Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Methodological Materialism" is a Partisan Definition of Science

I debated with several at the distinction between science and materialism and liked some of what I wrote. Here is the link to the discussion thread.

Here are key excerpts from my remarks:

It seems to me that if we assume that science is quintessentially materialism, we should expect that materialism would produce the best scientists. In fact is this what we find? How many fullblown materialist scientists (a full blown materialist being someone like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins) are among the best scientists in history? ...

Let me quote here again Eric Voegelin describing the nature of materialism:

its primary purpose is not an inquiry into nature. The materialistic metaphysics
rather serves the purpose of eliminating nature as a source of disturbances of
the soul, by disasociating it radically from all actions of the gods. If nature
in general and the celestial bodies in particular do not embody divinities, as
they were thought to do in popular belief, but are merely moving matter, a large
section of the environment of men will be emptied of powers potentially to be
feared..." (History of Political Ideas, Volume 1: Hellenism, Rome and Early
Christianity , p.82)

As Voegelin points out correctly, it seems to me, the main purpose of materialism is not an inquiry into nature. It is rather an emotional reaction to pain and suffering in the world, one psychological option for coping with the emotional stresses that exist. Do people who adopt such a worldview, which appears to me emotionally off kilter, produce the best scientists or are they rather primarily rockstar celebrities like Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins with a little science and a lot of philosophy?In one sense it is clear there is no particular worldview required to merely investigate material causalities. It takes assiduity and a certain orderly discipline, etc. But for the real geniuses, I wonder how many we can find that were willing to stand the rigid boundaries of materialism and keep their fertile thought cupped inside it...

Theism corresponds most precisely with reality when it is clarified properly. It has the innate potential for such clarification. But Materialism does not correspond precisely with reality which is why I evince such doubt about it's being good for science in the long run for so many people today to be conflating science with Materialism. It is a pseudo scientific development from my perspective and pseudo science whether Materialist or creationist is just as bad in my opinion for science....

Theism is more accurate because it takes better account of the observer. As many wise scientists have remarked we should not hold the two aspects of existence apart and think that we can reach the answer to everything by ommitting one. Even Feynman I believe said this. A clarified theism would be one which would eschew the gnostic despising of the world suggested by certain readings of Plato and so would avoid both the extreme of materialism and the extreme of a view that despises the physical existence. Theism can hold these two together, and indeed in Christ they are perfectly united. Materialists are unable to understand by constriction of their doctrine that Socrates was hitting upon reality, or indeed most of the wiser literary giants. They are devoted to a system that inures them to Socrates' goads to self-examination. Even the fairy tales are hitting upon reality. This is something that escapes materialsts because they have become servile to a method and are not first being men and women in correspondence with truth proper...

Modern materialists have allowed their infatuated attachment to the methodology of the natural sciences to cripple them to basic understandings of the world beyond this and so by trieing to make one aspect of man's theoretical synthesizing nature carry all are distorting and destroying the synthesizing nature of man altogether. It seems to me that materialism ultimately results in the undermining of science. It is supposed that whatever exists is the result of random processes and selection as a result of randomness. Then the assumption seems naturally to follow that the order which our minds percieve in the natural world is essentially a construct and that if we are true to the nature of reality as our faith in naturalism tells us it is, then we ultimately, with enough application of the logic of our theory must deconstruct all perception of order into a chaos of randomness. Laws that result from randomness are not truly laws. How can they be? If the laws came before and bounded the randomness than the question obviously arises where the laws came from. Teleological answers are the best answers here. Because teleological answers relieve us of the burden of resolving everything into randomness we are enabled to gain a dynamic confidence about the order we percieve and a proper confidence in their reliable nature...
...the notion expressed by Democritus (and Sagan) that the universe is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be. Again there is too much extraneous content in just this doctrine alone. The suggestion that scientists are engaging in materialism is a poetic comparison of two very different things , a worldview and a method. Whereas the method of focusing on material causality in order to learn about the order witnessed in nature is harmonious with theism and is a true common ground, the worldview of materialism emotionally aims at excluding belief in God by any means, whether by reason or rationalization (see Gilson's comments in the previous post about Epicurus, and Darwin's thought on Lamarck). As the reoccurence of materialism with the other doctrines is seen in Darwin as well as Epicurus it seems to hint that the specialized use of the term materialism that you argue for does not take into account the essential historical continuity of materialism as a psychological unit of these doctrines (especially with its undeniably important shaping under Epicurus and Lucretious). Another doctrine of materialism was that the cosmos had always to exist, so the Big Bang was a huge surprise. Up until the last century it had been possible to argue for a Lucretian cosmology still. But now an escape hatch for the endless time to make the slight of hand of inifinite possibility most effective on the mind is in speculation of endless universes without empirical evidence but reviving the life in this psychologically necessary doctrine of materialism...

One problem with adopting "methodological naturalism" or "methodological materialism" as the definition of science is that it involves science in nonempirically based material explanations of reality. If we merely defined science as the search to understand chains of material causality and removed from science the burden of justifying a worldview if necessary by pure imagination, such as with alternate universes, the focus of science would be made more healthy and keen, more on target. The concepts that the use of a term like "methodological materialism" implies are unnecessarily broad and embroil science in imaginative flights that conflict with other syntheses which also incorporate all known empiricial knowledge but which may be contrary to the imaginative constructs of imagined material causalities that are not emprirically verifiable. There is no reason to suppose that science must be able to come up with material causality for the Big Bang, but only that if we look at the Big Bang scientifically we would be looking for such causality. In the absence of empirical evidence science properly should stop. One may have intuition that there may be empirical evidence not yet uncovered to support a hunch one has and people are free to search out these hunches but until they have empirical support they should not be considered science. Science should be protected from that kind of thinking. Materialism accepts speculations as truth but science demands material explanation be empirically supported in order for it to be accepted as knowledge...

The following are some arguments that seem to me to be keeping faith with materialism but not with science:

-Social Darwinism

-Marxist conceptions of human nature

-the transspermia theory that Francis Crick and others adopted

- the belief that the first living cells were planted on our planet by alien lifeforms (alien lifeforms would still be denizens of the natural world so Crick avoids the difficulty of dealing with the complexity of life without breaking faith with materialism, through pure imagination, and this is sometimes called science because irresponsible people keep conflating science with materialism).

-The authors of Rare Earth , convinced that the earth is so finetuned for life that indeed life on earth is the only life in the universe, keep faith with materialism nevertheless by postulating that in the future mankind developes so much that they go back and seed themselves, or something preposterous like that. The bottom line is there is no empirical evidence and this is not science but science fiction and such things often masquerade as science.

-The theories of alternate universes- speculation that is ingratiating to materialism but unsupported by science.Science and materialism should be clearly distinguished so that scientists can do their work without unnecessary associations and consequent hassles with trieing to fight materialisms battles for it on non empirical bases.

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