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Saturday, November 12, 2022

Error ... and Agency

Below is a (lengthy) response I emailed to an online friend. While I haven't included previous emails between us, I think there is enough here to reward your patience in reading it through --


Me: ==… but my main point is that error -- to be more precise: the ability to *recognize* that one has made an error; the ability to correct the error (to the extent possible); and to know that the attempted correction is indeed a correction -- proves that we are agents, proves that "free will" is reality. ==


Kristor: ==That seems right intuitively, but I’m not clear on the argument, so let me try to flesh it out. A stone falling has a final cause, a telos ...== 

I almost never argue in those sorts of terms (nor, you may have noticed, by reference to Scripture, except when Scripture or Christian claims are the immediate point): partly because I'm a simple man; partly because the proponents of the false views I wish to argue against tend to ignore/dismiss those sorts of arguments; partly because the general populace has been noticeably dumbed-down within my own lifetime.  So, I try to argue 1) in terms to which I think most people won't react, "Well, that's over my head" and thus ignore the argument, and 2) in terms that the deniers of "free-will" *claim* to accept.

 Thus, I tend to argue by treating atheistic claims about reality *as though* they were true, and then drawing out the contradictions, either directly within the claim itself or against other statements about reality that we (in general) recognize to be true.

Kristor:  ==Error then is a character only of free acts. From the fact that we apprehend errors, then, it follows that we act.==

I think that's one way to put it, though not the way I would put it.  And, I suspect, most people would find such a formulation confusing. 

I am approaching the argument about the reality for “free-will” in terms of C S Lewis's distinction between "cause-and-effect" and "ground-and-consequent", rather than Aristotle's Four Causes.  To paraphrase Lewis's illustration of the distinction -- "cause-and-effect": the tea kettle is whistling because the fire under the kettle is heating the water, which is to say, it is "exciting" the water molecules, which ... and so on; "ground-and-consequent": the tea kettle is whistling because I wish to make a cup of tea.  Now, while these two explanations are *vastly* different, and don't even begin to touch on the same questions, they are not at all contradictory.

You could say that my general approach is to show that, when it is critically examined, we see that the atheistic view of the nature of reality denies (and must deny) "ground-and-consequent" causation, and agency, altogether, and that we all know these denials to be absurd, and thus we *see* that atheism is itself absurd.

Not that this sort of argument is any more successful than any other sort of argument in getting the typical God-denier to acknowledge the reality that God is. 


In your very first response to my initial note to you in response to your OP thread at The Orthoshpere, you said -- "Yes. What is not an act cannot be an error. The error generated by the Pentium CPU ["floating-point bug"] is such, not to the CPU, but to the user thereof."

I replied -- "Well, in the case of the Pentium CPU "floating point bug", the error was made by the Intel engineers."

I misread you, which is to say, ==>I made an error<== and then some days later, I ==>realized<== that I had made an error: I had initailly misread you (because I was skimming, rather that reading *attentively*) to be saying that the error generated by the buggy Pentium CPU was due to user error, when in fact, you were restating my point that the user, being an agent, might recognize the erroneous result as an error, but that the CPU, being no agent, does not and cannot.

So, my error in comprehending what you wrote, and my later recognition of the error, is just the sort of thing I was getting at in my first email on this topic to you.


Background concepts (and mini-argument) –

We "theists" recognize two general categories of causation: mechanistic (i.e. "cause-and-effect") and agency (i.e. "ground-and-consequent").  Most people, including most God-deniers, will initially agree that these two categories are real, and distinct, and unbridgeable ... until they see where the argument is going. 

From recognition of the unbridgeable distinction between mechanism and agency, I argue that agency cannot "arise" from mechanism -- this is what the God-deniers who haven't denied agency from the start will then deny and this denial can then be shown absurd and thus false -- and thus that agency is, and must be, fundamental to nature of reality. 

==>But, as there is no such thing as 'agency' unless there is an actually existing agent, it follows that *an actually existing agent* is fundamental to the nature of reality.<== 

That is, *we* cannot be agents unless God (who is an agent) is/exists; or put another way: the fact that we *are* agents proves the reality of God and simultaneously proves the falseness of atheism, in all its forms.

On the other hand, *atheism* -- the -ism, in all its forms -- denies, and must deny, true agency.  For, as per the little argument above, to acknowledge the reality of agency is to acknowledge the reality of God.

Some *atheists* will try to posit random causation, or ‘randomness’ as a causation -- and these people will frequently try to subsume agency under 'randomness'.  But, this is absurd, and thus seen to be false.  For, to speak of ‘randomness’ is to speak of “a lack of correlation” between two or more things.  That is, to speak of a “random cause” is to literally speak of a “cause” which is not correlated with its alleged effect – literally, it is to speak of an effect which is not caused by a “cause”, and of a “cause” which does not cause an effect.


So, back to my error and my recognition of the same; and treating the atheistic “explanation” of reality as being true; and pretending for the moment that to speak of a robot as understanding anything isn’t itself absurd; and ignoring the question of why a robot might reread something it had already read and “understood” –

According to Western-style (*) atheism, I am, in the words of Dilbert-creator, Scott Adams, a “meat robot”.  That is, I do what I do, not because I am an agent who freely chooses to do or to not do – for there are no such things as agents and no such thing as ‘agency’ – but because antecedent material/physical states mechanistically and deterministically cause me to do what I do.

