Saturday, May 23, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Frankly, I am beginning to wonder if that's an honest question or not. I find it hard to imagine that you have actually read and considered anything I've written. My last post was obviously about ontological naturalism and not about methodological naturalism. I am trying to get you to COMMIT to a point of view, that is to take a stand behind some truth claim, whatever it may be, and BACK IT UP. Presumably with your methodological naturalism or however you would like to do it. But I will give you the benefit of the doubt and give this one last shot.
I do not equate ontological and methodological naturalism. The first is obviously ontological, that is, about what exists and the second is epistemological, that is, about what is true about what exists, including if it does exist. I perfectly understand the difference, as I have previously, and in painful detail, noted. What you apparently fail to grasp, or will not grasp, or will not even think about for more than two seconds so you could have a chance to grasp, are the following:
- There are no privileged truth claims, scientific, religious, or otherwise. This means that EVERY truth claim ultimately stands or falls on reason applied to evidence. I have explained this time and again in this blog. I will not answer it again so don't ask me "why?"
- Ultimately, the only way to know what is true is by the application of reason to evidence. (If you are calling this methodological naturalism then we have a point of agreement. Although that is not what methodological naturalism is, because methodological naturalism doesn't give place to the undeniable and sovereign role of reason in matters of truth.)
- Issues of ontology must be settled epistemologically. If you get the ontology wrong, you are finished in your quest for truth. What exists is a CONCLUSION, not an assumption. Ideally, that conclusion is based on reason and evidence. One is either a materialist/physicalist/naturalist, a dualist, or an idealist. For the record, I am a dualist. I believe that both the material and abstract worlds are "real."
- Ontological naturalism can stamp its feet all it wants but screaming ever louder "there is no God" doesn't make it any less false.
- A commitment to ontological naturalism entails a commitment to methodological naturalism. Ontological naturalism denies the existence of anything that is "outside" of nature. This obviously includes God but less obviously includes souls or minds, mathematics, reason, moral law, economic law, physical law, law of any kind and many other things.
- Do I really need to disabuse you of the notion that ontological naturalism is false? Just in case, I will by means of the following thought experiment. Let's define "nature" as all that exists in space/time. That is about as broad as I can make it so you should have no problem with that definition. I will also assume that it is wrong to be rude to a waiter. If this is true, then it is wrong right now. It is wrong today. Therefore, it must be wrong yesterday, since yesterday was once today. It must be wrong tomorrow, because tomorrow (Thursday) will eventually be "today" (now Wednesday). Therefore, this moral law, which says it's wrong to be rude to waiters, is independent of time. It's also wrong to be rude to waiters in Houston, New York, LA, and in Paris. If there were waiters on the moon, or on Alpha Centauri, it would be wrong to be rude to them there, too. Therefore, this moral law is also independent of location, or space. Therefore, a reasonable person, such as yourself, would deduce that this moral law exists independently, i.e. outside of space and time and therefore exists independently, i.e. outside of nature. Notwithstanding the fact that it also exists THROUGHOUT space and time. Therefore, the idea that nothing exists outside of nature, ontological naturalism, is the biggest crock of bullshit ever foisted upon an unsuspecting and unthinking public. And if being rude to a waiter doesn't do it for you, morally speaking, then substitute holocaust or polluting the environment. I'm sure there is something you think is intrinsically and always wrong.
- A commitment to methodological naturalism (or more accurately, empiricism), while it does not entail ontological naturalism, makes no sense apart from ontological naturalism.
- The role of reason in the search for truth is supreme (argue/reason with me about this point and you will eventually get it).
- Reason leads inexorably to God. This is anathema to ontological naturalism. It may be permitted in some construals of methodological naturalism, but in general, it is not. Reason applied to evidence also leads inexorably to God. If all cats are mammals and Felix is a cat then Felix is a mammal. If everything that begins to exist needs a cause (true by definition) and the universe began to exist (true by reason AND evidence) then the universe needs a cause. Case closed. Now we can discuss the nature of that cause but that a cause is needed is irrefutable.
- There is an inherent dishonesty in naturalism of any stripe. Ontological naturalism is nonsense as shown by its inability to account for anything that matters to human beings. Morality, for one, say, as we saw above.
