Saturday, October 12, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 2

At the heart of Moreland's attack on atheism is his thesis that consciousness cannot be adequately explained without recourse to substance dualism, that is, that human beings are body + soul composites. In the part of his chapter entitled, THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM, Moreland outlines that naturalism includes

  • rejection of "first philosophy" and an acceptance of either weak or strong scientism.
  • an etiology bereft of all supernatural causes for all things that came to be, central in cosmology and biology
  • a general ontology which only includes (a) things that are similar to what can be described in physics, or (b) are contingent or determined by the laws of physics

This is not all that inaccurate, but since naturalists approach epistemology diversely, let me explain how I approach knowledge within my naturalistic framework. I would embrace a form of weak scientism as it is sometimes described, in that I privilege empiricism and verification over all other epistemologies, especially when it comes to ontology. The reason why is that empiricism, especially scientific empiricism, is the most reliable methodology, by far, for determining what exists and what doesn't. But I do not embrace a strong scientism that says scientific empiricism is the only way to know ontological truths. Logic can work, but it can only take you so far. And religious faith, like revelation, is inadequate and demonstrably unreliable as an epistemology. And that's just a fact.

Moreland speaks of this methodological naturalism and its conclusions as the "Grand Story." It has 3 key features according to him. (1) It means "that causal explanations are central to the (alleged) explanatory superiority of the Grand Story"; (2) it "expresses a scientistic philosophical monism according to which everything that exists or happens in the world is susceptible to explanations by natural scientific methods"; and (3) "the history of the universe is a story of unfolding chains of events in which small particles constantly rearrange to form larger and more complicated wholes (for example, atoms, molecules, organisms, planets)." (p. 36)

Moreland goes onto deduce that naturalism is deterministic. I would mostly agree. I've struggled with the notion of a completely deterministic universe for many years. In a purely natural universe, governed by physical laws, there are no exceptions. The only possibility for free will, is in quantum indeterminacy. But even that, many scientists and philosophers agree, is not adequate enough to provide sufficient means to allow for tradition libertarian notions of free will. But even without all entities being determined by physical laws, there are many other reasons to reject libertarian free will as a plausible hypothesis. How does a free will advocate explain mental illness, psychopathy and sociopathy, as well as a multitude of other genetic and environmental factors that hinder our decision making and critical thinking processes? I haven't heard a good explanation of this so far. And I think all believers in libertarian free will should consider that these are defeaters to their view, even without the fact that there are no observable exceptions to the laws of physics that govern all the matter in our bodies.

Moreland concludes this section by outlining what he sees as three constraints for naturalistic ontology (p. 37):

  • Entities should conform to the naturalistic epistemology
  • Entities should conform  to the naturalistic Grand Story
  • Entities should bear a relevant similarity to those found in chemistry and physics or be shown to depend necessarily on entities in chemistry of physics

To me, it has always been obvious that "God" was a placeholder used to explain a current gap in our knowledge, despite the so-called "God of the gaps" being dead. When we didn't know anything, god did everything. Today, no one except a fundamentalist is going to believe that god willfully causes every lightening strike, because we have adequate natural explanations for such phenomena. There are still, however, three current gaps in our fundamental knowledge. One is consciousness, where there is still an awfully lot we don't know. The other is the origin of life, which includes self replicating DNA and proteins. And the last one is the origin of the universe, which we've come to learn a great deal about, but still have many unanswered questions. It seems that these are the most popular places today where god can still find employment. But as our knowledge grows, the job market for god looks increasingly bleak.  

Next, Moreland unleashes his "five recalcitrant facts" on scientific atheism. Is it a defeater? We'll have to see.


  1. But even without all entities being determined by physical laws, there are many other reasons to reject libertarian free will as a plausible hypothesis.
    The main reason is that the concept is incoherent. No need to bring in mental illness or anything else :-)

    1. Yeah, plus it violates the first premise in the kalam. If everything that beings to exist needs a cause, then your "free will" decisions need a cause too. That gets you to determinism. Determinism seems to be unavoidable.

    2. Some kind of determinism for free will seems required for it to even make sense. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that some form of dualism is required for consciousness, your free-will choices still need to be determined by things like your personality, experiences, reasoned alternatives, etc.

      I'm sure a defender of Kalam who is committed to libertarian free will would have no difficulty making an exception for mental events. Perhaps it's God who causes them (in something like the Thomistic sense of being the first cause) :-)



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