January 22, 2006

EVERYTHING IS DETERMINED BUT ME!:

Questions for Daniel C. Dennett: The Nonbeliever (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, 1/22/06, NY Times Magazine)

Q: How could you, as a longtime professor of philosophy at Tufts University, write a book that promotes the idea that religious devotion is a function of biology?

The beauty is that the only possible answer, given Mr. Dennett's own position, is that his writing is likewise just a function of biology. As they lose ground, these guys just keep tightening the circular reasoning around their own throats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2006 9:33 AM
Comments

Exactly!

To those who would respond that neuroscience, PET scans, clever experimental design and so on show support for determinism, I can only add that those results cannot possibly be trusted. After all, if determinism is true, the scientists' interpretations of the experiments themselves are also determined, the peer reviewers and editors of the journals in which the findings were published also had no choice, and the wider audience to which the findings were disseminated could not help but believe the way they did.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at January 22, 2006 9:45 AM

This only appears to be a problem because the author, Mr. Judd and Mr. Cleaver are "level mixing" again. For example, the use of language by humans is biologically determined, i.e. humans are born with the physical and mental capabilities to use language. Would you then argue that therefore vocabularies are biologically determined as well? If not, then for whatever reason you don't applies here just as well.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 22, 2006 10:29 AM

AOG:

No, they aren't determined either.

The logic of Dennett's argument though, which you do yourself credit by ignoring even at the expense of any semblance of coherence, is that everything including vocabulary indeed has to be determined. You can't argue that stuff you like isn't determined and stuff you do is.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2006 11:07 AM

The propensity for belief may be determined, but it's just that, a propensity. It's a bias, not a determined certainty. We have a propensity for violence and for falling in love, but we don't all turn into killers or romantics.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at January 22, 2006 12:23 PM

Robert:

Of course, but you're a believer, so you don't buy determinism.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2006 12:39 PM

Mr. Judd;

I fail to see why logic of Dennet's argument requires everything to be determined.

Also, your response is ambiguous. Do you mean

  1. Neither langauge nor vocabularies are determined? If so, are you arguing that there is no biological basis for language use in humans?
  2. There is a biological basis for language in humans but not for vocabularies and the reason for this distinction is both unstated and (for some ineffable reason) not applicable to Dennet's theory?

Finally, to clarify, I am not arguing in favor of Dennet's theory. My thesis is that your counter argument is without merit because it conflates lower level phenomenon with higher level ones built dependent them (e.g., language vs. vocabulary). You claim the distinction is whether I "like" them or not. I again fail to see how you know that I like vocabularies but not language.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 22, 2006 1:12 PM

Hey, it's Ron Moore day here at Brothers Judd:

"Has it ever occurred to you that the reason you believe the Founders are gods is because that's what they want you to believe? That they built it into your genetic code?"

"Of course they did. That's what gods do. Why be a god if there's no one to worship you?"

- Odo and Weyoun, "Treachery, Faith and the Great River"

Posted by: David Cohen at January 22, 2006 1:21 PM

AOG:

Yes, there is no biologically determined propensity for language in humans. God gave us language.

Dennett's argument isn't logical. If it were he'd be forced to acknowledge that his belief is determined.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2006 4:27 PM

One of the issues rarely addressed in these discussions of determinism is whether one assumes g-d to be "immanent" (within all material things) or "transcendent" (above and beyond all material things). If you assume the latter, determinism quite literally makes no sense.

We "panentheists" ... The Wife, Annie Dillard, yours truly, et al ... believe that g-d is both. Yes, it's a mystery.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 22, 2006 5:14 PM

Mr. Judd;

I suppose we'll have to disagree on the language issue. A God that touches every child to install langauge abilities is a bit more interventionist than you normally support, though. I also didn't realize that you had gone far enough Left to adopt the classic Leftist view that man is a blank slate with no inborn propensities.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 22, 2006 5:54 PM

AOG -

No level-mixing.

According to Dennett and other determinists, every thought has a physical antecedent in the brain. This must necessarily include language, beliefs, interpretations of sensory input (however pre-shaped by Kantian filters). He cannot then exclude himself and his own beliefs, language, and interpretations.

FWIW, I actually agree with Robert Duquette's view, that we have propensities (but not certainties).

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at January 22, 2006 6:10 PM

Propensities from the past, plus experience of the present, equals result.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 22, 2006 6:44 PM

Dennett reveals his true motivation, virulent anti-religious atheism, in his last answer: "Churches have given us great treasures. Whether that pays for the harm they have done is another matter." Doesn't an evolutionist have to argue that biologically determined religious belief must have a net benefit, or at least be neutral, otherwise it would have been selected against? Wouldn't Dennet, Dawkins, and their ilk be harmful mutants who will eventually be eliminated?

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 22, 2006 7:00 PM

jd -

Yes, you're right. Evolution is said to select for what is _useful_ not what is _true_ . That leads to an interesting problem, noticed by Darwin himself: can we trust the thinking of a product of evolution (i.e. the brain)?

