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Philosophy professor: Science demonstrates atheism, but …

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… your brain didn’t evolve so as to understand that.

From Alex Rosenberg’s Atheist’s Guide to Reality:

Understanding the science is a challenge because of the way science packages its discoveries. Our brain just didn’t evolve to be able to unwrap the package easily. This is why most people have never been able to deal with science. And it’s the main reason why there have always been far fewer atheists than believers. (p. 4)

And also from a 2012 interview at Talking Philosophy:

You note early on that “the effort to argue most people out of religious belief was doomed by the very Darwinian forces that the most fervent of Christians deny.” Does evolution select for superstition and conspiracy theories? And how can they be dispelled?

Getting us from the bottom of the food chain on the African savannah to the top required mother nature (a.k.a. natural selection) to solve several design problems. Its quick and dirty solutions included ones that exaggerated our tendency to see conspiracies—plots in which there is a motive behind every event in nature. That’s what made religious belief unavoidable. It’s why religion is almost universal. Can these false beliefs be dispelled? Probably not completely, and probably not at all for people who have trouble understanding science.

If his brain evolved to understand it, is he a separate species?

Alex Rosenberg is R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

See also: Dennis Prager on reasons for believing in God

KF - Thanks for the reply. I think I'm getting there, but your last sentence threw me a bit: "The point is to do good, inductively well reasoned science, not driven and controlled by ideologies and underlying philosophies such as materialism." before you said: "There is no need for a new school of science that does not a priori impose materialist philosophy" Would it be fair to say that science is methodologically materialistic? It that is true, then it *is* controlled (method) by materialism. rich
The article says it takes a special kind of brain to un ravel science? The evidence in fact tells us that atheism is close to a light mental disorder where the brains of atheists have an extreme problem spotting purpose and order and im seeing it in the way they interpret scientific information. Plus the fact that atheists score so high on the Asperger quotient syndrome test is another clue as to their difficulties in spotting purpose in the universe. This may be why atheists have a hard time spotting design or as the article suggests, actually try to deceive others about it. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/05/29/people-with-aspergers-less-likely-to-see-purpose-behind-the-events-in-their-lives/ In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.” The people with Asperger’s were significantly less likely to offer such anti-teleological explanations than the atheists, indicating they were not engaged in teleological thinking at all. (The atheists, in contrast, revealed themselves to be reasoning teleologically, but then they rejected those thoughts.) These results support the idea that seeing purpose behind life events is a result of our mind’s focus on social thinking. People whose social cognition is impaired—those with Asperger’s, in this case—are less likely to see the events in their lives as having happened for a reason. wallstreeter43
PS: Maybe this from Merriam-Webster will help:
MATERIALISM 1 a : a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter b : a doctrine that the only or the highest values or objectives lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress c : a doctrine that economic or social change is materially caused — compare historical materialism
Rich, Mung is right. There is no need for a new school of science that does not a priori impose materialist philosophy, all that is required is to refuse to make alien ideologies like that to warp scientific thinking. And, natural science by definition is studying the natural world. Those who were looking for a particle recently were not doing "materialist" science, they were simply doing science. The observatory a few miles from here is studying a volcano in action and do not need to impose ideologies to make their science better; though when it comes to hazard warnings, a big problem is that science and desires of people often don't mix well . . . e.g. on issuing evacuation warnings and excluded zones on less than certainty of information. Applied sciences, bleeding over into engineering are best understood as doing science for a business or institutional purpose; the Manhattan project in the 1940's was an unfortunately necessary case in point given that Hitler had people hot on the trail of nukes. Computer science studies an immaterial phenomenon, information and its processing; as does information theory. Mathematics, strictly, is not science though it is used a lot for science and scientists have sometimes pioneered in Math. Electronics, Control and instrumentation, telecommunications and the like are applied sciences. Medicine and pharmacology bridge pure and applied sciences. The point is to do good, inductively well reasoned science, not driven and controlled by ideologies and underlying philosophies such as materialism. KF PS: In and around this blog there are any number of scientists, engineers and people working with various science based disciplines. kairosfocus
Science is already non-materialistic. Mung
Hi KF! Very interesting, but I'm more interested in the practical application and where is can collectively take us. You seem to have a science background, so I'd love your thoughts on non materialistic / immaterial science. What would a research program look like? What are the areas most amenable to research? Where would this new research take us socially and scientifically? Thanks in advance. rich
