Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

BTB, 4: Evolutionary Materialism as “fact, Fact, FACT” and its self-falsifying self-referential incoherence

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One of the challenges commonly met with in re-thinking origins science from a perspective open to design, is that the evolutionary materialist narrative is too often presented as fact (not explanation), and there is also a typical failure to recognise that materialist ideology cannot be properly imposed on science. Likewise, there is a pattern of failing to address the issue of the self-falsifying self-referential incoherence of such materialism.

It is appropriate to highlight these issues through this basics series.

In this case, we have a live case in point, here:

GD, 173: >>There are some parts of evolutionary theory that are so well supported that they can be considered facts. Widespread (if not necessarily universal) common ancestry. Mutation, selection, and drift all happen; we see ’em in the lab, we see ’em in the wild, and we see their effects in genomes . . . .

Methodological naturalism is part of science, but philosophical naturalism is not . . . .

Everyone here is falling all over themselves accusing those of us on the science side of being hopelessly biased, irrational, etc. All I can really say is, have you looked in a mirror lately? The level of irrational bias on the ID side is completely ridiculous. Do you have all have any self-awareness at all?>>

Of course, “the science side” is revealing on how evolutionary materialist scientism tends to see itself as “science,” and goes on to imagine that “science” has cornered the market on credible or serious knowledge of the physical cosmos . . . which, with whatever emergent phenomena are accepted, then exhausts effective reality. However, it is not typically recognised that such scientism is an epistemological claim laced with metaphysical assumptions, is thus a philosophical assertion about knowledge and so is self referentially incoherent and necessarily false.

In 180, I responded:


>>With all due respect, I must differ.

To begin with, you full well know that it is a COMMON resort by Darwinists to appeal to the assertion that the Darwinist macro picture is fact, Fact, FACT; with implication that only fools dispute facts. A simple glance back above will show that I spoke to that generality.

As one advocating Darwinism and/or objecting to design you can hardly properly object to my highlighting that common-run behaviour and other linked behaviours that show the pattern of ideological indoctrination and imposition I am addressing. Where, BTW, this particular issue popped up in and around UD in recent days [i.e. AC] so it is a live issue.

In fact, in your onward remarks you show that you too commit much the same error of conflating highly inferential and ideologically loaded macroevolutionary explanation with direct observation of actual empirical fact:

There are some parts of evolutionary theory that are so well supported that they can be considered facts. Widespread (if not necessarily universal) common ancestry. Mutation, selection, and drift all happen; we see ’em in the lab, we see ’em in the wild, and we see their effects in genomes.

Do you not see the error of conflation and halo of factual character by close rhetorical association you just fell into?

What we see in the lab is small changes in populations, often by loss of prior function or in Lenski’s case apparent recovery of ability to use an existing mechanism under aerobic conditions. What we have definitely not actually seen is observation of common ancestry of body plans by blind watchmaker chance and/or necessity via chance non foresighted variations of the 47 or whatever kinds, followed by differential reproductive success and descent with modification leading to the rise of divergent major body plans from a common unicellular ancestor. We have not even seen the rise of humans diverse from chimps or whatever from a common population what 6 – 10 MYA.

Nor, have you or anyone else shown that blind chance and mechanical necessity can account for the required FSCO/I, at OOL in the first instance (to include origin of the von Neumann, code using kinematic self replication integrated with gated encapsulation of a metabolic automaton), or for origin of body plans or adaptations at macro level requiring 10 – 100+ mn bases worth of new genetic info. In the chimp vs human case, in 6 – 10 MY we need to account for ~ 60 mn bases, per the 2% difference scenario that is commonly put forth. With populations of order 10^4, pop gen times of order 5 – 20 or so years, and more.

What we have seen is that FSCO/I has but one observed and needle in haystack blind search analysis plausible cause. Intelligently directed configuration.

Which obtains whether or not we do in fact have common ancestry as is commonly inferred or believed in educated circles.

But there is more, as you go on to assert something that is highly misleading but widely believed concerning why it is that an inference to design is commonly excluded in circles dominated by evolutionary materialist scientism and/or its fellow travellers:

Methodological naturalism is part of science, but philosophical naturalism is not.

Actually, methodological naturalism is demonstrably often a stalking horse that allows the ideology of evolutionary materialist scientism to be imposed on both science and science education.

