Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Naturalism and Language

Perhaps this is a little tighter...

My thesis is that any sort of philosophical naturalism that is taken seriously is incapable of explaining language. And since it cannot explain language, it cannot explain information. And since it cannot explain information it cannot explain, or account for, life.

There is no information without language. This is self-evident and undeniable. If you don't think so, try to deny that proposition without using a language.

There is no language without symbols. This is also self-evident and undeniable. Try to communicate information without the use of symbols.

Symbols are characters, or more generally, "things," that represent other things, both material and abstract. The key word here is represent. In any written language, letters  are arranged into words, or terms, to represent things in the universe, whether real or imaginary. Different words have different tasks (noun, verb, etc...) and they are arranged into sentences and phrases using the rules of the language (grammar and syntax) in order to communicate a message (the semantic content) for a purpose (why are you speaking in the first place?). Other languages that rely on signs, clicks, scents, or whatever still have symbols that relate one thing to another. Think of the sign language you may see on the freeway on any given day during rush hour traffic. No words are exchanged, but messages are being communicated.

So how do we account for this "representation" thing? How is it that "cat" can mean a certain kind of mammal? The letters "cat" mean, or represent, or refer to an actual instance of a cat, or cats in general. How does that happen?

If one takes seriously the position of naturalism, or something like naturalism, that nature is all that there is and that this includes only material or physical things, or things that can be described by our best physical theories, then since physical things are all that exist, all things must be explainable by physical theories (or physical laws or physics). A philosopher would say that the natural world is "causally closed." This means that all explanations begin and end in physical laws. There is no place for mind, and certainly no place for Mind, in any explanation of anything. So the naturalist must be able to explain the idea of representation, or symbols, by only using the laws of physics if he wants to explain language and thus information.

I'm not sure that we could even imagine how to do this. In fact, I am sure that we cannot. We can't imagine how physics could explain language because nothing in language has anything to do with sub-atomic particles in energy fields. What equations of quantum physics tell us that "cat" represents a certain kind of mammal? What part of general relativity tells us that "act" ("cat" rearranged) means to do something in one context, something done in another context, and a segment of a play in yet another context? What part of the Standard Model describes this "context"? The laws of physics are themselves "written" in the language of mathematics. But there is no law of physics that says "cat" means a certain kind of mammal. I'm certain. I've checked. Thus, naturalism utterly fails to account for language and therefore information.

So what?

If naturalism fails to account for what must be explained if we are going to explain life, i.e. information, then any naturalistic explanation for life, one that eschews Mind, must be false. After all, if Darwinian evolution, or something like it, is true, it could explain language and information within the constraints of naturalism. But it can't explain language and therefore it can't explain information. Therefore, it is not true. This (modus tollens) is a valid form of argument and the premises are true. Therefore, it is sound and the conclusion is necessarily true. Darwinian evolutionary theory, or whatever comes in its naturalistic place, is false. It is false now. It will always be false. In fact, it cannot be anything but false.

Therefore, we are finished. Naturalism as the basis for any explanation of anything fails because it is logically incoherent. It claims that physics can explain everything but physics can't explain language, or anything else that exists in the abstract. Things like economic laws, or the very laws of physics themselves, or the mathematics in which they are written, for that matter. Therefore, the proponent of naturalism is not being intellectually serious (or honest) when he argues against Mind and mind by using language when his own assumptions, strictly adhered to, not only deny the existence of language but have no hope of ever explaining it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Naturalism and evolution - a preview

If we are going to be intellectually serious about anything we have to remain consistent in our arguments. For example, on the one hand I cannot claim that there is no evil in the universe and on the other hand claim that the presence of evil "proves" that God does not exist. Well, I can, but I am no longer intellectually "serious," am I? With this in mind, I am going to write an essay, maybe a paper (with footnotes and everything) on the subject in the title of this post. This is just an outline.

The background: I was reading a post on the probability of biological information arising by chance (it's zero, to the tenth decimal point :-) and someone was replying that "yes it is." Now, I have the done the math myself a million times, and "NO" it isn't. But as I thought about it I realized that "we" shouldn't even be having this argument in the first place. Here's why...

