Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reason and Materialism

An exchange between Mark Shea and an atheist...
(Atheist) Firstly, we have empirical evidence that reason and logic exist from both our own experiences and the recorded experiences of humans before us. Even nonhuman animals have limited powers of reasoning and learning, as can be demonstrated empirically.

(Mark) You do realize, of course, that you are saying "Reason proves that reason exists." I do believe reason exists. But I think you need to rework this argument.
(Atheist) Mark seems to have trouble with ideas grounded on abductive inferences validated by evidence and experience. Nonetheless, he has provided no evidence to refute their existence.

(Mark) Er, why? I have no need to show that reason, freedom or morality don't exist. I think they do exist. I simply don't think that a materialist philosophy can account for *why* they exist. In a materialist universe, reason, freedom and morality cannot be grounded in supernature, for supernature does not exist. So they must be grounded purely in Nature. The problem is, atheists don't talk that way. They talk as though Reason will liberate us from, among other artifacts of irrational Nature, religion. "Free your mind!" is the common slogan of atheism. But if materialism is true, then your mind *can't* be freed from the slavery nature imposes via the meme of religion because your mind is just another epiphenomenon of Nature. The best Reason can do is conduct you into another cell in the same prison. This is related to the problem of freedom, of course. Because if materialism is true then your "free" thought is just an illusion. It's all determined by the physical laws governing the motion of molecules in your brain. And morality, likewise, is simply that pattern of behavior which wind and weather have accidently conditioned you to prefer. If you happen to like killing and eating children, that's not "wrong" in a purely material universe. It's just a statistical aberration from the needs of the herd. No doubt you will be locked up or even killed as the herd asserts the dominant survival paradigm. But it's rubbish to say that your preference for juvenile cannibalism is "wrong". That drags in the word "ought" (As in, "You ought not to kill and eat children.") and you cannot derive "ought" from "is".

The trouble is, atheists generally moralize and drop "oughts" all over the place every day in ways that strongly suggest they believe their particular values are *really* right, and not at all in ways that suggest "I prefer chocolate, but others prefer butterscotch." This happens most especially, of course, when they are talking of religion itself. ("It is *criminal* to enslave young minds to this ignorant superstition!") Why, it's as though they think religion is really *evil* and not simply part of the marvelous diversity and colorful pageant of possible brain configurations, which are just as much a part of Nature's vast interlocking web of Inevitable Cause and Effect as the march of the clouds across the sky. Nope. Not a few atheists are pissed at religionists. And pissed, not as a man is pissed at his computer for breaking, but pissed as a man is pissed at another man for being really bad when he need not be.
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