I have already cited Rational Wiki as a particularly blatant case:

“Methodological naturalism is the label for the required assumption of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method. Methodological naturalists limit their scientific research to the study of natural causes, because any attempts to define causal relationships with the supernatural are never fruitful, and result in the creation of scientific “dead ends” and God of the gaps-type hypotheses.”

if you think that is merely idiosyncratic, consider here the formal position of the US NSTA Board (of Science Teachers) in July 2000 after commissioning a major study, in a context where they went on to partner with the NAS in imposing this, e.g. in Kansas c 2005:

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 [–> notice the strawman tactic, ever since Plato in The Laws bk X 2350 years ago, the proper alernative is natural [= blind chance and/or mechanical necessity] vs the ART-ificial] in the production of scientific knowledge.

Likewise, the NAS in its 2008 form of a long running pamphlet on teaching evolution, p. 10, more subtly declared:

In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena. Natural causes are, in principle, reproducible and therefore can be checked independently by others. If explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature, scientists have no way of either confirming or disproving those explanations.

Notice, the same caricatured contrast and the implication, that blind forces only can be appealed to in science, i.e. there is an implicit evolutionary materialism at work, it is not just oh we cannot appeal to God of the gaps. Besides, the deep past of origins is precisely a non-reproducible set of events, and if the above were taken at literal force would be ruled unscientific. But of course, the knife is only to used on sheep, not goats.

I could go on, but it is enough here to cite the well known case of Lewontin in his NYRB article on Sagan’s last book, as that spells all out ever so clearly and undeniably, and that by a major member of the elite scientific circles concerned:

. . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads [==> as in, “we” have cornered the market on truth, warrant and knowledge] we must first get an incorrect view out [–> as in, if you disagree with “us” of the secularist elite you are wrong, irrational and so dangerous you must be stopped, even at the price of manipulative indoctrination of hoi polloi] . . . the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations,

[ –> as in, to think in terms of ethical theism is to be delusional, justifying “our” elitist and establishment-controlling interventions of power to “fix” the widespread mental disease]

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]

. . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists [–> “we” are the dominant elites], it is self-evident

[–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . . and in fact it is evolutionary materialism that is readily shown to be self-refuting]

that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality [–> = all of reality to the evolutionary materialist], and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [–> i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us [= the evo-mat establishment] 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 . . . [–> irreconcilable hostility to ethical theism, already caricatured as believing delusionally in imaginary demons]. [Lewontin, Billions and billions of Demons, NYRB Jan 1997,cf. here. And, if you imagine this is “quote-mined” I invite you to read the fuller annotated citation here.]

Pace a typical dismissive talking point, patently this is not “quote-mined” etc etc, and it lays our exactly why we are deeply concerned about ideological imposition of what has to be called evolutionary materialist scentism in science, in education, in policy, in law, in the media and in the wider culture.

But, we have one main talking point to go, your:

Everyone here is falling all over themselves accusing those of us on the science side of being hopelessly biased, irrational, etc. All I can really say is, have you looked in a mirror lately? The level of irrational bias on the ID side is completely ridiculous. Do you have all have any self-awareness at all?

This is of course a clear case of turnabout accusation, and of linked personalising and polarising, in reply to a concern on the incoherence of a philosophical view. That itself speaks volumes, saddening volumes. (Inadvertently, that sort of resort tells us also, the point hits close to home, provoking an attempt to lash out and shoot at the messenger bearing unwelcome tidings.)

Let me first note in brief from Haldane on the substantial matter, of the incoherence of evolutionary materialism — as has been commonly pointed out since the 1930’s; this concern is nothing new and it is as cogent today as it was at the turn of the 1930’s:

“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.]

That is of course a major evolutionary theorist speaking and voicing a significant concern.

When I cited Pearcey on the point in 34 above, I was citing an elaboration, not a novel point.

Let me clip from her recent Finding Truth:


A major way to test a philosophy or worldview is to ask: Is it logically consistent? Internal contradictions are fatal to any worldview because contradictory statements are necessarily false. “This circle is square” is contradictory, so it has to be false. An especially damaging form of contradiction is self-referential absurdity — which means a theory sets up a definition of truth that it itself fails to meet. Therefore it refutes itself . . . .

