Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

A review of the Dillahunty v. Jones debate, Part 2

In my first post on this debate, I focused on the issues which I had with Matt Dillahunty’s performance in this debate, particularly in the ways in which he responded to Michael Jones’ claims. Matt generally did not deal directly with Jones’ positions, but rather attempted to undermine them on foundational reasons and, unfortunately, I think he missed the mark with his responses.

In this second article on the debate, I intend to discuss the arguments which Michael Jones raises, despite the fact that he does not really get much time to discuss their nuances directly in the particular debate. His arguments are interesting and different than the usual rehashing of the Kalam or Fine-Tuning or Anselm’s Ontological arguments. That, alone, is often more than enough to grab my attention. After having been interested in apologetics for 20 years prior to being an outspoken atheist for another 10 years, it’s a rare thing, indeed, to be presented with an entirely unfamiliar argument for the existence of God.

Before diving into the meat of his argument, Michael Jones defines precisely what it is that he means by the term “God” as he will be using it in the debate. For the purpose of Jones’ argument, he defines “God” as “a necessary and immaterial mind that created the universe (space-time).” As I mentioned in Part 1, Matt took issue with this attempt to define “God” in a manner which does not encapsulate all of the properties of the deity in which Jones actually professes belief. This is a poor objection, in my opinion. If I were teaching a geometry class, I might define a circle as “the set of all points equidistant from a central point.” It would be silly for someone to object that my definition doesn’t include anything at all about \pi or arcs or angles or even roundness. These are all properties which emerge out of the definition of a circle given the axioms of Euclidean geometry. Similarly, it is quite likely that Michael Jones believes an exploration of the entity described by his definition will yield the further properties ascribed to the deity in which he actually professes faith.

With that said, I do have one niggling concern with the definition which Jones presents. It’s not necessarily problematic, if Jones’ argumentation remains consistent, but it does present an easy gateway into Equivocation Fallacies. My concern is with the final part of the definition, when Jones refers to “the universe (space-time).” That parenthetical is what catches my attention. It is true that the word “universe” is often used by physicists as a means of discussing the particular space-time which we observe. The problem is that this is decidedly not what philosophers and metaphysicians usually mean when they say universe. These latter thinkers tend to use the word “universe” to mean “all physical things which exist.” Believe it or not, these are not necessarily equivalent concepts. Depending on the model of physics being discussed, there may be quite a number of entities which are physical but which are not a part of our– or any– given space-time. An easy example would be a Multiverse which comprises a panoply of space-time manifolds. Such a Multiverse would most certainly be physical, despite not being included in any space-time.

So, if Jones is consistent in using “universe” to simply describe space-time then there will be no issue. However, if he jumps from meaning “space-time” to meaning “all physical things which exist,” then he’ll be committing an Equivocation Fallacy. For my part, and to help ease confusion, in this article I will use the word “universe” to mean “space-time,” as Jones seems to intend. When I want to discuss “all physical things which exist,” I will instead use the word “cosmos.”

Moving on, Jones begins to discuss his actual arguments. He starts with what he calls “The Emergent Universe Argument.” Basically, this argument claims that space-time– which, again, is what Jones means by the “universe” term– is not fundamental to reality but is, instead, an emergent property of Quantum Field Theory. He is entirely correct to note that there is a growing body of evidence and a growing belief among physicists that the universe is a byproduct of quantum fields. I will be more than happy to grant this premise. Though this is not really settled physics, I actually agree that this notion currently does a better job of describing the universe as we know it than does the contrary.

Jones then asks a very important question: “From what does the universe emerge from [sic] and how does this relate to God?” Remember, again, that Jones has defined “God” to here mean “a necessary and immaterial mind which created the universe (space-time).” He states that the universe emerges from the wave function of the universe. Though he neglects to mention it, he particularly means that space-time emerges from the wave function of the universe as it evolves according to quantum mechanics.

Again, so far, so good.