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at January 22, 2006 7:31 PM

AOG:

Why would He have to touch each one? Adam sufficed.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2006 7:43 PM

Mr. Cleaver;

I'll take your word for it. I read the entire article (not just the excerpt) and I didn't see any mention of that.

However, you are still mixing levels. There are vast differences between language, a particular language and particular thoughts expressed in that particular language. Those are three different levels will all seem to be conflated by OJ and by you. Even if humans are biologically determined to be language users, that says nothing about the other two levels mentioned, yet an equivalence seems to be simply presumed without explanation. It baffles me, as the difference seems unutterably obvious to me.

Mr. Judd;

Because those babies are able to learn and use language. How do they get that ability, if not from biology nor from direct divine intervention? Adam's dead, as far as I know, so he can't do it.

P.S. Note that the game of baseball does not create the ability to throw things accurately, or would you offer the theory that God taught Adam baseball to explain the human propensity to throw objects accurately?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 22, 2006 9:30 PM

AOG:

Biology is divine. God gave Adam the capacity to throw overhand. We choose to or not. Were I a Daniel Dennett I would say that while Americans choose to do so, those who don't are benighted victims of a biological determinism that we are too good to allow to affect us. It's an inane theory he propounds.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2006 9:42 PM

If determinism is true, it is true at a level that is not perceivable to us.

Posted by: creeper at January 23, 2006 6:40 AM

creeper:

Exactly, so Dennett's position is moronic.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 8:43 AM
Were I a Daniel Dennett I would say that while Americans choose to do so, those who don't are benighted victims of a biological determinism that we are too good to allow to affect us.
No, that's not at all Dennet's theory, at least as is propounded in the article in question and the articles I read on the subject.

Dennett's theory is that one would find throwing behavior in all human societies, which is in fact the case. Whether this ability is used in specific organized sports by particular societies isn't addressed by the theory.

In an exact analogy, the actual stated theory here is that one would find religious behavior in all human societies and yes, one does (even the putative secularists pick some other "ism" as the equivalent of a religion). The particular forms of the religious behavior vary, as those are not biologically determined (they are on a different level, just as baseball is a different level from throwing). You may well think that theory is wrong, it may well be wrong, but I have yet to see what makes it moronic.


creeper;

Not at all. Are language use and throwing levels that are percievable to us? If you mean we can't discover the basis for these through introspection, then yes. But we can observe the masses of humanity to discover them.

This touches on an issue in the teaching of computer science that I fought a years long battle with my department about (I lost) concerning teaching students only one programming language. This is that mono-languaged students cannot distinguish which features of computer languages are determined and which are arbitrary if they have only one example. Just like OJ, these students would view the system / language as either wholey determined or wholey arbitrary, when in fact some parts were determined and others arbitrary. It is the idea that human beings, a system far more complex than any computer language, is composed entirely of biologically determined elements (Skinner) or completely blank slate (OJ, other leftists) that I find moronic.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2006 9:19 AM

AOG:

Yes, you don't see why because your belief is biologically determined, so you assume that what you believe is true while whast others believe is a mere fiunction of nature. It's a very flattering theory and one of the tools Darwinism uses to sell itself to the credulous.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 9:29 AM

No. I don't believe that any specific belief that any person holds is biologically determined. I don't assume that what I believe is true and what others believe is a mere function of nature. I have not made any such claims nor supported such claims by others. You ascribe such to me, but it's completely wrong. You have yet to provide a single quote by me or anyone else making that claim. I suppose you just have faith that others believe it, making their actual statements or beliefs irrelevant.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2006 2:21 PM

So you disagree with Dennett that "religious devotion is a function of biology" and your entire argument has been pointless?

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 2:39 PM

My argument has always been a counter-argument, not support for Dennet, as I mentioned early on.

As for my personal view of the matter, religious devotion being biologially determined, I find that theory plausible but not strongly supported. Clearly human biology pre-disposes humans to religious experience, but devotion is possibly a bit too high up the abstraction scale to be biology based. If I were forced to have an opinion, I would go with "not". However, one doesn't defeat a broken theory with an even more broken theory.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2006 5:12 PM

AOG:

So now you're back to agreeing with him that we are biologically determined but then cherry-picking the stuff you don't want to think is?

Well, if it works for you and incoherence is no bar....

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 5:33 PM

Humans have a biologically determined propensity to form explanations and beliefs.

Given our profound ignorance, and that propensity, the consequence is supernatural explanations to fill the gap between the knowledge of causes and effects.

Religious devotion in and of itself is not biologically determined, but rather is an emergent property of a brain sufficiently complex to form explanations and beliefs.

Presuming it is biologically determined is astonishingly simplistic.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2006 7:23 PM

Jeff:

Yes, that's the superstition that your own biology determined. Sadly it's both incoherent rationally and terminal in reality.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 7:28 PM

Mr. Judd;

No, you're back to rewriting my claims to suit your argument, which is at least consistent. I'm confident that everyone else has figured out the criteria I'm using, as opposed to "cherry picking". If you honestly can't see a difference between "language use" and "writing a comment on this weblog" that is more than personal whim, I am clearly unable to explain it to you.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2006 7:49 PM

"the use of language by humans is biologically determined"

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 8:14 PM

OJ:

The computer your are using has an inherent capacity to perform certain functions.