An example of self-referential absurdity is a theory called evolutionary epistemology, a naturalistic approach that applies evolution to the process of knowing. The theory proposes that the human mind is a product of natural selection. The implication is that the ideas in our minds were selected for their survival value, not for their truth-value.

But what if we apply that theory to itself? Then it, too, was selected for survival, not truth — which discredits its own claim to truth. Evolutionary epistemology commits suicide.

Astonishingly, many prominent thinkers have embraced the theory without detecting the logical contradiction. Philosopher John Gray writes, “If Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true,… the human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth.” What is the contradiction in that statement?

Gray has essentially said, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it “serves evolutionary success, not truth.” In other words, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it is not true.

Self-referential absurdity is akin to the well-known liar’s paradox: “This statement is a lie.” If the statement is true, then (as it says) it is not true, but a lie.

Another example comes from Francis Crick. In The Astonishing Hypothesis, he writes, “Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive.” But that means Crick’s own theory is not a “scientific truth.” Applied to itself, the theory commits suicide.

Of course, the sheer pressure to survive is likely to produce some correct ideas. A zebra that thinks lions are friendly will not live long. But false ideas may be useful for survival. Evolutionists admit as much: Eric Baum says, “Sometimes you are more likely to survive and propagate if you believe a falsehood than if you believe the truth.” Steven Pinker writes, “Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes the truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.” The upshot is that survival is no guarantee of truth. If survival is the only standard, we can never know which ideas are true and which are adaptive but false.

To make the dilemma even more puzzling, evolutionists tell us that natural selection has produced all sorts of false concepts in the human mind. Many evolutionary materialists maintain that free will is an illusion, consciousness is an illusion, even our sense of self is an illusion — and that all these false ideas were selected for their survival value.
So how can we know whether the theory of evolution itself is one of those false ideas? The theory undercuts itself.

A few thinkers, to their credit, recognize the problem. Literary critic Leon Wieseltier writes, “If reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? … Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.”

On a similar note, philosopher Thomas Nagel asks, “Is the [evolutionary] hypothesis really compatible with the continued confidence in reason as a source of knowledge?” His answer is no: “I have to be able to believe … that I follow the rules of logic because they are correct — not merely because I am biologically programmed to do so.” Hence, “insofar as the evolutionary hypothesis itself depends on reason, it would be self-undermining.”>>

And [as may be seen] she highlights several cases where the issue is increasingly recognised as a significant one. But instead of addressing the substance, you tried to indulge a personality laced ad hominem that in effect appeals to the contempt laced notion that those who disagree with the evolutionary materialist establishment are ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked. Which, post Umpqua, your side needs to seriously walk back to help dial back the voltage polarising and poisoning the atmosphere.

Let me elaborate the substantial issue just a tad, by way of Reppert, building on Lewis, who in turn made reference to Haldane:

. . . 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.

Got the key point? Namely, 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.

That is, computation is inherently a blind mechanical process of cause and effect, just as the flowing water that energises a mill’s wheels is about the blind force not the functionally specific information rich organisation that mills the corn. That is GIGO obtains for computation precisely because it is blindly mechanical. One cog cares not that it is part of a mill, it is only blindly acting under imposed force. The effectiveness of the programming depends on intelligently directed configuration, not on the mere possibility of mechanism. The contrivance behind mechanism has to be adequately accounted for.

But, as we will readily experience in ourselves, our self-aware, rational contemplation is utterly unlike that. There is a categorical difference to be accounted for, and it is pivotal as without responsibly free, rational contemplation, reason, warrant, knowledge and logically driven discussion collapse in a sea of blind, GIGO-limited mechanical cause-effect driven mill wheel grinding computation and accidents of programming.

The effects of this sort of thinking, influenced by precisely the sort of evolutionary materialistic scientism that is so dominant in power centres and is spreading though our civilisation, are evident all around us. And, not for the good.

Now, let me outline my own chain of thought on the matter . . . rooted in reflections and findings that are now some 25 – 30 years past:

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 . . . .

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.)

On right of fair comment, I think I can safely say there is a serious case to be answered, that evolutionary materialist scientism is inherently self-referential, incoherent and self falsifying . . . >>


As there is a live thread in progress, onward discussion may be had there. END