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Monday, March 1, 2010

I'm not the only one

I'm not the only one, not that I'm surprised. After all, it's not as though I am sui generis.

Gentle Reader no doubt is wondering what it is about which I am not the only one. It is the understanding, purely via logical reasoning, that atheism is self-refuting, and therefore false, and seen to be false.

In a recent thread at Uncommon Descent, responding to something Denyse O'Leary had written, 'Toronto' said:
[O'Leary] But 78% of evolutionary biologists are pure naturalists (no God and no free will),…
[Toronto] I am an atheist and believe I have free will.

If I decided to convert to Christianity, I believe that it would have been my free will to have made that decision.

If you agree that I believe I have the free will to make that decision, why, with my being an atheist, do you think that I don’t believe I have the free will to make any others.
Now, perhaps 'Toronto' simply hasn't been instructed well enough to already know that atheism implies no free-will; this is, if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, then there can exist no such thing as free-will amongst human beings (or any other beings). So, knowing about him only what is written here, charity (and reason) demands he be given the benefit of the doubt: his post may simply reflect deficient knowledge/understanding of the particular issue.

Still, even here, in what he has written, one can see that he's not thinking clearly about the matter, and seems to have not tried to comprehend what Mrs O'Leary said before disputing it.

It's not that Mrs O'Leary said (or believes) that atheists/naturalists are not free wills; it's not that she said (or believes) that atheists/naturalists can freely choose to become Christians, but have no other freedom of the will.

It's that the proposition "There is no God" (or, alternately, "'Nature' is all that exists") logically entails the proposition "There are no free-wills."

Now, certainly, any atheist may deny the proposition "There are no free-wills" -- for, after all, he *is* a free-will -- it's just that given his assertion of the proposition "There is no God," his denial of the entailment is illogical and irrational. Of course, to assert the proposition "There are no free-wills" is both absurd and irrational.


In any event, in response to 'Toronto,' 'tgpeeler' replied:
Toronto @ 3
If you agree that I believe I have the free will to make that decision, why, with my being an atheist, do you think that I don’t believe I have the free will to make any others.

I would assume that an atheist would not (actually, could not, logically) believe that anyone has free will. Here’s why.

I don’t know how you came to your atheism but it is actually a conclusion rather than a premise. If the premise is naturalism/materialism then it’s a direct step to the conclusion that God does not exist. In other words, if all that exists is “natural” or “material” and God is supernatural and immaterial, well then it’s obvious that He does not exist.

But it doesn’t end here because people with intellectual curiosity like yourself still want to know the why’s and wherefore’s of the universe. So what’s a naturalist to do? There is no God to serve as the ultimate ground of Truth, Reason, Reality, etc.. so ‘things’ must be accounted for in some other way. Since one of the key intellectual commitments of naturalism is that nature is “causally closed,” the only thing that “you” (as a naturalist) have to explain ‘things’ are the laws of physics. The causal closure of nature claims that ALL causes in nature can be reduced to physical causes. This excludes mind as having any causal power in nature. It makes sense (if the premise is true) that mind would have no causal power because mind (apart from brain) doesn’t even exist in the naturalist ontology. So how could it have causal power?

So you are left, it seems to me, with the laws of physics as the sole explanatory tool in your kit. The problem now becomes how to reduce, or explain, things such as consciousness, morality, language, information, reason, design, purpose, and free will, for example, in terms of the Standard Model, the equations of quantum physics and general relativity, thermodynamics, super string theory (?) and so on…

Since the laws of physics are not called the contingencies of physics and everything ultimately reduces to them, there goes your free will. Roger Penrose’s microtubules not withstanding. (One can’t get free will from quantum physics either.) So that’s why I would a priori assume an atheist would reject free will. If you hold to free will as an atheist then you have insurmountable philosophical contradictions to resolve.

But I think naturalism has even larger problems. Aside from the obvious wrongness of it, there are many good arguments against it. As you might expect, I am going to bore you to death with one of them right now and it is, I believe, irrefutable. Earlier I listed a few things that are obviously not explainable by the laws of physics. For example, what does physics have to say about why it is wrong to be rude to a waiter? The answer is nothing. But still there seems to be something to the fact that it is wrong to be rude to a waiter. We all know that. And even if you don’t as a patron, you would as a waiter. The typical naturalist move at this point, rather than graciously admit defeat and come on over to the side of Truth, in my limited experience and reading, is to just deny the existence of moral absolutes (for example, they also deny design, mind, purpose, etc…). This can be done without contradiction so we are now in the messy position of weighing the evidence and even with a preponderance of it, the argument is never settled.

