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Friday, April 24, 2009


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I would be tempted to say that Searle is not saying that science (much less philosophy) has refuted God or anti-naturalism decisively, but that for certain people the question just does not come up. So, at least based on these quotes, I'd hesitate to put Searle in the same category as Dawkins and otherwise. Here Searle seems more like an apatheist than anything else. (Though there is some serious ignorance when he speaks of 'us, the educated members of society'.)

I'd compare it to the way that, say.. a convinced marxist may approach problems with communism. There is no 'But what about capitalism? What if Marx was wrong?' kind of moment to grapple with. Certain possibilities are not to be explored, and do not even require refutation.

And, I'm in full agreement on the rest of the post. Well said.

In your second Searle quote, it almost sounds like he's basically saying, "We know many great things about the world... therefore naturalism must be true."

Now it's one thing to say, "Okay, we know the natural world exists, so now we can do some science." It's quite another thing to say, "Okay, the natural world exists, but then lets just go ahead and assume that the natural world is *all* that exists. And let's just hope that people don't notice that that last clause isn't, nor can it be, a scientific claim, nor can the claim be justified by the scientific method.

Obviously, I see a lot of conflation between science and metaphysics here. I haven't read any of his works yet (though I'm taking a phil of mind course this spring), but have heard many great things about him. Edward Feser said that Searle is someone he admires. This is why I'm so surprised by these comments. My old science and religion professor taught that me that you have to know where science ends, and where metaphysics begins. They are two different forms of enquiry into knowledge, but many people (usually scientists) have no problems conflating the two.

I see this sometimes when I read how evolution is an "unguided" process, which basically means no supernatural deities were involved. Now, science has the ability to tell us that evolution probably happened. But what it cannot do is tell us whether it was a teleological of a dysteleological process.

But back to Searle. He writes, "Our problem is not that somehow we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of an afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather that in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously."

I wonder, just how much effort has Dr.Searle put into reading about arguments for the existence of God? How much has he studied Aristotle and Aquinas? One reason I ask is because a main part of Antony Flew's recent rejection of atheism is in large part due to Aristotle, whom Flew said he previously in fact had not studied Aristotle in depth. Flew also said that the book "The Rediscovery of Wisdom" by David Conway also played a large role.

How familiar is Searle with Aquinas' 5 ways, and not just the caricatures and strawmen that are peddled around. Has he really engaged in any of the other more contemporary arguments like Craig's Kalam argument, Robin Collins' fine tuning argument, or Alexander Pruss's Leibnizian cosmological argument? I only ask because it's rather easy to claim that there have been no convincing proofs for God's existence when you haven't yet studied them that extensively. I really hope that Searle will have a look at the upcoming Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Obviously Searle is not obligated to read any of these works. But if he hasn't, then I fail to see how he can justify his claim that "we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God."

When I read remarks like Searle's and other men who have an uncompromising faith in the ability of empirical science, I worry about not only God and theism but all philosophy in general.

There reason I am studying philosophy now, the reason why I love it, is because when it is done properly it elucidates the truth about all things most perfectly. What I mean is that scientism does not just make God appear obsolete, it will destroy philosophy. I think that the value of the entirety of philosophy is in play when men of science (Dawkins, etc.) claim that their field is the culmination of all knowledge. Even the atheist philosopher, then, should worry.

This illustrates that people like Searle are blinded by the prestige of science to the point that they are holding themselves back from the pursuit of good insights that they would otherwise have. I have often argued within my own circles that science can only make use of data that involves a Material Existent, i.e., something that can be physically detected with some sensing mechanism of various kinds using various methods. Since God is usually defined in terms of a non-material existent, then one cannot use any strictly scientific method or reasoning to pursue any question about God. This point is completely lost even on fine thinkers like Searle, since they cannot get beyond any serious thinking not based upon a physical materials.

"Suppose we give the whole of the objective realm of what were traditionally called 'secondary causes' over to the scientists to explore using naturalistically acceptable methods. We say to them: try to explain as much as you can invoking nothing occult and nothing supernatural. That will still leave plenty for philosophers and theologians to explain, things that cannot be explained by scientific methods."

Yes, but this is what puzzles me about Plantinga. I haven't read any of his books (and obviously should), but have followed some of his debates with atheists as well as some of his online articles. He seems to me to give enough credence and attention to the standard irreducible complexity argument of intelligent design that he falls into that 'god of the gaps' theology which should be avoided. (Again, perhaps in his books he's more clear about this.)

So it seems to me that Bill is spot on here. In fact, I would raise the question whether his next post shouldn't be called 'Time to Dump the Argument from Design'? For precisely the reasons he's given, that theology doesn't need to explain how the world works--but rather why there is a world at all.


