Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Why Darwinist Materialism is Wrong"

Oh, where to start.

Alvin Plantinga starts with his review of Thomas Nagel's new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

A couple of things are noteworthy: Nagel, a leading analytic philosopher, is an atheist. And Plantinga's laudatory review is published in New Republic, an organ of the Left. The commonsense inference is that even leftie atheists are getting tired of materialist-Darwinist gibberish. 


Plantinga:
ACCORDING TO a semi-established consensus among the intellectual elite in the West, there is no such person as God or any other supernatural being. Life on our planet arose by way of ill-understood but completely naturalistic processes involving only the working of natural law. Given life, natural selection has taken over, and produced all the enormous variety that we find in the living world. Human beings, like the rest of the world, are material objects through and through; they have no soul or ego or self of any immaterial sort. At bottom, what there is in our world are the elementary particles described in physics, together with things composed of these particles. 
I say that this is a semi-established consensus, but of course there are some people, scientists and others, who disagree. There are also agnostics, who hold no opinion one way or the other on one or another of the above theses. And there are variations on the above themes, and also halfway houses of one sort or another. Still, by and large those are the views of academics and intellectuals in America now. Call this constellation of views scientific naturalism—or don’t call it that, since there is nothing particularly scientific about it, except that those who champion it tend to wrap themselves in science like a politician in the flag. By any name, however, we could call it the orthodoxy of the academy—or if not the orthodoxy, certainly the majority opinion. 
The eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel would call it something else: an idol of the academic tribe, perhaps, or a sacred cow: “I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. ... I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” Nagel is an atheist; even so, however, he does not accept the above consensus, which he calls materialist naturalism; far from it. His important new book is a brief but powerful assault on materialist naturalism.
Nagel is not afraid to take unpopular positions, and he does not seem to mind the obloquy that goes with that territory. “In the present climate of a dominant scientific naturalism,” he writes, “heavily dependent on speculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion, I have thought it useful to speculate about possible alternatives. Above all, I would like to extend the boundaries of what is not regarded as unthinkable, in light of how little we really understand about the world.” Nagel has endorsed the negative conclusions of the much-maligned Intelligent Design movement, and he has defended it from the charge that it is inherently unscientific. In 2009 he even went so far as to recommend Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, a flagship declaration of Intelligent Design, as a book of the year. For that piece of blasphemy Nagel paid the predictable price; he was said to be arrogant, dangerous to children, a disgrace, hypocritical, ignorant, mind-polluting, reprehensible, stupid, unscientific, and in general a less than wholly upstanding citizen of the republic of letters.

I'm reading Nagel's book, and it is a superb (if somewhat technical) dissection of the inanities of Darwinism and materialism. Nagel joins other leading philosophers (Fodor and Flew, among others) in exposing the logical and empirical errors that beset materialist pseudoscience.

I'll try to post soon on the rest of Plantinga's keen review.

40 comments:

  1. Newtonist EinsteinistNovember 28, 2012 at 6:30 AM

    "Darwinists" don't exist, bro.

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  2. Michael,

    What! You haven't finished it already? It's only 136 pages long.

    If you call Nagel's discussion technical, then you've got little clue. Nagel admits at the beginning that he's a philosopher, not a scientist, and his only knowledge of science concerning the supposed topic of this book comes from non-technical books written for the general public.

    He claims that science has currently no complete explanation for abiogenesis, evolution of all the species now existing and the mind (he's correct - scientific theories are never complete, and because they're incomplete, can also be regarded as wrong to some greater or lesser extent. However, scientific theories are useful models of reality).

    He makes the mistake of claiming that science is now complete and never will explain the unsolved problems. In fact, he's making the same error as Lord Kelvin is supposed to have made in 1900 when he stated that 'there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now'.

    If someone as scientifically literate as Lord Kelvin can make completely wrong predictions such as that above, and also his pronouncement that heavier than air aircraft will forever be impossible, the Sun could not shine for longer than 20 million years and all the oxygen in the atmosphere will be consumed by burning fossil fuels within 400 years, I have no doubt that someone like Thomas Nagel will similarly be shown to be wrong too.

