That Science Which Would Marry the Age Will Soon Find Itself a Widower

To follow up with my last post, from Darwin’s Pious Idea, in addressing materialism/naturalism we come to the area of physics and what we might learn as to how our current understanding addresses materialism. Rather than provide much commentary, I am simply going to quote many of the pertinent passages. I may provide more commentary in another post if necessary and time allows. Hopefully, the quotes will speak for themselves. The bottom line is that materialism doesn’t understand matter; naturalism doesn’t understand nature. It would be like theologians learning they had fundamentally misunderstood the nature of God.

The rumor that there is nothing but matter turned out to be fraudulent, but there is another, more serious rumor around, one that is altogether true scientifically, philosophically, and theologically. It is that materialism is dead. It is dead because it is incoherent at every level of analysis; what we find in its place today is a combination of ideology and wishful thinking. To invoke matter today as the most basic term of our philosophical worldview is equivalent to saying “God did it.”…Why has this fate befallen materialism? Because matter has been found out, its pretense crumbled—because matter, quite simply, does not exist, at least not in the manner materialism requires. In short, matter is inscrutable. Likewise, bodies are no longer available in any simplistic sense. As Noam Chomsky says, “Newton exorcised the machine, not the ghost,” that is, the Cartesian understanding of mechanics was found to be wrong; in its place it was “necessary to invoke what Newton called an ‘occult quality’ to account for the simplest phenomena of nature, a fact he and other scientists found disturbing and paradoxical.

As Crane and Mellor point out, “The ‘matter’ of modern physics is not at all solid, or inert, or impenetrable, or conserved, and it interacts indeterministically and arguably some times at a distance. Faced with these discoveries, materialisms’ modern descendants have—understandably—lost their metaphysical nerve.” Materialism has just rolled over, remaining only a slave to a theoretically complete physics, which now defines the empirical world. In other words, materialism is a misnomer. It is so weak and paltry that it cannot even hold onto its one primitive term, matter. This once laudable philosophical tradition is now more like a prostitute who will go by any name science wishes to call it, not that science pays it much notice, mind you. Crane and Mellor continue: “Those for whom reduction to physics is the touchstone of the physical do not propose to do it in practice. They simply insist that it can be done ‘in principle.’ But what is the principle? It cannot be physicalism. These sciences cannot be reducible in principle because they are physical, if reducibility in principle (RIP) is supposed to tell us which sciences could ‘in principle’ be reduced to physics.” It seems there is no principle involved; there is only dogma of ideology, in this case “no theology.” “Reducibility to physics or to microphysics is a hopeless test of the ontological authority of science: a test which not even a physicalist can apply consistently.” The whole appeal to the physical is one purely of emotion and not argument. (Crane and Mellor, “No Question of Physicalism”)

As Stapp points out, “The conflating of Nature with the impoverished mechanical conception of it invented by scientists during the seventeenth century has derailed the philosophies of science and of mind for more than three centuries, by effectively eliminating the causal link between the psychological and physical aspects of nature that contemporary physics restores.” (Henry P. Stapp, “Mindful Universe”)

As Hans Primus says, “Today nobody defends Newton’s atomistic ontology any more. Nevertheless, the naïve reductionism which tries to explain all phenomena in terms of entities at a supposedly lowest level of theoretical description is still popular. This approach fails simply because the presumed lower level entities do not exist in a theory-independent sense. Modern Quantum mechanics put an end to atomism. The so-called fundamental entities (such as electrons, quarks, or gluons) represent patterns of reality yet they are not the building blocks of reality. They are not primary, but rather secondary and derived.” (Hans Primas, “Complementarity of Mind and Matter”)

For example, Dennett’s understanding of the mind rests on the idea that “a brain was always going to do what it was caused to do by current, local, mechanical circumstances.” But as Stapp points out, by “making this judgment he tied his thinking to the physical half of the Cartesian dualism, or its child, classical physics, and thus was forced in his book Consciousness Explained to leave consciousness out.” Sensibly, and correctly, Stapp points out that this old-fashioned materialist view of the universe destroys the basis of ethics and of personal responsibility.

Mind once again takes center stage and is no longer exiled to the land of impotence (where it existed but was epiphenomenal) or to that of illusion (that is, eliminated). The assertion that “modern science is premised on the assumption that the material world is a causally closed system” is simply not correct according to Hans Primas. This idea is “in striking contradiction to experimental science. Every experiment requires an irreversible dynamics. No experiment refers to a closed physical system. In a strictly deterministic world it would neither be possible to perform meaningful experiments nor to verify the partially causal behavior of a physical system. We conclude that science neither assumes that the material world is a causally closed system, nor that physical laws imply the causal closure of physics…The empirically unfounded idea that the physical world is ‘causally closed’ and that physical laws have a universal validity is related to the failure to distinguish between tenseless laws and tensed phenomena.”

A consequence of the division between tenseless laws and a tensed “Now” is that physical laws—which are, to repeat, related to homogenous time—do not offer a complete theoretical scheme. “Fundamental physics gets its laws by artificially postulating a principle of the uniformity of nature…thereby suppressing indexical and intentional features. That is, the laws of physics are not laws of nature, but they prompt scientists to act.” Once again we must not make the mistake of privileging the objective, forgetting that it is a moment of life and not life itself. Likewise, laws prompt experiment and do not replace it. “There is no fundamental physical principle that is related to the concept of a Now.”

Dennett and his ilk appear to completely ignore current science. They remain beholden to bygone days of old, perhaps to avoid the apparently philosophical and theological implications of current science. For example, Dennett insists on both the conservation of energy and causal closure, both of which rule out dualism: “A fundamental principle in physics is the expenditure of energy…This principle of conservation of energy…is apparently violated by dualism. This confrontation between standard physics and dualism has been endlessly discussed since Descartes’ own day, and is widely regarded as the inescapable flaw in dualism.” But this relies on identifying standard physics with the now defunct classical physics. Thus Stapp tells us that Dennett’s argument “collapses when one goes over to contemporary physics.” Moreover, asks Stapp, “what is the rational basis of the claim that the physical description is causally closed when the classical physics description, from which the notion of causal closure of the physical arose, dissolves into mere potentialities, and the realities—as opposed to potentialities—that are to be found in the phenomenally validated conventional quantum theory are described in psychological rather than physical terms.”

Stapp chastises such philosophers (Chalmers, Pinker) who masquerade as spokespersons for science when in fact they are no such thing, for they are presenting to the public a “grotesquely inadequate old scientific theory.” When we pay attention to current physics, we realize how irrational it is to assume that, to account for understanding, we must understand the brain. This assumption is a relic from a time that, in terms of truth, never actually was.

Let us end this section with a final quote by Stapp: “A radical shift in the physics-based conception of man from an isolated mechanical automaton to that of an integral participant in a non-local holistic process that gives form and meaning to the evolving universe is a seismic event of potentially momentous proportions.” The problem is, no one seems to have told naturalism about this seismic event.”

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2 Responses to That Science Which Would Marry the Age Will Soon Find Itself a Widower

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Congratulations for reading the whole book. It sounds like quite a chore. Perhaps an appropriate thought to add is a plug for possibilianism.

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  2. Darrell says:

    It wasn't the end of the book, just the end of that section.

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