Saturday, October 13, 2012
Painful As Usual
[T]he view that all sciences are in principle reducible to the laws of physics, which is materialism, is not identical to an attempt to reduce all sciences to physics. The former must be true unless you're religious, while the latter is a tactical problem ... [Emphasis added]Now, please explain how the view "that all sciences are in principle reducible to the laws of physics" is more empirically based than religion. Scientific papers preferred, but give it a go however you can.
There is (unbeknownst to Jerry) a rich and important philosophical literature struggling with that question.
I'm sorry, but as much as I agree that Nagel is wrong, the naïve materialism of Jerry and others is just as "faith" based as religion. And their scoffing at those who have spent time and intellectual currency on thinking about it is as misguided as any creationist denialist.
P.S.: The ironic thing I forgot to mention is that Jerry quotes (without understanding) the “Neurath’s Boat” analogy that refutes his own certainty in materialism.
The New Atheists like to dismiss the probability of the Christian God existing as being so small as to be negligible and, perhaps, for certain popular values of the term, it is. But there are still deep, fundamental questions about this universe for which we have no explanations. Why is there something rather than nothing? What were the conditions in the supposed singularity before the Big Bang? What caused the singularity to go "bang!"? Why is the speed of light 186,000 miles per second and not 400,000 mps? Is intelligent life an inevitable consequence of the laws which govern this universe and if so, why? When Coyne can give well-founded answers to those sorts of questions will be the time to start feeling we have a firm handle on things.
Exactly. They are certain about things without evidence and decry others who are also certain about things without evidence. I think Coyne et al. are closer to the "truth" than theists but that doesn't stop the irony from grating.
My guess is that Jerry means by materialism that everything is made of physics (what philosophers call physicalism). This can come in non-reductive forms -- I'm pretty sure non-reductive physicalism is actually the mainstream view on this question.
I think you're right and that was the point of Brian Leiter's and Michael Weisberg's criticism of Thomas Nagel:
Coyne is just the mirror image of Nagel and an example of the kind of writing about science to the nonspecialist that Nagel based his "criticism" of "naturalism" on.
Now, I've made something of a cottage industry out of criticizing Jerry's philosophical naïveté, but if an otherwise astute philosopher, such as Nagel is led astray by blovating scientists, it worth poing out the philosophical shortcomings of those scientists as well.