Rich, pardon but materialism is a philosophy, not science. Self-refuting bad phil, but phil nonetheless. It is simply categorically not relevant to doing science qua science, save where it unfortunately interferes with the proper logic of scientific explanation, and when it lends credence to an even more flawed bit of philosophy, the bit that claims scientific approaches exhaust knowledge or significant knowledge -- which, as a phil claim [in epistemology, the critical study of knowledge], refutes itself. Beyond that, you may want to read Pricipia, especially the General Scholium [try snippets here in my always linked], yes probably the single most important scientific work of all time by the pre-eminent modern scientist. Current workers in science not hampered by imposed materialistic philosophy include Nobel Prize winners. KF kairosfocus
Kirosfocus, I'm interested in your thoughts on non materialistic science. What would a research program look like? What are the areas most amenable to research? Where would this new research take us socially and scientifically? Thanks in advance! rich
I wasn't aware that we had ever been lower than the top of the food chain. But, on the other hand, if we are descended from monkeys... Axel
podcast: Dr. James Le Fanu concludes his talk on big science with insight into its increasingly dogmatic tendencies. Science seems to be discovering its boundaries as it becomes laden with more and more indigestible facts. In this third and final segment of the three-part series, Dr. Le Fanu addresses the phenomenon and the paradox of science today as it finds itself limited by materialist assumptions. http://intelligentdesign.podomatic.com/entry/2013-07-22T12_18_31-07_00 bornagain77
If course, someone could offer a complete alternative theory with just as much "evidence" to support it. And that's "evolutionary theory" for you. Evolution has evolved our brains to believe things which are not true, including the belief that evolution has evolved our brains to believe things which are not true. YAY! Can't wait for keiths, EL, or AF to chime up now. Mung
'Design' so reeks of artifice, doesn't it? It could prompt the ID crowd to get even more uppity. Axel
#2 JDH 'Getting us from the bottom of the food chain on the African savannah to the top required mother nature (a.k.a. natural selection) to solve several design problems. I would respectfully suggest that Mother Nature should turn to biomimetics. A well-justified form of solipsism, maybe, but Man's designs are not going to get her very far. Axel
F/N: This reverses the actual a priori imposition of materialism in an unjustified redefinition of science and as the reference to brains failing to understand implies, is self refuting. Let's cite NSTA on how science is being question-beggingly redefined:
Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work . . . . Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements in the production of scientific knowledge. [[NSTA, Board of Directors, July 2000. Emphases added.]
This basically redefines science as a materialistic just so story game that MUST produce such an explanation regardless of what actual evidence and duties of care to truth and fairness say. Multiply by scientism -- the notion that "science" exhausts knowledge -- and the education malpractice involved is blatant. It is against that general context that we should understand Lewontin's infamous 1997 NYRB assertions:
. . . the problem is to get them [--> i.e. hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [[--> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . . It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[--> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[--> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [NYRB, Jan 1997. This cite bey an eminent scientist about the dominant stance of the scientific elites is so devastating that it is common to hear well poisoning dismissals that this is quote mined. I suggest that the fuller cite and notes here on be read to see this is NOT the case.]
Just the opposite of Rosenberg's assertion, materialist atheism is being imposed on science. I would go farther and comment that these a priori blinkers and abuse of the prestige of science are being used to blind people to what would otherwise be compellingly obvious and overwhelming evidence that the cosmos and the world of life are chock-full of signs of design. (Cf. here on.) Next, we have a case of self refutation. Clipping:
13 --> Some materialists go further and suggest that mind is more or less a delusion. For instance, Sir Francis Crick is on record, in his 1994 The Astonishing Hypothesis: . . . that "You", your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons." This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing. 14 --> Philip Johnson has replied that Sir Francis should have therefore been willing to preface his works thusly: "I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." Johnson then acidly commented: “[[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” [[Reason in the Balance, 1995.] . . . . This issue can be addressed at a more sophisticated level [[cf. Hasker in The Emergent Self (Cornell University Press, 2001), from p 64 on, e.g. here as well as Reppert here and Plantinga here (briefer) & here (noting updates in the 2011 book, The Nature of Nature)], but without losing its general force, it can also be drawn out a bit in a fairly simple way: a: Evolutionary materialism argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature; from hydrogen to humans by undirected chance and necessity. b: Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws of chance and/or mechanical necessity acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of happenstance initial circumstances. (This is physicalism. This view covers both the forms where (a) the mind and the brain are seen as one and the same thing, and those where (b) somehow mind emerges from and/or "supervenes" on brain, perhaps as a result of sophisticated and complex software looping. The key point, though is as already noted: physical causal closure -- the phenomena that play out across time, without residue, are