Are persons irreducible in the cosmos, and are persons irreducibly important?
A workshop on these questions, along with the final project conference, was held 20-27 September 2017 at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
Participants and their abstracts
Ivana Anton Mlinar
Philosophy / Universidad Nacional de Cuyo / Argentina
“Neuroscientific Models of Subjectivity in Check: The Case of Terminal Lucidity”
Does a self exist? What relationship does it have with conscious life and its neuropsychiatric disorders and mechanisms?
The notion of self becomes indeed essential to understand consciousness in its subjectivity and self-identity. Considering the embodied and embedded condition of the self, neuropsychiatric pathologies seem to alter subjectivity and reflect its fragility. However, a minimal self seems to endure, what means that the core of subjectivity remains despite both neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Another challenge for an embodied and interdisciplinary perspective of the self lies in the case of terminal lucidity. The unexpected return of mental clarity and memory shortly before death in patients suffering from severe psychiatric and neurologic disorders is a frequently reported but rare or almost not studied phenomenon. Terminal lucidity has been reported in the medical literature over the past 250 years in patients suffering from brain abscesses, tumors, strokes, meningitis, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and affective disorders.
The recovering of lost memory, cognitive functions and self-identity with a deteriorated brain raises some challenges like:
-The neuroscience of terminal states may be more complex than traditionally thought.
-Seemingly irreversible lost cognitive functions can be somehow regained. More neurologic studies are needed in terminal states.
-How memory and cognitive contents are retained when self-identity and cognitive abilities were lost to be later brought back when the abilities are recovered.
-Subjectivity may have different “mechanisms” to endure and to manifest than the usually assigned by neuroscientific models of normal brains.
Guillermo Barber Soler
Philosophy / Universidad Católica Argentina / Argentina
“Human and divine creativity: a dialogue between philosophy, sciences and religion”
Throughout history, the question of creativity has been one of the most relevant, complex and mysterious problems of human culture, although it has never been an easy one. From myths and theology, to philosophy and empirical sciences, a wide range of disciplines see this as an issue fraught with problems and difficulties, that may even increase when considered from an interdisciplinary perspective. Science tries to understand the way humans create new instruments, new pieces of arts, new customs and institutions; even the problem of evolution has the question of natural creativity involved. Philosophy, on the other hand, is mainly interested in the ontological meaning of the novelty, and the questions it raises to the subject of causality. Concerning humans, creativity is directly related to free will, and to the possibility of humans to forge their own future. Western religions (and theology with it) interprets creativity as one of the main characteristics of God as creator; and, in consequence, as an essential feature of human being as imago Dei. But, does “creativity” mean the same to each of these disciplines? Are they talking about the same phenomenon? Can we build some solid conceptual bridges between those realms? The aim of this paper is, then, to consider these several and different approaches to the matter of creativity in search for possible convergence points, from which to contribute to the dialogue between science, philosophy and religion..
María Beer Vuco
Theology / University of Oxford / UK
“A Critical Engagement with Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos (2012)”
The aim of this paper is to critically engage with Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (2012). In this book Nagel shows in a very original way the limits of a materialist Neo- Darwinian worldview when it comes to explain the relation between us and the cosmos. The place we occupy in the world is so distinct, that although we are partly a product of its evolution, features such as consciousness, cognition and value, cannot be understood only in the mechanistic ways by which organic matter is explained. In this regard, Nagel not only intends to show that the person is irreducible to the cosmos materialistically conceived, but that the whole way we understand the world, as being driven ultimately by purely physical laws, should be revised. Basic principles other than mechanistic, which in its basic forms can be teleological, should not be arbitrary disregarded if an extended explanation of the person-and-cosmos relation is to be achieved. Therefore, I will engage first with the limits of materialism, and then with the possible alternatives that can complement the existing worldview. As a result, an expanded conception of the relation between persons and cosmos would be presented.
