Monday, March 14, 2011

Naturalism without materialism

Many people have made the argument that difficulties for materialism need not be difficulties for ontological naturalism. But that leaves an important question: what is a non-materialist naturalism supposed to look like?

I can imagine a form of naturalism in which God, angels, and what we used to call human souls are part of nature. But then we could even imagine the physical in such a way that all these things are physical. When I took a course on physicalism with Hugh Chandler, who eventually became my doctoral dissertation advisor, he suggested that the physical is whatever is quantified over in an ideally completed physics. Since some theories in physics quantify over God, on that view, God would be physical.

Such definitional liberality, however, would make it difficult to define even methodological naturalism, since it would then no longer exclude what most of typically think it is supposed to exclude.

47 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, You have put your finger on a key metaphysical quandry. You can have two or more coherent philosophical world views that do not agree with each other.

Naturalism is a coherent world view in my opinion, a possible model by which to understand the cosmos.

It does not and need not EXPLAIN everything. No worldview does that.

In your opinion it is not coherent since you claim it does not include "reason?" But naturalists demure on that point as I elucidated in my blog post on "Prior prejudices and the argument from reason." The methodological naturalist understands much of how things function, and shares that information with anyone else on the planet, who can check the equations and observations for themselves. That's not true of supernaturalism where one sees and feels things that others don't, or must believe writings concerning unparalleled past events, or be damned, presumably eternally, if the orthodox opinion is true. How indeed does a supernaturalist go about investigating anything at all, including history?

Naturalists ADMIT that the brain-mind is a special case, there is no other organ like the brain with a trillion connections through which electro-chemical energy constantly passes, even while sleeping, and that requires a high percentage of the body's oxygen and energy in order to continue functioning, as well as requiring sleep and dreams. It is an organ that takes in more sensory data each second than anyone is aware of taking in. It is an organ that undergoes developmental changes over time from the womb to old age, that learns to sort out all those sensations, to make sense out of them, what we later came to call "rational" sense, and which is based early on, on the brain-mind's ability to tell things apart and also see how they resemble one another, and fit into wider or narrower cris-crossing categories.

Hiero5ant said...

I am not a naturalist, and I have a considerable degree of sympathy with this line of reasoning. For me the obvious falsity of religion has nothing to do with any grand metaphysical "worldviews", any more than the obvious falsity of moon-landing denial. Becoming convinced of the resurrection of Jesus or the intelligent origin of life would not affect e.g. my metaethical noncognitivism or my scientific irrealism.

The notion that what's "really" preventing me from accepting Christ as my personal savior is simply some dogmatic metaphysical view that forces me to "exclude miracles a priori" is something that really grates with me.

For me the explanatory virtues of what very loosely could be called methodological naturalism that contingently happen to tell against the claims of religion are:

1) no causal relation without spatio-temporal relation

2) no moral claims superceding observation claims

3) public availability of reasons and evidence

4) no claims in-principle immune to revision.

GREV said...

I suppose you could have it but then it fails the test of consistency and being an adequate model for understanding the world we inhabit. Does it not?

Then it also reveals the extent to which someone needs to go to redefine and still exclude the supernatural.

Can an ontological naturalism stand on its own without the necessary supports?

Victor Reppert said...

The argument from reason isn't an argument against naturalism unless you accept my account, or something like my account, of what naturalism EXCLUDES. Otherwise, it's just an argument for one kind of naturalism as opposed to another.

You can call the view that is targeted by the argument from reason naturalism if you want to. Or you can call it bananas. But it includes three basic doctrines.

1) There is a basic substrate that can be described completely without reference to intentionality, subjectivity, normativity of purpose.

2) The basic substrate is causally closed.

3) Whatever else exists, supervenes on the basic substrate, that is, whatever is not true at the level of the basic substrate necessarily exists in virtue of what the substrate contains.

My claim is that a world WITH THESE THREE characteristics will not contain reason. That's my AFR. It doesn't introduce the term supernaturalism, naturalism, materialism, of dualism.

William said...

I think that Victor's description of naturalism is mainly one of what would be called reductive physicalism. I think that a lot of naturalists (like Ed) are non-reductive about the mind, at least when looking at the AFR.

