Re: MD Philosophy and Theology

From: Scott R (
Date: Thu Apr 03 2003 - 02:37:16 BST

  • Next message: Scott R: "Re: MD Mysticism and the appearance/reality distinction"


    Rick wrote to Sam:
    > I think Scott R. was doing the same thing when he wrote: "The we
    > say that Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are theologians, since they
    > assume materialism, and then try to make sense of the world, just as a
    > Christian theologian assumes that God exists and that Jesus revealed God,
    > and then try to make sense of the world." The analogy is false. Dawkins
    > doesn't "assume" materialism the same way a Christian assumes god exists.

    Here's a quote from Daniel Dennett (from Brainstorms), which at first glance
    seems to support what you say:

    "Darwin explains a world of final causes and teleological laws with a
    principle that is, to be sure, mechanistic but -- more fundamentally --
    utterly independent of 'meaning' or 'purpose'. It assumes a world that is
    *absurd* in the existentialist's sense of the term: not ludicrous but
    pointless, and this assumption is a necessary condition of any
    non-question-begging account of *purpose*. Whether we can imagine a
    *non*-mechanistic but also non-question-begging principle for explaining
    design in the biological world is doubtful; it is tempting to see the
    commitment to non-question-begging accounts here as tantamount to a
    commitment to to mechanistic materialism, but the priority of these
    commitments is clear. It is not that one's prior prejudice in favor of
    materialism gives one reason to accept Darwin's principle because it is
    materialistic, but rather that one's prior acknowledgement of the constraint
    against begging the question gives one *reason to adopt materialism*, once
    one sees that Darwin's non-question-begging account of design or purpose in
    nature is materialistic. One argues: Darwin's materialistic theory may not
    be the only non-question-begging theory of these matters, but it is one such
    theory, and the only one we have found, which is quite a good reason for
    espousing materialism." [emphases his]

    However, this passage contains two minor fallacies and a major fallacy. The
    first minor fallacy is the assumption that Darwin *has* explained purpose in
    the biological world. That is, the theory makes logical sense, so it *could*
    show how what appears to us as purpose in, say, bees seeking honey, could
    arise mechanistically, but it doesn't show that chance and natural selection
    *did* create honey-seeking bees, and in particular how the immense
    improbabilities involved have been resolved. The second minor fallacy is
    that Darwinism does nothing to explain what might be called our own sense of
    what we call our purposeful behavior. That is, even if one accepts that
    Darwinism explains purposeful behavior in the biological realm, it doesn't
    do so in the human (social and intellectual) realm (see my post of Jan. 10
    of why I think there cannot be a mechanistic explanation of awareness, which
    would make Darwinism irrelevant in the biological sphere as well.)

    But it is the major fallacy that is most to the point. It is the assumption
    made by Dennett that it is purpose that is to be explained, and of course
    that an explanation consists of finding mechanistic underpinnings. Yet
    purpose (or anything else mental) is that which we are most familiar with.
    We see it everywhere, and know it in ourselves. Yet for some reason (rather,
    a very particular reason, namely that materialism demands it), Dennett
    thinks that it is that which needs explaining. See also his book
    "Consciousness Explained" (which fails to do so). Why does he assume that
    consciousness needs explaining? Because he *assumes* that the universe is
    basically non-conscious (In fact, the book is primarily addressed to other
    materialists like John Searle and Thomas Nagel who, in Dennett's opinion,
    are engaged in crypto-dualism. He doesn't even bother to consider
    non-materialist viewpoints.)

    > Dawkins *deduces* materialism from evidence. It is a hypothesis he
    > against real world experience; his hypotheses change over time to adapt
    > new evidence and new experiences; they are written in pencil.

    A side point, but not entirely irrelevant: One never deduces a hypothesis,
    one only makes deductions from a hypothesis (see my remarks on Peirce's
    'abduction'). The possible relevance is that hypothesis-formation is itself
    unexplainable from a materialist perspective.

    . If a better
    > theory came along that explained all of Dawkins observations and evidence
    > better than materialism, he would drop it like a bad habit.

    I actually doubt this (short of the evidence being God parting the sky and
    announcing his reality -- or would Dawkins explain it away as a mass
    hallucination :-). A materialist is more likely to ignore evidence that puts
    materialism into question. I should know. For 20 years of my adult life I
    was an agnostic (meaning, de facto, an atheist), and never bothered to look
    into evidence that would contradict materialism. It is not hard to do, since
    it is all anecdotal, and no doubt much of it is fraudulent or delusional. Of
    the rest, the question is whether one believes the messenger or not. If one
    is a materialist, one won't, while if one is a New Ager one believes too
    much. So modern theologians steer well clear of this evidence, and no longer
    argue from miracles. .

      The Christian
    > theologian, on the other hand, begins with the conclusion that god exists
    > and Jesus revealed god (neither of which are provable),

    Nor is any metaphysical stance.

     and then tries to
    > arrange the rest of his views of reality such that he never has to give up
    > this original premise (or so it often seems to me). Most religious
    > is brittle by definition.

    Not since believers learned to distinguish between literal readings of
    scripture and metaphorical, and have recognized that questions that science
    can answer *should* be answered by science, not religion. Theologians have
    learned to focus on questions that science cannot answer, like morality, and
    meaning, and what phrases like "God exists" or "Jesus revealed god" amount
    to. There are of course theologians and many believers who still take the
    Bible literally, but no mainstream one does. There are even theologians (the
    God is Dead school) who reject the concept of God (whether they should still
    be called theologians is of course debatable).

      I know you see religion very differently, but
    > from what you've written I don't see any real parallel between your views
    > Christianity and those of the average Christian, who tends to like his
    > taken literally.

    Doubtful. Many do, but the Catholic Church and all mainstream Protestant
    groups no longer do. The fundamentalists just get all the press.

    I should add at this point that I am not a practicing Christian, nor do I
    agree all that much with mainstream Christian theology (I object to its
    theism, mainly.) But I have read enough to see that the modern, non-fundie
    Christian theologian is in fact more careful to make his or her assumptions
    clear, and to spend more effort to avoid mistakes in reasoning than most
    others. The reason for this is pretty obvious. Since the intellectual class
    in the West has for the most part taken a secular stance for granted,
    theologians have a greater need to show evidence of intellectual
    respectability than a secularist. In fact, in my opinion, theologians have
    conceded too much to secular assumptions.

    - Scott

    MOQ.ORG -
    Mail Archives:
    Aug '98 - Oct '02 -
    Nov '02 Onward -
    MD Queries -

    To unsubscribe from moq_discuss follow the instructions at:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Apr 03 2003 - 02:39:15 BST