Francisco de Assis Mariano
Philosophy / Federal University of Paraiba / Brazil
“Theism and inductive reasoning beyond the big bang”
The aim of this paper is to reformulate the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) as a probabilistic argument for theism based on an inference to the best explanation. First, I will review the KCA and the structure of the probabilistic arguments for theism. Second, by following this structure, I will define the theistic hypothesis as a personal and metaphysical explanation, the atheistic hypothesis as a scientific or naturalistic explanation, and the beginning of the universe as the evidence or phenomena to be explained. Third, I will argue that the theistic hypothesis passes through all of the inductive criteria for being the best explanation: simplicity, explanatory power, and background knowledge. Finally, I will argue that the beginning of the universe actually renders the a posteriori probability of theism as being greater than its negation (the a posteriori probability of atheism).
Lucila María Figueroa Frumento
Philosophy / Universidad Nacional del Sur / Argentina
“Certainty, experience and animality: Wittgenstein’s and McDowell’s conceptions on being in the world”
The following paper proposes an alternative reading of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty from Mind and World, by John McDowell. We will focus on those aspects of their works which we think we need to clarify in order to solve the individual-world relation: the concepts of certainty, animality and experience.
In dealing with the skeptical method some interpretations present certain problems: from a foundationalist picture, we fall into the Myth of the Given: our certainties would be inherited from something unknown which is outside the space of the agent and divides the subject metaphysically in two parts. On the other side, non-foundationalist views leads ourselves to coherentist positions, where our relation with the world seems questioned by the epistemological status: our excercises of spontaneity would run without friction and that kind of risk leaves us without knowing an objective world.
We offer an instance that overcomes these difficulties at making a comparative scheme: we will discuss Wittgenstein’s concepts of experience and animality considering McDowell’s notions of Minimal Empirism and Second Nature. By linking these elements we will help in our reading: we need to clarify how certainties are draw into a normative framework without infringe upon the relation between subject and world.
Juan Fuentes Lickes
Theology / Universidad Mariano Gálvez / Guatemala
“Natural Revelation through the Lens of the Cosmos”
According to the Bible, there are different types of revelation (Hebrews: 1: 1-3). The type of revelation that we can see in the universe and that causes us a sense of wonder and awe is Natural revelation. A way in which God shows us His majesty and power but also there are other lessons that as humans we can learn from the vastness and mightiness of the Cosmos.
The universe is such a magnificent place which has evolved over more than 13.7 billions of years. It contains galaxies, stars, black holes, planets, comets and much more. And yet here we are.So then, where do this leaves us? How should we feel? small? insignificant? lucky? meaningless? This are ideas and emotions that might arise when we compare our existence to the vastness and wonderfulness of the universe.
There some at least three main lessons that we can learn just by observing the universe.The work of our creative God is glorious and there are many aspects of God that we can learn from it. He has revealed outside of the Bible, We just have to look carefully and learn to appreciate the beauty of his wonder and the language in which He speaks.
Biology - Theology / Escola Superior de Teologia / Brazil
“Anthropocentric creation: the cosmos made for inevitable human persons?”
The article to be presented at the workshop aims at relating the arguments for the fine tuning of the universe together with Simon Conway Morris’s ideas of humans as an inevitable consequence of the evolutionary process with the accusations that the Christian Doctrine of Creation provides an anthropocentric and utilitarian account of nature. Such an accusation has been a paradigm in environmental science since the highly influential article by Lynn White in 1967, in which he stated that “we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man”. Our main goal will not be to deeply evaluate the validity or scientific accuracy of those claims (however we will briefly explore if they can be, in fact, considered scientific) but instead we will analyze whether the acceptance of these two arguments (fine tuning and Morris’s idea of “inevitable humans”) in favor of a teleological universe conducive to humanity will or will not necessarily lead to an anthropocentric and utilitarian view of nature or creation. In other words, if Christians believe in such teleology, informed by these ideas stemming from science, does that automatically make them anthropocentric in their view of nature or creation? Besides, can such anthropocentrism be warranted by these ideas and by the Christian doctrine of Creation, or is it possible not to have anthropocentric views even though accepting such conclusions?