I am at heart an empiricist about the matter (but I accept a lot of data as evidence, not just the objective stuff). Most reductive physicalists are way too narrow in their metaphysics. Better to not have a metaphysics at all, than to keep to one that denies what our minds and hearts tell us.

Maybe Ed would agree?

Tony Hoffman said...

"Such definitional liberality [defining God as a natural being], however, would make it difficult to define even methodological naturalism, since it would then no longer exclude what most of typically think it is supposed to exclude."

Hmm. It sounds like you are confusing naturalism with a filter. Your post here seems comparable to me to describing astronomy as a concept designed to exclude multiverses. 

Mr Veale said...

"How indeed does a supernaturalist go about investigating anything at all, including history?"

I suppose I could look at how Galileo, Newton and Kepler went about it...but then I can't because I'm a supernaturalist, and I can't do history.

Durn! Foiled again!

Tony Hoffman said...

"How indeed does a supernaturalist go about investigating anything at all, including history?"

Veal: "I suppose I could look at how Galileo, Newton and Kepler went about it...but then I can't because I'm a supernaturalist, and I can't do history." 

Let's be clear. When Newton investigated nature, he succeeded epically. When Newton investigated supernaturalism, epic fail. This is a trend that remains unbroken. You think by now the pattern would be better recognized.

Ian said...

In the original Greek meaning (Aristotle, Physics 192b13-15) of 'physical' is 'that which has its source of change within itself'. This is in order to distinguish what is artificial, which have sources of change outside themselves (Aristotle, Physics 192b30-31).

If theism is true, wherein God is the source of our life and therefore the only thing with life in itself, then, strictly speaking, only God is physical! All of the the rest of us beings would therefore be 'artificial' (in some sense).

Ian

David Parker said...

I am trying to wrap my brain around John Searle's biological naturalism.

He thinks that neurobiology is the appropriate level of description for mental phenomena (at the ontological level), but at the same time he affirms that consciousness does reduce to physics (at the causal level).

I love his arguments against materialism, but I haven't yet gotten the hang of what disqualifies biological naturalism from his objections to materialism.

Victor Reppert said...

William: No, the description I have put forward includes both reductive and non-reductive materialism. In fact, versions of non-reductive materialism, such as Davidsonian anomalous monism, include the notion of supervenience. Supervenience was introduced into the discussion of materialism as a replacement for what people considered to be an implausible reductionism.

Victor Reppert said...

Tony: You are simply assuming that the natural-supernatural distinction can be drawn. I'm saying it isn't obvious to me that even God is a supernatural being, or rather, on what basis God is supposed to be a supernatural being.

At least until someone comes up with a way of defining anything as supernatural.

Victor Reppert said...

Hiero5ant: You make the claim that all causal relations must involve spatio-temporal relations. This means, I take it, that anything that plays a causal role must have a particular location in space and time.

Yet, if you draw a rational inference, you draw it in virtue of logical relations between the premises and the conclusion, and logical relations have no particular location in space and time, since they hold good regardless of spatiotemporal location. Yet those logical relationship are supposed to have an effect on what you conclude when you draw a logical conclusion. So I am not sure that this constraint is consistent with the possibility of rational inference.

cl said...

Victor,

"Tony: You are simply assuming that the natural-supernatural distinction can be drawn. I'm saying it isn't obvious to me that even God is a supernatural being, or rather, on what basis God is supposed to be a supernatural being.

At least until someone comes up with a way of defining anything as supernatural."


Bravo, I'm right there with you. Glad to see I'm not the first one to notice that atheists and skeptics tend to conflate natural with godless.

Tony Hoffman said...

Victor: "You are simply assuming that the natural-supernatural distinction can be drawn. I'm saying it isn't obvious to me that even God is a supernatural being, or rather, on what basis God is supposed to be a supernatural being."

Then I didn't make myself clear. I don't think a distinction between natural and supernatural can be made, because I don't think a meaningful definition for the supernatural exists. I thought that by describing naturalism as excluding something, you had a meaningful description of what was being excluded.

GREV said...

Is not our awareness of God limited by God's self disclosure?

