Re: [asa] Dawkins, religion, and children

From: <>
Date: Wed May 02 2007 - 22:44:26 EDT

very nicely written. One comment on emergent properties: emergent physics does not claim that the emerging properties are free from deterministic law at a lower level; it only claims that we are unable to analyze its connection to those laws. Chaotic systems being exponentially sensitive to their initial conditions appear very nearly singular, but ultimately they are not. We know this because nature had no forethought in figuring out what to do in cases of emergence, and so it could accomplish the emergence only by following some unthinking laws. Therefore the type of laws that we expect in reductionist physics must still exist and must be effective even in cases of emergence. The issue is just epistemic not ontological. Nature is still considered to be fully reducible, though we cannot always do the math. (Of course there are the questions of quantum indeterminism, but even then the emergence is reducible in principle to the statistics.)
So I don't see any hope for atheism to discover emergent meaning in life. At best it may be an illusion because we are epistemically separated from the natural law that brings the illusory sense of meaning into being. But ultimately it is not any real meaning because it is still reducible to brain chemistry and through that to valence shell electromagnetism, and so there is still no escape from despair in a materialist worldview.
I think you implied all this, but I wanted to emphasize that emergence is not really an escape from reductionism, ontologically. Emergence is important for scientists who want to justify their grant proposal (explaining why something complex must be studied even though its reductionist basis is well known), but it is not important in forming a worldview.
-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wed, 2 May 2007 8:50 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Dawkins, religion, and children

I agree with everything you wrote below, Wayne -- & yet, the neat
packaging gives me pause. [no God means no meaning and nothing but
biochemical masses doing what chemicals do... delusions or "truth" all
in one big meaningless pot.] I'm sure atheists aren't taking this
sitting down. In fact, isn't Dennet (I've only read one of his books &
can't even remember which it was) working on resurrecting a notion of
atheism minus the despair? If Christian scientific thinkers can dabble
in kinds of naturalism and speak of "emergent" properties that defy
reductionist analysis, then can't atheists pursue this angle as well and
begin to postulate meaning and purpose in some purely Evolutionary
sense? I think Dennet may be attempting it. The only difference would
probably be that instead of God providing the meaning, it is supposed to
come from "us" -- perhaps at some community level. If they ever seem
successful in this, then it would be in defiance of our inclinations
you/we express below. And we can still insist (and unanswerably so) that
such "meaning" is still illusionary to the extent that it claims an
objective basis. Nevertheless their labor (if taken to be successful)
would begin to deflate the sting of this Christian argument. I still
think that the only final "argument" that we will rest on will be on our
faith in an objective Truth. And utility, such as what may be found at
times or missing at other times, will only be a secondary support built
on that prior foundation of objective truth recognized only by faith.
But we should anticipate how we, as a Christian community, would/will
respond to such "de-objectified" values construction.

--Merv wrote:
> What you are raising is why should the truth even
> matter? Indeed, if there is no objective truth, no
> purpose, an indiscriminate universe ("pitiless" implies
> will), and this material is all that is, we can start
> with the God Delusion, but soon we can see that all
> our desires are also "delusion". Our human desire
> for friendship, fellowship and love are no more
> significant than the Van der Waals interactions
> in graphite or covalent bonding between carbon and
> oxygen. The temptations I struggle to overcome or
> the truth I might desire are all just chemical
> reactions in my brain. As you suggest, we cannot even
> define "pragmatic" as more than a functional definition.
> Likewise for "will", "good", "evil", etc.
> It's not like we cannot go on. One can use some criteria
> such as market efficiency, equal access to information,
> maximizing the chance of survival of the species, etc.,
> if they wish. But these rules are in fact arbitrary. They
> are illusions. Why should I care about them?
> So all the shouting about truth assumes that there is an
> objective truth that actually matters after all. Yet that
> can only come from the hand of God. All others are just
> "delusion".
> In that sense, if objective truth does not matter, then
> in some respects, living in "delusion" also doesn't matter
> either. Like chemical reactions, you just do as you like.
> So coming back to your point, I agree, holding a position
> of a "pitiless universe of mere material" is a choice of
> course. It does not follow that one (who choses this way)
> has some preordained mission to inculcate a particular brand
> of poison (i.e., opinions, values) on anyone else. Coercion
> may be a consequence of chemicals in the brain, but "best result"
> is nothing more than a functional definition (under these
> assumed condition). I'm not sure under these conditions
> that I can ascribe any value to living under delusion,
> because "rational" and "choice" also become mere functional
> definitions, but neither is it wrong to live this way.
> That I believe the truth matters does require an act of faith,
> so I don't see I can escape the faith word. But the logical
> conclusion of the nihilistic strategy is that all will come
> down and that the truth (in fact) doesn't even matter in the
> end.
> By Grace we proceed,
> Wayne

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Received on Wed May 2 22:45:10 2007

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