Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The end of materialism

I do not have the words to express the utter contempt (user friendly mode "off") that I have for the intellect of anyone who espouses the "truth" of materialism. Said another way, you don't have to be stupid to be a fool. OK, so maybe that's a little harsh. Let me dial it back some here. Maybe these people really are able, in some way, to hold opposing positions in their heads simultaneously and believe both of them. It's kind of like believing at the same time that white is black and black is white and not feeling any sense of unease about it. That's what materialists have to do, as we will see, and some of them are quite adept at this game. I will argue that it is really a fool's game since reason forbids such a move. Oh, you can still do it but count on believing nonsense when you do.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much the default position in "Western" (European and American, not closer to the west coast of the U.S.) universities. Oddly enough, "regular" people, in general, have little or no problem understanding the dual nature (immaterial and material) of the universe. And we are roundly mocked for it. But make someone a cosmologist, evolutionary biologist, or a philosopher of mind, for three examples, and they generally run like lemmings to this ridiculous ontological position. (There are notable exceptions, of course.) Although I am usually loathe to ascribe motives to people I don't personally know (and generally not even then), it seems to me that the big draw to materialism is the obvious one. If all that exists is matter and energy, then there is no God. It's an immediate inference, virtually, from the premise. If all that exists is material, and God is immaterial, then God does not exist. And certainly it makes no sense whatsoever to pay attention to a non-existent Being. How ludicrous would that be? Therefore, we see that the materialist program, which includes neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory in biology, the "landscape" theory in cosmology, moral relativism in ethics, mind/brain identity in philosophy of mind, and the intellectual E bola virus of post-modernism which infects everything that it touches, rises or falls on its fundamental premise.

I don't recall if I've said this out loud or not yet, but for an argument to be persuasive (for me, at least) it must be grounded in First Principles and/or physical laws that explain everything "we" currently know about the material universe. If a conclusion cannot be grounded in this way then it is probably not much of a conclusion. On the other hand, I distinctly remember saying that if we don't start with reason and our data and follow it wherever it goes then we are not being intellectually honest. Keeping that in mind, let's take a coldly rational look at materialism.

The fundamental truth claim of materialism (I use the term somewhat loosely to encompass all flavors of "isms" from physicalism to naturalism that essentially claim that nature, or the physical world, is "all that there is.") is that what is physical is all that exists. In other words, all that is real is matter and energy. It's pretty easy to understand. Even a child can understand it. In fact, children are the original materialists. They don't understand abstract thought until around age 7 or 8. Or so I've been told. Be that as it may, materialism, I believe, is probably the most destructive piece of nonsense the world has ever seen. Much evil has been done in the name of materialism. But rather than rant about that now let me get to the point of this which is to render its landscape a nuclear wasteland, uninhabitable by sane, reasonable minds until the end of time.

In order to expose the irrationality of materialism, we need to further define matter and energy. I think it's reasonable (I checked with a theoretical physicist and this is close enough) to define matter and energy as follows. Matter is extended in space/time and/or has mass and/or has inertia and/or is affected by gravity (so is light) and/or can be converted to energy and/or can be empirically detected. Energy can move and/or heat matter and can be empirically detected. Energy can be used to "do work." I think that is sufficiently basic to get at the essence of it. This definition, as best as I can tell, includes all of the particles of the Standard Model and the four forces (nuclear strong, nuclear weak, electromagnetism, and gravity). So we should be covered for anything and everything that is physical in this universe.

With these definitions we can analyze different "things" and see if we can demonstrate that something that exists, something that is real, is not matter or energy. If we can, then materialism fails. It fails forever. I am going to deliberately insult your intelligence here by dragging you through an obvious example but only to make the ultimate contrast more glaring.

Is a lump of uranium material? Is it matter or energy? Let's ask the relevant questions.
Is it extended in space/time? Yes. (We can see it.)
Does it have mass? Yes. (We can weigh it. I understand that mass is not the same thing as weight.)
Does it have inertia? Yes.
Is it affected by gravity? Yes. (Drop it and see.)
Can it be converted to energy? Yes. (Think nuclear power.)
Can it be empirically detected? Yes. It can be seen and felt. It may smell, too, for all I know.
So we have our answer. A lump of uranium is matter.

Is mathematics material? Is it matter or energy?
Is it extended in space/time? No.
Does mathematics have mass? No.
Does mathematics have inertia? No.
Is mathematics affected by gravity? No.
Can mathematics be converted to energy? No.
Can mathematics be empirically detected? No.
Can mathematics be used to move matter? No.
Can mathematics be used to heat matter? No.

Is mathematics, nonetheless, real? Yes. Therefore, materialism fails.

Let's take another example.
Are the laws of physics material? Are they matter or energy?
Are they extended in space/time? No.
Do they have mass? No.
Do they have inertia? No.
Are they affected by gravity? No.
Can they be converted to energy? No.
Can they be empirically detected? Actually, this is an interesting question. But upon further reflection we will realize that the laws of physics are discovered, or identified, by our minds. They cannot be touched, seen, heard, tasted, or smelled.
Can they be used to move matter? No.
Can they be used to heat matter? No.
Are the laws of physics real? Yes. (Jump off a roof if you don't think so. Or hit your thumb with a hammer. Either experiment should do the trick for you.) Therefore, materialism fails.

Here a few other things you can run by these questions. I've made this very user friendly so even a materialist can do it.

Information. Is it matter or energy? No. Is it real? Please.
Love. Minds. The rules of golf. The rules of anything from canasta to economics to weight loss. Reason. Justice. Right. Wrong. Design. Purpose. Gross national products. Statistics. I'll leave it to your imagination to come up with other examples. All of these things are clearly NOT matter or energy. Yet they are clearly real. Materialism fails. It fails spectacularly, obviously, and simply. Anyone with a normal mind can understand this.

So what's a materialist to do? Well, they do what any charlatan does. They lie. They confuse. They deflect. They avoid. They deny. For example, they deny the existence of mind. They say that there is no such thing as a mind apart from the brain. This is true. I've read them. They say that there is no such thing as purpose. They say that there is no such thing as good and evil. (Or a moral law.) They say that there is no such thing as design. They say that all of these things are ILLUSIONS. They aren't real. Just to give one example, Richard Dawkins (of "The God Delusion" fame) says that "biology is the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed for a purpose." Thus begins "The Blind Watchmaker." I will devote a full measure of time to Richard but not tonight.

Here's another way of looking at it that's just a bit different but may help. Consider the fact that all things material are governed by the laws of physics. Another way to say this is that all things material can ultimately be explained by recourse to physical law. Material things - laws of physics. Easy enough. But now we can ask if there any real things that the laws of physics cannot explain? If there are, then there are things that are not material, because the laws of physics can explain all things material.

Do the laws of physics have anything to say about 1+1=2? No. They do not. Do the laws of physics have anything to say about the use of nuclear weapons? No. They do not. Do the laws of physics have anything to say about whether a propositional statement is true or not? No. They do not. Do the laws of physics have anything to say about whether I play golf or tennis next weekend? No. They do not. So, you get the drift.

For now, can we agree that the fundamental premise of materialism is false? Utterly and completely FALSE? As you might imagine, this will have serious consequences for other things that they claim to be true.

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