And before someone might say that is inadequate. Why cannot a Creator Being limit the nature of His interaction with His Creation?

Tony Hoffman said...

"Why cannot a Creator Being limit the nature of His interaction with His Creation?"

Um, sure. Where does that get us?

GREV said...

"Um, sure. Where does that get us?"

It gets us to all kinds of different things.

Differing conceptions on the nature of God, what we know and cannot know ... to name but a couple of things.

Independence, dependence, the limits of human reason and by extension the failure of the Enlightenment experiment of faith in the power of human reasoning to solve all problems ... To name but a few more.

And a person's worldview shapes their response to these points.

Shackleman said...

To the empiricists:

Some genuinely sincere questions for you:

What do you consider to be "empirical" evidence? Is it not true that most of what you consider as empirical evidence is actually just your reading about it in some journal or text somewhere? It might be empirical for those doing the experiments, but for *everyone* else (oftentimes this includes even those charged with the task of peer review) it's not empirical at all. It's mere testimony and nothing more, no? Granted, testimony by a source you trust, but mere testimony nonetheless.

Isn't it more accurate to say that "I'm a 'scientist-testimonialist'", instead of saying "I'm an "empiricist", since, in truth, the vast majority of what you claim to believe, you yourself didn't empirically witness?

=================

Back on point: I've never understood the term "Naturalist". It strikes me as a semantical game the purpose of which is to allow for the "Naturalist's" "mind" to exist whilst denying the obvious "spooky" stuff that "minds" imply.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: "Independence, dependence, the limits of human reason and by extension the failure of the Enlightenment experiment of faith in the power of human reasoning to solve all problems ... To name but a few more."

Okay, I didn't mean what could we infer, but what (per the post) does that look like? How does (a creator God who limits our perceptions) affect our experience of reality? Because it seems to like it's not explanatory.

Tony Hoffman said...

Shackleman: “What do you consider to be "empirical" evidence?”

Evidence that can be experienced through our senses and independently verified, or has an effect on those things that we can detect with our senses and can be independently verified.

Shackelman: “Is it not true that most of what you consider as empirical evidence is actually just your reading about it in some journal or text somewhere?”

No. Reading about empirical evidence doesn’t somehow magically make it non-empirical. It’s empirical by definition.

Shackleman: “It might be empirical for those doing the experiments, but for *everyone* else (oftentimes this includes even those charged with the task of peer review) it's not empirical at all.”

Completely wrong. It’s empirical, and part of that definition means that it can be independently verified. Muslim scientists get the same results as Christian scientists, etc.

Shackleman: “It's mere testimony and nothing more, no?”

Nope.

Shackleman: “Granted, testimony by a source you trust, but mere testimony nonetheless.”

Argument from authority is not a fallacy if the source is trusted and is truly an authority, and empiricism can verify both.

Shackleman: “Isn't it more accurate to say that "I'm a 'scientist-testimonialist'", instead of saying "I'm an "empiricist", since, in truth, the vast majority of what you claim to believe, you yourself didn't empirically witness?”

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to trust in empriricism. I hope that my answers above have shown you why.

Steve said...

Hello Dr. Reppert:

I thought I would add my two cents, since I consider myself a non-materialist “liberal” naturalist.

No one has a monopoly on the definitions here, but FWIW here’s my view on naturalism.

Naturalism is to me is the conclusion that reality consists of a fairly organized evolving network of events which share an underlying character.

I think everything we’ve learned tends toward believing the world is consistent with this.

It’s pretty clear, then, why a sporadically intervening transcendent God and a dualism of matter and spirit would be considered supernatural.

On the other hand, it’s fine if events turn out to be, say, experiential intentional processes instead of “matter”. And God would be OK too, if it refers to a ground of being or continuous creative force.

If you, as in your book, view naturalism as definitely excluding intentionality, then I'm not a naturalist. And that's fine (I would need a new label). But perhaps you can see why the claims of our traditional religions don't fit?

Shackleman said...

@MR. Hoffman: Thanks for fielding my questions.

I understand what empiricism is. I think you're missing the point though that for us onlookers, we are NOT ourselves empiricists. We simply trust others who tell us that they've produced empirical evidence. Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with that, but it's a very important distinction and at minimum can serve to help us understand our own biases.