Philosophy / CONICET / Argentina
“The building of the Western Paradigm of Reflexivity: The epistemological place of Person”
In Western Classical tradition, the cosmological place of the human person was defined by a metaphysical framework of an ontological hierarchy: human person was in between the Godhead and the mundane creatures. I will argue, however, that there could be another way of thinking the place of human person in the cosmos, not from an ontological but from an epistemological perspective. I intend to show that persona is an operative concept that works within the bio-theo-political paradigm of autarchy, which defines life essentially by its reflexive character, and articulates definitely every analogy concerning what life is: its axial place in the cosmos, hence, is an epistemological one. My ultimate goal, however, is to find a new way, an alternative path, to redefine our concept of life. Instead of defining life by reflexivity, one could stress relationality as its essential feature. Understanding persona from its relational essence would enable other life-paradigm, replacing the use of the prefix autos (self-) by the one of syn (with-). The theological Trinitarian doctrine is still to be examined from this perspective in order to leave aside a substantial idea of the One and autarchic God. God’s life as an inter-personal event could offer a powerful symbol to redefine life (bios) as living together (symbiosis).
Philosophy / Universidad del Rosario / Colombia
“Analogy and human freedom: a tale of science and religion”
In this paper, I intend to investigate whether or not analogical reasoning, understood as part of Mauricio Beuchot’s analogical hermeneutics, can enable a dialogue in scenarios where there seem to be disagreements between religion and the social sciences. To do so, I will concentrate in the conflict between the biblical understanding of man as a created being and the notion of human beings as social constructs. I look to Ian Hacking, according to whom there is a fundamental dispute in social constructivism between nature and freedom, and then examine if analogical reasoning can help to engage the said conflict by enabling us to understand nature and freedom not as opposite alternatives but as complementary features of any anthropological theory. In the last part of the intervention, I will review Philip Hefner’s theory of the created co-creator as a theological anthropology that is structured by analogical reasoning. I argue that Hefner’s theory includes central aspects of the doctrine of creation and underlines the importance of both nature and freedom; such theory is an example of how analogical reasoning can help us to face the challenge mentioned from the beginning, i.e., the need to open a possible theological dialogue with social constructivism.
Computing / UNAM / Mexico
“Can Computable Universe Thesis to Explain the Place of Life and Consiousness in the Physical World?”
Some contemporary world views approach objects and physical laws in terms of information and computation to which they assign ultimate responsibility for the complexity of our world, including responsibility for the complex mechanisms and phenomena such as life. This view is called as Computable Universe by Zenil that roughly claims that “if the world is in fact not a digital computer, it could nevertheless behave like one”. Under this info-computational perspective, scientist study brain, mind and phenomena considered before as unreachable by sciences such as consciousness. Using the view as a tool, it has been possible to make the (correct) assumption that natural environments must have a minimum of algorithmic structure and predictability. But this does not imply that organisms necessarily do things exactly as defines algorithms that we have developed to explain nature. But we have advanced the claim that computational principles also apply to physical, biological, intelligent and conscious systems.
Theology / University of Oxford / UK
“What is it Like to be a Person?”
Philosophy / PUC-RS / Brazil
“From Natural Beauty to God”
I will be exploring the link between the aesthetic experience provided by natural beauty and belief in God. Can natural beauty be, to borrow Eleonore Stump’s phrase, a road to God? Can natural beauty be considered evidence for the existence of a Creator and Designer of the cosmos or perhaps even of the theistic God? Can it confer justification for belief in God or perhaps provide us with knowledge of Him? What can the cognitive science of religion and scientific investigations about the origins of aesthetic experiences tell us about the role that natural beauty can play in the formation of religious beliefs?
