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Times Literary Supplement reviewer, trashing C.S. Lewis, mentions in passing that, by the way naturalism is dead

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In a Times Literary Supplement review of Alister McGrath’s new book on C. S. Lewis, C. S. Lewis: A Life—a review which is, for all practical purposes, an attack on Lewis—reviewer Anthony Kenny nonetheless has some surprising things to say about naturalism (materialism):

There remains the argument that naturalism is self-refuting. Despite the rough handling that Lewis’s version of it received from Anscombe, versions of this argument remain popular among philosophers. And indeed there are signs that naturalism is collapsing under its own weight. Even self-proclaimed naturalists seem unable to give a clear account of it. Of course, the natural is contrasted with the supernatural; but that contrast by itself will not give us a non-circular account of nature.

At one time it seemed as if a robust and substantive naturalism could be easily stated. This was a conception that thought of the world as being made up of solid, inert, impenetrable and conserved matter – a matter that interacts deterministically and through contact. But twentieth-century physics posited entities and interactions that did not fit the materialist characterization of reality, and which took science far away from a world of solid, inert, massy material atoms.

Shall we identify naturalism, then, not by its ontology, but by its method? Methodological naturalism would be a commitment to employing in inquiry only the methods of the empirical sciences and mathematics. But this would surely be an unjustifiably dogmatic stance. In recent years, it seems, the armoury once deployed so confidently by atheists to demolish belief has been gradually decommissioned: verificationism, materialism, reductionism, physicalism. One is left wondering what is left of naturalism after all these weapons of mass deconstruction have been laid aside.

Burnt toast, I guess.

What’s remarkable is the way this sophisticate just tosses that off, as if all the “in” people now know.

Maybe the people who shop at discount stores and thrifts don’t know yet, but …

What will replace it? Guesses?

See also: Why materialist neuroscience must necessarily remain a pseudo-discipline

12 Replies to “Times Literary Supplement reviewer, trashing C.S. Lewis, mentions in passing that, by the way naturalism is dead

  1. 1
    keiths says:

    Kenny’s view of what naturalism is is just silly.

    Most physicists would be quite surprised to hear that they cannot be naturalists, according to Kenny, merely because they accept quantum mechanics.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Study reveals key step in protein synthesis – June 27, 2013
    http://phys.org/news/2013-06-r.....hesis.html

  3. 3
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    It’s possible that Kenney, as a rather good philosopher and historian of philosophy, doesn’t notice the degree to which philosophical criticisms of ‘naturalism’ have failed to ‘trickle down’, so to speak. It’s also possible that ‘naturalism’ just isn’t the Big Bad Bogeyman that it’s often claimed to be, especially in ID circles.

    If I were a betting man (which I’m not), I’d place my bets at 20% the first, 80% the second.

  4. 4
    keiths says:

    KN,

    Every naturalist/materialist/physicalist I know accepts quantum mechanics and relativity.

    It makes no sense for Kenny to write that “twentieth-century physics posited entities and interactions that did not fit the materialist characterization of reality…”.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Divinely Planted Quantum States – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCTBygadaM4#t=156s

    to try to fit naturalism into quantum mechanics is truly what is ‘just plain silly’:

    For instance if naturalism tries to explain just the, ahem, ‘simple’ double slit experiment,,,

    Quantum Mechanics – Double Slit Experiment. Is anything really physical? (Prof. Anton Zeilinger) – video
    Quote: “The path taken by the photon is not an element of reality. We are not allowed to talk about the photon passing through this or this slit. Neither are we allowed to say the photon passed through both slits. All this kind of language is not applicable.” – Anton Zeilinger
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayvbKafw2g0

    ,,, then naturalism is forced to postulate ‘many worlds’ in that the observer splits into parallel versions of himself every-time an observation (measurement) of a particle is made:

    ‘I tentatively accept the consequences of such a theory, including that I would also be a multiversal object, which includes at least 10^500 versions of myself’ – Scott – Many Worlds proponent
    http://darwins-god.blogspot.co.....8409346277

    Now I know many atheists, who have no shortage of ego, who would have no problem whatsoever imagining a virtual infinity of themselves in parallel universes to ‘explain away’ wave collapse rather than ever conceding the necessity of almighty God as ‘first mover’ (Aquinas) so as to explain wave collapse, but the fact of the matter is that, to put it mildly, postulating an infinity of parallel selves to ‘explain away’ wave collapse, rather than just one God, is not parsimonious.