This might not be a stumbling block for you, but it is for me. I think a true skeptic ought to be skeptical of all testimony, including the testimony offered by scientists. I will be quite candid here in saying that this notion was the beginning of my conversion from atheism to theism, and I haven't yet encountered a challenging and coherent counter.

I think it would be a sign of progress if a self-described empiricist would admit that they themselves haven't really empirically verified much, if any, of their beliefs.

The problem as I see it can easily be illustrated if I modify your definition slightly, but in a way that I would argue is more accurate:

Empiricism is: "Evidence that can be experienced through [a scientist's] senses and independently verified by [other scientists], or has an effect on those things that [scientists] can detect with [their] senses and can be independently verified."

Too often people lump *themselves* in with the collective "we". Let's be honest here. "We" didn't verify a stinking thing. "Scientists" did. Therefore I think my newly coined label is still more accurate, and all people not themselves scientists should call themselves "Scientist-Testimonlialists" and not "empiricists".

Besides the obvious and universally experienced (such as gravity), can you name any scientific "facts" that you yourself have empirically verified?

William said...

To Shackleman:

quote:
"
Isn't it more accurate to say that "I'm a 'scientist-testimonialist'", instead of saying "I'm an "empiricist"
"

By empirical I do not of course just mean scientific evidence. (Very few scientists start from scratch without authorities in their field anyway.) Empiric evidence ought to include introspection and testimony. Of course, prospectively verified scientific evidence tends to be better quality, and so deserves more respect.

Tony Hoffman said...

Shackeleman: “I think you're missing the point though that for us onlookers, we are NOT ourselves empiricists. We simply trust others who tell us that they've produced empirical evidence.”

No, you appear to be lying to yourself when you write that. (You are working on a computer that has been designed by empiricists. You observe, empirically, that everything that is supposed to occur does.) You can’t partake in the fruits of empiricism and deny that you accept its premises. It just makes you seem confused.

Shackleman: “Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with that, but it's a very important distinction and at minimum can serve to help us understand our own biases.”

Empiricism is exactly what helps us avoid mistakes made from our own biases. It is the fact that empirical data can be verified independently that makes this true.

Shackleman: “I think a true skeptic ought to be skeptical of all testimony, including the testimony offered by scientists.”

If you mean testimony as the opinion of a scientist about something outside that which they are testing, I would agree. But I do not advise that one be skeptical of the test results and diagnosis performed by an oncologist because you deem it “testimony.”

Shackleman: “I think it would be a sign of progress if a self-described empiricist would admit that they themselves haven't really empirically verified much, if any, of their beliefs.”

I think I see where you’re going here, and I agree that there are people who too quickly make declarations based on either their own poor understanding of science or on scientific conclusions that are far from certain. I know that I have done this before, and though I try to be conscious of it I will almost certainly do it again.

Shackleman: "Empiricism is: Evidence that can be experienced through [a scientist's] senses and independently verified by [other scientists], or has an effect on those things that [scientists] can detect with [their] senses and can be independently verified."

No, I strongly disagree. I believe we are all pretty much empiricists, and that one does not need to be a professional scientist to think scientifically. I think you are making a mistake in thinking that empirical observations (the sun is shining) must be confirmed scientifically in order to be considered valid. I think you are not giving proper due to observation, which is a part of science but is not in itself scientific.

Shackleman: “Let's be honest here. "We" didn't verify a stinking thing. "Scientists" did.”

Depends on what you’re talking about. I verify things all day long. I believe that you do as well.

Shackleman: “Besides the obvious and universally experienced (such as gravity), can you name any scientific "facts" that you yourself have empirically verified?”

Seriously? Well, like most people, I took science classes in high school, and I went to college and took some there as well. So I’ve done labs in physics, chemistry, and biology.

But I think you’re making a (huge) mistake in believing that experience with scientific facts are largely confined to professional scientists. For instance, I just finished my ski season, and waxed my skis constantly. Waxing skis confirms the properties of wax – how and when it transforms from a solid to a liquid, how heat transfers, etc. I even built a ski hot box, and ran an experiment on at what temperatures, and to what extent, the different waxes transformed. Scientific verification is all around us, and I think many of us do it more often than we realize.

