See no supernaturalism. Hear no supernaturalism. Speak no supernaturalism. A response to Jonathan MS Pearce
I had an interesting exchange with Jonathan MS Pearce on naturalism and dualism in “The natural and Naturalism“. Not only does the discussion have inherent value, but there are broader lessons here about how to retain intellectual credibility and avoid becoming an ideologue. And for that reason, I’ve decided to put a spotlight on the discussion and take the time to deconstruct Jonathan’s responses.
We join the conversation with Jonathan making the following assertion:
“I know of no neuroscientists, scientists or philospohers who are now saying “Wahey, consciousness is now well supernatural!”. At most, as i said to you on DC, someone like Chalmers posits a NATURALIST dualism so that mentalistic substance is still naturalist, just not materialist. Either it supervenes on physicalism or similarly adheres to natural laws (just not physical laws).”
Note that Jonathan begins not with an assertion of knowledge (i.e. “There are no neuroscientists, scientists or philosophers who …”). Rather, he begins with an admission of personal ignorance (“I know of no neuroscientists…”). In terms of argument that’s weak. After all, just recently I heard a conservative Baptist say “I know of no good scientists who accept evolution.” As you can guess, that statement says more about the conservative Baptist than it does the scientific community or the credentials of evolution.
And so it would appear in this case. I replied to Jonathan as follows:
“I take it that adherence to substance dualism would satisfy you as being a supernaturalist theory of the mind?”
This is a very reasonable supposition since Jonathan has defined his “naturalism” as a categorical commitment to non-inverventionism in scientific law, with that law governing all events in the known universe. And dualism is typically (but of course not necessarily) dualistic interactionism which presupposes the falsity of just that kind of naturalism.
I then went on to provide Jonathan with a smattering of significant (interactionist) dualists over the last thirty years from science and philosophy:
“Okay, here are some scientists and philosophers who endorse substance dualism: Karl Popper and Sir John Eccles (they wrote a book together on it!), Roderick Chisholm (one of the leading analytic metaphysicians of the last forty years), Mario Beauregard (a respected neuro-scientist), Charles Taliaferro, Alvin Plantinga, J.P. Moreland, William Hasker (all leading philosophers; Hasker’s position is an emergent dualism), and so on.”
There. So if Jonathan once knew of no dualists, now he knows of at least eight, all of them respected figures in their respective disciplines, some of them (e.g. Popper, Chisholm, Plantinga), modern legends.
So did Jonathan reply “Thanks! I’ll check out some of their writings! I wasn’t aware of their position but now that I know of them I want to understand it better!”?
Instead he replied: “Substance dualism is NOT a movement from naturalism to supernaturalism….” Okay? Of course it isn’t a movement from naturalism to supernaturalism (whatever that means). But it is a supernaturalist theory of the mind and that is according to Jonathan’s definition of naturalism. You see, all these dualists hold that the mind is a non-physical substance which interacts in physical law. Thus, I just provided Jonathan with eight significant supernaturalists, each a leader in his field, and what does he do? He simply ignores it.
Talk about confirmation bias. Why is it that I get an image of the three chimps covering their eyes, ears and mouths? That seems to be the mentality toward dissenting views: see no dualism, hear no dualism, speak no dualism.
I also responded to his sweeping claim that “there is still not one example of an explanation moving from natural to supernatural.”
Before I provide the response I gave, note the sloppy, unqualified nature of his assertion. There is not one example given anywhere, by anybody? No of course not, that’d be absurd and demonstrably false. So then what does he mean here? Does he mean there is not one example that has received universal acclaim from a recognized body of professional scientists? Well okay then, what constitutes a recognized body of professional scientists? And why would that be the criterion rather than something else? And if he does mean something different then what does he mean exactly? Sadly, Jonathan’s statement trades on the inherent ambiguity with which it comes to us.
Setting that problem aside, I responded as follows:
“And then I noted examples from Big Bang cosmology and ethics. I could add ID, including Stephen Meyers’ argument from information which received an extraordinarily favorable review from the famously committed atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel.”
Now are you ready for Jonathan’s response to this? Here it is:
“nor is ID [evidence of people moving toward supernaturalism] since that is continuing an age-old notion that Goddidit anyway. They just never moved on from medieval times. Plus it is ONLY proposed by theists and is an utterly minority view.”
Ahh, yes, the “Goddidit” response. How enlightened (by which I mean about as enlightened as “Johnny’s got cooties!”). I’ve addressed that response here and here and here. Never mind that agnostics (Steve Fuller) and atheists (Bradley Monton) defend intelligent design. Never mind that intelligent design is simply the position that intelligence is a legitimate explanatory inference in scientific theorization and thus is committed to the explanatory power of minds whether or not the divine exists. Never mind that, as I noted, Meyer’s book has received very positive reviews from atheists like Thomas Nagel. It is sufficient to chant “Goddidit!” and move on. See no ID. Hear no ID. Speak no ID.
Note as well that Jonathan says ID is proposed only by theists. Not only is this false (see the mention of Steve Fuller and Bradley Monton above) but it is also completely irrelevant anyway. What if theory x was only proposed and defended by atheists? Would that be a cause for Jonathan to reject it?
No, of course not. Because atheists are the good guys!
Finally, the statement that ID is an “utterly minority view” is also irrelevant. The point is that in the last few years the question of intelligence as a theoretical posit has gained significant crediblity, especially as Meyer notes, in the explanation of DNA. Thus that is a clear defeater toward Jonathan’s claim that the modern world consists of a lockstep march toward naturalism.
This brings me to the last observation I made:
“Jonathan when you make your sweeping statements you actually make your case weaker because you show yourself to be a committed ideologue. The credible witness is the one who recognizes the strength of the other side as well.”
I really want to emphasize this point. As Judge Judy says to stumbling witnesses, “If you don’t remember then say ‘I don’t remember!’” You see, it really is true that witnesses to the truth who admit when they’re ignorant, when they don’t remember, when they’re uncertain, are more credible witnesses overall. But the ones who cover their eyes, ears and mouths to dissenting views and disconfirming data are the true ideologues.