Naturalism and Materialism

According to the dim vagaries of recollection, my furtive efforts to be taken seriously over at Uncommon Descent were frustrated due to the perception that I am an atheist.  (Curiously, when I explicitly said that I’d stopped referring to myself as an atheist, this was met with utter silence.)   I had read Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, and despite my criticisms of the book, I thought it was promising in certain respects, and said as much.  (I also pointed out that some reviews were much more favorable than others, but they didn’t want to notice the favorable reviews, because that would disrupt their martyr-narrative.)  And more generally, I emphatically distanced myself from what I call the “Epicurean” interpretations of Darwinism, e.g. Monod and Dawkins.  But for the occasional exchange with a visitor to UD, this was met with silence or scorn from the UD regulars.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I see today “Making common cause with non-materialist atheists“.   Dembski is now seeking to make common cause with Nagel by distinguishing between naturalism and materialism in terms of two different distinctions: naturalism/theism and materialism/teleology (“teleologism”?).   Interestingly, that’s pretty much the very same set of distinctions that got a distinctly chilly reception from the UD regulars, because I’m not a theist, let alone a Christian, and because I’m a pragmatist and not a rationalist.

It amuses me that Dembski is willing to countenance an intellectual alliance that the rank-and-file UD participants rejected.

 

19 thoughts on “Naturalism and Materialism

  1. I had read Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, and despite my criticisms of the book, I thought it was promising in certain respects, and said as much.

    Could you link to a typical thread? It would be helpful to get the background.

    It amuses me that Dembski is willing to countenance an intellectual alliance that the rank-and-file UD participants rejected.

    I guess Dr Dembski was under pressure to complete his book assignment from the Templeton Foundation, having taken an advance nearly ten years ago.

    See

    …this excerpt from the preface of No Free Lunch:

    My debts to friends, foes, colleagues, and institutions are many. Let me begin with the Templeton Foundation. In the fall of 1999 I received one of seven book awards from the Templeton Foundation to write a book titled Being as Communion: The Science and Metaphysics of Information. After making the proposal and receiving the award, it became clear to me that the science of information (and specifically the science of complex specified information) required a book of its own. Indeed, before one can take seriously the metaphysics of information one must take seriously the science of information (perhaps this is why editions of Aristotle’s work always list his Physics before his Metaphysics). I therefore decided to divide this project in two, handling the science of information in the present volume and the metaphysics of information in a subsequent volume, to be titled Being as Communion: The Metaphysics of Information.

    link

  2. Alan Fox: Could you link to a typical thread? It would be helpful to get the background.

    My “contributions” are here, here, and here.

    I’ll be honest — looking back on those threads, I was treated better than I remember. I guess I felt bullied enough by Arrington, Murray, and Kairosfocus that that colored my memory of the exchanges about Nagel.

  3. …perhaps this is why editions of Aristotle’s work always list his Physics before his Metaphysics

    Hardly. Aristotle’s Metaphysics is called that because it came after Physics in the standard Hellenistic arrangement of his works (which remains the same today when his works are arranged as a whole), and thus the term “metaphysics” began to take on the meaning it has now because it was the subject of the work that came after Physics. We don’t really know why the arrangement has been thus, nor is there any reason to think that Aristotle considered Metaphysics to be different in kind from Physics, other than the broader scope of Metaphysics–there’s certainly enough overlap in the two works.

    Dembski’s “science of information” has typically been about as good as Aristotle’s “science” in Physics–I’ll give him that. Aristotle at least had a good excuse.

    Glen Davidson

  4. Kantian Naturalist: My “contributions” are here, here, and here.

    I’ll be honest — looking back on those threads, I was treated better than I remember.I guess I felt bullied enough by Arrington, Murray, and Kairosfocus that that colored my memory of the exchanges about Nagel.

