Friday, November 27, 2009

The Insufficiency of Naturalism by Robert Stewart

Robert Stewart was the soft-spoken chairman of the Come, Let Us Reason Conference recently held in New Orleans. He spoke on the insufficiency of naturalism. Here's a summary of his talk.

1. All world-views tell a story -- basic beliefs we reason from, rather than to.
2. Everybody has one.
3. They are prescriptive -- they tell us both the way things are, and the way things ought to be.
4. They can be critiqued. Even though they exist deep-down and are fundamental, like an OS, they can be swapped or modified.

World-views answer four basic questions:
1. Who am I - identity
2. Where Am I - setting, context
3. What's Wrong? "Every world-view believes there is something wrong with the world"
4. What's the solution?

World-views can be critiqued based on the criteria of
Coherence -- Is it internally consistent or contradictory?
Correlation (correspondence) -- Does it match our experience of life?
Comprehensiveness -- Does it answer all the relevant data?
Consistency -- Is it livable in practice?
Contentment -- Does it provide existentially satisfying answers to life?

Camus -- central question of life -- what can I devote my life to?

The Naturalist World-view.

1. The Naturalist Story. "The universe is all there is, all there ever has been, and all there ever will be. It consists of material objects. Life emerged from the accidental combination of the right elements and has evolved through the eons as the result of gradual mutations coupled with natural selection, i.e., the survival of the fittest"

2. Naturalist Answers to World-view Questions
a) Who Am I? Cosmic accident result of impersonal physical forces
b) Where Am I? Inhabit tiny portion of eternal universe
c) What Is the Problem? I have been superstitious believing in supernatural causes and consequences.
d) What Is the Solution? Embrace reality and construct a meaningful life and society

Naturalist Praxis.
1. Reductionistic science - law of parsimony, Ocham's razor - abductive reasoning - reduce everything to science
2. Darwinian faith.
3. Inherent goodness of humanity.
4. Centrality of the self.

Critiquing Naturalism.

Coherence -- holds within it a great contradiction -- what is the source of human rational thought -- must be a material source -- mind nothing more than chemical reactions, molecules in motion, thoughts are no more, no better than this. The mind finds its ultimate grounds in mindlessness.

Corrrelation -- Most people believe that choice is not the same as an involuntary knee-jerk in a doctor's office. But, if materialism is true, then free-will goes out the window. Same with love -- we cannot love freely.

Comprehensiveness -- Cannot adequately explain consciousness Ned Block - no conception to explain consciousness. Dawkins, Steven Pinker "beats the heck out of me". Zilch. Researchers are stumped. Purpose -- is utilitarian. "Why did my fingers move as they did when I typed out my notes last night?" Can answer the mechanics of fingers moving, but not the motivation for typing, or the conscious choice of what to type, cannot count for the "I" directing the movement of the hands to type

Consistency -- unliveable. Michael Ruse and Wilson - we are deceived by our genes into thinking that there is objective moral code existing above individual human desire and outside of, in some sense, biology, e.g., Dawkins "the illusion of purpose which so strikes all who contemplate nature"

Contentment -- what we think of as a real choice is merely a chemical reaction. Morals are, ultimately, either a trick of evolution or based on purely subjective human preference. We are fooled into thinking human beings have intrinsic worth, fooled into thinking we have intrinsic purpose, fooled into thinking that conscience imposes objective moral constraints on us, fooled into thinking that we freely choose, fooled into thinking that biological creatures are designed, fooled into thinking we have a mind as well as a brain, and, indeed, fooled into thinking that there "I" exists in some way apart from or in addition to my body and brain, which are purely material entities existing as chemicals and chemical activities.

"There is no immaterial, supervisory self".

Comment: Atheists like to say that atheism is not a world-view, it is simply this standalone belief that there is no God. However, it does have implications. Perhaps the stronger issue is not theism vs. atheism, but world-views -- OK, you say you are an atheist. What is your world-view?


11 comments:

lastchancetosee said...

A critique of the critique, but before I get into that:

Christianity:
1. Who am I - the pinnacle of creation, created and installed by god to rule the world.
2. Where Am I - The centre of the world, ruler over nature.
3. What's Wrong? We are sinful.
4. What's the solution? Turn to god, ask for forgiveness, abide by his rules.

So, let's criticize! For brevity I'll stick with the 4 answers above whenever possible.
Coherence: None. 3) is a glaring contradiction of 1).
Correlation: Nope. 1) and 2) are contradicted by almost everything we know about the universe and our planet.
Comprehensiveness: Far from it. By replacing most meaningful answers with 'goddidit', it actually manages to explain very little. Whenever it strays from the philosophical to the physical, it gives wrong answers.
Consistency: Unfortunately, apparently it is.
Contentment It does give contentment, albeit a rather hollow one in my opinion, but whatever floats your boat.

So, christianity fails the 'Stewart-Test'.

lastchancetosee said...

A critique of the critique, but before I get into that:

Christianity:
1. Who am I - the pinnacle of creation, created and installed by god to rule the world.
2. Where Am I - The centre of the world, ruler over nature.
3. What's Wrong? We are sinful.
4. What's the solution? Turn to god, ask for forgiveness, abide by his rules.

So, let's criticize! For brevity I'll stick with the 4 answers above whenever possible.
Coherence: None. 3) is a glaring contradiction of 1).
Correlation: Nope. 1) and 2) are contradicted by almost everything we know about the universe and our planet.
Comprehensiveness: Far from it. By replacing most meaningful answers with 'goddidit', it actually manages to explain very little. Whenever it strays from the philosophical to the physical, it gives wrong answers.
Consistency: Unfortunately, apparently it is.
Contentment It does give contentment, albeit a rather hollow one in my opinion, but whatever floats your boat.