I will be examining two non-inferential models of how natural beauty can produce warranted religious beliefs: the one proposed by Alvin Plantinga (according to which natural beauty can activate the cognitive faculty that produces belief in God) and the one put forward by Ryan West and Adam Pelser, who, following William Alston’s model of perceptual belief in God and Stephen Evans’ notion of “natural signs”, attempt to show how we can have “indirect perception” of God through natural beauty.
That the road to God from beauty described by these models has a clear phenomenological component doesn’t mean, however, that good arguments for the existence of God cannot be developed from premises about the beauty that we contemplate around us and in the universe. As a result, I will be exploring the prospects for the formulation of arguments from beauty that parallel the fine-tuning arguments developed by Robin Collins and Richard Swinburne. I will attempt to show how such arguments render the atheistic multiverse hypothesis for the fine-tuning of the universe even more implausible.
Education / Universidade Estadual de Campinas / Brazil
“Analysis of the relationship between science and religion present in high school biology books in Brazil”
This work analyses the treatment given to the relationship between Science and Religion (S/R) in four series of high school Biology textbooks, observing the state of the art of contemporary historiography in the area. The 58 citations evaluated addressed S/R in different ways, but five major problems were identified: 1) The supposed existence of a conflict between S/R based on controversial historical information and contradicting the most recent researches in the area; 2) The non-differentiation between person and institution. Science and religion are usually treated as homogeneous, univocal and personified entities, and this reductionism is harmful to a better understanding of their complexity nature and history; 3) The tendency of enhance science and highlight only the negative aspects of religion; 4) The negative events and misuses of science and biological knowledge (like frauds, bio and chemical weapons, pollution) being attributed to “the human being”, “technological progress”, “the lack of education”, while the laurels on the discovery of antibiotics or vaccines, for example, goes to the account of science and scientists; 5) The metaphysical choice in defining life from chemical, physical, and biological aspects, being presented as proven scientific facts. In view of these results, we conclude that the relationship between S/R has not yet been adequately explored in all the textbooks searched, respecting the complexity that the theme demands. This study intend to pave the way for this field in Brazil, to encourage researchers in the field to also analyses textbooks and motivate the elaboration of possible alternatives to the teaching of this complex subject.
Juan Diego Morales Otero
Philosophy / Universida de Cartagena / Colombia
“Understanding Science and Religion through the Concept of Causation”
The main purpose of the paper is to argue that, on the evidence we have today, there should not be incompatibility between the statements of science and religion, and that they can be understood as complementary endeavors trying to explain different, but necessarily related, aspects or portions of the world. The paper has the following structure. First, I explain why the claim of objectivity in both the sciences and religion must be based on the concept of causation. Then, I give some reasons for the existence of a hierarchy of sciences ranging from quantum physics to psychology, sociology, economics, and politics. Thirdly, I develop an account of the particularity of the religious statements. Finally, I take the traits of goodness and evil from a religious point of view as an example that will help us to illustrate the idea that religion, with the same legitimacy of the physical sciences, can speak of and explain an aspect of reality.
Philosophy / PUC-RS / Brazil
“Fine-Tuning and the Problem of Old Evidence”
The fine-tuning argument is one of the most important arguments for the existence of God. By and large, it relies on two key claims. First, we allegedly have evidence that the fundamental constants of our Cosmos are fine-tuned. More precisely, the proponents of this argument claim that those constants described by laws of physics should be within some narrow range of values in order to allow the emergence of intelligent life. If those fundamental constants were otherwise different to some degree, then the universe would not be life-permitting. Second, apparently it is very improbable that our Cosmos supports life merely by chance. So, it is more probable that our Cosmos is hospitable to life given that there is a God than given that there is no God. In this paper, assuming that the fine-tuning argument is better modeled by using the formal machinery of Bayesian confirmation theory, I examine a problem of great significance against it, the so-called problem of old evidence. In the face of this problem, I survey some potential responses to it by exploring a set of alternative measures of confirmation available in the technical literature, such as the log-ratio measure and the log-likelihood ratio measure. I also discuss some objections against a thesis that the proponents of the fine-tuning argument usually argue for, namely that the proposition that there is a God increases the probability that the universe is life-permitting.
