Due to the ongoing work here at the blog, I am presently unable to comment under my own name. (It’s a long story.) So instead I’m going to offer a response here to comments by Ray Ingles and Adam Hazzard in response to my article “See no Supernaturalism…”
Consciousness and Naturalism
Ray starts off by observing:
“I’ll note that there are other conceptions of naturalism, that don’t have a problem in principle with ‘substance dualism’.”
Indeed, there are. And that’s precisely why I pointed out that Antony Flew’s invisible gardener applies as much to the defender of naturalism as the defender of theism.
However, it should also be noted that most naturalists have been loathe to consider substance dualism for obvious reasons. After all, once you admit the possibility of mental substances that intervene within the natural world, you’ve thrown out a very significant bulwark against the plausibility of theism.
“”Now, you brought up consciousness – but there’s a problem with that example. As I said – quite explicitly, let’s quote my actual words – “I don’t think we have a naturalistic handle on that yet.”
“So it’s not that we had a naturalistic explanation for consciousness and now the consensus is moving to a supernaturalistic account. It’s that we haven’t come up with a naturalistic explanation – yet – and some conclude from that that we won’t ever do so.”
Ray speaks here with the benefit of hindsight. It is true that at present we can see we have never had a viable naturalistic account of consciousness. But it is historical revisionism of the crassest sort to suggest that philosophers never thought they had one. Extending back to Gilbert Ryle’s behaviorism of the late 1940s, on through the type and token identity theories, and then on to functionalism and eliminativism and, most recently property dualism, countless philosophers have claimed to have outlined the naturalistic solution to consciousness. And each has failed. And not just failed as in losing the race by a nose. No, in retrospect they’ve failed in terms of never leaving the starting gate.
That’s why looking back with the benefit of this hindsight there is now a growing number of philosophers who are despairing that we shall ever have a reductionistic understanding of consciousness. And there are a growing number who look back at Daniel Dennett’s quip that substance dualism is not a position but rather a cliff over which you push your opponent as nothing more than foolish schoolyard bravado.
A new kind of naturalism?
Adam seems to recognize the problems with Jonathan’s definition of naturalism as non-intervention in natural law. Thus he suggests an alternative:
“The ambiguity of the term “supernatural” is complicating this discussion unnecessarily, it seems to me. Suppose we were to say the following: As our understanding of phenomena increases, explanations positing direct intelligent non-human intervention as a cause have consistently been displaced by explanations not requiring such an assumption.”
Unfortunately, I’m not sure what Adam’s claim is exactly. Is he saying that we ought to believe no non-human intelligence exists because none has been “detected”? Even if it is true that no non-human intelligence has been detected in the universe, that does not warrant the conclusion that there are none.
Consider this analogy. I have never “detected” a 1968 Corvette in Edmonton (the city of 1 million where I live). Does this warrant me concluding that there is no 1968 Corvette in Edmonton? Of course not. Why would Adam think that the failure to detect non-human intelligence is a reason to believe none exists?
There are many other problems with Adam’s suggestion. For starters, it commits him a priori to the assumption that all non-human species living on the earth, including chimpanzees, dolphins and border collies, lack intelligence which can serve as a cause for any phenomenon. But that is surely an indefensible bit of dogmatism. (Get it? Border collie? Dogmatism? Heh heh heh.)
Conversely, if we decide that Bubbles and Flipper and Rover do have a degree of intelligence which can serve to explain the occurrence of particular phenomena, then it would follow that naturalism is false. Given that Bubbles and Flipper and Rover do have intelligence of this kind, it follows that Adam’s naturalism is false.
And then there is the issue of ETI. Many naturalists are enamored with ETI. Carl Sagan devoted much of his career to SETI in which he searched the heavens for the distant echo from alien television sets. If Adam is right then Carl’s search was equivalent to the search to falsify naturalism!
Finally, let’s say that Jim prays to God to provide the money to pay off the loan shark before he gets his knee-caps shattered. Jim has to pay $452.31 by noon or it’s Hasta la vista, baby. Despite the fact that nobody knows Jim owes this money but the loan shark, a half hour after his desperate prayer he feels the urge to check his mail even though he had checked it an hour before. And there, in the box, is an envelope with exactly $452.31.
Now countless stories of this type get told and retold and they are nothing but urban legends. But occasionally one occurs which is carefully documented and from a witness of upstanding character, intellect, and mental stability (yes, I had to throw that in). I know because I’m writing a book on these kinds of events.
So here’s the question: when Jim opens his mailbox and finds that money, does he have reason to explain the phenomenon in question with respect to a non-human intelligence? Indeed he does. I’m not saying that Jim’s experience holds credibility for Adam. But it surely does have value for Jim, and thus experiences like that would serve as evidence for Jim that naturalism as defined by Adam is false.
In conclusion, note how Jonathan and Adam’s equally unsuccessful attempts to define naturalism illustrate my point that naturalists, no less than theologians, are liable to the charge of the invisible gardener. No doubt Jonathan, or Adam, or somebody else, will come along with yet another refurbished definition of naturalism.
Because the invisible gardener can walk through electric fences, don’tcha know?