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    1. Johann, it's a banner day. I agree with you about something. Nagel is wrong if he claims that science is complete. It is not, and I seriously doubt it ever will be.

      However, your silly comment about calling Nagel's discussion "technical" is risible. My spouse practices law, and there are technical aspects of the law, and cases even get thrown out of court on "a technicality". There are no transistors, diodes, equations, wires, or chemicals in the law. Just words. There are technical aspects of literary criticism and and there are texchnical aspects of philosophy. Get a life, kid. Or better yet, an education.

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    2. George,

      I've told you before. It's not Johann. It's PDQ.

      If you have any problem with the use of the word 'technical' then take it up with Michael. He's the one who used the word originally in his thread.

      And I am educated. I trained in medicine at an Australian university and then qualified as a postgraduate medical practitioner in human Anatomical Patholgy, so the study of biology isn't foreign to me.

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    3. Obviously Egnor used it first. It was you who used it incorrectly: i.e., "If you call Nagel's discussion technical, then you've got little clue. Nagel admits at the beginning that he's a philosopher, not a scientist..."

      technical: using terminology or treating subject matter in a manner peculiar to a particular field

      As in making a technical philosophical point.

      As for your last sentence, I don't know what to make of it. It appears you're confusing education and training. That's a technical issue among educators that I won't bother to get into.

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    4. A technical philosophical point is an oxymoron. Philosophy tries a general approach to everything. That is why it is such a dismal failure.

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    5. "Philosophy tries a general approach to everything. That is why it is such a dismal failure."

      That's a philosophical argument.

      Goodness gracious you guys are stupid.

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    6. Are we stupid because we use philosophical arguments? So do you. We are on the same level then. LOL

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    7. "A technical philosophical point is an oxymoron."

      A statement like that, coming from an eminence such as yourself, Mr/Ms... um... uh.... "Anonymous", surely carries a lot of weight. The philosophical profession must be rattled to its very foundations.

      This is how it may look in generations to come:

      "A technical philosophical point is an oxymoron."
      --- No One of Consequence (2012)

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    8. I don't hawk my credentials on the web, George, but I assure you that they are perfectly good. Better than some community college, anyway.

      So, don't concentrate on who I am. Concentrate on my arguments.

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    9. If you had made an argument, I would have addressed it.

      And if you don't even know the difference between an argument and a blanket condemnation based on, as far as I can tell, nothing but your authority, I can understand why you don't "hawk" your credentials. You'd be an embarrassment to a halfway-decent community college.

      Frankly, I see no reason to believe, based on your comments above, that you can even read a serious philosophy book for comprehension, much less critique the field.

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    10. It looks like Egnor disagrees with you, George. He thinks it was a philosophical argument. Discuss.

      I will frankly admit that I do not care much for philosophy. I am not a philosopher (surprise!). I prefer science. Whether I would be an embarrassment to "a halfway-decent community college" is irrelevant because I don't have any inclination to teach there. I like my current place of employment, thank you very much.

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    11. Egnor and I probably disagree on many things. So what?

      If you prefer science, I hope you know more about science than you know about philosophy. Although I doubt it.

      And when I observed you would be an embarrassment to a community college, I meant as a student, not, for heaven's sake, as a faculty member. I doubt very seriously you have the minimal academic credentials necessary to teach in one. Unselective as they may be, they must have some minimal criteria to qualify for Federal Student Indebtedness programs.

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    12. Perhaps instead of concentrating solely on personal attacks you could try to answer his claim.

      Boo

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    13. George, you are a hilarious nutter. Almost as deluded as Egnor and much more clueless, judging by your uneducated guesses. You're not qualified to judge the science my undergrads do. LOL

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  3. The commonsense inference is that even leftie atheists are getting tired of materialist-Darwinist gibberish.

    Given that pretty much everything that Plantinga writes is gibberish, there's not much to go on.

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    1. What's your critique of his teleological argument?

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    2. Which one of his arguments are your specifically referring to? He's produced more than one set of gibberish.

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    3. Specifically, Plantinga's teleological argument would be the one Plantinga made about teleology.