Angélica María Pena Martínez
Philosophy of Science / UNAM / Mexico
“Fourdimensionalism and Personal Identity: A Model for Persistence of Persons”
Four-dimensional theories can be taxonomized into perdurantist and exdurantist theories. On the one hand, perdurantism, holds that objects persist through time in virtue of having temporal parts at different times but never the same temporal part in more than one time. On the other, exdurantism, maintain that objects persist through time in virtue of having temporary counterparts at different times. I want to focus on exdurantism. According to exdurantism ordinary objects are instant temporal stages.
In exdurantism, we need to provide a characterization of the relation that holds between instant temporal stages; that is, a characterization of temporary counterparts. Intuitively, individual persons persist in a diferent “special” way than other kind of objects. So, the problem of answering to the question about the persistence of persons turns into providing an account of the special relation of counterpart for the case of persons.
For this purpose in this paper I argue that this “special relation” must include a psychological touch and defend that the counterpart relation for personal identity must be defined in terms of: 1) psychological continuity; 2) psychological similarity and 3) causal relations.
Semiology / Universidad Abierta Interamericana / Argentina
“From Medieval Signatura Rerum through Modern Pansemiotic Thought to Psychological Conception of the Person as an Irreducible Sign-Mediated Self”
The concept of the universe as a universe of signs has a long history in many traditions and cultures. Particularly in the case of Western thought, the idea of a hidden order, only accessible to those who know about its encryption in signs, can be traced back to the very notion of metaphysical Logos in ancient Greece. There seems to be a drift from medieval conceptions linking man and sign in a cosmos inhabited by signs of all kinds to contemporary varieties of this relationship. The linkage between signs and human kind has undergone two intertwined changes in Western culture. On the one hand, from an onto-anthropological perspective, a transcendent assumption of Natur as a conundrum where all things have an esoteric meaning was replaced by a more epistemological or science-friendly (though not antireligious) version. Current pansemiotic thought considers that the essential structure of the material and spiritual universe, from the lowest layers of life and physical-chemical microframe, implies coding and decoding of any kind (Barbieri, 2015; Koch, 1998). On the other hand, from a psychological-psychoanalytical perspective, the man as individual, namely each man, the person as singularity, has been redefined as the result of determinant meaningful effects from environmental experience. The semiotic side of things and events affects the individual like a conditioning matrix in which the ordering of signs shapes the self endelibly. Put together, both displacements represent a round trip.
Miguel Ángel Romero Ramírez
Philosophy / Universidad Sergio Arboleda / Colombia
“G. K. Chesterton and the wisdom of the cosmos”
The purpose of this article is to show that wisdom, understood as the right judgment about reality according to the supreme causes, is a judgment that begins from a particular attitude towards the world. That is, an experience of wonder and gratitude of man towards the cosmos, as the English philosopher G. K. Chesterton studied it. In fact, the sapiential attitude is supported by the surprising discovery of the intimate union of the cosmos with its Supreme Cause. Thus, the sapiential attitude helps us to find our right place in the cosmos. Because, as Chesterton reminds us, the sapiential attitude involves gratitude which is based on a vision: understanding that the whole cosmos depends on God. Besides, that gratitude is a source of religious and ethical characters.
María Ayelén Sánchez
Philosophy / Universidad Nacional del Sur / Argentina
“Are we essentially different? A normativist approach to think the difference between humans and others beings”
What differentiates human beings from others beings of the world? This question has crossed the whole history of Philosophy from its very beginning. Several answers have been proposed, but we could identified widely two different approaches to this topic. The first one consist of the claim that human beings are nor essentially different from other beings. From this point of view the differences that we can observe between us and others creatures are just a matter of complexity degrees. In this work, I will call this view the “degree-differences-thesis” (DDT). The second approach that can be found in the literature posit that there is something making humans essentially different from the rest of the creatures. Of course discussions arise about what makes us so especial beings, is it our “soul”? Is it our “mind”? Or is It our language? Despite these disagrees, I am going to group the theses that maintain that there is a radical difference between humans and other beings under the denomination of “essential-differences-thesis” (EDT). My aim in this paper is to defend the idea that the distinction between humans persons and others creatures is not just a matter of degree. I will argue for normativism as a very appropriate framework in contemporary philosophy to set out the question about the distinctive feature of human beings and to look for satisfying answers.
