Continuing in Darwin’s Pious Idea, we come to naturalism and the “hard problem” of consciousness, of which is bound up all the problems (if one is a naturalist) of free-will, agency, morality, and others. Reading through this section brought to mind a blogger-friend’s recent post on the subject of free-will and morality. Besides begging the question, which is the majority of the post (which is fine, it is a blog post after-all and not a formal paper), we finally come across, what I suppose is the main point:
“Thankfully, the answer is no- it doesn’t [does no free-will, mean no morality?]. The reason lies in another aspect of our programming, which is that we are not just physically-bounded no-free-will flesh-bots. We are physically-bounded no-free-will flesh-bots that can learn. Learning is the crucial ingredient in a moral universe, rendering us different from inanimate and non-learning beings.”
I challenge anyone to read that paragraph (in the context of the post) slowly and ponder it for more than two seconds. If you can contain your “Huh?” or your, “But, wait…?” reflex you are a better person than I.
Beyond the glaringly obvious matter of simply removing the problem one step by positing “learning” where would one even start? We could “learn” cruelty after all. We could learn many things, good, bad, ugly, or indifferent…so the point? We are certainly entitled to feel like something is being left out here! It is all about learning, but what are we to learn? And why? The Nazi Youth movement was about learning too. The Ku Klux Klan is about learning. The Neo-Nazis that survive in pockets are all about helping their children to “learn” to hate. The Mafia is about learning. Gangs are about learning. The CIA is about learning. The information extraction methods used at Guantanamo and other hidden places are about learning. All this came from “learning.” Simply positing learning tells us exactly nothing.
Further, how does one, after telling us the universe is causally closed, then talk about a crucial ingredient needed for a “moral” universe? If the universe is causally closed, then it is an amoral universe. This is what happens when that crucial ingredient—logic—is missing. One could go on and on. The idea of learning as a way out of the “whence morality” problem even fails at the most practical level when we remember that computers can learn if what we mean by learning is adjusting for new information, which is all the materialist can mean (which basically drains the “wisdom” component from knowledge, in fact the idea of “wisdom” disappears). The same could be said of a zombie. But no one ascribes morality to computers or zombies. One might as well say that since the Nazis “learned” if they built big gas chambers and big ovens they could kill Jews faster and more economically, then such is an example of “morality.” The writer notes the goal of happiness, but the Nazis were seeking happiness too. We Americans are seeking happiness as our drones patrol the skies looking for targets and as our snipers pick out what might be a terrorist or, well, we think it was a terrorist. Again, the point?
Another obvious problem is with the idea of “programming” mentioned. Think of all the assumptions bound up in that fairly loaded word—assumptions that are immediately done away with in the conclusions! The philosophical gymnastics required here are amazing! Programming assumes purpose, intelligence or mind (otherwise don’t use the word—use something like, “boom”). And how would we even know whether the programming was rational or moral to begin with (and in fact, it cannot be in a causally closed universe)? If one really believed we were “programmed” but in an accidental, purposeless, process that was causally closed, so that free-will and morality are illusions, then the idea of “difference” between humans and other objects becomes at least irrelevant if not impossible. This should be rather obvious to say the least.
Consciousness, the mind, is a problem for the naturalist the same way fossils are a problem for creationists. If the world were as the naturalists tell us it is, the problem would never arise, just like it would never (and will never) arise in computers (unless one believes the Terminator movies are on to something), zombies (if we were to consider ideas abstractly or conceptually), lice, or worms. Creationists have to explain away fossils and evidence for an old earth just like the naturalist has to explain away consciousness, the self, and morality. Neither fit into their ideology, so the facts be damned. Just as some creationists have postulated that God planted the fossils to test us, the naturalist might as well say the devil planted consciousness in us to test our commitment to atheism. The suggestion of “Learning” is a god-of-the-gaps idea to the problem of mind and all that comes with it. Many creationists have never laid eyes on a fossil, but imagine the poor naturalist—he has to have a huge reminder his physicalism is problematic, every waking moment, in his head! Talk about never getting a day off!
The naturalist, however, must address the problem and such is “natural.” The reason this impetus (to resolve the “problem”) is “natural” and the reason the naturalist needs to have-his-cake-and-eat-it-too is to avoid nihilism (Gee, I wonder why?). This is “natural” because materialism is not true and we know and must believe we have true selves and are free-agents (we need these to even make the argument against free-will and morality!). And this is where the “naturalist” destroys nature. After he is done, there is nothing left but atoms in motion and even this is destroyed because one day the universe will die. All disappears. Moreover, he also needs to pronounce on all the things out there (Republicans, Corporations, Religionists, Right-Wing Economists) he thinks are “evil.” To do so, he needs to have a moral vocabulary that actually means something more than, “you say tomato I say tomato.” That he has completely undermined his ability to have a moral vocabulary is glossed over so he can still pronounce on such matters—which of course, is “natural” because we are moral creatures. The price of this cognitive dissonance is not high enough at this point because so much of it (naturalism) is still myth. But the need, which again, is natural—is always present and must be accommodated. The great irony here is that naturalism ends up destroying nature. We end up with no persons or reasons to care about anything. But this is impossible, thus we blog!
Getting back to Cunningham’s book though, he makes some points that go to this whole area and they involve the current understanding of physics. Let’s put aside the Grand Canyon (too small?) size philosophical problems with naturalism/physicalism and just consider physics. My friend notes this issue, but then quickly dismisses the problem and it is no wonder why. He writes:
“The quantum revolution throws a minor wrench into the situation, because the fundamental uncertainty it finds at small scales means that, however much we know, we can never predict where the full set of physical causes is going to take us. Everything may be caused by prior events, but that doesn’t mean everything is determined to a singular fate, as Laplace tried to argue. Some of our prior events are truly random, and thus unknowable in advance. Yet that hardly gives us any more agency- it only leavens the causes that determine our decisions with a bit of comedic randomness.”
I wonder if my friend would consider Guantanamo a case of comedic randomness, but let’s put that aside for now. Ummm, it is much more that a “minor” wrench. That would be like Osama bin Laden suggesting to one of his wives that the dark clad people in his compound might be a “minor” setback. I will discuss this area of physics in my next post.