Jones then says that quantum mechanics has been shown to parallel mental thought processes and cites a fascinating paper by Diederik Aerts called “Quantum structure in cognition” which makes a case that the formalism used for quantum mechanics can be used in order to describe human cognitive thought. However, he makes a mistake when he continues by saying that “our inner world of consciousness and mind can be modeled via quantum processes” and thereby conflates quantum processes as being equivalent to cognition. The mathematical formalism which we use to describe quantum processes is not, itself, those quantum processes. Aerts uses the formalism to describe cognition, not the quantum processes themselves.

Here’s an example from basic geometry. I can use a simple bit of mathematical formalism to describe the area of a triangle: A=\frac{1}{2}ab. When a is the height of the triangle and b is the length of its base, this works out to give me the area of the triangle exactly, every time. Of course, I can utilize that exact same formalism to describe the area of a circle: A=\frac{1}{2}ab. When a is the radius of the circle and b is the circumference of the circle, this works out to give me the area of the circle exactly, every time. Of course, no one in their right mind would then claim that triangles are circles as a result of this shared formalism.


Equivalent mathematical formalism does not imply wholesale equivalence.

Jones compounds this mistake when he then cites an article by Vazza and Feletti entitled, “The Strange Similarity of Neuron and Galaxy Networks” and claims that it lends weight to his position. There are a few problems with this. The first red flag is that Vazza and Feletti’s article does not come from a peer-reviewed, well-respected academic journal; but rather from a web magazine for a generic audience. However, far more problematic is that Vazza and Feletti do not discuss the formalism of quantum mechanics, at all, and indeed are describing neurons and galaxies– both types of objects which, despite their incredible disparity in size, are decidedly macroscopic. This article has nothing to do with quantum mechanics as a description of mind and it certainly cannot be cited to support the claim that quantum processes are actually equivalent to a mind.

Jones then attempts to sum his whole Emergent Universe Argument syllogistically as follows:

  • (P1) Emergent universes exist in either a computer or a mind.
  • (P2) The universe is an emergent universe.
  • (P3) An emergent universe on a computer must still ultimately emerge from a mind.
  • (P4) Therefore, the universe must emerge from a mind.
  • (P5) This mind is what we call God.
  • (C) Therefore, God exists.

Phrased this way, Jones’ argument becomes rather strange. Why did computers suddenly appear in the argument? Jones has not mentioned computers at all throughout his discussion. They seem to be entirely extraneous and only serve to confuse things. Since he introduces them only to dismiss them two steps later, I’m just going to reformulate his argument in a manner which omits them, entirely, and strives for a bit more clarity while still being true to his argument:

  • (P1) Emergent universes emerge from a mind.
  • (P2) The universe is an emergent universe.
  • (C1) Therefore, the universe emerges from a mind.
  • (P3) This mind is what we call God.
  • (C2) Therefore, God exists.

Stated in this manner, I think it is already clear that I object to Premise 1. I see no reason to think that emergent universes emerge from a mind. However, I also think that Premise 3 is in error, as well. Remember, again, that Jones’ definition for God is “a necessary, immaterial mind which created the universe (space-time).” Firstly, one can very easily argue that “emergence” and “creation” are most certainly not synonyms. Secondly, this argument demonstrates neither the necessity nor the immateriality of the mind which it labels as “God.” Even if Premise 1 was not completely dubious, Premise 3 is certainly unjustified.

Jones then moves on to what he calls the “Cosmic Consciousness Argument.” In contrast to his description of the Emergent Universe Argument, Jones leads his discussion of the CCA with a syllogistic form:

  • (P1) Contingent minds either have a personal or a natural explanation.
  • (P2) Quantum mechanics and other fields of science imply the natural universe is emergent from information processing in consciousness.
  • (C1) The natural universe cannot be the explanation of contingent minds.
  • (P3) The explanation of the existence of conscious minds is personal.
  • (P4) This personal source is what we call God.
  • (C2) Therefore, God exists.

