Re: [asa] Dawkins, religion, and children

From: Merv <>
Date: Thu May 03 2007 - 08:44:23 EDT

I should own my own copy of Keith's "Perspectives..." so I can refer
back to it. As it is, I remember some of those works seemed to invest
some significance in emergent properties as an answer to reductionist
challenges. Particularly one of the essayists at the end (the
neuro-scientist, I think) was advocating for a type of monism and using
emergent properties as an answer to determinism. This is sloppy and
I'm probably misrepresenting those chapters, but I trust those on this
site who have more freshly read the work will correct me here.
Regarding how we can think of concepts like "soul" and freewill, though,
I remember that that was the direction they were taking. Perhaps they
would agree with you that at root, all these properties are still
answerable to deterministic laws, leaving chaos and quantum difficulties
(impossibilities really) as the known barriers preventing prediction.
But philosophically speaking, the tie back to deterministic laws, then
still leaves us with difficulties in explaining freewill (even just
conceptually -- nobody is talking about proof here.)

Part of what I was trying to get at is the unsatisfactory nature of
propping up our apologetics too strongly on a Christian monopoly of
moral basis. We say that without an objective independent source for
these values (God), there can be no true values at all. That may be
true enough, and nobody will ever prove otherwise. But atheists may be
coming back to that argument with the response: "we don't care about a
non-existent objective basis". We can appeal to morals on a different
Evolutionary level (can't be taken as an ultimate compulsion, of
course, but they are there anyway.) This doesn't remove their own
internal inconsistencies that you have pointed out -- that they so
passionately fight against a religious meme that, after all, according
to their own logic just evolved. But yet they can just as well say that
their passion against religion is also the "newest and next evolution"
that will carry us to the next level of human enlightenment, yada yada.
So, in a sense, they may be building an internally coherent answer to
this charge. This is what I think we need to be thinking about.

--Merv wrote:
> Merv,
> 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.
> Phil
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> To:;
> 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
> <javascript:parent.ComposeTo("", "");> 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 Thu May 3 08:39:49 2007

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