    You don’t exist in an infinite number of places, say scientists – January 25, 2013
    Excerpt: Soler Gil and Alfonseca also note that, Paul Dirac once stated that the most important challenge in physics was “to get rid of infinity.”
    ,,, they emphasize that the point of their critique is to show that the idea remains in the realm of philosophy, mythology, and sci-fi tales, not modern cosmology. They call the speculation “ironic science,” a term used by science journalist John Horgan to describe options that do not converge on truth but are at best “interesting.”
    http://phys.org/news/2013-01-d.....tists.html

    Here is a more stringent falsification of many worlds

    Nonlocality and free will vs. many-worlds and determinism: The material world emerges from outside space-time – Antoine Suarez – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?f.....Bs#t=2469s

    This following research demonstrated that even a quasi infinite ‘many worlds’ cannot account for quantum entanglement:

    Looking Beyond Space and Time to Cope With Quantum Theory – (Oct. 28, 2012)
    Excerpt: To derive their inequality, which sets up a measurement of entanglement between four particles, the researchers considered what behaviours are possible for four particles that are connected by influences that stay hidden and that travel at some arbitrary finite speed.
    Mathematically (and mind-bogglingly), these constraints define an 80-dimensional object. The testable hidden influence inequality is the boundary of the shadow this 80-dimensional shape casts in 44 dimensions. The researchers showed that quantum predictions can lie outside this boundary, which means they are going against one of the assumptions. Outside the boundary, either the influences can’t stay hidden, or they must have infinite speed.,,,
    The remaining option is to accept that (quantum) influences must be infinitely fast,,,
    “Our result gives weight to the idea that quantum correlations somehow arise from outside spacetime, in the sense that no story in space and time can describe them,” says Nicolas Gisin, Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland,,,
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....142217.htm

    of semi related note to relativity:

    “I’ve just developed a new theory of eternity.”
    Albert Einstein – The Einstein Factor – Reader’s Digest

    “The laws of relativity have changed timeless existence from a theological claim to a physical reality. Light, you see, is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities. I don’t pretend to know how tomorrow can exist simultaneously with today and yesterday. But at the speed of light they actually and rigorously do. Time does not pass.”
    Richard Swenson – More Than Meets The Eye, Chpt. 12

    Albert Einstein – Special Relativity – Insight Into Eternity – ‘thought experiment’ video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/6545941/

    It is also very interesting to note that this strange higher dimensional, eternal, framework for time, found in both special relativity and general relativity, finds corroboration in Near Death Experience testimonies:

    ‘In the ‘spirit world,,, instantly, there was no sense of time. See, everything on earth is related to time. You got up this morning, you are going to go to bed tonight. Something is new, it will get old. Something is born, it’s going to die. Everything on the physical plane is relative to time, but everything in the spiritual plane is relative to eternity. Instantly I was in total consciousness and awareness of eternity, and you and I as we live in this earth cannot even comprehend it, because everything that we have here is filled within the veil of the temporal life. In the spirit life that is more real than anything else and it is awesome. Eternity as a concept is awesome. There is no such thing as time. I knew that whatever happened was going to go on and on.’
    Mickey Robinson – Near Death Experience testimony – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4045544

    It is also very interesting to point out that the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, reported in many Near Death Experiences(NDEs), is also corroborated by Special Relativity when considering the optical effects for traveling at the speed of light. Please compare the similarity of the optical effect, noted at the 3:22 minute mark of the following video, when the 3-Dimensional world ‘folds and collapses’ into a tunnel shape around the direction of travel as a ‘hypothetical’ observer moves towards the ‘higher dimension’ of the speed of light, with the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ reported in very many Near Death Experiences: (Of note: This following video was made by two Australian University Physics Professors with a supercomputer.)

    Approaching The Speed Of Light – Optical Effects – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5733303/

    Anyone who believes that naturalism gets along fine with these findings from Quantum Mechanics and relativity is living in a dream world!

  6. 6

    Perhaps the resolution in #1keith and #3KN is that physicists shop at Wal-Mart. Since I am a physicist, and spend quite a bit of time talking to physicists, I can tell you what they think of naturalism–“Is that something I need to put in my proposal?”

    Most wouldn’t be able to identify Kant as a philosopher. In their defense, most philosophers wouldn’t recognize Kant as an influential astronomer.

    The reasons, while partly to blame on our decaying educational system, are also that we have become a highly specialized society. Physicists don’t take Liberal Arts courses. I did, but then I paid dearly for it in grad school because I was poorly prepared for solving elementary boundary value problems.

    Does this mean that #3KN is right, that ID overplays the “naturalism is dead” card?

    No, because you can use something without knowing it, or how it works. Physicists, and I suspect philosophers, are highly pragmatic sorts of people. If they spot a tool that enables them to get results before the competition, they will be all over it. I was just reading in Physics Today a short biography of Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925), a self-taught theoretical physicist who introduced the world to Maxwell’s Equations in vector operator form–the way it is taught today. Mathematicians rejected his manuscripts because they weren’t “rigorous”. To which he replied, “Shall I refuse my dinner because I do not fully understand the process of digestion?”