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    4. Known: He's made more than one teleological argument in his writing. Which one are you referring to? Are you perhaps referring to his inane teleological argument about evolution?

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  4. “A couple of things are noteworthy: Nagel, a leading analytic philosopher, is an atheist.”

    Ooh, an atheist, so he’s not a fool deluded by faith. That is noteworthy.

    -KW

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  5. Nagel is an interesting character study. An old school atheist, his arguments are based on a more robust form of thinking than the current crop of 'new atheist' positivists. Reading Nagel, one is actually stimulated to thought and further inquiry. Contrast that to the pathetically reductionist polemic of men like Dawkins, and it becomes apparent this man's work is exceptional for someone of his theological stripe. His admiration of Flew seems to indicate his opinions on these matters is not set in stone, either.
    I find Nagel's work fascinating, even if I do not agree with some of his broader conclusions (ie the non-existence of God, or the completeness of scientific knowledge). He does seem to have a little difficulty shaking off the constraints of scientism - but at least he is aware of those constraints.
    Interesting post, Doctor.
    Looking forward to the follow up(s).

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    1. You mention Dawkins. I've always found Terry Eagleton's (former Warton Professor at Oxford) review of The God Delusion amusing and accurate:

      "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

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    2. That's the Courtier's Reply, and as is almost always the case when it is invoked, it is entirely unconvincing.

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    3. But birds exist, unlike the object of theology.

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    4. Anon,
      Why not drop the intellectual short-hand and make a point of some sort? You know? Like your own ideas on the subjects being discussed.

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    5. "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology."

      Funny. That's precisely what Nagel does. Why should we take him seriously, again?

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    6. Why not drop the intellectual short-hand and make a point of some sort?

      Pointing out that a criticism to a piece of work is just a Courtier's Reply is a point. It points out that the criticism is devoid of any merit.

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    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. "Darwinist Materialism" makes as much sense as "Einsteinist Materialism" or "Cell Theory Materialism." All science deals with the material. If you know of a way for science to deal with the non-material, publish it and collect your Nobel Prize.

    "“In the present climate of a dominant scientific naturalism,” he writes, “heavily dependent on speculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion, I have thought it useful to speculate about possible alternatives. Above all, I would like to extend the boundaries of what is not regarded as unthinkable, in light of how little we really understand about the world.”"

    How about instead of arguing with scientists that they're doing it wrong, go out and demonstrate some "non-naturalistic" way to do science? Why do you suppose the ID movement always argues that they know how to do it better than the "Darwinists" but they never actually do anything? The entire point of this post seems to be to conflate methodological naturalism with philosophical materialism. They are not the same thing.

    Boo

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  7. Boo,
    The whole point is that the Darwinian argument and the ID argument)are philosophical positions on a historical study of the origins and adaptation of life. Dressing them up as ultimately falsifiable theories is simply a category error.
    Adhering to them as dogma is not a scientific position, rather it is a philosophical position. What makes the ID argument more robust is that it does not PRETEND that science is the only approach to understanding. Naturalism, for the most part, discards the value of philosophy and all non empirical studies as so much 'fluff'.
    'Navel gazing' seems to be a favourite expression of that set.

    Nagel makes this point succinctly and from an Atheist perspective. He sees ID as just (if not more) as sound if not more so.
    It is his prerogative as a philosopher to do so.
    As philiosphy is the father of all natural sciences, it seems well within it's scope to help define the merit of the sciences, no?

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    1. The fact that nobody has come close to falsifying the theory of evolution is not because it‘s not falsifiable, it’s because it’s right. Evolutionary theory is entirely falsifiable; I can imagine a whole range of observations that would undermine its validity. ID on the other hand is little more than a “god of the gaps” argument whose many examples have been refuted time and time again.

      -KW

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    2. "Evolutionary theory is entirely falsifiable; I can imagine a whole range of observations that would undermine its validity."

      Yea, the Modern Darwinian Synthesis would be falsified if one of its central predictions-- that the genome is loaded with junk DNA-- were shown to be false.

      Oh wait...

