, taken collectively, considerably weaken the force of the Argument from Evil. I concluded that it is far from certain that God would not make a world like this one, in which injustice, confusion and senseless suffering sometimes occur. I allowed that the existence of natural evil in this world, taken as a whole, constitutes a strong prima facie argument against the existence of God, but I went on to say that since we cannot quantify the strength of this argument, we are not entitled to infer that God’s existence is even improbable, let alone impossible.
I added that in view of the much stronger evidence pointing the other way, towards a universe that was specifically designed for intelligent beings to do science in, and infer the existence of a Creator, it made more sense to believe in a God who has our interests, as an intelligent species, at heart.
A personal God?
As to whether God is loving in a personal sense: I have argued in another post that each and every person is an end-in-itself, and for God to treat a human person in an impersonal fashion would reflect a deficiency on His part; and since we know God must be free from deficiencies (since a defective Being could not serve as an Ultimate Explanation of everything, as its imperfection would have to be relative to some ideal external to and hence logically prior to itself), it therefore follows that God must be personal.
Notice that this line of argument is very different from arguing that “what is Good must be what God decrees is Good,” as Dr. Liddle asserts religious people are wont to do. All it assumes is the Kantian moral principle that persons are ends-in-themselves. I might add that while a theistic ethic which sees all persons as made in the image of a personal Creator supplies a warrant for this Kantian principle, a materialistic worldview which explains people in terms of the configurations of their constituent particles fails to provide any grounds for this exalted view of persons as the be-all and end-all of the cosmos.
Is Intelligent Design bad theology?
Finally, in another comment, Dr. Liddle added:
I think that ID, apart from being bad science (and I do think it is bad science) is also bad theology. I think “theistic evolution” makes much more sense theologically, and solves the theodicy problem very neatly. Suffering because a necessary part of existing, because a sentient intelligent loving being that cannot suffer makes no coherent sense in a natural world. I certainly don’t think evolution rules out theism, as I think I made clear.
What I would like to know is why Dr. Liddle thinks her preferred explanation of suffering (namely, that “a sentient intelligent loving being that cannot suffer makes no coherent sense in a natural world”) is in any way incompatible with Intelligent Design. The ID movement is a big tent, and I’m sure there are plenty of Intelligent Design proponents who would happily endorse Dr. Liddle’s matter-of-fact explanation – just as there are other ID advocates who would prefer to explanation suffering in terms of a cosmic Fall of our first parents and/or Satan and his angels, and still others who view suffering as part of God’s grand plan for the human race.
I hope that the foregoing exchange of views has “cleared the air” between Intelligent Design proponents and their thoughtful critics, over at the Skeptical Zone, and I would like to thank Dr. Liddle for her response.