So, assuming atheism’s mechanical determinism (whether of East or of West) to be the truth about myself (and ignoring the absurdity of saying that robot can understand anything), it follows that when I reread your email (which I had initially misread and misunderstood), either:

1) I would read it in exactly the same way as I had before; which is to say, I would misread it and misunderstand it exactly as I had before; or:

2) some (unknown) state or states (which states are, according to Western atheism, material/physical in nature) would cause me to read/understand it differently … which might result either in a correct understanding of it or in some *different* misunderstanding of it.  As a side note, the fact that there are more ways to be wrong than to be right implies that some different misunderstanding is more likely than a proper understanding.

But, assuming that some unknown state or states had caused me to read the email differently than I had at first, and assuming that on this rereading I correctly understood the content of the email, how do I *know* that I now correctly understand it?  After all, both my “understanding” of it, and my “knowledge” that I understand it, are due to some prior state or states, such that when I first read it I “understood” it as “this”, and believed myself to be correct, but when I reread it I understood it as “that”, and believed myself to be correct.  Perhaps if I read it a third time, I will understand it as “the other thing”, and will again believe myself to be correct.

Moreover, given atheism’s mechanically deterministic account of my nature, it isn’t even *meaningful* to speak either of me misunderstanding your email initially nor of correctly understanding it now.  Under atheism, effects are mechanically determined by prior states, not by choices, and not by meaning. 

CONCLUSION: Denial of one’s agency logically entails an infinite regress of denial that one *knows* anything.  And this is absurd, and ergo denial of the reality of one’s “free-will” is a false statement about the nature of reality.

On the other hand (as argued above), affirmation of one’s agency logically entails an affirmation of the reality and agency of God, and ergo denial of the reality of God is a false statement about the nature of reality.

It’s quite a conundrum for the God-denier … and explains why they *always* deny the reality of their own agency.

*I* say that I now correctly understand your email – and that I *know* that I correctly understand it – because you  *intended* the words you wrote mean “this” and not “that” and that when I *chose* to attentively read those words, I grasped/comprehended your intent.

But, under atheism, there really is no such thing as intent, there is no such thing as choosing, and there is no such thing as comprehending intent, nor of comprehending anything at all, for these things not only are not material/physical (as required by Western atheism), but also are not mechanically determined either (as required by both Western and Eastern atheism).

ULTIMATE CONCLUSION: Atheism, taken seriously, denies the reality of *everything*.  And this is absurd.  And thus we know that atheism is absurd, and false.  And thus we know that God is.


(*) Western-style atheism denies the reality of the agent-self but acknowledges the reality of the physical/material world.  Thus, Western-style atheism’s denial of agency reduces to materialist/physicalist mechanical determinism.

In contrast, Eastern-style atheism denies not only the reality of the agent-self but also the reality of the physical/material world.  Thus, while Eastern-style atheism’s denial of agency also reduces to mechanical determinism, it does so without the materialist/physicalist element of Western atheism.


EDIT (2020/11/17): 

The above post contains two arguments: 1) that our ability to see-and-correct error proves that we are agents; 2) that our agency proves that God is.  And they are linked because *everything* points to God, the creator-and-sustainer of all-that-is.

When I first started arguing online over 20 years ago that God is, and that we can know this to be true (i.e. we can know that we are not in error on this point), some people told me that I was approaching the question in a van Tillian presuppositional manner.  But, in fact, my approach is the exact opposite of presuppositionalism.

As Kristor frequently points out, the world *is* a world, it is a coherent whole.  That is, the world does not, because it can not, be either self-contradictory or absurd; for if it were, it would not be coherent ... and would not exist at all.   Thus, my argumentation builds on my belief that *all* atheistic arguments and/or assertions can be shown false by first assuming they are true and then drawing out the absurdities.


EDIT (2020/11/20): 

But, as there is no such thing as agency unless there is an actually existing agent, it follows that *an actually existing agent* is fundamental to the nature of reality.

At the risk of appearing boastful, there is a very important concept expressed here.

Some God-deniers -- those who cannot bring themselves to accept atheism's logical entailment that they themselves don't even exist -- are trying to side-step the conundrum by abstracting out some aspect of personhood and positing that abstraction as being co-fundamental with matter to the nature of reality.  For example, the Hot New Thing for this set is 'panpsychism' ("the view that mentality is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world").  Now, no matter which word is used (and whether capitalized or not) -- 'Mind' (the word and capitalization formerly used), 'consciousness' (the word generally used currently), 'mentality' -- these words but refer to one abstraction or another, then reified.  But, there are no such things abstractions unless there is an actually existing mind who can abstract.

There is no such thing as 'Mind' unless there is an actually existing entity who is a mind.

There is no such thing as 'consciousness' unless there is an actually existing entity who is a conscious.

There is no such thing as 'mentality' unless there is an actually existing entity who possesses mentality.

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