Logicgate: A Scandalous Naturalistic Reply to Darek Barefoot

by Ben Schuldt


The History:

Christian philosopher Victor Reppert tried to advance C. S. Lewis's "argument from reason" (AfR) (found in chapter 3 of "Miracles: A Preliminary Study" in 1947) in his own book called, "C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea" (2003) which was a thematic response to Daniel Dennett's book, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" (1996). Atheist philosopher Richard Carrier mounted a lengthy internet response (in 2004) to Reppert's book, titled "Critical Review of Victor Reppert's Defense of the Argument from Reason." Christian philosopher Darek Barefoot responded (in 2007) to Carrier's internet response with, "A Response to Richard Carrier's Review of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea." To top it all off this entry is a response to Barefoot's response to Carrier. Also, there are over 20 blog posts (from 2005-2008) by various theistic philosophers (including Reppert himself) orbiting that back and forth with commentary which will also be interwoven (or linked to) as is appropriate. I have yet to read "C. S. Lewis as a Philosopher" (2008) which Reppert says contains his own counter critique of Carrier's response.

Apparently the dangerous idea is that scientists in their zeal to explain everything through natural causes somehow forgot to explain scientists. D'oh! Turns out, that's not quite the case as we will see.

The Argument from Reason:

To get right down to it in terms materialists can easily understand, the AfR given by Barefoot and company is basically: "Thoughts are supernatural, therefore naturalism must be false." One can also replace the term "supernatural" with "immaterial" or "magic" and get the same effect. This then is a philosophical Trojan horse that is meant to open the door for the plausibility of other supernatural claims and attempts to provide proof of concept for a Christian god as a non-mechanical mind.

So it's a debate between people who think thoughts are some kind of primordial substance, versus people who think thoughts are mechanical, like a computer. One group takes the sophisticated appearances of mental life, and then says, "this can't be made of atoms"and the other infers that it's not that simple and that appearances are deceiving or illusionary. This gets into all sorts of bizarre tangents. It also appears to be a convenient way for Christians to try to take ownership of the faculty of reason since they historically are assaulted with it and tend to not be able to actually apply it to concluding their worldview with it otherwise. "See, Christians are the true champions of reason after all!" It's kind of like the kid in shop class who can't actually build anything, but wants to get an A because he asserts his father owns all the tools.

So basically even if we produce a fully analogous artificial intelligence that provides all the intimate feedback and evidence any other mind reports, proponents of the AfR are prepared to say that's "knock-off" reason. Robots won't compute with "real" reasons and won't have "real" experiences of their own computations at any level. We're just "representing" the real thing with physical constructs. They think "real" reason is literally immaterial, having no height, width, depth, or location in space.

Advocates of the argument, like Barefoot, apparently expect the progress of neuroscience and computer science to grind to a halt at some point because of the observations in his essay:

The arguments from reason and volition, however, describe an absolute theoretical limit to the adequacy of biological explanations,


...the AfR identifies logical constraints on our understanding of the relevant scientific facts,


We will never understand rationality in terms of particles thoughtlessly going about their business. Whoever believed that we might better understand logical relations between propositions by studying brain chemistry can now be disabused of the error.

Barefoot also goes so far to say that science has demonstrated it:

A paper written in 1977 by two cognitive researchers, Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson, reveals the conceptual limits on scientific analysis of cognition.

At best, Barefoot is just plain wrong about everything critical to this discussion as I will demonstrate.

It should be noted though that Barefoot doesn't necessarily conclude it is the Judeo-Christian god:

...the AfR does not constitute an airtight theistic proof.

Barefoot strongly suggests this to be the case since apparently, in his view, naturalism has some "Herculean" labors to overcome and magical thinking (belief in divine rules) is "infinitely more attractive."

Summary of Barefoot's Views:

Barefoot, deep in his response to Carrier, says:

Confusing a representation and its referent is a fallacy common in magic and superstition, exemplified, for instance, by the voodoo doll.

