(In case you think this is about a strawman, cf. here)
A few days ago UD President, BA, posted on the topic, “If My Eyes Are a Window, Is There Anyone Looking Out?”
Reaction at objecting blog TSZ has been explosive. For just one instance — a slice of the cake reveals its ingredients, we can see ME asserting in a newly set up sandbox:
Your clear implication, William, is that no one here knows anything about “centuries of philosophical debate.” We are not ignoramuses here. What you and Arrington attribute to “materialists” is simply false; you have no clue what “materialism” is. Here again you stumble because of your choice to remain profoundly ignorant of science while attempting to compensate for your intellectual laziness with a barrage of pseudo-philosophy . . .
The only problem with this, is that a priori evolutionary materialism is real, it is long-standing, these days loves to dress itself up in the prestigious lab coat of science, and beyond reasonable doubt on abundant evidence, has a problem grounding the rational mind and has a further problem that it has no worldview foundational IS capable of bearing the weight of OUGHT.
Just to remind, on the first of these, Haldane has long been on record:
“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 , Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]
On the second, Will Hawthorne has summed up the challenge thusly:
Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [[= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can’t infer an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ [[the ‘is’ being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces]. (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.)
Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an ‘ought’. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there’s no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action.
Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it’s not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action . . . [[We see] therefore, for any action you care to pick, it’s permissible to perform that action. If you’d like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan ‘if atheism is true, all things are permitted’.
For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.
Now, we all know that at least some actions are really not permissible (for example, racist actions). Since the conclusion of the argument denies this, there must be a problem somewhere in the argument. Could the argument be invalid? No. The argument has not violated a single rule of logic and all inferences were made explicit.
Thus we are forced to deny the truth of one of the assumptions we started out with. That means we either deny atheistic naturalism or (the more intuitively appealing) principle that one can’t infer ‘ought’ from [[a material] ‘is’. [[Emphases and paragraphing added.]
Those are fairly serious concerns regarding evolutionary materialism and its fellow travelers.
So, Evo Mat characteristically ends in radical relativisation of reason, knowledge and morals, opening the door to ruthless factions holding — per Plato’s Athenian Stranger in The Laws Bk X: “the highest right is might,” and also having the challenge of what Socrates is said to have termed “the ignorance which has conceit of knowledge“ in Alcibiades I.
That is, as a worldview, evolutionary materialism faces an epistemological conundrum and a moral hazard.
This cluster of concerns has been a matter of record from the days of Plato’s The Laws, BK X; which I here excerpt for the umpteenth time (noting how assiduously materialist objectors try to ignore or tip toe around it):
>>v –> From the days of Plato, it was understood that such materialism also has serious implications for society, as it is inherently amoral: if thoughts are determined by chance and necessity, and the issue is the dominance of the “fittest,” then that all too easily becomes the premise for the ruthless and powerful to try to dominate all others. As Plato’s Athenian Stranger observed in The Laws, Book X:
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it difficult to look at anything without wondering what it is “for,” what the motive for it or the purpose behind it might be. The desire to see purpose everywhere is natural in an animal that lives surrounded by machines, works of art, tools and other designed artifacts – an animal whose waking thoughts are dominated by its own goals and aims . . . .
Somewhere between windscreen wipers and tin openers on the one hand, and rocks and the universe on the other, lie living creatures. Living bodies and their organs are objects that, unlike rocks, seem to have purpose written all over them . . . . The true process that has endowed wings, eyes, beaks, nesting instincts and everything else about life with the strong illusion of purposeful design is now well understood.
It is Darwinian natural selection . . . . The true utility function of life, that which is being maximized in the natural world, is DNA survival. But DNA is not floating free; it is locked up in living bodies, and it has to make the most of the levers of power at its disposal. Genetic sequences that find themselves in cheetah bodies maximize their survival by causing those bodies to kill gazelles. Sequences that find themselves in gazelle bodies increase their chance of survival by promoting opposite ends. But the same utility function-the survival of DNA-explains the “purpose” of both the cheetah [–> i.e. predator] and the gazelle [–> i.e. prey] . . . .
The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. [[ “God’s Utility Function,” Sci. Am. Aug 1995, pp. 80 – 85.]
[[NB: This article raises the issue of the problem of evil, here emphasising the problem of natural evil; probably the strongest argument in the atheists’ arsenal, but one that only works by implicitly assuming that good and evil, thus moral obligation, are real; while ducking the implication that the only valid worldview in a world in which OUGHT is real, is one that has a foundational IS that adequately grounds ought. And materialism — scientific atheism today, has no such is. So, the objecting atheist actually has no grounds to stand on to make the argument; his argument, in the end is self-defeating, and so the proper response is to insist that such an atheist face that issue before proceeding further. (Cf here for a preliminary discussion of the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.)]
x –> In critiquing Provine’s remarks from a Judaeo-Christian perspective, Kyle Butt brings out a significant implication:
It is clear then, from Provine’s comments, that he believes naturalistic evolution has no way to produce an “ultimate foundation for ethics.” And it is equally as clear that this sentiment was so apparent to “modern naturalistic evolutionists” that Mr. Provine did not feel it even needed to be defended . . . . [[However, i]f it is true that naturalistic evolution cannot provide an ultimate foundation for determining the difference between actions that are right and ones that are wrong, then the door is wide open for subjective speculation about all human behavior. [[Rape and Evolution, Apologetics Press, 2005.]
This is far to serious to allow turnabout accusations of making innuendos (ME’s tactic in reply to UD’s WJM) distract or blunt the focus.
BA has put the matter on the table and it is not going away:
Consider a computer to which someone has attached a camera and a spectrometer (an instrument that measures the properties of light). They point the camera at the western horizon and write a program that instructs the computer as follows: “when light conditions are X print out this statement: ‘Oh, what a beautiful sunset.’” Suppose I say “Oh, what a beautiful sunset” at the precise moment the computer is printing out the same statement according to the program. Have the computer and I had the same experience of the sunset? Obviously not. The computer has had no “experience” of the sunset at all. It has no concept of beauty. It cannot experience qualia. It is precisely this subjective experience of the sunset that cannot be accounted for on materialist principles. It follows that if materialist premises exclude an obviously true conclusion – i.e., that there is someone “in there” looking out of the window of my eyes – then materialist premises must be false.
The question in the title of this post is: “If my eyes are a window, is there anyone looking out?” The materialist must answer this question “no.” That the materialist must give an obviously false answer to this question is a devastating rebuke to materialism.
The matter is far too serious for projected outrage to be allowed to distract us. Unless and until evolutionary materialism and its fellow travellers can soundly answer long standing concerns, we would be well advised to ring fence such notions as questionable at best, likely inescapably self refuting and undermining of principles of right reason and morality, thus justice.
So, we must be very cautious before allowing such to influence our thought and decisions as a civilisation. On pain of falling victim to ““the ignorance which has conceit of knowledge“.”
Precisely what is not happening, as we look with concern across our civilisation. END