- Methodological naturalism has pretensions of intellectual respectability but does not explicitly acknowledge the role of reason in the quest for truth. Therefore, when reason inevitably leads to God, as it does, and for good reason, the methodolical naturalists fall back on the idea that reason is now incompetent to conclude about God because that is outside of nature. And once again they demonstrate either their intellectual degeneracy by confusing premise and conclusion or their moral degeneracy by knowingly espousing what they know to be a lie.
- Intellectual integrity means accepting the authority of reason in matters of truth. If you do not have this then I am wasting my time and if I do not have this then so are you.
- It's a major failing of mine, ask anybody who knows me, that I am not very patient with people who care nothing for getting at the truth. Until this last post of yours, I had thought you to be one of those who was interested. But now, I think not. I'm happy to be proven wrong, however.
- You have two options here. Either specifically address the arguments I have made or make arguments of your own about how things are and how you know that they are. Otherwise, we're done here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
"Where does the supernatural enter into that?"
I’m going to assume that there is a genuine lack of understanding here so I’m going to go over this one more time.
First of all, this is why it is necessary to define terms up front AND to make intellectual commitments to what those terms mean. Therefore, we need to get this straight. My goal in this post is either to get you to agree with what I propose what “naturalism” and “nature” will mean for this conversation, or get you to modify it so that we have a common term, in other words, a term that we are using univocally. If you cannot, or will not, commit to what the term means, up front, and stick to it, there is no possibility of reaching a rational accord. Since, by refusing to make that intellectual commitment, you are rejecting a first principle of reason, which is Identity. A thing is what it is. And non-contradiction. If it is what it is then it is not something else. And excluded middle. It either is what it is or it is not. Being, of course, is bound up tightly with identity. In order to have an identity, something must exist. And sufficient cause. Or causality. Things don’t “just happen.” Every event, or effect, in space/time has a cause. I’ll assume that you are rational and accept these principles. If not, speak up now and we’ll be done.
That said, “nature” (according to the tenets of “naturalism”) is all that there is. This typically means the “natural world” or the “physical world” or the “material world.” It means that anything outside of “nature” is supernatural. God would be “supernatural,” for example. Or other gods, should they exist.
Perhaps this isn’t specific enough. So let’s further break it down to describe what is natural (or physical or material) in this way. Something is physical or material, i.e. part of nature, if it:
- Can be located in space/time
- Has mass and/or inertia
- Is responsive to gravity (photons have no mass but are affected by gravity)
- Is comprised of sub-atomic particles in energy fields
- Can be empirically detected
- Can be described or explained by physics or our best physical laws
- Can be used to move or heat matter (energy)
- Can be converted to energy
- Or is recognized by the methods of science (if it’s not broad enough already)
- Everything else, then, by definition, would be “supernatural,” that is, “outside of nature.”
Your task is to agree with this definition, or modify it so that you do agree, and then we’ll proceed.
Monday, May 18, 2009
I understand this. But I my question still remains. The one doesn’t make sense unless the other is true. And ontological naturalism is about as far from being true as it is possible to be. This, the falsity of ontological naturalism, by the way, is the CONCLUSION of a sound argument that accounts for all the data. It is not an usupported a priori premise that is grimly held on to in spite of devastating arguments to the contrary.
"Methodological naturalism says: we wish to understand the truth, and the best way we have found to do that is to rely on what we observe."
This is incomplete. This is empiricism and it's not what methodological naturalism claims. It also, by definition, excludes anything apart from the natural, even where sound arguments from reason and evidence demand a conclusion of God. So there is implicitly, at least, a definition of what qualifies as "truth" in this system. Where is the role of reason in understanding the truth? Data is just data without an explanation and reason is what provides that explanation. It’s the EXPLANATION that is key. There should be no disagreement over data. It’s all about understanding it and explaining it.
"This is so profoundly true that I don't understand why you are trying to reject it? We have made observations such that the Sun is at the center of the solar system. We have made observations such that a year is 365.25 days. We have observed that tides are caused directly by the moon."
I do not reject it. I reject your characterization that observation alone is the final arbiter of truth. It’s evidence or observation, if you please, PLUS reason that gets us to the truth. And, by the way, ontological naturalism cannot account for reason.
"Consider if we had two competing explanations for tides; one said that the moon correlated very closely with tidal motion and therefore was likely inter-related or directly responsible. Or a second theory that said that periodically a god-like Neptune creature materializes in the sea, displacing water."
