One thing that has often held up discussions about ID is the question of where are the bounds between the material and the immaterial? If one is going to claim materialism – methodological or otherwise – one must first know what they mean by materialism and its negation. There are some theologians, for instance, who claim to be materialists, but believe that angels and demons are part of the material world. Likewise, throughout history, the divide between what is considered material and what is considered immaterial has changed considerably.
Many people have complained that ID doesn’t follow methodological materialism. I believe that claim to be true. However, for someone to make the claim – either in praise or blame, they first need to have a good idea at what methodological materialism is. I have found that many people who claim materialism don’t want to specify a rigorous definition of materialism. I don’t know if it is just that they haven’t thought about it, or that they are too frightened that it might turn out to not be true.
In any case, I will put out here two (equivalent) definitions of materialism, from two different sources. These are very rigorous and meaningful definitions. If you disagree with these definitions, I would like to know (a) why you disagree, and (b) what your definition of materialism is. If you cannot specify a definition of materialism equally as rigorous, then any objection to ID as being against methodological materialism is simply spurious – without a rigorous definition, for all we know every other part of science might be just as guilty.
Materialism Concept #1 – The Principle of Computational Equivalence – This is Stephen Wolfram’s overarching principle of the universe. It states that all physical processes (and for him, this is all processes in nature) are computationally equivalent to a computer.
Materialism Concept #2 – van Rooj’s Tractable Cognition Thesis – this is essentially the same as Wolfram’s Principle of Computational Equivalence, but applied to cognitive science. It states that the human mind must obey the same types of finite computing limits that a computer does. Therefore, if a computational process would have a minimum runtime complexity of O(N^2) on a computer, it would have the same in the mind.
These are very well-defined and rigorous definitions of materialism. These are the definitions I use in my own research, and those basically presumed by the mathematics of Dembski and others. If these are incorrect, what is a better definition? If you are a materialist, and you don’t have a rigorous definition of materialism, then what is it except a rhetorical trick? What do these definitions lack that need to be modified?
My goal here is to simply lay the foundations, so we can all see the practical implications of both materialism and its negation. For example, van Rooj uses his Tractable Cognition Thesis to exclude many possible scenarios of mental computation because they are not computationally tractable. Dembski uses the same definition to find evidences of nonmaterial intelligence in the world.
What say you?