Going after philosophical materialism

04 Apr


Joe Carter has a really interesting thought-piece up at the Gospel Coalition website: What is a religious belief?  He is maintaining that materialism most certainly is a religious belief in that for any religious belief “The divine is simply whatever is unconditionally, nondependently real; whatever is just there”.  I challenged him a bit on his thesis (see the comments), but he came back with a good reply.

As anyone who has looked at it will note, I also went after philosophical materialism (reductionism) in my library technology presentation up here in the Twin Cities a couple weeks ago.  See here.

Its nice to see a person writing in the Chronicle of Education piling on as well.  In “Visions of the Impossible: how ‘fantastic’ stories unlock the nature of consciousness” by Jeffrey J. Kripal, he writes, among other things:

Our present flatland models have rendered human nature something like the protagonist Scott Carey in the film The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). With every passing decade, human nature gets tinier and tinier and less and less significant. In a few more years, maybe we’ll just blip out of existence (like poor Scott at the end of the film), reduced to nothing more than cognitive modules, replicating DNA, quantum-sensitive microtubules in the synapses of the brain, or whatever. We are constantly reminded of the “death of the subject” and told repeatedly that we are basically walking corpses with computers on top—in effect, technological zombies, moist robots, meat puppets. We are in the ridiculous situation of having conscious intellectuals tell us that consciousness does not really exist as such, that there is nothing to it except cognitive grids, software loops, and warm brain matter. If this were not so patently absurd and depressing, it would be funny.

The comments section has been abuzz.  I am posting one of the better ones below (but do consider reading the whole article)

Love this article. Love the sprawling (and unsurprisingly heated) conversation it has spawned. Love that it appears in The Chronicle. Thank you, Jeff.

I wanted to weigh in regarding an assertion that appears several times and in various forms in the nearly 175 comments that have been posted so far as I type these words. The assertion is that materialism is a conclusion drawn from the available evidence, not an a priori assumption that is brought to the evidence ahead of time.

Quite simply: no. As a matter of clear philosophical principle: no. As a matter of sheer and verifiable historical fact: no. Scientific materialism is the result of applying a specific mental/philosophical filter to the totality of experience. This filter is made up of the scientific method (in its various iterations), methodological naturalism, and various highly inflected sociocultural motivations, biases, and assumptions stemming from the late Renaissance and, especially, the Enlightenment. Nor is this filter applied to some existing field of phenomena that presents itself spontaneously as “evidence,” since what counts as “evidence” in the first place is determined by the filter itself. Everything else is screened out and effectively hidden from awareness for those who choose to construct their view of reality as a whole based on the results of, and from within the bubble of, this single philosophical filter.

Of course, the same thing could be said of pretty much any attempt at constructing an all-encompassing worldview, and there have been many of these. But since scientific-type materialism is what’s at issue, and since it has long been the dominant cultural paradigm for most of us chatting here, like an enveloping ideological fog that we absorb through our very pores as we’re growing up, it’s important to call it out for the pointedly limited and provisional — and ultimately destructive and deadly — picture of reality that it really and truly is.

I think the very transformation of academic and cultural discourse that Jeff describes and advocates in this article, and also in his books, is the type of thing that will, or could, or may, contribute to a general correction of the situation and a re-enriching of our collective experience as both academics and human beings. Of course there are those who will say they feel empowered and enriched, not enervated and impoverished, by the scientific-materialist worldview itself. Personally, I think they’re failing to take into account both the negative philosophical/spiritual effects and the negative practical effects — think the twentieth century, think war and genocide on a previously inconceivable scale; think real-world science fiction-type super-technological dystopia — that have flowed, and that continue to flow, from the ontological flatland viewpoint of the materialist ideology.


quote pic:


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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


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