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God Knows • Computers and Intentions • Inside the Chinese Room • To Be Scientific • The Value of Life

God Knows

SIR: Your correspondent Tristan Jones (Philosophy Now Issue 22) quotes C.S. Lewis as maintaining that “God can no more have perfect knowledge of the future than He can make me be simultaneously a man and, say, a teddy bear.” Tristan Jones is here, like C.S. Lewis, forgetting that the God of Christianity (and Islam) is alleged to be not only the creative initiating cause of the existence of the Universe but also the sustaining cause of the existence and behaviour of everything that is in it. From this it follows that He must know what is going to happen since He knows what He is going to make sure will actually happen.

This is clearly stated in Chapter 67 of Book III of the Summa Contra Gentiles by St Thomas Aquinas: “…just as God not only gave being to things when they first began, but is also – as the conserving cause of being – the cause of their being as long as they last…” and even more fully in Chapters 88 and 89.

St Thomas himself referred to a text which he said came from Isaiah Chapter XXVI, Verse 2: “O Lord, Thou hast wrought all our works in us.” He then commented: “So, we receive not only the power of willing from God, but also the operation.” Luther preferred to start from Romans Chapter IX, Verse 18: “Therefore hath He mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” Anyone having any remaining doubts about the implications of Christian (and Islamic) theism should look up the subsequent verses.


SIR: The position taken by my colleague Tristan Jones (Philosophy Now Issue 22) speaks of belief in an Omnipotent, Omniscient God and then adopts the Euclidian Cartesian position “God cannot create a triangle with more than 180 degrees”. This view is not consistent with the Theist position, that ‘for God, all things are possible’.

If God cannot act he is not Omnipotent; if God can act and does not, he is not Good. Tristan Jones’ position is that of the non-realist; i.e. God is an anthropological phenomenon which provides social and psychological benefits to the believer.


SIR: Being an enthusiastic amateur of philosophy I like your magazine. May I suggest that you spend a bit more on advertising? I never heard of yourself until I ran into a copy accidentally in WH Smith’s Swansea. I have hung around discussion groups for many years bemoaning the lack of a magazine for those of us who can’t quite handle Mind but still have inquiring minds.

I regret that the rest of this letter will be in the unwelcome but necessary mode of the nit-picker with regard to Tristan Jones on the subject of CS Lewis’s theological writings. As an admirer of Lewis as well as a supporter of clarity of reference in debate I’d like to point out a few things.

Lewis did not hold at any time the view stated. In fact he held a quite different view of the relationship between God’s omniscience and Free Will, namely that the conflict arises from the attempt of time-bound creatures, ourselves, to understand the point of view of a transcendental being, God. From Eternity there is no problem in observing the whole of time and in arranging matters providentially while respecting Free Will.


Computers and Intentions

SIR: In his answer to Tim Madigan’s question (Philosophy Now, Issue 22 p.33) on the analogy between the mind and a computer, Daniel Dennett leaves out of account the very matter of intentionality which is the subject of his first answer. Computers lack intention and motivation; they do not struggle to maintain their electricity supply nor do they protest when it is switched off.

While computers are good at solving problems in general, minds, like all living things, as Karl Popper was the first to point out, have problems of their own to solve, notably survival.


Inside the Chinese Room

SIR: The argument used by Julian Moore in ‘Cleaning out the Chinese Room’, runs into trouble at a rather early stage. This is where he tries to counter the argument that a computer simulation can never equal the thing it simulates, since even the most perfect simulation of a weather system, for example, cannot create a drop of actual rain. His answer to this is the extraordinary claim that the computer’s simulations of physical reality “are not themselves physical,” and that the manipulation of symbols is not physical, either.

In reality, a computer and everything that happens in it is a system of physical phenomena and nothing else. It comprises a huge number of electric currents being switched on and off. (And when that looks like a rearrangement of symbols, it is only thanks to our minds). The computer simulation is thus always a physical phenomenon, whether the thing it simulates is physical or not. This means that the impossibility of its equalling the physical things it simulates exists despite the fact that they both share a common category, namely being physical. The fact that the simulation is only a symbolic physical form of its object constitutes the impassable barrier between them.

When it is a question of the computer simulating thought, which is not physical, this impossibility is not merely the same, but exists to an even higher power, so to speak, since the object and the simulation do not now even share a common category. One may reasonably speak here of absolute impossibility, therefore. Moreover, even if materialists were to succeed in proving that human thought was in fact physical, the original objection to the computer’s symbolic simulation would still stand.


SIR: This is a response to the article ‘Searle and Chinese Rooms’by Julian Moore, that was published in Issue 22.

What Searle missed in this kind of reasoning is memory. A computer consists, besides programs, of a memory, and memory stores knowledge. Without knowledge about China, the Chinese culture and Chinese people’s behaviour, the Chinese Room cannot respond as an intelligent Chinese person. Knowledge provides the semantics that Searle looked for. With memory, when the Chinese Room gets some input, Searle with the book of rules (CPU and programs) can retrieve the relevant data from the memory, process it and then respond.


To Be Scientific

SIR: Jerry Goodenough’s review of two books on science alludes to a world that arguably never existed. The assumption that the Age of Enlightenment, heralding the progress of science, dispelled superstition and ‘nonsense’is a myth. When Goodenough states that “the popular mind seems to be rejecting sense in favour of nonsense” he sets out to paint a world where all people had embraced the certainty of science with its ‘objective truths’and were blissfully living the life of reason. Indeed they did embrace reason as a means of settling an argument or solving a problem and referred to it when tut tuting a statement or argument that did not make sense to them. However, the popular mind was never a mind that embraced reason. Thousands of years of traditional thinking, religion and superstition cannot be wiped out with just under 200 years of science.

Truth, whether objective or subjective, is inextricably bound up with power, knowledge and wealth. The science world is governed by its discourse, just like any other world.


The Value of Life

SIR: Graham Gault is looking for opinions on “how we should view and deal with human life”. Well, here’s a corker!

Human life is of immeasurable value. Indeed, it’s beyond value. This isn’t because, as in mainstream Christianity etc., man is created in the image of God. It’s because human life is the source of all meaning and value in the world; the very source of ‘world’itself. The best arguments for this ‘humanist’ view (as contrasted with both theistic and non-theistic ‘naturalist’views) are to be found in the much neglected work of F.C.S. Schiller and in the radical empiricism of the sainted William James.


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