Barefoot apparently has no trouble accusing other religions of a mere mistake in association, rather than having an unjustified supernatural belief in a force or rule that connects the two. I imagine modern practitioners of voodoo who are just as educated as he is, might be quite offended by his double standard. Carrier agrees:

I cannot personally conceive of any other way any complex function [awareness] could be performed, outside of magic [...] Which is basically, of course, what Reppert wants to conclude.
It is as irritating to the theist, I'm sure, to be stereotypically accused of advocating magic in this day and age as it is for the skeptic to hear someone stereotypically advocating magic in this day and age. Magic is an effect that happens at a sophisticated level for no physically contingent reason. When the fictional character, Harry Potter casts a spell, there is an amazingly sophisticated effect that has no physical cause other than the theater of it. Right? And here, Barefoot doesn't even mean that there are supernatural mechanics on the flip side of reality as we might suppose depending on the genre of magical worldviews. It is literal magic. If thoughts were the result of merely a spiritual machine, then why wouldn't such philosophers be okay with a physical one? Can't you build a house out of bricks or logs? Barefoot is not one to say that the brain is entirely useless skull stuffer as some creationists seem to have no problem with and does apparently accept the functionalism consensus of neuroscience:

The findings of cognitive and neuroscientific research continue to have explanatory value...

Barefoot rejects "computationalism" as too controversial and adding that he knows there is necessarily more to it. He doesn't say there might be more to it or there wouldn't be an argument:

...it is conceptually impossible for science to explain human reason completely in terms of biochemical states.

However, we already have an amazingly complicated brain on hand as Barefoot acknowledges:

By the time we get to an adult human of normal intelligence, we are faced not just with the most complex organ known to science--the human brain--but the most complex integrated system of any known kind.
Reason, volition, intention and a host of other mental attributes are hard core bedrock in his view and he says so repeatedly:

When we describe a sequence of thought as logical, we add an irreducible layer of explanation ...


To acknowledge--as we must--the irreducible phenomena of reason and volition in our own case...

Even though one may wonder why the whole brain isn't all magic or what the point of it being so complicated in the first place would be, apparently Barefoot thinks the brain is just a spiritual modem for getting a signal from the netherworld:

The brain must be like an automated telescope, full of complex gadgetry that allows it to track with precision a point source of radiance far out in the cosmos. As long as the device functions properly, the radiant source floods the internals of the machine with something we might call, for lack of a better term, enlightenment. This nonphysical, psychic energy allow events to occur that would not otherwise, consisting of rational insights and intentional acts. If the gadgetry is interfered with, the supply of this enlightenment is disrupted and these types of events cease to occur.
Barefoot seems to be advocating that all of the physical representation of thought is the tributary of the spiritual mind and even though this hypothesis is probably already falsified by current data (since there'd be no reason for the soul's extremely complicated footprints to interact with each other if it's a one way street), Barefoot doesn't seem to get into why magic thoughts need to physically manifest as even representations in the first place. Strangely enough, Barefoot also seems to concede that he isn't even making an AfR after all:

Programming might be sufficient to explain behavior divorced from experience but not behavior as related to experience. This can only mean that our experience is incompatible with a purely computational or even functional model of mental processes.
So, much like Carrier pointed out that Victor Reppert was really making an argument from consciousness (AfC), Barefoot is apparently really making an argument from experience (AfE). Not sure what the difference necessarily is there. (Reppert responds here). Regardless, this mental magic is primarily justified by experiential appearances.

Barefoot says:

But successions of chemical states and successions of thoughts are too dissimilar in their apparent properties to be held within a single causal context...

He says this without particularly engaging Carrier's observations to the contrary:

...an experience of irreducibility is useless as a guide to the underlying physics.

Indeed. Even if the very concept of immaterial entities was coherent, one wonders how you tell the difference between magical and mechanical thoughts just by having thoughts. Why shouldn't we suspect that perhaps one day robots will be just as "confused" as we are?

Also in the mix are some traditional misconceptions about what it means to live in a naturalistic existence that do not directly relate to the main argument.

The Range of Weaknesses of Barefoot's Case:

At least Barefoot seems willing to shoulder some burden for his claims:

Admittedly, tough questions need to be answered by anyone who proposes that nonphysical, rational processes have physical effects on natural systems such as brains.
However, it seems pretty obvious that even if the AfR advocates are correct, they are in no position to elaborate on anything further there may be to the story. Of course, there doesn't appear to be any more to the story other than prima facie identification.

It should also be pointed out that Barefoot appears to admit we're not even in a position yet to rule out naturalism. He says that nonphysical causation:

...would look like an event for which sufficient physical cause is lacking...


...the increasing complexity of the neural machinery as we move up the scale makes it more difficult to resolve fine-grained processes in such detail as to rule out small and fleeting anomalies that may be occurring.

If we don't know, then we don't know, right? But for some reason that's not what Barefoot concludes. Despite there being no reason in principle that we could not prove this to be the case, he ultimately sides with unfalsifiability, hinging everything on the a-causal things which can only be seen with the mind introspectively (magic on magic action).