Rodrigo Marinho Santos Ribeiro
Philosophy / UFRGS / Brazil
“Does Aquinas’s Fifth Way remain defensible?”
Aquinas’s Fifth Way to demonstrate the existence of God is based upon a particular notion of teleology. This notion differs from others commonly associated with teleological arguments. In the Fifth Way, teleology is not thought as purpose or harmony, but rather as the directedness that beings display in their activities (what I call immanent teleology). Aquinas thought his notion of teleology would apply indistinctively to all natural beings and that the existence of such teleology in unintelligent beings would require the existence of a superior intelligent being, namely God. Some critics of Aquinas’s argument claim that the development of biology and science in general since Aquinas have refuted his teleological premise – especially when one thinks about how evolutionary accounts of biology seem to explain away any need for teleology in order to make sense of biological phenomena. I think these critics are wrong and that the Fifth Way still holds as a defensible argument for the existence of God. In this scenario, I believe the defender of the Fifth Way has two options: first, to offer accounts of irreducible immanent teleology in the biological realm; second, to narrow Aquinas’s premise, claiming simply that at some basic level of reality there has to be irreducible immanent teleology. I also argue that the second option does not disfigure Aquinas’s metaphysical assumptions and is more defensible than the first. Finally, I offer replies to common objections to the Fifth Way and try to integrate my explanations in the bigger picture of the argument, showing how I understand it still remains defensible.
David Villena Saldaña
Philosophy / Universidad Nacional de San Marcos & U. Ruiz de Montoya / Peru
“Persistence problem: Lockeanism and animalism”
The persistence problem in relation to us is usually approached from a point of view that gives priority to psychological continuity. According to this view, which is inspired in an analysis of the “forensic concept” of person made by John Locke, the identity I have with a past or future entity comes from a psychological continuity of remembrances, beliefs, attitudes, and preferences. I am the future being who will inherit these features and the past being from whom I got them. Here the concern is with those problems related to numerical identity understood in diachronic terms. How can a thing be numerically identical to itself over time? How can I, a thing who changes, be the same and conserve my identity? My goal in this paper is to advance an argument against such a viewpoint. In order to do so, I start by defining the notion of identity and showing the problems that arise from the concept of diachronic identity. Since mental events supervene on physical events, those who hold the psychological continuity thesis are compelled to say that, in our case, that of human animals, there is a relation of coincidence, and not of identity, between animal and person. This results in several obstacles for determining which of these two entities I am. Lockeans advance subtle semantic reasons to come to an embarrassing conclusion—they admit that, although the sentence “I am a person” is true whenever I assert it, it is impossible to know who I am.
Universität Innsbruck / Austria
Prof Georg Gasser, Professor Christian Philosophy, University of Innsbruck, Austria. Prof Gasser will discuss philosophical insights into the ontology of the person.
University of Oxford / UK
Prof Ard Louis, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Oxford, UK. Prof Louis will address questions on the science of the small and large cosmos
William E. Carroll
University of Oxford / UK
Prof William E. Carroll, Thomas Aquinas Fellow on Theology and Science, Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, UK. Prof Carroll will engage with issues on cosmology and creation
Universidad Católica de Chile
Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Universidad Católica de Chile, will address questions on the origin of life on Earth and the search for life on other planets, as well as the biological notion of life.
Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion
Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, at the University of Oxford, and Director of the project Science, Philosophy and Theology in Latin America.
Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion
Research Fellow at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, University of Oxford, and co-Director of the project Science, Philosophy and Theology in Latin America.