A philosopher friend of mine sent me a most excellent article, a review of an iconoclastic book in the field of neo-Darwisnism.
If the neo-Darwinist Reductionists like [[Richard Dawkins]] are truly the consensus they may fantasize themselves to be, we are in a really sad state of affairs. The self-righteous pontifications against equally subjective alternate viewpoints makes me sick. Their brand of science makes them pretentious, as if the physical model is some objective truth and subjective truth offers us nothing.
I would gladly debate the lot of them, and not just specific arguments but serious contextual errors. Here enters philosophy and metaphysics.
The book in question, “[[Mind and Cosmos]]” by [[Thomas Nagel]], has a bold pronouncement, that “Applied beyond its own usefulness as a scientific methodology, [[materialism]] is, as Nagel suggests, self-evidently absurd.” Nagel outright wishes atheism proves triumphant, but on its own merits, not a body of rationalizations based on fear of religion — which is how he sees the push for an all-inclusive Materialist dogma.
First, I’d like to share a few sweet spots in the article and his book that elucidate the basic problem:
Materialism, then, is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go as far as materialists want it to. It is a premise of science, not a finding. Scientists do their work by assuming that every phenomenon can be reduced to a material, mechanistic cause and by excluding any possibility of nonmaterial explanations. And the materialist assumption works really, really well—in detecting and quantifying things that have a material or mechanistic explanation. Materialism has allowed us to predict and control what happens in nature with astonishing success. The jaw-dropping edifice of modern science, from space probes to nanosurgery, is the result. But the success has gone to the materialists’ heads. From a fruitful method, materialism becomes an axiom: If science can’t quantify something, it doesn’t exist, and so the subjective, unquantifiable, immaterial “manifest image” of our mental life is proved to be an illusion.
” The establishment today, he says, is devoted beyond all reason to a “dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion.” I’m sure Nagel would recoil at the phrase, but Mind and Cosmos is a work of philosophical populism, defending our everyday understanding from the highly implausible worldview of a secular clerisy.”
Science for the purpose of debunking religion is as futile and ignorant as religion’s hijacking of science through things like Creationism and ID.
And this hits the point:
In a dazzling six-part tour de force rebutting Nagel’s critics, the philosopher Edward Feser provided a good analogy to describe the basic materialist error—the attempt to stretch materialism from a working assumption into a comprehensive explanation of the world. Feser suggests a parody of materialist reasoning: “1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has. 2. Therefore we have good reason to think that metal detectors can reveal to us everything that can be revealed” about metallic objects. But of course a metal detector only detects the metallic content of an object; it tells us nothing about its color, size, weight, or shape. In the same way, Feser writes, the methods of “mechanistic science are as successful as they are in predicting and controlling natural phenomena precisely because they focus on only those aspects of nature susceptible to prediction and control.”
And this part is brilliant I think:
“The evolution story leaves the authority of reason in a much weaker position,” he writes. Neo-Darwinism tells us that we have the power of reason because reason was adaptive; it must have helped us survive, back in the day. Yet reason often conflicts with our intuition or our emotion—capacities that must also have been adaptive and essential for survival. Why should we “privilege” one capacity over another when reason and intuition conflict? On its own terms, the scheme of neo-Darwinism gives us no standard by which we should choose one adaptive capacity over the other. And yet neo-Darwinists insist we embrace neo-Darwinism because it conforms to our reason, even though it runs against our intuition. Their defense of reason is unreasonable.
A final caveat though: I accept some of the arguments Nagel rejects and side with the Reductionists. Evolution and material science does (or I am confident will very shortly) account for life from non-life and the development of the CAPACITY of consciousness, or even it’s capitulation as a complex, neural-based perception. The real question is if such a thing can be independent of a “higher brain”, a subject dealt with in my article on the cause and effect of it all.
But at least the author brings out the real problem:
A philosopher doubting a scientist is a rare sight nowadays. With the general decline of the humanities and the success of the physical sciences, the relationship of scientists to philosophers of science has been reversed. As recently as the middle of the last century, philosophers like Bertrand Russell and A.?J. Ayer might feel free to explain to scientists the philosophical implications of what they were doing. Today the power is all on the side of the scientists: One false move and it’s back to your sandbox, philosophy boy.
