Monday, July 6, 2009

Weekend At Bernies 2: Electron Boogaloo (5 of 5)

After four installments, now with this fifth and final one, the astute reader by now is saying, “On the contrary, Kevin - you have not shown that Bernie is dead. You have only shown that Bernie did not successfully kill my soul. The Materialists have claimed that Bernie vanquished God and spirit and any possibility of a non-physical substance that could ground free human agency and the possibility of the survival of consciousness after the physical body is dead. That may have been an exaggeration, but just because he failed to kill his enemy does not mean he is dead. Perhaps he still lives.”

I beg to differ. The whole point of Materialism was to provide a complete causal picture of reality without the need for non-material things. It was supposed to account for everything that happened without the need for soul or spirit, and without leaving anything out. Anything not covered, any gap in the causal account, could be exploited by those who deny the truth of materialism, and thus no such gap was supposed to exist. No such hole in our causal knowledge was acceptable for anything that purported to be a scientific worldview. After all, science was classically defined as cognitio certa per causas, certain knowledge through causes. If complete causal certainty is abandoned, then, in a real sense, so is science - at least in the sense of a naturalist scientific worldview.

So when we hear the click on a Geiger counter and ask why that happened, we point to an individual radium atom decaying at that precise moment. But then if we ask why that particular radium atom decayed at that exact second, not another one or not the second before or the one after, we hit a brick wall. According to the quantum physics it is not only the case that we do not or even can not know the answer to that question. Rather, in purely physical terms there is no possible answer at all. It happened like that, and not any other way, for no reason at all, if physicalist Materialism is correct. That is a denial of the ubiquity of causality that was the ground for deterministic Materialism in the first place, and was based on an essential pillar of rational thinking, one without which no science is possible: The Principle of Sufficient Reason. That means physicalist Materialism is ultimately unscientific, at least in the classical sense of what we always meant by the term science. If physicalism is true, and quantum physics has the final word, then no complete scientific worldview, is possible.

But that was ostensibly the whole point — not just to discredit traditional notions of soul and moral responsibility and free will and the possibility of an afterlife — but to replace those views with a complete scientific description of reality free of those elements. That was what we were promised. But the Promissory Note on what Sir Karl Popper cleverly called “Promissory Materialism” has come back denied. Materialism may be the default position of Western academia and science, but that default position is in default of its promise - to provide us with a satisfying alternative picture of ourselves and the world that explained everything it claimed it would eventually explain. Now all we get are excuses why they will never be able to come up with what they promised.

The fact is, on every level materialism has failed. It has failed to account for consciousness in terms of individual neuron firings, and now it is being admitted candidly in some quarters that what they are now back to calling “the Neuron Doctrine” (instead of merely “the basic facts, established with scientific certainty, of how the brain works”) has more or less failed, and that the brain acts as a reticulum, a network, with different areas acting simultaneously in parallel, with no discernible bottom-up explanation of such parallel, unconnected, spatially-separate effects. What is needed is a retrieval of Aristotelian formal and final causes and the acceptance of agent causation - too long discarded by modern science in favor of mere event causation, and the exclusive focus on efficient causes that are purely natural, material and physical. What is needed now is a top-down holistic casual agency, able to orchestrate the different parts of the neural network at the same time even when they are apparently not in communication with each other. What is needed is a revival of traditional Thomist-Aristotelian hylomorphism - the concept of the soul as the substantial form of the body. Only a top-down holistic causal agency like a substantial form - a soul - can address these problems. Materialism, with its commitment to bottom-up event causation, is utterly helpless to fill that need.

Materialism has also failed to discover physical principles that explain the origin and diversity of life on this planet, or to provide a coherent account of the difference between living and non-living things in purely physical terms. It has failed to account for biological activity in purely chemical and physical terms (another area where the soul would fit in nicely, thus it should be no surprise that they cannot explain these things - they have hamstrung themselves by banishing the true explanation). Even in the area where it was thought to have made the most headway - the discovery of complicated bio-molecules, it has failed to account for the information those molecules store and use in terms of Darwinian natural selection alone. Materialism has failed spectacularly in every possible way, and now we can be sure that it will never be able to give us more than excuses for its failure.

That is why Bernie is dead. He was way overextended and had science’s loan sharks after his ass, and when they caught up to him, he couldn’t pay up. So they busted a cap in his ass. And another. And another. And another and another. And one in his head: Neuron doctrine BLAM! Right in the forehead. Morphic resonances BLAM! Irreducibly complex bio-molecules BLAM! Real information in DNA that cannot be accounted for by successive random mutations that survive by natural selection BLAM! Non-local influences and quantum uncertainty - the failure of bottom-up physicalist Causal Determinism BLAM BLAM!Believe me, he is not as hale and hardy as he looks. No matter what the materialist behind the pet shop counter says, he’s not just resting, or pining for the fields. He’s as dead as John Cleese’s Dead Parrot, and it’s starting to get funky in here, like a dead philosophy’s dead ass.