    I had a read. It’s funny how the memory fails (I commented in one thread and have no memory of it). The other posters seemed to ignore you mostly. I think you have the same effect on UD commenters that you have on me. You stun them into silence because they can’t think of anything sensible to say!

  5. GlenDavidson,

    I’m sure Dembski knows how the book Metaphysics acquired its title. The further question is whether one needs to understand being-qua-nature (the Physics) before understanding being-qua-being (the Metaphysics). To the best of my knowledge, we don’t know which book Aristotle wrote first or which topic he taught first to his students. So the priority of science over metaphysics is a philosophical prejudice that we bring to bear in making sense of Aristotle, rather than one that Aristotle himself had.

    But Aristotle does say — in the Metaphysics — that we progress from what is first in relation to us towards what is first in itself. In other words, we start off from what is most obvious and immediate — such as our sense-perceptions of objects — and proceed to the ultimate constituents of reality. So saying that we have to get clear on the science before doing the metaphysics is not alien to Aristotle’s thought, either.

    In my own view, we need to figure out the science in order to do metaphysics because metaphysical speculation is only constrained by reason, and that gives us an embarrassment of riches — there are infinitely many logically consistent possible worlds. So just figuring out what is necessary and what is possible will tell us nothing at all about what the actual world is like — only science can do that. So a scientific metaphysics is going to be much more constrained than a non-scientific metaphysics.

  6. …there are infinitely many logically consistent possible worlds. So just figuring out what is necessary and what is possible will tell us nothing at all about what the actual world is like …

    Yes, which is why we continually bring up the fact that ID has no constraints, and is therefore meaningless.

    What are they thinking about when they argue that a design sieve only works when you have ruled out natural causes? Isn’t that where Paley started, and isn’t that why Darwin wrote Origin?

  7. petrushka: Yes, which is why we continually bring up the fact that ID has no constraints, and is therefore meaningless.

    Agreed.

  8. It amuses me that Dembski is willing to countenance an intellectual alliance that the rank-and-file UD participants rejected.

    Perhaps we should take it as an implicit acknowledgment that his all-out war strategy was not working.

  9. Neil Rickert: Perhaps we should take it as an implicit acknowledgment that his all-out war strategy was not working.

    BUT THE CULTURE WAR!!!!

  10. BOX sayeth:

    Surely Bill is not proposing that nature itself, a la matter and energy, contains some kind of intelligence or produces design of its own accord.

    So humans. made of matter and energy, are not intelligent?

  11. Lizzie:
    I know.It’s fascinating. It’s almost as though he’s actually been listening to some of us.

    Well, he did say this

    “I would go further than that and say that I value objective peer review. I always learn more from my critics than from the people who think I’m wonderful.”

    Incidentally, the difficulties between Dembski’s current declared position, assuming the quotes are definitive, and that of Meyer have surfaced in the UD thread here. The poster RDFish, better known here and elsewhere as aiguy, seems to have begun to highlight the (shall we say) inconsistencies.

    Here for example:

    Dembski here denies that ID posits that the cause of life was a conscious personal intelligent agent. Very well! This stands in contradiction to Stephen Meyer, who refers to ID’s explanation as a “conscious, rational, deliberative agent”. And it very obviously stands in contradiction to what most people here (including you [StephenB]) mean by “intelligent designer”

  12. This seems vaguely relevant.

    A new post by Casey Luskin at ENV: What to Expect When the Evolution Bubble Is About to Pop

    At first these big shot defectors are given some respect (e.g., Margulis). But then, many rank-and-file proponents of the original idea (e.g., in stocks, these would be investors; in evolution, they are scientists who have invested their own most precious capital, their own lives, in the idea) respond to the defection by “ridiculing” or “demonizing” the big shots who broke ranks. The investors fear that thanks to the mavericks, their investment is in peril and they react accordingly, in a fury. This is exactly what we saw with Thomas Nagel, Jerry Fodor, and many others. In essence those within the establishment fear fear attack from those who have broken rank.

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