William said...

Tony Hoffman:

I wonder what you make of a my attempting to make a distinction between my kind of liberal empiricism and that of the materialist who is a metaphysical monist (says everything that exists is made of matter).


If someone senses something they believe to be a miracle, is that empiric evidence? Or is that disallowed by your metaphysics?

What about the testimony of those who think they saw a miracle? Is that empirical evidence?

For that matter, is non-expert court testimony empirical evidence?


What about introspective evidence for non-material kinds (mathematical theorems, or like persons as opposed to objects, or consciousness)? Is that evidence empirical evidence, even though it cannot be touched, like your ski wax?

Shackleman said...

@Mr. Hoffman,

I appreciate the engagement, though I wish you showed more interest in engaging me on the nuances here. I'm well aware of how science works and I dig it. I love it. I use it. I think it's awesome and a wonderful and powerful tool to help us understand the world.

But when we're talking about "Naturalism", we're not talking about something that is quantifiably "empirical". Naturalism is a *philosophic* a priori position.

And this is one of two points that I think many self-describing empiricists are failing to see.

The other point I think they fail to see is that so many of their beliefs are garnered either in full or at least in part, not by themselves doing anything empirically, but *only* in the trust and authority they've placed in others who claim they have done the empirical studies.

That *should* be a problem for anyone proud to call themselves an empiricist, but it rarely seems to be.

I think an illustration of this can be seen in your own example:

You say: "Seriously? Well, like most people, I took science classes in high school, and I went to college and took some there as well. So I’ve done labs in physics, chemistry, and biology."

When you were in science classes, like most of us you spent the *vast* majority of your time reading about OTHER people doing experiements and then reporting on it. From their reports, and the authority resting in the providers of your curriculum, you then formed a "belief"---all of this is based solely on testimony.

The *only* time you yourself were actually doing anything empirical was in your labs. Then and only then were you justified, empirically in believing what you had previously read about the nature of your labwork. (One may have been justified in other ways, such as by Authority, but then, one would still not be able to claim their beliefs were formed empirically.)

Shackleman said...

@William,

"I wonder what you make of a my attempting to make a distinction between my kind of liberal empiricism and that of the materialist who is a metaphysical monist (says everything that exists is made of matter)."

I like your liberal empiricism and I think it's a pretty honest way to go about the problem, though it does seem a little like having your cake and eating it too. (Not an admonition, as I do this too). I'm just wondering if you're "comfortable" with having it a little both ways.

"Empiric evidence ought to include introspection and testimony. Of course, prospectively verified scientific evidence tends to be better quality, and so deserves more respect."

I think you get into trouble here though. By definition, "empiric evidence" necessarily excludes testimony and introspection. Testimony and introspection are more appropriately categorized as "witness" and "philosophy" respectively. Two things which I think are quite necessary in forming a coherent belief, but we shouldn't pretend that they're empirical.

Here's my summary thought then: I think any coherent belief, worthy of respectful consideration, should be a properly balanced mixture of:

-Philosophical rigor
-Empirical Observation when possible
-Study of properly narrow authoritative expert testimony(*).

Any belief which does not meet this criteria is a mere a priori assumption, bias, or intuition.

(*) meaning if I want to form a belief regarding cancer, I should only trust the testimony of experienced oncologists, as opposed to general medical practitioners.

With this in mind, how many of our beliefs can really pass this test? My bet is far fewer than the bluster of some would indicate.

woodchuck64 said...

Shackleman,


I think a true skeptic ought to be skeptical of all testimony, including the testimony offered by scientists. I will be quite candid here in saying that this notion was the beginning of my conversion from atheism to theism, and I haven't yet encountered a challenging and coherent counter.


I can see being skeptical of science apparently done incorrectly, but what is the justification for skepticism of apparently good science? We know science done correctly works well as a means of understanding (what appears to be) the world around us. Therefore, it seems reasonable to trust its results in proportion to the strength of its conclusions.

Is there good reason to think that the appearance of good science is deeply misleading?

William said...

Shackleman:

From an empirical point of view, that I think or that I exist is something that is sensed, via introspection, just as knowing that I am happy or angry is sensed via introspection.

