Re: Schools and NOMA (was Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Fri Oct 23 2009 - 02:12:44 EDT

Heya Cameron,

Zeroing in on one thing you've written here. Some comments below.

My own example was not a historical one but one drawn from science, or at
> least from the alleged results of science. A certain group of scientists
> (including some psychiatrists, psychologists, evolutionary psychologists,
> anthropologists, neurosurgeons, etc., aided and abetted by some
> philosophers) believes that science is very close to being able to disprove
> the existence of things like "free will" and "the soul", and to prove that
> even the deepest parts of ourselves -- courage, love, altruism, patriotism,
> religious belief, curiosity, the capacity for shame, etc. -- are entirely
> explicable in deterministic terms, and that entities such as "free will" and
> "soul" are metaphysical baggage from the past that have no intellectual
> value for understanding what we really are. Now, as you know, I do not
> accept that these people have proved their case or come anywhere near
> proving it, but many observers think that they have, and it is likely that
> the number of people who think that they have is going to increase.
> Employing "methodological naturalism", which everyone here seems to insist
> is the right method for studying nature, these reductionists have built up
> their case, and I think it's not inconceivable that as time goes on they
> could greatly strengthen that case. And I believe that once that case
> reaches a certain level of strength -- if it ever does so -- it will pose a
> real threat to traditional Christian teaching or religious teaching of any
> kind. In other words, I believe that the NOMA partition would break down at
> that point. I believe that in that case, with respect to one and the same
> object, i.e., human beings, science and religion would be saying two
> incompatible things, and one would be forced to choose which to believe.

Disproving free will and the soul is going to be a tall order, considering
there's been tremendous debate about these things and their particulars
since the beginning of Christianity itself - and when that category expands
to philosophy in general, the question gets even more complicated.
(Compatiblist views on free will, for example.) There are some extremely
varied views of the soul as well, from cartesian dualist to hylomorphic
dualism (where what's specifically immaterial are intellectual operations,
like grasping universals and more abstract thought), etc. I'm sure you're
aware of them - as well as the recent despair on the part of some otherwise
committed "materialists", some of whom suspect that mental properties may be
fundamental to the universe (panpsychism, modern envisioning of neutral
monism, etc) or cannot be understood by us (Colin McGinn and other New
Mysterians) unless "we" become something very different from human (!!!).

In other words: I agree with you that the people you speak of have "far from
proven their case". Where I differ from you is the conclusion that "the
number of people who think they have is going to increase". If anything, I
suspect the opposite - first, I think that psychologists, evolutionary
psychologists, and psychiatrists typically have views that the general
public takes with a grain of salt to say the least. Indeed, the whole field
of psychology has a certain hazy reputation, it seems, even among other
scientists - and aside from a general commitment to not using language and
terminology that is spiritually loaded (other than, at times, to deride a
caricature of it), they typically have some harsh disagreements with each
other. Indeed, in recent years they've quietly expanded the categories of
"naturalism" and even "physicalism" (the latter of which still hasn't
recovered from the first quantum mechanical discoveries) to include
explicitly dualistic views. Witness Galen Strawson referring to panpsychism
- making consciousness a fundamental property of the universe - as "real
materialism". Witness David Chalmers out and out rejecting materialism, and
calling himself - without any noticeable objection from peers, I note - a
"naturalistic dualist". Jaegwon Kim, similar - he thinks qualia and
consciousness are irreducible to the physical, yet I'm sure he'd still
identify as a naturalist. Along those same lines, other philosophers (Edward
Feser comes to mind here) have noted that in recent years "materialist"
philosophers have sought to explain nature in terms of algorithms,
information, etc - and in the process have unknowingly reintroduced a
broadly Aristotilean worldview of formal and final causes, complete with
implicit teleology.

So oddly enough, I'm in the position here of thinking that science has, in
many ways, just gotten progressively worse for naturalists - and that quite
a lot of the "We're right on the verge of disproving the soul and free
will!" claims are not merely bluster, but defensive bluff. Similar to how
it's often claimed that science has been one long march of vindicating
materialist claim after materialist claim for the past few centuries, but
suspiciously absent are the discoveries at the beginning of the 20th century
which blew apart classical materialism, and the resulting modern definition
of 'materialism/physicalism' being so broad as to many times be practically
meaningless. (Note, for example, the seeming popularity of non-reductive
materialism among philosophers, and even many scientists. Then realize that
non-reductive materialism is hard to view as anything but oxymoronic. For an
even simpler example, just watch some materialists try to define what matter

As a matter of fact, Cameron, I'm curious: Isn't your real problem here not
so much that "science is triumphantly claiming area after area for itself"
as much as the fact that naturalists and atheists tend to yell about the
successes of science as part of their unofficial PR machine? In other words,
it's not that science has "disproved the soul", or is "on the verge of
disproving the soul", or even "is anywhere near disproving the soul", but
that some of the more obnoxious (and typically philosophically uninformed)
scientists and (many times, even worse informed of both science and
philosophy) skeptics just plain love to yell "science has disproved the
soul!", and that some naive people may believe that because, hey, they're
scientists! ? And if so, doesn't that have far less to do with ideas like
NOMA specifically, and more to do with the problems of public naivete and
pop science / science journalism?

I mean, to use a comparable example: Is science really on the verge of
creating artificial intelligence that will lead to fully sentient
robot-machines that will start the coming Singularity and lead us into an
age of immortality and space colonization? There are some scientists and
philosophers who think, or at least claim that. But should we really be
talking about possible threats posed to Christianity by the coming
Singularity? Or should we be talking more about the problem of science
journalism and hype?

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Received on Fri Oct 23 02:13:12 2009

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