in principle deducible or at least explainable up to various random statistical distributions and/or mechanical laws, from prior physical states. Such physical causal closure, clearly, implicitly discounts or even dismisses the causal effect of concept formation and reasoning then responsibly deciding, in favour of specifically physical interactions in the brain-body control loop; indeed, some mock the idea of -- in their view -- an "obviously" imaginary "ghost" in the meat-machine. [[There is also some evidence from simulation exercises, that accuracy of even sensory perceptions may lose out to utilitarian but inaccurate ones in an evolutionary competition. "It works" does not warrant the inference to "it is true."] ) c: But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this meat-machine picture. So, we rapidly arrive at Crick's claim in his The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994): what we subjectively experience as "thoughts," "reasoning" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as the unintended by-products of the blind natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains that (as the Smith Model illustrates) serve as cybernetic controllers for our bodies. d: These underlying driving forces are viewed as being ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance shaped by forces of selection [["nature"] and psycho-social conditioning [["nurture"], within the framework of human culture [[i.e. socio-cultural conditioning and resulting/associated relativism]. And, remember, the focal issue to such minds -- notice, this is a conceptual analysis made and believed by the materialists! -- is the physical causal chains in a control loop, not the internalised "mouth-noises" that may somehow sit on them and come along for the ride. (Save, insofar as such "mouth noises" somehow associate with or become embedded as physically instantiated signals or maybe codes in such a loop. [[How signals, languages and codes originate and function in systems in our observation of such origin -- i.e by design -- tends to be pushed to the back-burner and conveniently forgotten. So does the point that a signal or code takes its significance precisely from being an intelligently focused on, observed or chosen and significant alternative from a range of possibilities that then can guide decisive action.]) e: For instance, Marxists commonly derided opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismissed qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? Should we not ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is little more than yet another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze? And -- as we saw above -- would the writings of a Crick be any more than the firing of neurons in networks in his own brain? f: For further instance, we may take the favourite whipping-boy of materialists: religion. Notoriously, they often hold that belief in God is not merely cognitive, conceptual error, but delusion. Borderline lunacy, in short. But, if such a patent "delusion" is so utterly widespread, even among the highly educated, then it "must" -- by the principles of evolution -- somehow be adaptive to survival, whether in nature or in society. And so, this would be a major illustration of the unreliability of our conceptual reasoning ability, on the assumption of evolutionary materialism. g: Turning the materialist dismissal of theism around, evolutionary materialism itself would be in the same leaky boat. For, the sauce for the goose is notoriously just as good a sauce for the gander, too. h: That is, on its own premises [[and following Dawkins in A Devil's Chaplain, 2004, p. 46], the cause of the belief system of evolutionary materialism, "must" also be reducible to forces of blind chance and mechanical necessity that are sufficiently adaptive to spread this "meme" in populations of jumped- up apes from the savannahs of East Africa scrambling for survival in a Malthusian world of struggle for existence. Reppert brings the underlying point sharply home, in commenting on the "internalised mouth-noise signals riding on the physical cause-effect chain in a cybernetic loop" view: . . . let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, together cause the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts . . . [[But] if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and [[so] we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions. [[Emphases added. Also cf. Reppert's summary of Barefoot's argument here.] i: The famous geneticist and evolutionary biologist (as well as Socialist) J. B. S. Haldane made much the same point in a famous 1932 remark: "It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” [["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)] j: Therefore, though materialists will often try to pointedly ignore or angrily brush aside the issue, we may freely argue: if such evolutionary materialism is true, then (i) our consciousness, (ii) the "thoughts" we have, (iii) the conceptualised beliefs we hold, (iv) the reasonings we attempt based on such and (v) the "conclusions" and "choices" (a.k.a. "decisions") we reach -- without residue -- must be produced and controlled by blind forces of chance happenstance and mechanical necessity that are irrelevant to "mere" ill-defined abstractions such as: purpose or truth, or even logical validity. (NB: The conclusions of such "arguments" may still happen to be true, by astonishingly lucky coincidence — but we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” or "warranted" them. It seems that rationality itself has thus been undermined fatally on evolutionary materialistic premises. Including that of Crick et al. Through, self-reference leading to incoherence and utter inability to provide a cogent explanation of our commonplace, first-person experience of reasoning and rational warrant for beliefs, conclusions and chosen paths of action. Reduction to absurdity and explanatory failure in short.) k: And, if materialists then object: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must