It is easy to be philosophical about our internal feelings, but they are not philosophy in the sense you mean.

SteveK said...

Shackleman
I see the point you are trying to make, and I am sympathetic to some extent as it is a fact that a ton of information/knowledge we accept as being true comes to us, in part, via the testimony of others who did the actual testing and verifying.

We "onlookers" don't conduct formal empirical scientific experiments in a lab. But, as Tony mentioned, we do carry out informal empirical experiments every day of our lives. We informally test and verify these experiences. Both have great value.

Some will have you believe that the "onlookers" are too biased to do any testing and verifying of their own. They say that we must let the professionals confirm our experiences before we can conclude that we really know something. It's that mentality that drives funding for researching the obvious. It's also that mentality that drives online arguments about whether humans actually have free will, or if you really saw that miracle event. "We don't know until it is has been verified", they say. Maybe. Maybe not.

As for me -- I'm waiting for the official word on whether or not water is, in fact, wet.

Shackleman said...

Great feedback all, thanks.

@woodchuck64

"I can see being skeptical of science apparently done incorrectly, but what is the justification for skepticism of apparently good science? We know science done correctly works well as a means of understanding (what appears to be) the world around us. Therefore, it seems reasonable to trust its results in proportion to the strength of its conclusions.

Is there good reason to think that the appearance of good science is deeply misleading?"


I think this is a great comment and I agree with the point you're making. I think though that you're falling victim to "we-speak". This all really hinges on Plantinga's ideas on Warrant. While we might collectively agree that science as an empirical tool of study has been largely successful, any single arbitrary "believer" has very little if any tools with which to judge the relative success or truthfulness of claims made by scientists.

It's the individual's sense of warrant that I'm after here, and in particular the "Empiricist's". Is the self-described empiricist any more justified in accepting the authority of scientists as anyone else, especially to the exclusion of the authority of other's such as philosophers or even clergy for that matter?

Victor Reppert said...

I think where you've got evidence of some real scientific consensus, you can be confident. But I see too many people grabbing something that some scientist somewhere concluded and say "science says" when it really hasn't gone all the way through the scientific mill and gotten fully confirmed.

Shackleman said...

Excellent point Dr. Reppert. I would bolster that though and say that while one is justified in their beliefs when a scientific claim meets with widespread consensus, that alone is not enough to ensure the accuracy of the claim. The history of science is littered with the remains of once universally held beliefs turning out to be false, and it doesn't matter how empirical the data was that lead to the wrong beliefs.

This is why a healthy dose of skepticism should be maintained regardless of consensus, and this is also why I think the "empiricists" generally seem to me to be overconfident and not as discriminating as they tend to think they are.

woodchuck64 said...

Shackleman,

It's the individual's sense of warrant that I'm after here, and in particular the "Empiricist's". Is the self-described empiricist any more justified in accepting the authority of scientists as anyone else, especially to the exclusion of the authority of other's such as philosophers or even clergy for that matter?

The empiricist assumes that scientific knowledge is empirically verified knowledge, and you're asking if that assumption is justified. Adding Victor's caveat that said knowledge is referring to real scientific consensus, I would say the simplest explanation is that, indeed, it was reached using sound empirical methodology. The alternative would be to try to come up with a reasonable way that scientific consensus could have become corrupted and non-empirical despite considerable safeguards, and either without scientists being aware of it, or with scientists secretly complicit in it. Or maybe science never practiced empiricism but only claimed to and no one ever caught on? That all seems much harder to work out than just concluding that real scientific consensus really does entail empirical verification.

Assuming you have no problem with the empiricist accepting real scientific consensus, I'm not really understanding how this issue gets one started on the road from atheism to theism.

woodchuck64 said...

Shackleman,

The history of science is littered with the remains of once universally held beliefs turning out to be false, and it doesn't matter how empirical the data was that lead to the wrong beliefs.

This is why a healthy dose of skepticism should be maintained regardless of consensus.

Ah, just as I posted, you posted this which answers my question. I find myself tempted a bit by scientific anti-realism, so maybe I shouldn't speak for the empiricists.