So, christianity fails the 'Stewart-Test'.

lastchancetosee said...

Now, the critique of the critique.

On his description of worldviews:
3) Prescriptiveness: Actually, for many worldviews this seems to boil down to "everybody should have this one". Others don't have any prescriptive element at all.

Questions:
I doubt that worldviews can be adequately boiled down to these, but I'll let them stand.

His criteria however are something else. The last one, 'Contentment' is clearly bollocks. Why should it be a requirement to make me feel good?
Any worldview not rooted in reality is necessarily bullshit (See for example Stewart's criteria 1-3). Since reality can't be required to make me feel good about it, neither can a worldview. 'Comperhensiveness' isn't much better. There is no worldview that explains all the relevant data. There are some who maybe will, one day, other never will. The correct criterion would be if the worldview can IN PRINCIPLE explain everything, not if it already has. But since that is unverifyable we can as just drop it.


I won't go into his disection of the naturalist worldview in detail, I think it sort of misses the point, but it isn't wrong, so I'll let it stand.

So, on to his critique:
Coherence: False. Rational though does not contradict the naturalist view. Just because we can't yet explain it doesn't mean it can't be explained without contradicting Naturalist core beliefs.
Correlation: False again, materalism does not preclude free will. The speaker seems to be stuck in a Newtonian world.
Comprehensiveness: Invalid criterion, moving on.
Consistency: False again. Just asserting that it is unlivable is not enough, you know.
Contentment: Invalid criterion.

He really hasn't thought this through. Or, he is allowing his religious worldview to taint his evalutation of the naturalistic one.


"What is your world-view?"
That this world is logical. Following from that, that the scientific method is a valid method to decide what is real and what is not. Everything else follows from that.

Oh, and btw., atheism is a worldview, but only in the sense that not believing in the tooth fairy is one.

RkBall said...

LC2C: Thank you for your withering critique -- we are all left speechless at the profundity of it! And posting it twice amounts to a double-witness, so it must be true!

RkBall said...

"materalism does not preclude free will."

You better spend some time over at naturalism.org.

RkBall said...

"Following from that, that the scientific method is a valid method to decide what is real and what is not. Everything else follows from that."

Please provide the scientific proofs for:

1) you are experiencing pain/happiness/anger/doubt, etc.

2. your mother loves you.

3. you are dealing with a real person when responding to my blog posts, and not e.g., computer-generated stuff.

4. Other minds besides yours exist.

5. Your mind exists.

Otherwise, you presumably can make no statements about such matters.

lastchancetosee said...

Sorry about the double post, my browser messed up the OpenID-login and I thought that the first attempt failed because of that. Turns out it didn't. Maybe you could just delete the copy.

On free will and materialism (or better, naturalism, let's stick with one word, shall we?):

It's quite simple, really.
The Newtonian view of the world, classical physics, was indeed completely deterministic, from which f course followed that free will was indeed an illusion.
The advent of quantum mechanics put paid to that. Quantum mechanics is not deterministic, therefore the universe isn't, therefore we aren't, therefore free will can exist.
That's not to say it necessarily does. I very much doubt that we'd be able to tell the difference.

As for your questions, some of the answers are simple and biochemical, and I'd ask you to look it upt for yourself in the literature, if you're interested. For others no worldview provides answers so I don't see how those should be a failure of naturalism, specifically. To quickly answer them all: All the evidence points towards it. For example: My mother shows all the signs/behaviours commonly associated with love, so the assumption is that she loves me.
But all that is beside the point.

The point is that none of your questions have anything to do with my (or any other) worldview. I don't see the way I view the world as a vehicle for easy answers, I see it as a vehicle to explain the world to me.
Unanswered question ('What is love?', for example) are not a reason to change the worldview, only (within the current construct of assumptions and conclusions) unanserable ones are.

A worldview shouldn't provide you with a ready answer for everything (this is where Stewarts criterion 'Comprehensiveness' fails), but rather equip one with the tools necessary to explain everything.

RkBall said...

"Oh, and btw., atheism is a worldview, but only in the sense that not believing in the tooth fairy is one."

""The question about God is not merely a question about another entity but a question about the character of the universe as a whole. The rejection of the cosmological argument implicitly carries with it a commitment to a rival metaphysical view, such as pantheism or naturalism. Ultimately, the question is not, 'Can God's existence be proved?' but 'Which metaphysical view is most plausible?'" -- C. Stephen Evans

RkBall said...

Since quantum theory presumably governs all of the natural universe, then, logically, I assume you believe that slugs and worms and bugs and ferns and trees and rocks equally have free will. And since quantum theory is presumably considered constant over time, then human beings have as much free will now as we had when we were in our bacteria or worm state, right? Or, is free will, like love, consciousness, self-consciousness, moral sense, rational thought, logic, sense of justice, honor, integrity, etc. etc. etc. something that emerged through an unbroken natural chain of cause-and-effect from the Big Bang onwards, and thus existed, at least latently, in the stardust and water of the universe?

lastchancetosee said...

No.

The question was whether or not free will is a contradiction of naturalism.
Quantum theory makes free will possible, it doesn't imply it. But that is enough to refute the above argument.

If there is such a thing as free will (and again, I'm sure that we are sufficiently complex as to be incapable of distinguishing free will from the illusion of it in ourselves), then it has developed, over time, in some organisms. It sure isn't inherent in everything. I don't know where you get that idea from.

RkBall said...

Is there an immaterial supervisory "self", or are we just molecules in motion and nothing more?

Do we control the quantum flucts, or do they control us?

For evidence of an immaterial mind, go here:

http://www.iands.es/bibliografia/Sartori_Fenwick.pdf

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"