This is tricky, but it would be premature to dump the Argument from Design in all its forms. We agree that the sheer existence of the universe needs explaining. But doesn't the fact that our universe has basic properties making Darwinian evolution possible ALSO need explaining? Why this universe rather than some other possible one? Why are the physical constants such as to permit the evolution of intelligent life? This is a legitimate question, as cosmologists themselves presuppose when they propose multiverses.

A Design Arg need not promote the notion that God interferes in the course of nature.

John Leslie is the man to read.

Even aside from the purEly philosophical question of the existence of God, there remains the empirical question of the existence of an afterlife. And here there has, in fact, been quite a lot of solid evidence (Check out some of the work of Gary Schwartz, among others) But I'm sure that Searle knows nothing about this evidence, and would not be interested in it if someone brought it to his attention: after all, "everybody knows" it's all a crock, so there's no need to actually investigate it.

And the wonder of it all, is that people like this think that what they're doing is science...

John Leslie. I'll look him up. Thanks, Bill.

You probably are aware of Stephen Barr, who address some of these topics as well in his book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.


To be a bit more helpful, I had in mind John Leslie's UNIVERSES, Routledge 1989. There you will find plenty of further references.



You say naturalism is "the thesis that only the space-time system and its contents exists."

-- What about Platonic abstract objects? Do not some naturalists embrace them?

-- More generally, I've been unclear on what people mean by "(anti)materialism/physicalism/naturalism," and what are their logical relations.

-- According to SEP ("Naturalism"), naturalistic philosophers generally reject "supernatural" entities (i.e., classical God, angels, persons without bodies, and the like), and many times at least allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit.’ It seems to me the core here is just to say that only non-supernatural entities exist, or rather that supernatural entities do not exist (while some "naturalists" embrace abstract objects like numbers, sets, non-mental propositions, etc.).

-- "Moral theory naturalism" in contemporary metaethics wants to embrace only "natural properties": that is, properties treated in natural (and sometimes even economic, and social) sciences (cf. the work of Brink and Q. Smith). No "non-natural properties" allowed.

-- "Physicalism" seems to be the thesis that there are only: (i) physical entities like elementary particles (or physical strings, or physical fields) or (ii) their wholes (and maybe also (iii) some inner, immanent ontological principles or parts of (i) and (ii), like essences, in case the physicalism is ontologically sophisticated, or even (iv) "supervening" mental entities, properties or states in case the physicalism is a non-reductive one, e.g. like that of John Post).

-- Even the word "physical entity" is unclear.

Recently, I was said that every physical entity is spatiotemporal. "Spatiotemporal" seems to mean 4D, that is, localized in some quadruple of three classical spatial axes-cum-temporal axis. But then what about 5+D string theories and their posits? Are they non-physical?

I suggest our concept of a physical entity is paradigmatically of an entity that is (i) 4D and (ii) a relatum of efficient causal relations, esp. of pushing or of being pushed/or concrete (as opposed to abstract)/or having primary qualities (of modern mechanics, like solidity, extension, figure, motion, number).

But I'm not sure whether all contemporary physical entities satisfy (i) and (ii). Cf. the excellent treatment by J. Levine, Purple Haze, pp. 17-21 (http://books.google.cz/books?id=g4svYoFDAkwC ). I also remember Tim once discussed with Spur about that; Spur suggested an ideal like (i)+(ii) is still pursued; Tim suggested that it's rather being given up (or has been given up).

-- A commenter at W4 wrote to me:

"I think you'll find that the question of what constitutes physicalism/naturalism/materialism is a controversial one. There's a fair bit written about this topic, from Naturalists (Pettit and Papineau) and non-naturalists (Tim Crane) alike. Here are two approaches:

(1) Physicalism/naturalism/materialism is the theory that reality is constituted just by whatever it is ideal physics has to postulate to make sense of its observations.
(2) Physicalism/naturalism/materialism is the theory that reality is constituted just by whatever kinds of things it is (and smaller) that make up this table in front of me.

The problem with (1), of course, is that we have no idea what an ideal physics looks like.
The problem with (2) is that it can't account for panpsychism, which isn't supposed to be a physicalist view. (This is true of (1) as well--it could end up including God as one of the things physics has to postulate.)"

-- Levine's ultimate conclusion, along the lines of (2), is that physical entity = non-mental entity. That would be a reply to the worry about panpsychism.

-- Many times I have a suspicion that the motivational and substantial core of the debates about "(anti)naturalism" etc. is just the embracement vs. the rejection of personal God or after-life. (I add "personal" because of some redefinitions of divinity, like those by J. Post /the universe is divine/ or E. Steinhart /an all-inclusive unity is divine/.)

-- In any case, it would good to hear something about your view of of the nub of naturalism, materialism, and physicalism.

As Bill knows, there were nice discussions about the popular inference of the (probable) truth of "naturalism" from the success of science.



There is no one correct definition of terms like 'naturalism' and 'physicalism.'

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