Similarly, in regards to the existence of God, Barefoot remains equally unhelpful by saying:

...it cannot be tested as a scientific hypothesis.

*shrug* There's pretty much nothing of substance here (no pun intended) beyond a persistent fallacy of composition and a parade of random supporting fallacies.

On Bias:

Barefoot opens with:

...it is only fair to note that while Carrier is an atheist, I am a Christian. So it is no surprise that we start out on opposite sides of the book's central issue: a naturalistic worldview's compatibility or incompatibility with the existence of our faculty of reason.

Though it may seem like a hallmark of honesty from some perspectives to point out the different biases coming into a debate, far too often I see this as an excuse to unconsciously justify not arguing from an agnostic perspective in order to plausibly be able (in principle) to convince all audiences and not just play unfalsifiable defense against those you disagree with. Indeed, historically Carrier began his journey into Taoism:

...in cultivating the mental life that Taoism taught, I had powerful mystical visions, which only confirmed further that I was on the right track. These ranged from the simple to the fantastic. The simplest and most common was that clarity of an almost drug-like wonder, perceiving everything striking the senses as one, unified whole.

From what I've just described of Barefoot's views, they would or could have been quite on the same page at that time earlier in his life. Carrier concludes:

But I had never stopped my private readings in the sciences, and it did not take long for me to realize that everything I had experienced through Taoism had a natural explanation.

Naturally the evidence can trump the bias factor. I would have to describe former self as one of the most atomistic Christians around, thinking the soul (if anything) might as well just be a spiritual backup drive to translate the pattern of our consciousness to another plane of reality (heaven or hell). I didn't have conceptual issues with physicalism. So it seems that Carrier started out with an alternate religious view compatible with Barefoot's "brain as a telescope to the spirit realm" theory and I started out as a Christian who would probably not have taken Barefoot's arguments very seriously. Bias doesn't necessarily matter if you actively oppose it in yourself. And that mainly just means following your own analogous advice when you criticize the bias in others.

Barefoot can give everyone their obvious present day labels and call it a day, but I expect both sides of an argument to argue as if the audience does not know one way or the other whether (in this case) reason is magic or biological computation. That's only fair. It should be a question mark that has to be justified either way or left alone till we know better...and not just the object of one side or the other's subjective incredulity. If in reality everyone is merely justifying their a-rational side of a mindless tug of war with whatever they think they can get away with, the entire objectivity of the debate is shot from the get go and stalemate is a forgone "conclusion." Perhaps that is not what Barefoot (and company) is doing, but it seems fair enough to bring attention to. I'm just saying that when a Christian feels compelled to say something like that, they appear to be intuitively justifying the fact they won't be arguing fairly (and they'll expect you to be equally unfair as though there is no other way to argue). Carrier definitely agrees with my perspective:

...even without the scientific evidence supporting theories like LeDoux's, and without the Inference to Physicalism, we would still only have agnosticism, not supernaturalism. Hence the demands Reppert has set for himself are far higher than he meets.
Are we allowed to not be sure or aren't we? Hopefully both Barefoot and Reppert are more on this page already than I might intuitively give them credit for right now.

The Range of My Response:

The weakest thesis I will be defending here is that naturalism has not been shown to be in error on any point. The strongest thesis will be that theism in the popular religious sense is false and all the evidence points to naturalism. Carrier has already pioneered this way extensively (making a response hardly necessary to begin with) and I will be mostly connecting those dots back together again in detail. I disagreed with Carrier on two relatively minor points that will be addressed later. Possibly the most important criticism of the Repperts and the Barefoots out there will be that if physicalism is true, they would probably never be able to know it given the confines of their epistemic strategy.

Unaddressed Claims:

Barefoot said in his intro:

That doesn't mean that I find all of Reppert's arguments to be persuasive and all of Carrier's criticisms to be off target.

It should also be noted that Carrier did not attempt to engage every error he saw in Reppert's work:

In this critique I will not address every scientific and philosophic objection one could raise against Reppert's case.

From Reppert's perspective (as he noted on his blog):

Having looked at this piece [Barefoot's response to Carrier] it looks like a serious extension and defense of the AFR, and not simply a chronicling of Carrier's mistakes.

Keeping that in mind I will only try to point out the few things which stood out that perhaps shouldn't have been left out (by Barefoot):

1. Barefoot did not attempt to address the middle ground issue of Pyrrhonic Skepticism (PS) (though Reppert did).

2. On another issue, I'm not sure if Barefoot's silence means that he agrees machines can form inductive conclusions, but he seems to skip the subject entirely and instead focuses on the "problem of induction" as it applies (not just to machines we build apparently), but instead to everyone.