The first premise of this argument, at first glance, seems very familiar to many people who have spent time engaging with philosophy; however, there’s a rather large problem with it, as formulated particularly by Jones. Later on in the discussion with Matt, Jones will rightly deny that he has ever used the term “supernatural” to describe anything in his arguments and that he has no way of distinguishing natural from not natural. So what are we supposed to take (P1) to mean? If “personal” and “natural” are not taken to be mutually exclusive then why even mention the both of them? However, if they are meant to be mutually exclusive then Jones contradicts himself later when he says that he cannot distinguish the non-natural.

Furthermore, later on Jones will explicitly state that he is not a Substance Dualist which means that there is no real difference between “personal” and “natural” on his view. Again, if these are not mutually exclusive concepts then his first premise seems entirely irrelevant. It’d be like saying an oak is either a plant or a tree. In strict, Boolean logic this is absolutely a true statement; but it’s rather awkward and clumsy in everyday speech.

The second premise, however, is what I truly find to be curious in this argument. Though it seems Jones is confident that his CCA serves only to bolster his earlier EUA, this premise is actually entirely incompatible with the ideas behind his Emergent Universe Argument.

Allow me to explain. Jones seems to be taking a Copenhagen approach to the foundations of quantum physics. If you are not familiar with this, there are quite a number of fantastic resources available on the Internet to help describe it. For the purposes of our discussion, though, we can sift the concept down to a few important things. On the Copenhagen approach, the quantum wave function of a system collapses, becoming a Classical (non-quantum) physical state, when that system is measured by an observer. If you are now asking yourself what is meant by a “measurement” and and by an “observer,” then congratulations: you’ve stumble upon one of the most imposing questions in the philosophy of science of the past 100 years.

The Solvay Conference, probably the most intelligent picture ever taken, 1927 (2)

The attendees of the Solvay Conference, 1927, which spearheaded quantum physics.

Jones’ particular stance is that an “observer” must be a conscious mind. This is in opposition to other approaches in which an “observer” can be pretty much any physical object. This is where the incompatibility between Jones’ EUA and CCA arises. Remember that according to Jones’ EUA, the quantum state, itself, is a mind. However, in the CCA, he says that a mind must observe an object which is in a quantum state in order for the universe to emerge.

So, either there is some non-quantum state mind which observes the quantum state mind in order for the universe to emerge, leading to two entirely different entities both being called “God” by Jones; or else the quantum state mind observes itself in order for the universe to emerge. However, if the quantum state mind observes itself, then we should never see any quantum states at all, because the whole wave function of the universe would already have collapsed. Neither of these cases bodes well for Jones’ arguments.

Moving on to (P2), Jones again tries to cite a number of results from quantum physics which he believes are in support of his idea that a conscious mind is necessary for the universe to emerge from quantum mechanics. Unfortunately for Jones, not a single one of them actually does have such an implication. It is entirely possible to take a view of Quantum Mechanics which does not require a conscious mind to explain interaction-free measurement, delayed choice quantum erasers, the violation of the Leggett inequalities, and the confirmation of the Kochen-Specker theorem. In fact, quite a number of physicists do take such views, including some of those Jones himself cites!

Given my objections to (P1) and (P2) it should be obvious that I do not believe that either (C1) or (P3) are true; so we will skip right ahead to (P4). And, yet again, Jones seems to have forgotten his own definition for God. Even if we grant the earlier premises Jones’ Cosmic Consciousness Argument does nothing at all to establish that the personal explanation for contingent minds is itself a mind, nor that it is necessary, nor that it is immaterial, nor that it created space-time.

This brings us to Jones’ third argument, which he calls the Introspective Argument. He lays it out in the following form:

  • (P1) The mind exists.
  • (P2) The properties of the mind are not that [sic] which matter can have.
  • (C1) Mind is not reducible to matter.
  • (P3) Substance dualism is unnecessary.
  • (C2) All is mind.

I’ll skip over (P1). I’m sure there’s probably some work of philosophy out there which denies the existence of mind, wholesale, but I don’t think we really need to delve into that sort of thing. Even solipsists will agree that (at least one) mind exists.