And so some philosophers have retreated into the same sort of hyperspecialization that has rendered scientists from different subdisciplines practically incapable of communicating with each other. Now these philosophers, practicing what they call “experimental philosophy,” can pride themselves on being just as incomprehensible as scientists. Other philosophers, like Dennett, have turned their field into a handmaiden of science: meekly and gratefully accepting whatever findings the scientists come up with—from brain scans to the Higgs boson—which they then use to demonstrate the superiority of hardheaded science to the airy musings of old-fashioned “armchair philosophy.”
Science is the child of philosophy, and now the child has taken to beating its parents instead of receiving instruction from them that is perhaps more needed than ever. Science is killing the soul of society, an intellectual patricide and genocide. Is this some revenge for the religious Inquisitions against Reason in the past? I think so.
But theology is the other famous child of philosophy. If religion and science can’t get along, we separate them like unruly children, even if together they often produce amazing works, each encouraging the other to new heights and old darknesses dispelled. Instead, each has tried to closet the other in the dark, hoping never to have them show their face again in their individual respective Brave New Worlds.
Ultimately, it was wrong and a hindrance to human progress for religion to thwart science, and equally wrong for science to smack his sibling in reverse fashion. Only philosophy can keep them in line, and when we fail to do so, the only difference between science and theology is who is being burned a the stake. But now my greatest fear is that philosophy itself has been placed upon the pyre.
I can only hope we can move beyond this conceptual extremism. Perhaps we have, as commentators of Nagel suggest, that he “overestimates the importance of materialism, even as a scientific method … Fifty years ago, many philosophers and scientists might have believed that all the sciences were ultimately reducible to physics, but modern science doesn’t work that way.” Time will tell, but the “populist” saber-rattling of the fanatical Materialists will be a threat for some time.
How refreshing to hear a reasoned critique of Dawkins’ highly subjective views, tainted by a narrow view of the sprawling mass of elements that comprise ‘spiritual’ thought (the latter far surpassing notions of unquestioning faith, whatever that term might mean in this context!).
A strong part of me resiles from Dawkins’ reductionism, which takes the flawed and bloody human expression of faith as it core, and substitutes it with what I regard is an equally ‘faith’-based de facto genetic determinism/teleology, which arguably has parallels with early Protestantism’s disavowal of free will as a force in human behaviour – “the genes/God told me to do it”.
I am equally equivocal about both the Marxist espousal of materialism as the sole significant force in human history, and its rejection on the grounds of being a ” methodology alone. The interesting question here is to what extent does human engagement with matter help us create a world that in turn influences perception and behaviour – a form of dialectic if you like.
Regarding quantifiability, it is interesting that the findings of quantum mechanics have apparently had a significant influence on scientific thought and practice, but the ‘uncomfortabl’ bits such as intermediate states of being, a single entity simultaneously having two distinct and apparently contradictory identities (light and the wave/light theory), not to mention the role/influence of the observer in scientific expriment, have not percolated through to general consciousness other than via sci-fi, ie, to all intents and purposes we are still apparently bound by Newtonian certainties (which Einstein himself apparently felt more comfortable with epistomologically).
Regarding the synergy between the ‘new science’ and ‘spritual’ schools of thought, I would recommend:
On Creativity, by David Bohm, which consciously or not, goes some way to positing questions that may help bridge some of the unnecessary false dichotomies revolving around holism as a either a scientific or ‘metaphysical’ phenomenon. As a physicist widely respected in the scientific world, his work might help to temper some of the excesses of the Tao of Physics/Dancing Wu Li Masters/Blackfoot Physics approaches.
Equally rigorous from a philosophical/epistomological perspective is Masao Abe’s Zen and Western Thought, whose title is broadly self-explanatory. Abe is/was a Japanese Zen Buddhist who spent much time in the West, and the book conducts a comparative analysis of the two relevant phenomena.
Related article, one I don’t agree with overall, but has some good points: http://lesswrong.com/lw/4zs/philosophy_a_diseased_discipline/
Not only is ‘religion’ as vague a term as ‘science’, encompassing everything from Wahabist fundamentalism to Zen epistemology, but the Dawkinites, clutching their security blanket of ‘atheism’ either do not know or choose not to acknowledge such a broad camp unlike, say, Masao Abe or David Bohm. On the vexed pre-scientific debate between matter and ‘spirit’ (for which psyche or intellect could probably be substituted), please refer to the history of Gnosticism, and Giovanni Filorama’s book of the same name.