Tony Hoffman said...

Shackleman: “But when we're talking about "Naturalism", we're not talking about something that is quantifiably "empirical". Naturalism is a *philosophic* a priori position.”

Hmm. A priori means “before experience.” I’m not sure how one could become a naturalist before experience. This makes no sense to me.

In fact, I think naturalists become so through experience. That’s how they come to the conclusion that there does not appear to be no good evidence that things that some claim exist (demons, angels, etc.) do not seem to exist, unlike those things that they and other observe empirically.

Shackleman: “The other point I think they fail to see is that so many of their beliefs are garnered either in full or at least in part, not by themselves doing anything empirically, but *only* in the trust and authority they've placed in others who claim they have done the empirical studies.”

Yes, we trust, to some variety of degree, the conclusions of those who have run tests empirically. Some empirical conclusions are less reliable than others. But save a vast conspiracy, I see no reason to be highly skeptical of the enterprise.

Shackleman: “When you were in science classes, like most of us you spent the *vast* majority of your time reading about OTHER people doing experiements and then reporting on it. From their reports, and the authority resting in the providers of your curriculum, you then formed a "belief"---all of this is based solely on testimony.”

Well, yes and no. Yes, most science curriculum is learning about what others have learned. But in the labs we usually followed pretty closely the things we were being taught. If there was a discrepancy, the lab work would have stood out like a sore thumb. Also, the lab work taught us to learn how to test – it taught skills that we could bring to other topics, so we could see to you go about disproving scientific results. Again, if there is a conspiracy afoot, you need to make an argument powerful enough to override all those experiences.

Shackleman said...

@woodchuck64,

I really appreciate your comments. They're well laid out and articulated and I think are good challenges and answers to my questions, even if I'm left unpersuaded.

You asked: "Assuming you have no problem with the empiricist accepting real scientific consensus, I'm not really understanding how this issue gets one started on the road from atheism to theism."

I was one of those atheists who was so sure of atheism, and was so committed to the materialist manifestos that I hadn't actually closely examined most of my beliefs. It wasn't until I decided to do so that I realized that the "scientific consensus" wasn't quite as bullet-proof as I thought it was. I also hadn't given opposing views a fair shake. I just assumed they were all bible-thumping whack-a-dos.

Removing my own overconfidence in what I thought was incontrovertable, empirical proof, and then honestly investigating opposing positions were the *first* steps toward my conversion.

I remain very much committed to science, I just think I have a much better and more accurate view of it now and have ceased what I think was a blind allegiance to "scientism" and some materialist implications touted by many "scientists". Whenever a scientist starts to talk about "materialism", "naturalism", "supernaturalism", or anything of the sort, they're no longer being scientists, impartially and empirically discussing their scientific findings, but instead are acting as philosophers. It helps to put their metaphysical claims in proper perspective. At least to me.

Good Philosophy, I have come to believe, is an integral part of forming any coherent and justifiably held belief (as I discussed earlier). So in short, I think the "empiricists" need to be knocked off their pedestals :-) In my view, most of them are rarely actually practicing empiricists. They're *philosophical* empiricists, and there's a big difference between the two, and too few in my experience admit to it.

Shackleman said...

@Mr. Hoffman,

A priori has multiple definitions:

a priori
(law, Latinate) Known ahead of time.

(logic) Based on hypothesis rather than experiment.

(In his opening argument, the student mentioned nothing beyond his a priori knowledge.)

Self-evident, intuitively obvious
Presumed without analysis
"

Perhaps those definitions will help with how I'm intending the term when I say "Naturalism" is an a priori philosophic position, not in and of itself an empirically verifiable claim.

To your other points. I don't think we're that far apart in our views. Perhaps I'm just nit-picking. I don't think so, but maybe.

When you say this.... "In fact, I think naturalists become so through experience. That’s how they come to the conclusion that there does not appear to be no good evidence that things that some claim exist (demons, angels, etc.) do not seem to exist, unlike those things that they and other observe empirically."