immediately note that -- as the fate of Newtonian Dynamics between 1880 and 1930 shows -- empirical support is not equivalent to establishing the truth of a scientific theory. For, at any time, one newly discovered countering fact can in principle overturn the hitherto most reliable of theories. (And as well, we must not lose sight of this: in science, one is relying on the legitimacy of the reasoning process to make the case that scientific evidence provides reasonable albeit provisional warrant for one's beliefs etc. Scientific reasoning is not independent of reasoning.) l: Worse, in the case of origins science theories, we simply were not there to directly observe the facts of the remote past, so origins sciences are even more strongly controlled by assumptions and inferences than are operational scientific theories. So, we contrast the way that direct observations of falling apples and orbiting planets allow us to test our theories of gravity . . . . o: More important, to demonstrate that empirical tests provide empirical support to the materialists' theories would require the use of the very process of reasoning and inference which they have discredited. p: Thus, evolutionary materialism arguably reduces reason itself to the status of illusion. But, as we have seen: immediately, that must include “Materialism.” q: In the end, it is thus quite hard to escape the conclusion that materialism is based on self-defeating, question-begging logic. r: So, while materialists -- just like the rest of us -- in practice routinely rely on the credibility of reasoning and despite all the confidence they may project, they at best struggle to warrant such a tacitly accepted credibility of mind and of concepts and reasoned out conclusions relative to the core claims of their worldview. (And, sadly: too often, they tend to pointedly ignore or rhetorically brush aside the issue.)
So, it seems we should take the confident declarations as to how science has proved atheism with a grain of salt, about 6" on the side. KF kairosfocus
There is another degree of pride that is implicit in the word “hubris,” which is defined as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence often resulting in retribution.” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) This word is rooted directly in the Greek, and according to Greek scholar William Barclay, “hubris is mingled pride and cruelty . . . , the arrogant contempt which makes [a man] trample on the hearts of his fellow men.” On this account, Barclay makes the grave observation: “Hubris is the pride which makes a man defy God.” The psalmist David said: “The wicked one according to his superciliousness [“arrogant as he is,” The New English Bible] makes no search; all his ideas are: ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 10:4; 14:1) In part, faith is based on the fundamental truth that God exists. “Superciliousness” is literally translated “to the height of his nose”. People might hold personal ideas about God but they proudly refuse to search and see whether these ideas are correct. Their thoughts are not on finding out the truth, but rather on self-exaltation and pride. Barb
Getting us from the bottom of the food chain on the African savannah to the top required mother nature (a.k.a. natural selection) to solve several design problems.
I have some questions. Wasn't the exodus from the African savannah about 50,000-60,000 years ago? I know it took place in stages but no one is suggesting that any of the stages are different from each other or are they? If so the human genome was fixed then as humans literally spread to every continent and nook and cranny on the planet. So wasn't most of the climb up the food chain achieved while still on the savannahs? Was there any evolution since then in any of these isolated places? Or I assume it would show up in the genomes which are now being collected from all over the world. We have taller individuals, different body types, different skin color, different facial features and some other small differences but we essentially have the same gene pool or do we? What were the design problems that were solved? I assume that life on the savannah was fairly simple, no farms, no organized huts, no complex social interaction, primitive instruments etc. Just what were these design problems? Which genes/proteins had to be developed to solve the problems? How is this presentation not just wishful thinking like every other attempt to justify an ideological position? jerry
If his brain evolved to understand it and my brain evolved not to understand it, which is right? Maybe his brain is the anomaly! After all, numbers wise, evolution seems to have produced more believers than unbelievers so perhaps that position has more survival value and is superior to the atheistic idea. But if atheism is true, what does it matter what people believe anyway? tjguy
Getting us from the bottom of the food chain on the African savannah to the top required mother nature (a.k.a. natural selection) to solve several design problems.
I just love how people who deny design, can't help but discuss things in terms of design. Does it ever concern them that there has never been a rigorous mathematical statement that "evolution" is able to create all these things that "look" designed? Do they ever consider the impossible probabilities involved or do they just keep hoping for more unguided add-ons to justify their commitment to the blindness of the watchmaker? Do they not understand why I consider this foolish and self-contradictory? "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." JDH
If the brain has evolved to believe in Theism, and Theism is not necessarily true, then what makes him think that the fact that his brain has evolved to believe in atheism makes atheism necessarily true? johnp
If his brain evolved to understand it, is he a separate species?
From the way they speak, it appears that atheists regard themselves not only as a separate species from the rest of us, but a superior one as well. EvilSnack

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