Philosophy or Calvinball?

calvinballIt’s the job of the neurosciences to explain how the brain works without purposes.

– Alex Rosenburg (Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. 206

As a passionate materialist-atheist, who lovingly quotes Christopher Hitchens, Rosenberg seems to think that the above sentence is a point in his favor. He is completely right to say, as he does, that neuroscience (like all the sciences) simply set aside purposes from the get-go. What he fails to see, however, is that this undermines his reasons for embracing atheism.

That is, he cites science as the source of his atheism. He argues that it has shown theism to be false, but directly states (in both the quoted line and other places) that science’s job isn’t addressing the question of God–or anything else that involves purposes. Rather, it simply ignores the question in order to focus on material and immediate causation.

That makes science the best tool ever conceived for understanding the patterns of the physical world. What it doesn’t make it is an answer to the question of purposes.

And it isn’t only God; it is any purpose. The reason Rosenberg brings up the point here is to argue that there is no such thing as purpose in the human mind. According to him, we don’t plan for things, we don’t think about things, and we don’t want things. This is because science doesn’t study purpose in the mind or anywhere else and (as far as Rosenberg is concerned) there is nothing other than what science studies.

Rosenberg insists that these are unavoidable conclusions which follow from science. But, for those of us who think it nonsense to say that people don’t actually think, the response is perfectly obvious. This doesn’t follow from science; it follows from the completely arbitrary demand that there is nothing more to reality than that which science studies.

So long as one is open-minded on the subject, it is obvious that neuroscience’s project of describing the brain without purpose, however amazing and useful, does not remotely show that there is no such thing as purpose or intentions in the human mind. In fact, the overwhelming majority of neuroscientific studies depend on trusting test subjects to be accurately reporting on the intentions, purposes, experiences, and desires they feel. If one thinks that neuroscience has (or will) do away with purposes in the mind, then one thinks that it is a self-destructive field of study.

And this is the final problem with all the appeals to science made in support of materialism. Not only do they simply assume that science covers all of reality (which is exactly what the materialist should be trying to prove), but they ultimately contradict science itself.

Simply put, science only functions if there are parts of reality other than the scientific. Claiming that non-scientific forms of inquiry should be rejected is simply a case of cutting off the branch science is sitting on.

And this is the basis of modern atheism.

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17 responses to “Philosophy or Calvinball?

  • paarsurrey

    I think the Atheists have a fallacy in their minds that atheism and science are synonyms; they are not.

  • tonyroberts64

    Well said. And you gotta love Calvin & Hobbes.

  • violetwisp

    “Claiming that non-scientific forms of inquiry should be rejected is simply a case of cutting off the branch science is sitting on.”
    What non-scientific forms of inquiry did you have in mind? If I believe invisible gremlins are in my head giving me purpose and carrying my thoughts, and I can dig up a text from 300 years ago inspired by the Head Gremlin that confirms this, do I have enough evidence to ignore the fact that science can’t confirm it?

    • Debilis

      I agree that this doesn’t make non-scientific claims automatically true.

      I really only meant that this doesn’t discredit non-scientific forms of inquiry. This doesn’t mean that we don’t still need to consider, to base our claims on experience, and to apply logic rigorously.

      Historical methods don’t rely on the experiment-observation method that physics uses. This neither makes it useless, nor justifies belief in gremlins. It really isn’t an accurate comparison.

      We can’t simply insist that scientific confirmation and belief in anything that we can propose are the only two options. That is exactly what the materialist should be trying to prove.

      The third option is that there are ways of investigating other than the exclusive focus on materials and immediate causation that characterizes science.

      • violetwisp

        “The third option is that there are ways of investigating other than the exclusive focus on materials and immediate causation that characterizes science.”
        Could you provide a couple of examples where this has been done?

    • Debilis

      Sure thing!

      1. The Mind
      The most obvious way is the investigation of one’s own thoughts through introspection. No amount of science (including neuroscience) can show that people are conscious or have thoughts. While the encoding of thoughts may be in the brain, the actual content of thoughts (or even the fact that they have content) aren’t demonstrated this way.

      No amount of knowledge about the chemistry of the brain would convince a person who doesn’t believe that people are conscious to change his/her opinion.

      Rather, we know consciousness exists because we experience it directly.

      2. Metaphysics
      Another example would be logical and mathematical truths. To say that these are established scientifically would be to reason in a circle, as science presupposes the validity of logic and math.