...I'm left to wonder if you (or others perhaps) would simply rule out empirical *evidence* (not proof, just evidence) for such things because they run contrary to your Naturalist commitments. For example, if you saw video footage of a stereotypical angel, and assume for sake of argument that the consensus from forensic video experts is that the footage is not doctored, would you not look for any other explanation OTHER than one that supports the notion that the footage is of an angel? The footage itself is empirical, but that probably wouldn't persuade you from assuming that it's not really an angel. You would instead explain the data as bad lighting, a forced perspective illusion caused by a moth in the sun, or anything else that would better fit with your Naturalistic a priori assumptions, no?

In other words, when the chips are down, isn't it fair to say you're a Naturalist first and an Empiricist second? Won't you tend to view all evidence through the prism of your commitments to Naturalism?

I know from my own experience that that's precisely what I used to do.

Shackleman said...

Offline for now. Thanks all for the engaging discussion.

Tony Hoffman said...

Shackleman: "Perhaps those definitions will help with how I'm intending the term when I say "Naturalism" is an a priori philosophic position, not in and of itself an empirically verifiable claim."

Well, a priori as a philosophical  position (which is how I thought you meant it) has a precise definition, and that is "before experience." Ask Victor -- I'm sure he'll back me up there. 

And I am not sure what it means to empirically verify naturalism. As I said, my experience (and that of many others) is that naturalism is an inference we make from our experiences. I see no reason to doubt that, despite the fact that your philosophical journey differed.

Shackleman: "If you saw video footage of a stereotypical angel, and assume for sake of argument that the consensus from forensic video experts is that the footage is not doctored, would you not look for any other explanation OTHER than one that supports the notion that the footage is of an angel?"

Of course. I try to be a critical thinker or skeptic, so I would look for the best explanation.

Shackleman: "The footage itself is empirical, but that probably wouldn't persuade you from assuming that it's not really an angel. You would instead explain the data as bad lighting, a forced perspective illusion caused by a moth in the sun, or anything else that would better fit with your Naturalistic a priori assumptions, no?"

Yes, (however imperfectly) I look first at explanations that conform with my background knowledge. 

Shackleman: "In other words, when the chips are down, isn't it fair to say you're a Naturalist first and an Empiricist second? Won't you tend to view all evidence through the prism of your commitments to Naturalism?"

I look to explain phenomenon that first conforms with my background knowledge. When that fails, I look to evaluate my background knowledge. Do I do this ideally? Of course not. But I try to.

Where I think you are making a mistake is in declaring that naturalists like me must have made up our minds a) prior to experiences that have led us to tentatively declare ourselves as naturalists, and that b) that we would not accept any evidence that compelled us to change our minds about naturalism.  

William said...

"Yes, (however imperfectly) I look first at explanations that conform with my background knowledge. "

Could such "background knowledge" include empirically unproven axioms which tend to lead us to disbelieve evidence for facts forbidden by such axioms?

Tony Hoffman said...

"Could such "background knowledge" include empirically unproven axioms which tend to lead us to disbelieve evidence for facts forbidden by such axioms?"

I espouse a kind of soft naturalism, where I concede happily that angels and demons may exist, but that I see no reason to believe that they do. I think this is more or less the position of most, if not all, naturalists. So, for me, naturalism does not mean ruling out angels and demons; it means that the belief in such things is better explained as a side effect of our evolutionary history, precisely because the existence of angels and demons cannot be demonstrated in a meaningful way.

I’m not singling out angels and demons, mind you. I’m just saying that until their existence can be shown to be meaningful, in the way that certain axioms and empirical evidence are, I see no reason to believe in them.

GREV said...

Shackleman: Some excellent comments. Not having come to faith from an atheist position your comments have been helpful.

Mr. Hoffman -- kinda figured you were a soft naturalist from what you were writing but thanks for the clarification.

Guess we would differ about what it means to know something and how knowledge about something can be discovered and demonstrated in a meaningful way.

Shackleman said...

@GREV: Glad to hear my comments were helpful, thank you.

Px

GREV said...

Shackleman -- since you can now access my email I would love if you would consider at sometime sending a more full length exposition of your journey.

If not, that is fine.

Shackleman said...

GREV: Quite humbling that you'd have an interest. Thank you for that. I don't have anything like that prepared, but I would be happy to write something more detailed in the hopes that it may be helpful to someone.