Consider if we had two competing explanations for the origin of the universe. One said, it beats the hell out of me but I know for sure it isn’t God or anything “supernatural.” One said, based on an exercise in pure reason PLUS multiple observations, that the universe began, therefore it had a “beginner.” Which one would you be more likely to believe?
"If there is any kind of evidence of the Neptune-like creature, that theory has some credibility. Likewise, if there is any variance in the correlation of the moon to the tides, it casts doubt on that theory. Its really just simple competition; which explanation is the most plausible in light of what we can observe? Which is to say, the "best" explanation for something is that which fits all of the known observations of the time and does not make unreasonable implications (ie. some physics theories imply that the universe only had a very tiny chance of ever existing; these theories are given less weight)."
I have no quarrel with this and if you think I do then you haven’t read me very carefully. PART of what makes a theory a good explanation is that it accounts for all the data. That is another way of saying that it must be internally consistent. It must be RATIONAL.
"All I'm saying is that when we, as rational human beings, want to explain how something works, we base it on the story that best fits the facts. If new facts emerge, we change the story to fit."
Sigh. No shit.
"Can you give a counter-example?"
"In any case, I'd be happy to move on to discussing another point, unless you feel this particular issue requires more examination."
Only of your estimation of the value of reason in getting at the truth. I’d be interested to hear your explanation of that.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
You are kidding, right? What other way is there to know what is true? Tell me that.
Early man could tell you that every day, without fail, the sun rises. But he could not say why (or made up a story to explain it). Science would call this an observation. Its also a truth, even without the capacity to understand or explain it.There are two components to this; the observation that the sun rises, and a reasoning for that behavior of the natural world. The observation is a direct result of the natural world. Reasoning is a construct of man." (my emphasis)
I agree that the observation, or the "fact," is "the sun rises." We know that is not literally true but rather it appears to rise because of the rotation of the earth in its orbit around the sun. The reasoning that mankind did to come to that conclusion is not a construct of man. It is something we do but it is not something we invented or created. Do a simple thought experiment. Assume that all human life vanishes. Assume that an alien comes by to visit. Do the laws of reason change for him or is he bound by them, too? Yes. Or can he invent or create new laws of reason? No. The laws of reason are the laws of reason just like the laws of physics are the laws of physics. We discover them but we do not construct or create them. They are part of reality just like matter and energy yet they are not part of the "natural" world. Odd then, how anyone can subscribe to "naturalism."
If all cats are mammals and Felix is a cat then Felix is a mammal. Even God can't make that not so. This is the power of reason. Reason transcends space and time. It works here and on the moon (but unfortunately not in Washington DC, not for decades) and it works yesterday, today, and in the future.
This is (one of the many places) where I part company with naturalism. Another is the existence of mind. If reason is not part of the natural world, yet it clearly exists, then how do you account for that? How does a naturalistic position account for a purely physical being (which we are not, but which a naturalist would claim we are) being able to reason? Can a neuron reason? Can a bunch of neurons reason? Well, no, but we do it somehow and it does involve neurons but neurons don't do it.
"I do not claim that reasoning is part of the natural world; it most certainly is not. However, I do claim that all reasoning *about* the natural world must be based on observations of the natural world."
We need to define our terms. I don't want us talking past each other. If we are using terms univocally that will fix that. So what do you say the "natural world" is? What do you say are the fundamental commitments of ontological naturalism? Then I'll get to the rest of your arguments.
Monday, May 11, 2009
You say: "Or are you arguing that science can be performed without the need for naturalism?"
The answer is yes. It is yes because I include reason as necessary to the truth seeking enterprise about the entire universe. Whether the subject is the physical world of sub-atomic particles in energy fields or language and information, mathematics, economics, etc..., reason is the Sovereign of truth. I use a capital "S" for a reason and it's explained in an earlier post. Reason is the ultimate authority of what is and is not true. Think not? Then argue with me about it and you are forced to reason. Facts are not "subject" to reason. They just are. But the explanation of those facts, aaah, now that's another story. Any explanation of anything that contradicts itself cannot possibly be true. Let me pick on the poster child for scientific irrationality, Richard Dawkins, who says that there is NO PURPOSE IN THE UNIVERSE on the one hand and then writes books about how the struggle to surive is at the bottom of the evolutionary process. Well, which is it? How is "struggling to survive" not purposeful? How is his writing a book not purposeful? His metaphysical claim is false or his empirical claim is. Actually, in this case, they both are false but that's another story. How anyone can take that guy seriously is beyond me. Way beyond.
