Thursday, March 03, 2011

William Dembski's critique of materialism

He compares materialist philosophy of mind to alchemy. A redated post.


Edward T. Babinski said...

Perhaps Dembski doesn't realize that ironically, speaking, an interest in "alchemy" helped give rise to modern science?

Newton wrote endless pages on alchemy.

Nestorian Christians were branded heretics and had to flee eastward along with certain heretical books on alchemy that were preserved by them and the books later circulated westward again and interested Europeans in conducting "experiments" that eventually helped give rise to modern scientific investigations of nature.

At any rate, Vic, citing analogies works both ways. And filling in gaps in knowledge with "supernatural explanations" seems a heck of a lot closer to "alchemy" than perhaps Dembski and the I.D.ists might like to admit.

GREV said...

Unrelated but whenever Dembski's name comes up I am reminded of a conversation with a lecturer in biology at one of my country's finest undergraaduate universities.

He conceded readily that some of the more interesting challenges to evolution will come from the world of mathematics. His hope was that anyone seeking to bring forth new information will do their homework.

GREV said...

This again seems to pop up as a question --

"Our question now becomes: Can truth, logical relations and noetic unity be understood in physicalistic--and in that sense "naturalistic" --terms? Can
knowing and knowledge be accommodated within the categories of physicalism, the narrower or
"Puritanical" Naturalism?"

From -- page 7 of Knowledge and Naturalism
Dallas Willard

GREV said...

Like these two paragraphs from the article and I wonder since the article was written in 1996, what type of update on the research to answer the problem would be offered.

Those who subscribe to the historic Judeo-Christian position on mind and body are often taken to task for believing that humans possess immaterial spirits. By believing this, they are considered disingenuous, taking refuge in ignorance. Spinoza, for instance, castigates those "who will not cease from asking the causes of causes, until at last you fly to the will of God, the refuge for ignorance." Nevertheless, if the historic position is correct, then those who subscribe to it are by no means ignorant. By looking to immaterial spirits and a transcendent God, they are in fact drawing proper causal connections-if they are right. But regardless whether materialists are right in affirming the brain is a sufficient reason for intelligence, their ignorance of the precise causal connection between brain and intelligence remains. Granted, it is an ignorance they hope to dispel through research. But it is a hope they have largely abandoned, just because the complexities are so overwhelming.

"Thus while the commitment to materialism persists, the hope of explaining human intelligence at the neural level, which for the materialist is the logical level, is not a serious consideration. Karl Lashley will for instance say, when addressing a symposium on the brain-mind relationship, that "our common meeting ground is the faith to which we all subscribe, I believe, that the phenomena of behavior and mind are ultimately describable in concepts of the mathematical and physical sciences." Yet towards the end of his career he will remark, "whether the mind-body relation is regarded as a genuine metaphysical issue or a systematized delusion, it remains a problem for the psychologist (and for the neurologist when he deals with human problems) as it is not for the physicist. . . . How can the brain, as a physico-chemical system, perceive or know anything; or develop the delusion that it does so?" And even though R. W. Gerard's observation is over forty years old, current brain research has yet to remove its sting: "it remains sadly true that most of our present understanding of mind would remain as valid and useful if, for all we know, the cranium were stuffed with cotton wadding."

SteveK said...

I am doubtful there is any chance that a person can coherently explain, in strictly materialistic terms, what it means to have knowledge. It would come across as nonsense to our rational senses.

Various electrical/chemical/physical/spacial interactions in the brain may give rise to knowledge, but I have no idea what it means to say that these things ARE knowledge. The idea that knowledge has mass or energy is nonsensical, and will always come across that way.

GREV said...


I would largely agree.

Yet some sort of materialistic framework is considered the regining paradigm to handle explanations of causation. Which I do quarrel with.

Whereas, a naturalistic/materialistic (understanding each is not completely identical with the other) method of doing science -- investigating the mechanisms -- I have little quarrel with.