    If naturalism actually produced results, especially results no one else was getting, physicists and biologists would be all over it. The real story from my biology colleagues in a state university department, is that naturalism and Darwinism is absolutely useless for research and papers. The hypotheses and problem solving that goes into a research project don’t just ignore naturalism, they oppose it. One looks for purposes to a recently discovered peculiar biochemical machine, despite officially claiming that naturalism is devoid of purpose. One compares chemical or physical efficiencies to perfection, despite claiming that naturalism knows nothing of absolutes, of forms, of the ideal.

    It is almost as if public support of naturalism is a smokescreen to slow down the competition, while “those in the know” secretly violate its premises. Sorta how the Communist Party of Russia operated throughout the 20th century. Come to think of it, look what official naturalism did for biology in Russia.

    So maybe Naturalism isn’t dead, but its the virus that brings it.

  7. 7
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    I think that the real problem with naturalism is that it runs afoul of what I used to call “the content problem”, until I learned that it’s better known as Hempel’s dilemma.

    The problem, basically, is that if we define “naturalism” as “anti-supernaturalism”, then the definition is vacuous. But if we define “naturalism” as “whatever is accepted by our best science,” then we’re just writing a blank check to science. If we ended up with empirical confirmation of, say, paranormal phenomena, then those would just end up being defined as “naturalistic”, and that’s unsatisfying.

    Consider the role of teleological descriptions in biology. If we take them at face-value, then we should accommodate teleology as a basic feature of the natural world. Back when the dominant metaphysics of science was hard-core, reductionistic materialism, it was relatively easy to dismiss teleology — one could say, “sure, it looks purposive, but we all know that it just can’t be.” But that dismissive gesture just isn’t compelling anymore except to the aggressive popularizers of Epicureanism, like Dawkins and Alex Rosenberg. And I believe that that aggressive popularization directly motivates the appeal of the intelligent design movement as a response.

    On the other hand, if one accepts the utility of teleological descriptions, and thereby accepts the reality of purposiveness, then it’s not really so clear what the point is in insisting on “naturalism” at all.

    In fact, I’ll go one step further: “naturalism,” I’ve finally come to believe, is the vacuous husk leftover once one rejects materialism and physicalism but has nothing to replace them with. That’s why I’ve decided to regard myself as an “emergentist” instead of trying to revive naturalism.

    I’ll continue to use “material” and “natural” when dealing with specific philosophical movements that give those terms specific content — e.g. in Marxism, “material”, used as the opposite of “idealism” (e.g. Marx’s opposing Hegelian “dialectical idealism” with his own “dialectical materialism”), has specific content that cashes out as “grounding the dialectical movement of history in social practices in their political-economic context, instead of in grounding it in the self-propelled evolution of conceptuality and consciousness”. But, in my view, that sense of ‘material’ is fully consistent with a metaphysics of creativity and emergence — Marx doesn’t require Epicurus (even though, interestingly enough, Marx’s doctoral dissertation was a Hegelian interpretation of Epicurus’ criticism of Democritus).

  8. 8

    I like “emergentist”. Finally, an ism I can get behind!

    I have an emergent Soul and an emergent God. Cool.

  9. 9
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Glad to have been of service, Elizabeth!

  10. 10
    Timaeus says:

    Kantian:

    Glad to hear from you again. It seems to me you were gone for a long time — at least, I didn’t notice your name under any columns for a long time. Glad you are back. Of all the ID critics that have appeared here, I’ve found you the most balanced, fair, and intellectually stimulating.

    Good also to hear from Rob Sheldon — a serious scientific researcher with a good sense of the deeper issues involved in scientific truth-claims.

    With commenters like this, not to mention the many good columnists we have (vjtorley, scordova, etc.) UD is bound to present some valuable insights.

  11. 11
    Axel says:

    Re your #4, yes, keiths, even materialists have to earn their living, and how do you suppose they would do that, if they rejected quantum mechanics in practice?

    With each advance of quantum mechanics, the intellectual integrity of the atheist slips another notch. They try to come to terms with the paradoxes by pretending they’re not really logical contradictions, counter-rational, but are, instead, ‘counter-intuitive’.

    This is unusually sad, since they must stupefy themselves to the extent of pretending that its just a hunch they have that, for example, it’s not possible to square a circle! Their conscious analytical intelligence takes a back seat, because that must be permitted to understand EVERYTHING in this totally natural world.

    Don’t bother to argue, keiths. Listen and learn.

  12. 12
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Timaeus,

    Yes, I took a long hiatus. I won’t post as frequently as I had before, but I’ll chime in every now and again. It’s good to know that you’re around as well.

    KN

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