3. Barefoot, like Reppert, does not attempt to discuss "...any non-eliminative materialists on the issue of intentionality (or related subjects)." like the ones Carrier mentioned: "So where are the metaphysical naturalists? Where is Dennett? Field? Millikan?"

I would speculate that we can't get them to interact with them because by definition they believe the converse of their Platonic beliefs is eliminative. Carrier (and myself) are not even on their grid of possibilities. On the one side are all of the most validating theistic wholesome values and traditions and on the other are the nihilistic eliminative amoral fatalists who are slaves to random brain farts and there's nothing in between. That is the straw man they would naturally prefer to refute. They'll admit there is in between, but that in between "makes no sense" to them. Perhaps I am mistaken here, but I tend to run into that a lot on these issues and it may apply here as well. Carrier notes over and over again how Reppert was aware of many of his positions that were unaddressed before the publication of Reppert's book, so apparently Reppert wasn't too concerned and it seems this might be the reason for that.

4. Barefoot did not attempt to explain his theory of magic thoughts in terms of childhood development as Carrier mentioned:

...that process of concept formation takes place relatively slowly as one's global pattern of synaptic weights is gradually reconfigured in response to one's ongoing sensory experience,' hence child development takes fifteen years or so (a fact Reppert's anticipated god-centered theory of mind would have a lot of trouble explaining).

Even if we infer on Barefoot's behalf that the noetic telescope of the brain had not yet achieved a full resolution image of necessary truths (for instance), Barefoot seems to persistently claim introspection is a completely non-physical process and therefore exempt from the loop of the plight of a developing physical "telescope." As is, there should be no reason that children with magic thoughts do not have a firm grasp on all the "technology of reason" (as Carrier puts it) up front. If reason is irreducible bedrock, then how does God "alter it" to make it compatible with our observations?

Conclusion to Overview:

Bizarrely, Barefoot concedes up front that (in response to Carrier's "3. Mindreading" section, I'm guessing):

...different thoughts probably entail distinguishable physical events in the brain that are detectable in principle, even when they do not make an overt difference to behavior. But these are quibbles. [emphasis mine]

Quibbles?! This is much like Carrier noted Reppert did to sympathetic theistic philosopher William Hasker:

Hasker surprised me by making several points identical to mine, such as the fact that Reppert has yet to address a maximally "sensible naturalism" rather than straw men (like eliminative materialists, etc.), the fact that the AfC is not an AfR (see his footnote 6, p. 54), the fact that even Aristotle had responses to Reppert's arguments that Reppert did not consider (p. 57), and the fact that Reppert commits what I call the Possibility Fallacy (p. 61)." "Reppert begins by incorrectly assessing Hasker's criticisms as "quibbles" (p. 77) and thus ignores them... [emphasis mine]

I have yet to see if Hasker happens to condone Carrier's appraisal of the concordance there.

It seems that Barefoot files "...the bulk of his [Carrier's] extensive analysis..." in the "quibbles" category and does not deal with most of the evidence Carrier mentioned that Reppert was criticized for not dealing with. Barefoot tried to claim that Carrier's case against Reppert:

...cannot be salvaged by his [Carrier's] many references to scientific opinions about human cognition, nor by his frequent criticism of Reppert for failing to pay sufficient attention to such information.

Barefoot's own opinions are far too philosophical and since he is well aware and admits for instance that:

A majority of philosophers doubts that mental processes can, without being physical, exert physical influence

He must know that he has quite the uphill battle to wage on many fronts. His attempt to quarantine all such things as irrelevant is futile as our knowledge base continues to expand, infringe on this foothold of theistic incredulity, and would like to have a great deal of say in the matter. One mere conceptual misstep or twist cannot hold back the tidal wave of accumulating evidence forever.

So no, not only do we not find magic on the "outside," but we don't find it on the "inside" either. Naturalists haven't put the box of reality together, scratching their heads, and wondering why there are extra immaterial pieces left over. Barefoot's "...new approach..." that he hoped would "...help to move the discussion forward," turns out to be a slight mutation of magical thinking that merely wants to avoid the evidence and logic in a slightly repackaged. It still fails for basically all the same fallacious reasons Reppert's case failed (which fits with Barefoot's claim Reppert's book was not "deficient"). This I will show.

[more to come!]