From my many years as an infantry officer in the USMC I learned that in fighting, one should always go for the throat. That is, if you want to win with as little risk to yourself as possible, and I do, coward that I am. In other words, we want decisive victory. We want unconditional surrender. We want the enemy to beg for mercy. It is in this vein that I argue. :-)

It occurred to me one day that the answer to several vexing questions could be settled once and for all very simply. The first is the question of naturalism/materialism, and the second is the question of the detection of design or intelligence.

Here’s how I see it. If information is a real entity, a real thing, that is it has ontological “status,” then several things will necessarily follow. Since all information is encoded in a language of one sort or another and since all languages are comprised of symbols and rules, it occurred to me that if the naturalists were going to be intellectually honest, in order to explain information they had to explain language.

But here’s the rub. Physics has nothing to say about symbols and rules. Why does “cat” mean a certain kind of mammal and “act” mean something else? Does physics inform this in any way, shape, or form? No. It doesn’t. And why would it? Symbols and rules are not material or ‘natural’ so physics, by definition, would have nothing to say about them. But the denial of the ontological status of information/language is not an option here because in order to deny them you have to use them. There is, in this instance, a glaring and obvious self-contradiction in the naturalist position. As it turns out, not only is naturalism false, it is not even possible for it to be true. The denial of the abstract/immaterial existence of language/information relies on the existence of language/information. How cool is that? This game is over. I don’t have to fight any more about moral laws, design, purpose, etc… in order to defeat the naturalist world view. It defeats itself. So we can all head over the O Club for beer and pretzels without having to do any really hard work. My kind of gig. Who’s buying?

The implications for any naturalistic story of evolution, the current incarnation being the neo-darwinian kind, are not good. If there is one thing that is obvious to everyone involved in the discussion it is that in biology, there is language and there is information in the dictionary senses of the words. In fact, information is THE distinguishing feature of life. It is what separates life from non-life. All living things have DNA/RNA. But if no naturalist explanation of information is possible, and it is not, then neo-darwinian evolution is not only false, it is impossible for it to be true. This fraud has been masquerading as science for 150 years and we will see it go down in history, if we live that long, as one of the greatest intellectual scandals of all time. How people could believe, argue for, and insist upon something that is not only false but impossible to be true will give historians and philosophers of science grist for their mills for years to come. I realize that I have made a radical claim but there you have it. That’s how I see it. I am open to counter-arguments.
When Mr Peeler says, "I would assume that an atheist would not (actually, could not, logically) believe that anyone has free will," he happens to be using the wrong word ("assume") for what he means to say, but it's clear from the parenthetical that he does understand the point he's getting at; he's just using the wrong word: he means "conclude" or "deduce" or "reason."

Mr Peeler is approaching the issue slightly differently that I do. He's starting with 'naturalism' (which assumes the existence of "the universe"), which logically entails atheism and implies materialism; whereas I start with atheism, which when given the assumption that "the universe" exists, logically implies materialism and naturalism.

In either case, logic takes us to the same absurd conclusions. Since the logic is valid, and the conclusion is absurd, that means that one or more of the premises is unsound. Which is to say, the absurdity of the conclusion lies in the premises themselves.

Also, concerning Mr Peeler's comment about going for the throat, I quite agree. But, I suspect Gentle Reader has already figured that out.

7 comments:

Crude said...

I'm in agreement with much of what you're saying here. I think it's obvious that materialism is a dead end - and I think attempts to define a non-materialistic "naturalism" are downright funny, though more common nowadays. (In fact, I also see people who try to define a non-materialist materialism too. Go figure.)

One question I'd have is: What about the claim that there are atheists who reject materialism? Bertrand Russell would be one, or David Chalmers, or any other number I'm sure.

Ilíon said...

Crude: "I think it's obvious that materialism is a dead end - and I think attempts to define a non-materialistic "naturalism" are downright funny, though more common nowadays. (In fact, I also see people who try to define a non-materialist materialism too. Go figure.)"

Indeed.

Once one has posited some key postulates of 'naturalism' (specifically: "'Nature' is all that is" and "'Nature' is a causally closed system"), then necessarily one has posited 'materialism.' There's no escaping it.


Crude: "One question I'd have is: What about the claim that there are atheists who reject materialism?"

The rejection is ad hoc, is it not?

Does the rejection of materialism by this or that self-identified atheist have any logical connection to any of their other commitments or to anything else they've asserted; and specifically, can it be logically connected to their denial that there is a Creator-God? The answer is no; the answer is that, given their other commitments, their denial of materialism is illogical; their denial of materialism is an unprincipled exception to their other commitments and assertions.

