Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Stepping Out of the Box

Victor Reppert asked an interesting question in a recent post:  How are scientific beliefs caused?  It's interesting because it illustrates how his own thinking is boxed in by his ideological presumptions, including the notion of primacy of mind.  This is the way he puts the question to his readers:
Yet naturalists insist that when minds arose, no new mode of causation was introduced. Matter functioned in the same way, it is just that evolution but it into forms of organization that made it seem as if it had purposes when it really didn't, and this explains the very theorizing by which scientists like Dawkins and philosophers like Mackie reach the conclusion that God does not exist. In the last analysis, you didn't accept atheism because of the evidence, you became and atheist because the configuration of atoms in your brain put you in a certain brain state, and C. S. Lewis became a Christian and a theist for exactly the same reason. If this is true, how can the atheist possibly claim superior rationality? - Reppert
According to Victor, materialism, which is the root of scientific thinking, implies that the world contains no rationality - that everything is just matter in motion, following the natural physical laws of motion and nothing more.  Consequently, according to this belief, there is no rational thought, no conscious mind, no intention.  We are all just meat machines who go about or lives like zombies, simply reacting to the physical forces that propel us, not genuinely thinking, not feeling, and not wanting.  Our brains make us do things, but brains are just a collection of atoms.  Therefore, physical state of one brain causing someone to become a materialist is no more rational than another brain state causing someone to become a theist.

Victor rejects the truth this view, of course, preferring to think that people, including scientists, really are rational.  So materialism must be false.  The only alternative would be theism, where God provides the rational mind that can impart its rational processes and intentionality to the matter in the world.  The primacy of mind is the only way there can be any rational processes at all, according to Victor's view.  And therefore, CS Lewis' acceptance of Christianity is a result of a rational logical process that is entailed by this truth, while the materialist's rejection of theism is illogical and irrational.  But Victor needs to climb out of the box of theistic thinking that confines his own thoughts and prevents him from seeing reality more objectively.

Victor is facing a dilemma, because on the one hand, the scientific thinker is irrational in his rejection of theism and the primacy of mind, but on the other hand, scientific thinking is rational, and has unquestionably given us an understanding of reality that allows us to gain mastery over the physical world to an extent that theistic thinking was never able to do.  How could irrational thinking be so effective in improving the circumstances of our lives?  Science must be a rational process, or it wouldn't work so well.  And how could a rational scientific process lead to the rejection of the very basis of rationality?  Something doesn't add up here.  There seems to be a contradiction.

Perhaps scientists who accept materialism just don't appreciate the true source of their intelligence.  Maybe they participate in God's rational thought processes, but they go off-track when it comes to their rejection of theistic belief.  After all, it was theists who founded science in the first place, right?  But there are some problems with this idea.  Sure, the early scientific thinkers in Europe that started the revolution in thinking that led to true science were Christians.  And we shouldn't discount the tremendous contributions that Christians have made to science, both in the early days, and right up to the present.  But there's another fact that they can't deny.  Scientific thinking leads to materialism, and materialism implies atheism.  It is no coincidence that as we become more scientific, we tend toward a materialistic view.  Nor is it the case that scientific education pushes a materialist ideology.  Science does not reject theism for ideological reasons.  Rather, materialism is a logical consequence of scientific understanding.

But how is this understanding achieved, given the notion of the primacy of mind?  We should reject scientific ideas such as the non-teleological theory of evolution, and especially the evolution of brains capable of rational thought.  And theists do reject these ideas, but scientists don't.  Science is a rational endeavor, whether the source of human rationality is God or it is purely natural.  But the rational process of scientific discovery leads inevitably to the rejection of theism.  It is a materialistic world that we see through objective observation.  Our materialistic theories stand up to scientific testing and verification, even as the old theistic theories fall by the wayside.  And these materialistic theories fit together in a coherent framework of understanding that is utterly lacking in any hand-waving "God did it" explanation of how things work in our world.  And that's why science is so much more effective than theism.  The theistic framework of understanding simply doesn't give us the means to achieve the things that science has achieved.

If a scientific thinker wants to be honest, he must come to the conclusion that human thinking processes are equally subject to this scientific understanding of reality.  He needs to step outside the box of theistic thinking and take a broader perspective.  How did those early Christian scientific thinkers arrive at a more realistic understanding of reality?  Not by sticking to the dogmatic beliefs of their religion.  If they did that, we'd still believe that the earth is the center of the world.  We'd still think that living things were designed by an intelligent creator, and diseases are caused by demons.  And we'd have no coherent scientific framework by which to understand the rest of our world.  Theism inhibits scientific understanding.  Science requires stepping outside the box of theistic thinking.  And along with that, the old theistic concept of the primacy of mind must be set aside in favor of a more scientific understanding of rational thinking processes in naturally evolved creatures.

And if a theist wants to be honest, he must come to the conclusion that rational processes occur in the natural world.  And science works.

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