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    3. CrusadeREX- evolution is science. ID isn't. It really is that simple. That some people choose to conflate the science of evolution with a "materialistic worldview" or philosophy or whatever has nothing whatsoever to do with evolutionary theory itself. No one adheres to evolution as dogma, that is projection on the part of creationists/IDers. The theory of evolution is modified in response to new data, as all scientific theories are. Hence, it is not dogma.

      And I will ask again: if ID is a better approach to doing science, why has it never produced any science? If they can do it better, why do they refuse to do it?

      Boo

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    4. This is simply false. The modern evolutionary synthesis was formulated between 1936 and 1947. Ohno's article introducing the concept of junk DNA came out in 1972. Clearly, modern synthesis could not have been formulated without "one of its central predictions."

      FAIL

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    5. "Yea, the Modern Darwinian Synthesis would be falsified if one of its central predictions-- that the genome is loaded with junk DNA-- were shown to be false."

      The Modern Synthesis was formulated in the 30s and 40s. The term Junk DNA was coined in 1972. It is not central to the modern synthesis. It has also not been falsified, much as you might wish otherwise. Junk DNA which is transcribed is still junk.

      Boo

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    6. KW,
      Sheer nonsense.
      Natural history (including evolutionary theories like Darwinian and ID) is a an attempt to piece together a HISTORY of biological development. Too peer into the past.
      All such history is beholden to the technology and ideas of the present. The past, is just not falsifiable or demonstrable.
      Sorry.

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    7. (reposted - wrong thread)
      Boo,
      You confusing science with natural history.
      Studying the adaptive behaviour of living organisms is not the same as projecting those observations into the past. To do so is to make the same assumptions the ID folks have, but to interpret the meaning of those assumed patterns differently.
      You ask me what science ID proponents have done?
      I am sure you have a web browser (you are on this page, after all) - so search it. There is plenty of ID proponents making claims, just as there are plenty of the Darwinian persuasion making claims.
      Where ID sees teleological function, you folks see mutation and variation. It is simply a different interp of the 'data'.
      In truth, to me it sounds like a debate between Erich Van Daniken and Zacharia Stichin. I'm pretty sure (intuitively) you're BOTH way off base. But if I had to choose which is a more interesting read, I would go with ID. Why? Simply because it does not discount the corpus of human experience as irrelevant and does not rely entirely on nihilistic and/or self refuting philosophical argument.

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    8. “Natural history (including evolutionary theories like Darwinian and ID) is a an attempt to piece together a HISTORY of biological development. Too peer into the past.
      All such history is beholden to the technology and ideas of the present. The past, is just not falsifiable or demonstrable.
      Sorry.”

      No, Evolutionary theory is far more than an attempt to piece together history. From combating constantly evolving pathogens, to managing wildlife populations, evolutionary theories give us a framework to predict what will happen in the future.

      Even if evolutionary theories where only useful for piecing together the history of biological development, observations could easily support or refute competing theories. For example, Darwinian evolution would take a blow and ID would be supported by finding a bird in a bed of trilobite fossils.

      -KW

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    9. "Studying the adaptive behaviour of living organisms is not the same as projecting those observations into the past. To do so is to make the same assumptions the ID folks have, but to interpret the meaning of those assumed patterns differently."

      The science of evolution does not rely on simply projecting observations into the past, but KW's already pointed that out pretty well. It's also easy to falsify. If simpler organisms consistently showed up in the fossil record earlier than complex organisms, evolution would be falsified. If Ray Comfort's "crocoduck" were ever actually born, evolution would be falsified. Sorry, but science that studies the past is still science.

      "You ask me what science ID proponents have done?
      I am sure you have a web browser (you are on this page, after all) - so search it"

      I have searched on the web. On ID websites, ID blogs, google, etc. I can find no testable ID hypotheses and no working ID research projects or programs. If you know of any, please by all means give me a link.

      "There is plenty of ID proponents making claims, just as there are plenty of the Darwinian persuasion making claims."

      Yes, they certainly make plenty of claims. They just haven't made any scientific claims. You are aware that Behe once famously testified that in order for ID to be considered science, the definition of science would need to be changed?

      Boo

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