If science is about making inferences from data (reasoning from effect to cause, essentially) then reason is part of the natural world. But they say it isn't. I don't get that.
The first question is ontological. What exists? If we get that wrong, everything else is wrong. But we can get that right through the exercise of pure reason. With apologies (not really) to Kant. But science rejects reason in that capacity yet relies on it for "scientific" explanations. Seems odd to me.
I am confused about many things but this isn't one of them. I perfectly understand the difference between methodological naturalism and ontological (or philosophical) naturalism. All of this is based on a false premise and that is that there are ANY privileged truth claims. That is, truth claims that do not need to stand on reason and evidence. All truth claims, whether "scientific" (about the "natural" world - which is ALL that exists under ontological naturalism) or "theological" (about the "supernatural" world of God, souls, minds, purpose, design, reason, and so on) must ultimately be grounded in facts about the world explained in a logical way. We live in one universe and that universe is only one way. God either exists or He does not. There is not a "scientific" universe for some and a "religious" universe for others.
All truth claims must be rational, that is internally consistent, and they must explain all the data. Claims that meet these two standards and can also make predictions about the future have superior epistemic status in my book. Now, I can conduct any number of exercises in pure reason that tell me true things about the universe. Kurtz would certainly disagree but he would certainly be wrong. For example, before I measure the sides of any right triangle I can know that the the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other sides. I can know that the universe had a beginning, that time had a beginning. That if I consistently spend more than I make I will be worse off for it. I can know a lot of things without empirical evidence. Empirical evidence will certainly confirm my rational deductions because nothing can contravene reason and be true. I can know, as an exercise in pure reason, that God most certainly exists. He cannot not exist. He is a necessary Being, as opposed to a contingent being.
One of many mistakes Kurtz makes is to ignore the role of reason in the epistemological process. He defines it out of existence by using the phrase "natural world" (What is that, exactly, if it is not the physical, i.e. the empirical world?? And the laws of reason can hardly be considered "physical" by any stretch of the imagination.) and then says, without argument, that God is off the table as far as methodological naturalism is concerned. Well, let's try to be intellectually honest here. If I am claiming that methodological naturalism (an epistemological enterprise) is the only way to "scientific" knowledge and I'm NOT claiming ontological naturalism to be true, then I'm being disingenuous, at best. Otherwise, I am saying that God could exist but science cannot (or merely will not) recognize His existence in studying the natural world. But what could be more irrational? If He exists, then there will be evidence of that. To just say any talk of God is unscientific, therefore, we only accept what we sense, regardless of whether or not God may exist, seems utterly foolish to me.
Kurtz, and others basically say this. Methodological naturalism is the only valid way to understand the natural world. Therefore, the natural world is all that exists. There is no logical connection between the two statements and both of them are patently false. I thought I had beaten that horse to death but apparently not. If you will be specific in your objections, if we can agree on first principles, then we will get somewhere and one of us will have to change his mind. I'm game.
Monday, May 4, 2009
There is a reason that it is so difficult to gain traction in an argument of this kind with people of this kind. In a nutshell, one of the problems of dealing with irrational people is that they reject logic and evidence even as they purport to be reliant upon them and claim that “you” do not. This makes it impossible (witness this thread) to reason with them. It is like to trying to grab smoke. But hope springs eternal.
Any hard core proponent of naturalism (all that exists is nature) or materialism (all that exists is material, i.e. matter and energy) or physicalism (the thesis that the physical facts fix all the facts) that has thought about things in any serious (logical) way and yet still holds to his naturalism is irrational, at best.
In my explanation for why this is so, I will lump all of these “isms” together since they all make the same fundamental ontological commitment, that only material, or physical, or natural, (all synonymous) things actually exist. I use the phrase “fundamental commitment” deliberately as it implies that one actually believes what one is claiming. Thus, one is shut off from availing oneself of “non-materialist” or “non-natural” or “non-physical” resources when explanations of any kind for anything are provided. Since it is equally, at least, tiring to read the trinity of “isms” as it is to write them, I will use the term “materialism” to refer to this fundamental commitment from here out.
