Faceplanting in the Fallacy of Nothing Buttery image

Faceplanting in the Fallacy of Nothing Buttery

I haven’t read Sam Harris’s most recent book Free Will (which is about our lack of it), and to be honest, I doubt I will. But my namesake has, and as usual, he has some feisty and insightful things to say about it:

“In physical terms, we know that every human action can be reduced to a series of impersonal events” (p. 27). What that would be like is a trillion billiard balls rocketing all over an infinite plane of green velvet. If we look closely enough, some of those billiard balls appear to be writing a series of books. One of those books chides Christian billiard balls for bouncing around in the hidebound and superstitious way they do. Heh. Pardon me for not paying stricter attention.
I will no doubt develop this further later, but Harris has faceplanted in the fallacy of nothing buttery. In physical terms, what is there when I make a decision? There is “nothing but” atoms banging around. That is where the fatal step is taken. If the material world is all that is, then you have defined everything else right out of existence – immaterial things like souls and spirit, fairies in the garden, or minds (as opposed to brains). Not only have you exiled all such things, you have also banished a little something called information.
How much does information weigh? What color is it? How many square yards is it? What is its force? Velocity? Can you find it anywhere?
A sign on the wall says “no smoking”. A gentleman lights up a mundungus stogie anyway, and when the proprietor taps him on the shoulder, he defends himself by saying that the sign is “nothing but” paper and ink. He defies anybody to find anything else there. And you know—he can win that argument, but only so long as he is allowed by definition to exclude the only real thing that matters in the discussion. There is nothing but paper and ink if we drastically truncate the discussion in the ways of high silliness.
My paperback Hamlet is “nothing but” paper and ink. My promise at my wedding was “nothing but” disturbances in the air caused by sound waves. Girl with a Pearl Earring is “nothing but” paint and canvas. And my grandchildren are “nothing but” protoplasm. Some of us might be forgiven for thinking that a man shouldn’t dump out everything priceless onto the floor and then argue that all he has is an empty box. His feet are covered with treasures.

Indeed they are. You can read the whole thing here.
Andrew Wilson’s new book, If God Then What? Wondering Aloud about Truth, Origins and Redemption, is out now, published by IVP who are offering a generous discount for readers of this blog.

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