Saturday, April 4, 2009

Why, naturalism, naturally…

If you punch 2 + 2 and then = into a calculator, and it shows 5, is it wrong? Naturalistically, nothing malfunctioned in the calculator; its circuitry is flawless. Why is the calculator wrong about its sum but your “neurolator” is correct?

A naturalist believes that what he is saying and typing at any point in time is but the unforeseeable, unalterable result of whatever happens to be happening in his cranium (and, antecedently, in the physical structure of the world leading up to that point). Hence, while there are (physiological) reasons for his saying what he says, there are no rational grounds for his claiming what he claims. This is just the argument from reason, so I don’t claim to be original.

The scenario I pose, then, is that one natural tabulating device is pitted against another (i.e., a naturalist's brain vs. his calculator). His neurolator happened to produce 4 as the solution to 2 + 2, while the calculator produced 5. On purely natural terms, neither device malfunctioned, since for all we know the calculator was programmed that way. Hence, while it is mathematically false that 2 + 2 is 5, it is, even if only for that one calculator, naturalistically unassailable. He would agree to this, and defend his own sum, but in so doing he is appealing to some other source of order (i.e., formal truth, mathematical order) to which nature must correspond formally. The mathematical order must trump the naturalistic outputs of any computer, since the calculators we have all around us are engineered based on that mathematical order and not on purely natural outcomes (which may or may not be wrong mathematically). We would only know if this or that computer is properly functioning if we already had a grasp of the rules to be followed in various formal operations. The validity of addition had to precede the natural performance of addition, otherwise there would be no way, no form-by-which, nature could perform any such operation.

If two streams merge, they have combined their water molecules, but can it really be said that they performed addition? If so, then the naturalist, as many are wont to do these days, is a panpsychist in the making. Presumably, one pair of streams would be “smarter” than another pair because it could “add” more faster. Presumably, one pair of streams would be “bad at math” if beavers jammed up one stream and clogged its additive powers. Etc.

If not, however, then who says the naturalist himself ever performs addition? For he is, naturally speaking, a mere confluence of atoms, and any sum he produces is, by his own admission, also no more rationally respectable than a river’s “addition.” Water molecules or synapses–– it’s all just blind flux which we anthropomorphically filter “as if” there were purpose in our words and truth to which natural processes must conform in order to be called instantiations of this or that formal operation.

I am drawing, now, on not only the Lewis-Reppert argument from reason, but also A. Plantinga’s famous evolutionary argument against naturalism and, especially, one of the key prongs of argumentation in James F. Ross’s “Immaterial Aspects of Thought”, which is a must read. http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/43151/ross-immateriality.pdf

Is the human person oriented towards truth? Is a calculator? Does not a human's brain operate in order for a naturalist to deny the truth of supernatural claims, and to assert the truth of his naturalism? Or is the orientation of his mind for truth a sheer fiction, the mere happenstance of evolutionary biology? And if so, is my orientation towards the putative truth of that naturalistic claim itself a fiction? Are genes “about” producing specific kinds of beings? Does it even make sense to speak of genes without saying they are meant for producing specific entities according to distinct forms of life? Or is that kind of genetic platitude also just a fiction? In short, if there is no formal order and no final orderliness in the world, what makes science anything more than an anthropomorphic jumble of myths?

4 comments:

unBeguiled said...

This is very good. I wish to discuss it with you.

In order for us to have a meaningful and potentially fruitful discussion, we must find some common ground. We must agree on a first principle. Some place to start that we both either agree is self evidently true, or some place to start that we just agree by fiat that it's true.

An axiom, if you will.

Any ideas?

unBeguiled said...

Screw it.

I am an animal, as are you. We both assume that our sense organs provide mostly reliable information about the world, and we assume that our brains integrate and analyze this data and output decisions that help us navigate and survive in the world. You assume this. I assume this. Worms and dogs assume this.

This is our common ground. This is where we must start, unless you betray me. Unless you betray our common humanity and start making claims that you know things you do not know.

So our sense organs and brains together for the most part provide us an accurate model of reality. Most of the time, all this information and information processing occurs outside of our conscious awareness. Only a small part of what is going on are we aware of. That is an empirical fact.

Starting with Francis Bacon and others, our species has intersubjectively learned that 2 brains are better than one, and 1000 brains are better still. The result is something we call science. So far, its the best thing we have for discovering what is most likely true.

One consequence of science has been the discovery that what was once thought to be supernatural is not, but rather is natural. This has happened again and again.

Natural explanations turn out to be correct, while supernatural explanations turn out to be false. Not once, in the entire history science, has a supernatural explanation found to be correct.

Never.

For some reason that I have never been able to understand, some people are frightened by this. Consequently, they confect sophistical arguments in an attempt to undermine the findings of science. It seems they want to be something more than science reveals them to be. They want the universe to have been created for them. They want to believe that this whole show was created by a supernatural being, and that we are "in His image".

Unfortunately for Plantinga and his ilk, reality relentlessly imposes itself. Dead men do not come back to life, we do not go to heaven when we die, and we are bipedal primates with big brains and opposable thumbs.

We evolved. We have the ability to reason. There is no contradiction there.

There is grandeur in this view of life. Because it is True.

Probably.

Anonymous said...

A whole lot of blahblah that adds up to 'Crap, I have no response to Cogitator on this one. Better bluff.'

Plantinga didn't argue against evolution. He argued against naturalism. Plantinga's argument is entirely compatible with evolution - it would simply be guided. Even Dennett is willing to grant that theism and evolution aren't at odds.

Worms and dogs don't "assume" anything, anymore than rocks tossed into the air reason that falling downwards is an appropriate course of action. Unless the word "assume" is being butchered beyond recognition.

The myth that everything was once thought to be supernatural and magical, but eventually shown to not be so by science, is exactly that: a myth. On the contrary, theism and christianity in particular championed the idea that the world itself was a rational project and behaved in an explicable way.

No one is attempting to undermine science here. What is being demonstrated are the limits of science, and the failure of the naturalist project - indeed, how modern naturalism itself ultimately undermines science and reason.

And worst of all, you make metaphysical statements and claim the authority of science behind them. That you can't tell where science ends and philosophy begins is a greater threat to science than the most wild-eyed creationist, if only because your mistake is one scientists themselves often make.

Stop mistaking testy rants for deliberation and argumentation.

unBeguiled said...

A stripped-down philosopher's theism is not incompatible with evolution, but certain varieties of Christian theism certainly are. But apologist philosophers continually fine tune this notion they call 'god' so that it is non-falsifiable and is compatible with anything.

I came to naturalism by using induction. Naturalism is supported by all the evidence from science and by the lessons of history. It is consistent with all shared human experience.

Is that a metaphysical position? Maybe, I don't really know. If so, how does calling my position "metaphysics" add anything to it? Educate me anonymous, I'm asking for help.

"The myth that everything was once thought to be supernatural and magical, but eventually shown to not be so by science, is exactly that: a myth."

Well that is a myth. But that's not what I said. I said this:

One consequence of science has been the discovery that what was once thought to be supernatural is not, but rather is natural. This has happened again and again.

Natural explanations turn out to be correct, while supernatural explanations turn out to be false. Not once, in the entire history of science, has a supernatural explanation found to be correct.

Never.

You don't like the way I used the word assume? Fine. How about instinct? Me and you and dogs and worms instinctively use the inputs of our sense organs.

Rocks don't have instincts. Unless your a Thomist.