Wednesday, May 13, 2015

An Irrational View of Naturalism

Reppert says:
My concept of what is required for naturalism is as follows:

1. The base level, whether we call it natural, material, or physical, is causally closed.
2. Everything above that level supervenes on the physical/material/natural.
3. Physics is mechanistic. The base level lacks intentionality, purpose, normativity, and subjectivity.
In Victor's view either naturalism doesn't explain everything that exists, or naturalism must be extended to include more than the physical.

Let's try to understand what he's saying.  In the first statement, he speaks of a "base level".  This is something I've heard him mention many times before, but what does it mean?  I think he's talking about fundamental particles and forces, but I don't think he can tell you what those things are.  Is he talking about protons, neutrons, and electrons?  Is he talking about quarks, leptons, and bosons?  Is he aware that the current Standard Model of elementary particles has no concept of "base level", but merely holds that the substructure of these things we call elementary particles is unknown?

But let's move on.  This so-called "base level" is causally closed.  What he means is that physical objects can only have physical effects - or more to the point, can't cause effects outside the realm of the physical.  In particular (in his view), they can't cause mental or spiritual effects.  This is why he postulates that the "base level" must include some non-physical elements, such as "psychons (which used to be called souls), angelons (which used to be called angels)" in order to explain the existence of minds and angels.  He even postulates the existence of "one triune theon, who used to be called God".  These things constitute his extended view of naturalism, and explain the supposed existence of souls, angels, and gods.  The big problem with postulating these additional non-physical elements is that they don't fit the scientific model.  They are not predicted by any scientific theory.  They not observed, nor is there any evidence for them.  (And let's ignore the incoherence of the concept of a base-level fundamental particle that is also "triune".)  More on this later.

The second statement is simply an affirmation of the first.  That is, because of the causal closure of the base level, there are no phenomena at higher levels of structure that do not derive from the base level.  This is actually a reasonable statement, and something that any materialist would agree with.

The meaning of the third statement is unclear.  He has already admitted that there are phenomena that supervene on the "base level".  That is to say, there can be some kind of emergent phenomena that derive from the fundamental.  But "intentionality, purpose, normativity, and subjectivity" do not exist at the base level.  Therefore, either they must be emergent phenomena that derive from the fundamental, or they are not emergent phenomena, and are not explained by any naturalistic view - not even his own extension of naturalism that includes souls, angels, and gods.  I think he must mean the former, under the presumption of the extended form of naturalism that he postulates.

While I agree completely that things like intentionality don't exist at the level of fundamental physical particles, I have no problem explaining them as emergent phenomena without resorting to Reppert's unscientific extended naturalism.  Intentionality (or "aboutness") can be fully explained from a purely physical perspective by simply understanding some basic concepts in neuroscience.  As I discussed before, it is purely physical, and there is nothing magic about it - nothing that would require anything like Reppert's extended naturalism.  It's just part of the way a physical brain functions. 

Where theists like Victor go off the rails is in their lack of understanding (or denial) of just how much actually is explained by science.  To them, all kinds of mental phenomena are beyond the scope of scientific understanding, but the reality is much different.  Yes, there are gaps in scientific understanding, but that doesn't translate to "it's all outside the scope of science".  There's no need to postulate the existence of any additional fundamental elements.  There are various scientific hypotheses about the existence of consciousness that fit within the established framework of naturalistic science.  We don't know yet whether one of those models (or which of them) is basically correct, but it would be a huge mistake to presume that none of those hypotheses could possibly be correct.  Yet that is what theists do.  They make the presumption that there must be more to nature than its physical aspects.  There just has to be.  Because if there isn't, then they would have no reason to believe in their souls, spirits, and gods.  And no amount of scientific understanding will ever, or could ever, cause them to abandon their belief in these things.

The fact that there is no evidence for those non-physical things doesn't deter them from their irrational beliefs.  The fact that there are scientific explanations for the physical mind (although the science is not yet settled on a specific theory), does not deter them from their irrational beliefs.  They hang their hopes on the idea that the science is not fully settled, and that leaves them an opening for the possibility, no matter how remote, that there is a non-scientific explanation.  And so we have scientific ignoramuses postulating things like psychons, angelons, and theons.  Contrast this with the genuine scientific postulation of Higgs bosons.  These particles were predicted by the scientific model, and subsequently, their existence was confirmed by experiments that revealed actual evidence for them, consistent with the model.

I have suggested to Victor that he read a book that might help him to alleviate his scientific ignorance.  He won't do it.  He's happy with his theism, and resistant to any information that would cast doubt upon it.  His theism is anchored on possibility, not on probability, and not on evidence.  And that's irrational.  Naturalism, if extended to include his postulated psychons, angelons, and theons, is no longer scientific.  It is unsupported by evidence.  It is theism in pseudo-scientific garb.

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