Spreadsheets, or weblogs, are emergent properties of that capacity, none of which were determined ahead of time.

Unless, of course, you intend to argue that they, and every other possible function a computer might perform, are built into the computer's CPU.

Which is precisely what you are arguing with respect to the brain.

AOG:

I need not bother here; you have made the argument succinctly and comprehensively.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2006 8:19 PM

No, they aren't, they're a product of deliberate intelligent design. You can never get your own analogy roight can you? Every time you set out to prove random nature you demonstrate dependence on intelligence.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 8:33 PM

OJ:

There are three reasons I picked that analogy.

First, it illustrates your argument's fallacy perfectly. (Although AOG already did an excellent job of that)

Second, the human brain's, or computer's, provenance is completely distinct from its capabilities. Just like a tautology and a feedback loop are entirely different.

And third, my argument had nothing to do with random nature.

Boy, are you ever predictable.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 23, 2006 10:12 PM

Jeff:

Well, I certainly agree with you that the human mind resembles a computer--both are intelligently, rather than biologically, determined.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 10:32 PM

Use of language: biologically determined.
Use of English: culturally determined.
Use of this weblog: free will.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 23, 2006 10:43 PM

Use of language: Divinely determined.

Use of English: determined by Anglo-Christian Empire

Use of this weblog: biologically determined.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2006 10:46 PM

AOG: Is there a question pending for me?

Posted by: David Cohen at January 24, 2006 12:45 AM

Use of language: comes to a dead stop in the face of damage to Broca's area -- biologically determined.

Use of language: severely compromised in the face of a mutation in the FOXP4 gene -- mutation making it exactly like its chimpanzee counterpart, BTW -- biologically determined.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 4:18 AM

Dennett is claiming that there is a biological tendency towards supernatural or religious belief. Not that each and every religious-related action is determined by one's genes.

In other words, it is not determined that devout Christian Fred will pray for the soul of his Auntie Doris on Tuesday.

But it is more than likely than not that if Fred had been adopted at birth by Muslim parents, he would now be devout Muslim Fred. Or in other circumstances he would be devout Jew Fred, or devout pagan Fred etc.

Likewise, Dennett may lack that particular biological tendency. But it was not determined that therefore Dennet should write a book about it.

That distinction is clear enough.

Posted by: Brit at January 24, 2006 6:00 AM

Brit:

Yes, just as you and he believe that only because you're biologically programmed to.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 7:32 AM

Jeff:

Once again, you demonstrate that intelligent beings can give and take the physical power of speech (though the capacity is, of course, God given). You're the most Designing man in town.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 7:42 AM

OJ:

I'm sorry, I didn't realize that Intelligent Beings caused strokes.

Praise the Lord.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 8:13 AM

Jeff:

Haven't you followed any medical story in recent years? Not only our behaviors but many of the drugs/cures we've designed cause strokes.


Again though, we see that your belief in Darwinism is fundamentally theological, because, like Darwin, you hate Creation as it is.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 8:21 AM

Mr. Cohen;

No, I was just hoping to pass the torch on to you. But the root problem is OJ's inability or unwillingness to distinguish levels of human behavior (e.g., speaking English is a higher level activity than use of language because the former is both less abstract than and depends on the latter). He's also being a bit more incoherent than usual (e.g., language use is divinely determined, but not by God) so I doubt that even your rhetorical skills would suffice. But thanks for the thought!

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 24, 2006 9:50 AM

There are no levels, just some things that you believe in that you wish to reclaim fro m mere biology and credit yourself with. The capacity to use language was determined by God, what we do with it is our own intelligent design, but no matter how you slice it there's intelligence, not Biology, behind it.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 9:57 AM

You can't perceive them, therefore they don't exist? Are you now embracing pure empiricism?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 24, 2006 10:46 AM

No, we can't perceive anything. We believe things, including ourselves, exist solely on the basis of faith.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 10:55 AM

OJ:

AOG is right.

Your argument is, ummm, monumental.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 11:19 AM

Jeff:

Of course, you're biologically determined to believe that superstition.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 11:24 AM

"Not only our behaviors but many of the drugs/cures we've designed cause strokes."

Did we design them to cause strokes?

Posted by: creeper at January 24, 2006 12:49 PM

Yes, it's the intelligent design that causes the strokes. You've stumbled into your theological quarrel again, that everything Designed should be perfect, whereas nothing Designed is.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 1:02 PM

OJ:

Its your theological quarrel to invoke design in the place of ignorance.

You are projecting.

And also guilty of Pretentious Capitalization in the first degree.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 2:10 PM

Jeff:

To the contrary, I accept the Design in its entirety and think it Beautiful.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 2:15 PM

It's pretty cool, whether designed or not.

Posted by: creeper at January 24, 2006 2:31 PM

OJ:

I couldn't be happier for you.

Seriously.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 24, 2006 3:16 PM

Fret not, you two, you'll be reconciled too when you grow up.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2006 4:29 PM
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