The second premise is, however, far more dubious than Jones would like us to believe. The only real support he offers for the claim is that, “So far there is no evidence or theory which can show how consciousness or mental properties can reduce to matter.” However, to claim that we know of no X implies therefore X does not exist is a blatant Argument from Ignorance fallacy. Being ignorant of a manner in which mind can reduce to matter does not mean that it is impossible for mind to reduce to matter.

When Jones continues on to say that all science can do in this regard is to show correlation and not causation, he’s being more than a little disingenuous. For example, one of my common responses to people who claim that the mind cannot be reduced to the physical is to note that physical changes to the brain can very easily result in changes to the mind. Raising the levels of particular chemicals, like dopamine or serotonin, precedes a change in a person’s mood in predictable ways. Damage to the hippocampus strongly correlates to losses in a person’s memory. Depriving the brain of oxygen is invariably followed by a loss of consciousness. Et cetera, et cetera. What Jones is explicitly claiming, here, is that despite the overwhelming correlative evidence it cannot be concluded that those changes in chemicals caused the change in mood; or that the damage to the hippocampus caused memory loss; or that oxygen deprivation caused loss of consciousness. Indeed, Jones is not simply saying that there is no evidence mind can reduce to matter; rather, he’s saying that mind is an entirely invalid topic for scientists to discuss.

Complicating matters even more for Jones is the fact that he is seemingly unaware that this premise, once again, is incompatible with his Emergent Universe Argument. Indeed, this premise stands in direct opposition to the EUA! In describing the EUA, Jones explicitly stated that mind is equivalent to quantum processes– processes which are decidedly physical. However, in the IA, Jones has turned completely around and now claims that mind cannot be equivalent to physical processes. His already failed attempt to cite similarities between galactic and neural networks is even worse, now, since he asserts that neurons don’t actually have anything to do with the operation of the mind. Jones is trying to have his philosophical cake and eat it, too.

Finally, Jones’ Introspective Argument again falls flat in regards to his original definition of God. In fact, the IA doesn’t even mention God, at all– one would have thought Jones would include a (P4) This mind is what we call God and (C3) Therefore, God exists just as he did in the previous two arguments, if only for the sake of symmetry. Of course, even if he had done such a thing, our earlier complaints regarding the necessity and immateriality of such a mind still apply.

I really do appreciate what Jones has attempted to do, here. He is sincerely trying to give the concept of God an investigable definition and to build arguments which then investigate it. Unfortunately, he fails in this endeavor. The arguments which he intends to stand as a cumulative case are, in fact, incompatible with one another. He woefully misunderstands the science which he is attempting to cite in favor of his positions. Worst of all, even if we were to grant every one of his premises and conclusions, we still wouldn’t have established the God discussed in his primary definition.


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One thought on “A review of the Dillahunty v. Jones debate, Part 2

  1. Ψ on said:

    Wow! I was not expecting this article to be so good. Particularly regarding the quantum stuff in the emergent argument.

    Allow me just to add that “emergent” simply means a particle, for example, is a vibration in a field, rather than a totally free point traveling in space. Space itself could also be emergent from the wave function (rather than being fundamental). However, the wave function is still the universe! So, something here is clearly not emergent. Although perhaps he could claim the wave function is merely abstract (just a potentiality) and not a real entity. But it depends on your interpretation. There are dozens of interpretations and many allow the wave function to be actual (or “ontologically real”) rather than potential.

    But the ultimate point is that saying a particle is “emergent” from a field, in this context, has the same metaphysical implications as saying humans are emergent from molecules. In the book “Big Picture”, Sean Carroll explains emergence is just a way of talking about different frames of reference (fine grained and coarse grained views) regarding a system (e.g., when looking from the biologist point of view, we talk about a human body as a bag of chemical reactions, but from the psychologist point of view, the human is a single being with feelings and problems).

    So, I can’t see how weak emergence entails something must come from a mind or a computer.

    Now, to understand why the ‘collapse requires consciousness’ is entirely wrong, just read “Quantum Sense and Non-sense” by physicist Jean Bricmont. He demolished this ridiculous argument popularized by mystics.

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