      Rather, it has long been agreed that validity logic and math is a “properly basic” truth, or (to put it another way) reached through “rational intuition”.

      In any case, one must accept these and other metaphysical claims in order to do science. This means that any supporter of science is (at least implicitly) a supporter of metaphysics.

      I should add that this is not to say that all metaphysical claims are automatically justified, any more than every scientific hypothesis is justified by supporting science. It is simply to say that these are valid forms of inquiry.

  • William E. Beers

    The purpose of science is to study phenomena without a reference to purpose. But if there is no such thing as “purpose”, what is the purpose for studying phenomena? Atheists never seem to be able to find a point (purpose) for anything they do. I think he sort-circuited somewhere.

    • Debilis

      Yes, I do hope that more people begin to see that the currently trendy materialistic-atheism is deeply anti-scientific.

    • None

      “The purpose of science is to study phenomena without a reference to purpose. But if there is no such thing as “purpose”, what is the purpose for studying phenomena?”

      What a ludicrous comment. The purpose of the scientific approach is to understand a phenomena. The study of something, without having the purpose of coming to an understanding of it is barely worthy of the word study. Appreciation would perhaps be a better word, however who can claim to appreciate something more, the person who just appreciates it (perhaps to fulfill their weird purpose) or the person who really understands it ?

      • Debilis

        While I’d agree that the previous comment could have been made much more carefully, human purposes (such as understanding phenomena) are outside the purview of science.

        With some thought, it becomes clear that no neurobiological data has shown that this is the purpose of science. No experiment has demonstrated that this is the reason to experiment and observe.

        I completely agree that this is the purpose of science, but that is only because I accept the truth of some things (such as intentions and purposes) that are not studied by science.

        So, if one agrees that this is the purpose of science, one (at least implicitly) agrees that there is more to reality than that which science studies.

        Rosenberg disagrees that there is anything more than what science studies, and (therefore) argues that science is pointless.

  • Keith Pinster

    “According to him, we don’t plan for things, we don’t think about things, and we don’t want things. This is because science doesn’t study purpose in the mind or anywhere else and (as far as Rosenberg is concerned) there is nothing other than what science studies.”

    I’m pretty sure that is the worst strawman argument you have come up with yet. It absolutely amazes me that people can prove that your thinking is completely fallacious time and again and yet, here you are, distributing more nonsensical dribble, jumping to conclusions, asserting fantasy as if it were fact. You are definitely the type of person that is enforcing self-imposed stupidity on the people of this nation and why we are so pathetic to the rest of the world. I just can’t stand it anymore, so you will be happy to know that I am unsubscribing to your bullshit blog. I’ve got better things to do that read about how you are so sure your delusional superstitions are supported by using every fallacy in the book.

    See ya, certainly wouldn’t want to be ya!

    • Mark Hamilton

      I’ve yet to see one person prove that his thinking is fallacious. I certainly haven’t seen you do it; this comment is just like every other one from you. All it consists of is insults and assertions without actually providing an argument or evidence.

    • Debilis

      If you’ve read much of Rosenberg, feel free to explain how I’ve misinterpreted him.

      And, if you are aware of a specific fallacy in my arguments, please point it out. But I can’t see how I can be expected to respond to vague accusations of “completely fallacious”. This can be said about anything–the important point is showing how it is true.

      But, yes, this blog is intended for people who are less committed to materialism–who are willing to leave it open to questioning and discuss the logic of the issue.

      If you are interested in doing so, then I’d be happy to discuss and debate the issue. If not, then this blog is not for you.

  • writtenbyafloridian

    NAs love dealing in the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. Everybody, everything is either wholly good or wholly bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly.

    Of course, many of the ‘old atheists’ could be as equally impudent as the ‘new atheists’ the differences, and they are mammoth ones, is that they were willing to concede, at the very least, that their own arguments were weak and ill-informed in some places, that they couldn’t speak with authority about anything of ultimate finality, and that being religious didn’t, necessarily, make one an imbecile.

    Cheers

  • Frank Morris

    Rosenberg sounds to me like the typical dogmatist who believes science exists for the purpose of supporting his religious beliefs.

    Any evidence going against his atheist beliefs should be censored out. OK, but doesn’t that compromise the entire concept of science? All answers are finalized in advance.

    To me the New Atheists are those who fear reality and desperately deny even the most undeniable scientific facts in order to cling to an odd belief.

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