If naturalism (or materialism, or physicalism, and all of the variations of these "isms") is true, then what does that mean? It means a couple of things. First off it means that all that exists, all that is real, is nature (thus naturalism). This eventually boils down to materialism (all is matter) or physicalism (all is physical) in their various forms. But, the ultimate commitment is to a matter and energy universe that is causally closed. Causally closed means that when we look for the causes of any effects, we will ALWAYS end up at the laws of physics. For example, if someone wanted to figure out how this post made its way onto my blog, ultimately they would have to explain it in terms of general relativity or quantum physics or the Standard Model or whatever. But they would NEVER say that it is because I have a mind and I decided to write and post it. There are a host of implications for this kind of thinking but my target is evolution so the other stuff can wait.

The next thing that we need to understand about "naturalism" is that there is an epistemological aspect to it as well. What that means is we can only know about reality in certain ways. One way, actually, and that is the scientific method. This follows, after all, if everything is material (matter and energy) that means it is detectable by the (empirical) methods of science. And since anything that is abstract cannot be so detected, it must not exist. That is as fine an example of circular reasoning that you could ever hope to see but just ignore it for now and play along with me. I'm going to assume the truth of the naturalist claims and see if they are up to the heavy lifting they'll have to do with regard to explaining life.

Life is information. Or perhaps we should say that information is what distinguishes life from non-life. In any case, if you are going to explain life, you must explain information. This is generally accepted by everybody so I will spend no time in this outline defending that other than to refer anyone who disagrees to Yockey, and Dawkins, for two. Both of whom are on "the other side" yet we agree on this. Life is information.

If life is information, then there must be a language of life. We all know there can be no information without language (think about it) so given this we would expect there to be a language of life. Lo and behold, there is. It's called the genetic code and more recently the genetic language. "The genetic language is a collection of rules and regularities of genetic information coding for genetic texts. It is defined by alphabet, grammar, collection of punctuation marks and regulatory sites, semantics." This is a quote from the abstract of an article I found on PubMed. So no controversy yet.

So now the task of naturalism is to explain the genetic language (or any language, actually) in terms of the laws of physics and only the laws of physics (we remember that they reject the existence of "minds" or "a Mind" that is outside of nature and thus cannot be empirically detected). Is this even possible to do? No. It is not.

All languages have symbols. In English they are the 26 letters of the alphabet, both upper and lower case, the numbers and symbols of mathematics, and punctuation marks. To be a symbol is to represent one thing for another. An eagle is the "symbol" of our nation. The bird represents the nation. (It should be a buzzard, these days.) In the same way, the letters a, c, and t, arranged as "cat" represent a certain kind of mammal and arranged like this "act" mean to do something (a verb) or something done (a noun) or a segment of a play, depending upon the context. So letters represent something, depending upon the conventions of the language, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and so on.

How to explain that "cat" means a certain kind of mammal and "act" means several different things, depending on context, by reference to the laws of physics? It's impossible. The laws of physics are themselves "written" in the universal language of mathematics. But there is no law of physics that says "cat" means a certain kind of mammal. I'm certain. I've checked.

Therefore, we are finished. Naturalism as the basis for any explanation of anything fails because it is logically incoherent. It claims that physics can explain everything but physics can't explain language, or anything else that exists in the abstract, for example, the moral law or economic laws. Therefore, the proponent of naturalism is not being intellectually serious (or honest) when he argues against Mind and mind by using language when his own assumptions, strictly adhered to, not only deny the existence of language but have no hope of explaining language.

Well, this is just a start. But it's everything you need to know in order to trash the intellectual swill known as naturalism, or materialism, or physicalism. Physics cannot account for the representation of symbols for other things and without this there is no language. Without language there is no information. But we have information. Therefore, naturalism fails.

Let's go modus tollens on them. (If P, Q. ~Q. Therefore, ~P.)

If naturalism were true (P), physics could explain the existence of language (Q). But physics cannot explain the existence of language (~Q or not Q). Therefore, naturalism is false (~P or Not P). It cannot be true. It is impossible for it to be true. There is no universe where it could be true. Not even God could make it true. That is, IF the premises are true, and they are. Since, remember, that naturalism claims to explain everything with physics AND we have seen that physics has NOTHING TO SAY about symbols representing other things. We're done here except for the details.