So what is material? I want to be as generous as I can in order to avoid the straw man fallacy so I propose the following description of “material.”
Material things are either matter or energy. Or if you prefer, sub-atomic particles in energy fields. We can also further define matter as anything that is located in space/time, has mass and inertia, is subject to gravity, (yes, I understand that photons do not have “mass” but are still subject to gravity) can be converted to energy, and is detectable by one of our five senses, i.e. is empirical, and therefore, can be measured. Energy is anything that can heat or move matter.
Given this, it seems obvious to me, but I will say it out loud anyway, just in case a materialist would like to disagree, (please be specific when you do) that given this definition of “material” it looks for all the world to me that now all I have to explain anything and everything is the laws of physics. No? If all that exists is material, and all that is material is explainable by physics, then everything that exists can be explained by physics. I’m pretty sure that works out the way I’m saying it.
I will start with a one word refutation of materialism and then go on from there. The one word destruction of materialism is “mathematics.” But because I am a fair guy, I want to make it easy for any materialist to frame his reply. All you have to do to prove me wrong is do any one of the following things.
- Locate mathematics in space/time. Where is it, exactly? In a closet somewhere, perhaps?
- Tell me what the mass of mathematics is.
- Tell me how mathematics is subject to gravity.
- Tell me how mathematics can be converted to energy.
- Tell me what mathematics smells like, tastes like, feels like, sounds like, or looks like.
- Tell me how long it is or how much it weighs or what color it is. Measure it somehow.
- Tell me how mathematics can move or heat matter.
If you would be so kind as to actually do any one of these things then I will be persuaded to continue to argue with you about your fundamental ontological commitment and the equally irrational conclusions that follow. Or, of course, you can deny the reality of mathematics. That is, if you want to remain committed to your materialism yet keep a shred of intellectual integrity. Your call.
But just to drive the point home, let’s consider some other things. The very laws of physics themselves are immaterial. Do we have to go through the list again? Or how about the laws of reason, or economics, or the moral law, or any language? Can you say that these things are material? No, you cannot. Therefore, materialism fails and any conclusions based upon that faulty premise will also fail.
Just in case this isn’t enough, I would like to drive one last stake through the heart of this vacuous and inane, in other words, empty of any intellectual content, position known as materialism.
Materialists cannot explain information because information always reduces to mind, not to matter. How can I say this? In order for information to exist, language must exist. (Try to imagine information apart from language.) In order for language to exist, symbols must be used. (This applies to all languages. Think about it.) But there is nothing in physics that can explain symbols. That is, the representation of one thing, or things (letters, here) for another thing. Whether material or abstract or real or imaginary, symbols represent other things. Only a mind is capable of creating and manipulating symbols according to agreed upon (abstract) rules in order to communicate information.
Here’s the problem. Nothing in physics says that “act” means to do something, or something done, or a segment of a play, depending upon the context. Nothing in physics explains that “cat” means a certain kind of mammal. I know. I’ve checked. General relativity doesn’t. Thermodynamics doesn’t. Quantum mechanics doesn’t. The Standard Model doesn’t. String Theory doesn’t. Quarks and leptons don’t. Physics has nothing to say about how it is even possible, or even how it could be possible, for one thing to represent, to be a symbol for, another thing. It is impossible for physics to ever say anything about symbols. Therefore, materialism fails. Again.
This is what makes arguing with a materialist so frustrating. If they are forced to adhere to their own ontological commitments, they could not even express an opinion since they have no explanatory resources with which to do so (mind and language). Yet they obviously feel free to avail themselves of the explanatory resources that a dualist (non-materialist???) has. To my mind, this makes them not only irrational but hypocritical. I don’t know which one is worse. In any case, they are intellectually degenerate, that is, they lack intellectual integrity, since they actually reject the very “reason” that they profess to worship. The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.”
p.s. This means, of course, that neo-Darwinian evolution is also a farce since it relies only upon materialistic explanations and therefore has no hope of accounting for information. In fact, “natural selection” is a linguistic phenomenon with the same ontological status as tooth fairies and unicorns. If “natural selection” was a real force in nature, the physicists would know about it. But they don’t. So it isn’t. It’s a myth. It’s a way to smuggle in Mind and Design without saying Mind and Design. It’s also just as intellectually dishonest as the rest of the materialist enterprise. Why must this be endlessly repeated?? What do “you people” not get?? Really.