Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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The Self-Delusion of Naturalist Philosophy

Here is an interesting one-hour documentary on self-awareness. But it makes a fundamental logical error; see if you can identify it.

Did you identify the error? It is that if we can produce an experience by natural/physical means, then all such experiences are nothing more than natural/physical. That is, if we can explain how a car works, then there must not be a driver or a designer for the car. This is absurd.

Yet it’s very common. In any given conversation, usually concerning evidence for something, people think that if a certain thing can be duplicated by alternative means, then the evidence for the original claim must be false. A specific example is in the documentary: that if we can duplicate out-of-body experiences by artificial means, then all OOBEs must be strictly physical and can be written off as mere electro-chemical anomalies. This is how naturalistic philosophy limits understanding: it simply must find a way to explain everything in naturalistic terms, yet can never solve the problem of origination, which I’ll come back to shortly.

Another related fallacy is that of failure to consider all possibilities. The documentary did not explore the idea of the brain as a kind of physical/spiritual interface. It’s essentially arguing that if you have two people communicating by phone and you interrupt the signal or alter it, that means there is not, and never was, anyone on the other end of the line but only that the line itself generated the call. This is what the man in the documentary is asserting: by showing that if science can duplicate spiritual phenomena, then there is no such thing as spirit. But in fact their application of electricity or chemicals merely interrupts the communication between the soul and the brain or interferes with the brain’s ability to function as an interface.

We should note before we go on that the study also ignored the circumstances of spiritual phenomena such as OOBEs. That is, it’s fine to conduct controlled experiments that produce these results, but how does one explain their occurrence without the electrodes, optics, and drugs? Many who report psychic experiences have no discernible brain anomalies or chemical imbalances, no special lenses, etc. That is, science cannot explain the phenomena in context.

Neither did the research explain what causes the brain to do what it does, but only highlighted the problem of regression: eventually you have to come to a point of unexplained origination, whether of thought or existence itself. The documentary claims (by inference) to have made progress in explaining away the supernatural, but all it’s done is move the line in the sand, very much like the argument that life on this planet was seeded by space aliens. For example, they can detect a decision six seconds before awareness of that decision, but they made no attempt to explain why the chemicals and neurons did what they did to start off those six seconds.

If, as the man in the video concludes, the brain is “just a lump of fat” when he dies, then what has he proved about the brain while it is alive-- whatever that may mean to him? If, as stated near the beginning of the documentary, a body with its brain can be kept technically alive without any activity in the brain, then why isn’t the brain working? How is it possible to be brain-dead if the brain is no more than its chemicals, electrical currents, etc.? Why has the brain stopped producing thought if all its needed components are present?

Ultimately we come to the point of the naturalist having to explain morality. If we are in fact only slaves of our electro-chemical reactions, then we cannot be held responsible for anything we say, think, or do. There can be no morality because there can be no free will, since our thoughts are no more significant than the waves of the sea. For the naturalist, it is no more or less moral to heal someone than to murder them, because who has the free will or non-chemically-induced capacity to either be responsible or to care? Why should people care about others, the environment, their own survival, or whether they are remembered kindly by future people, if we’re all just “lumps of fat” that simply stop activity and decompose someday?

I must conclude, then, that the term “moral naturalist” is an oxymoron, that atheists who fight for causes are not acting consistently with their own beliefs, and that people who pride themselves on their powers of reason have neglected their own principles of logic. They can speak of “the good of the many”, but the fact still remains that if science says we’re just glorified pond scum, then there is no such thing as good or bad. It reduces us all to bags of narcissistic neurons but then expresses moral outrage if one set of neurons destroys another (and sometimes wishes to destroy all sets of neurons who reject naturalism!).

What causes thought or self-awareness? Science still cannot answer, though it can observe and tweak the mechanics of it. And naturalism will forever keep science from answering it, because no matter how far back it ever regresses in observation or experimentation, it cannot deal with the First Cause.

Posted 2011-11-18 under science, atheism