One needs to keep in mind that my argument isn't about the particular mish-mash of disconnected assertions and rejections of this or that self-identified atheist. My argument is about the logically inescapable implications/entailments of denying that there is a Creator-God.

Crude said...

Once one has posited some key postulates of 'naturalism' (specifically: "'Nature' is all that is" and "'Nature' is a causally closed system"), then necessarily one has posited 'materialism.' There's no escaping it.

Well, what I see people do is posit "nature is all there is", and then get really interesting on what comprises "nature". Chalmers is a good example - he'll swear he's a naturalist non-physicalist, and that there are non-physical, mental, irreducible parts of nature.

Russell's neutral monism is similar, though that's also an example of that kind of materialist shell-game I'm talking about. There are people who will try to pass off neutral monism as materialism/physicalism. I notice that the SEP suggests panpsychism would just be physicalism where explicitly mental properties just happen to be irreducible constituents of the world. At that point, what's the physicalist argument against God again?

Does the rejection of materialism by this or that self-identified atheist have any logical connection to any of their other commitments or to anything else they've asserted; and specifically, can it be logically connected to their denial that there is a Creator-God?

Come to think of it, this could be true. My recollection is that Russell never really had a good and thorough argument against theism or for atheism - he just kind of declared it. And even professional philosophers I read about, at the end of the day, tend to rely on the argument from evil (and in spite of the wave of opposition on this point, I think if the problem of evil is the prime reason someone has not to believe in a Creator-God, they have no good reasons, period.)

So I guess your reply would be that some self-declared atheists may see the fatal flaws of materialism, but not follow through and realize just what the failure of materialism would imply about reality?

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: "Once one has posited some key postulates of 'naturalism' (specifically: "'Nature' is all that is" and "'Nature' is a causally closed system"), then necessarily one has posited 'materialism.' There's no escaping it."

Crude: "Well, what I see people do is posit "nature is all there is", and then get really interesting on what comprises "nature". Chalmers is a good example - he'll swear he's a naturalist non-physicalist, and that there are non-physical, mental, irreducible parts of nature."

No doubt there are any number of 'naturalists' who assert all sorts of things which are at logical odds with their primary commitment to naturalism or to God-denial. So what?

The point here is not about any of the various ad hoc mish-mashes that this or that naturalist may posit; the point is about what logically follows from the denial that the Creator is real, is a person, and that we (and our world) are his creations.


Consider: "Chalmers is a good example - he'll swear he's a naturalist non-physicalist, and that there are non-physical, mental, irreducible parts of nature."

Well, yes, it's all quite true that mind (or 'mentality' if one prefers) is real, is non-physical, and is not reducible to the physical/material.

But, that truth cannot be logically derived from God-denial -- nor stated consistently with God-denial. Capital-M 'Mind' (that's what he's talking about, right?) does not, and cannot, exist unless there exist actual minds (that is, at least one mind must exist).

To claim that "there are non-physical, mental, irreducible parts of nature" while simultaneously denying the existence of an actually existing mind who transcends nature, is to speak nonsense. It is to try to treat the concept and abstraction 'Mind' as though it exists all on its own, independently of any specific mind.


Crude: "... I notice that the SEP suggests panpsychism would just be physicalism where explicitly mental properties just happen to be irreducible constituents of the world. At that point, what's the physicalist argument against God again?"

Indeed, and it's nonsense. What is being asserted is that 'mentality' or 'mindfulness' or capital-M 'Mind,' or whatever else one wants to call it, exists without any actually existing minds existing. Or, it's to claim that matter (which? molecules? atoms? sub-atomic particles?) *is* mind.

It's like asserting that "sight exists" ... in a world in which there are no eyes.


Ilíon: "Does the rejection of materialism by this or that self-identified atheist have any logical connection to any of their other commitments or to anything else they've asserted; and specifically, can it be logically connected to their denial that there is a Creator-God?"

Crude: "So I guess your reply would be that some self-declared atheists may see the fatal flaws of materialism, but not follow through and realize just what the failure of materialism would imply about reality?"

Yes.

Now, some self-identifying atheists will, eventually, give over their God-denial, as to remain in God-denial they would have to explicitly embrace irrationality. But, most self-identifying atheists will go with the irrationality.

Ilíon said...

Crude, I've always assumed you know that I appreciate that you've been testing/challenging my argument (going back some time). I just thought I'd explicitly say that, just in case you didn't know it.

Crude said...

Oh, sure Ilion. Never took it any other way. And half the time I'm not even challenging so much as trying to clarify so I get a better grip on what you're actually saying.

Though it's appreciated that you'd say as much anyway, of course.

Ilíon said...

John C.Wright: Modernism and the Rejection of Reason