Thursday, January 9, 2014

Materialism a.k.a. physicalism


My assertion in "Epiphany vs materialism" that 93% of scientists believe God is a delusion conjured up by the brain must have come from Hagerty’s work. Theologian Vincent Smiles corrects it in his comment to my post and he emailed a fuller comment:
Elaine Howard Ecklund (sociologist) wrote a book (Science vs. Religion, 2010) about scientists and faith (based on numerous interviews with a wide variety of them).  She showed (among other things) that while it is true that a far higher percentage of scientists (53%) have no faith in God compared with Americans at large (16%), it is also the case that scientists “self-select … from backgrounds where religion was practiced only weakly” (26).

Among the non-believing scientists interviewed, “it is not the engagement with science itself that leads them away from religion” (17).            
I believe this; it seems more credible than the 93% figure. Vincent added:
As I’m sure you know, we cannot take scientists & philosophers like Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Wilson, etc. as representative of science or scientific thinking.  Their reasoning is notoriously bad when it comes to religion, not to say profoundly biased.  Most scientists are not in their camp.
I have written about Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchins (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). Harris’ views I find agreeable, quite a contrast to  Hitchins’.
One materialist
My abiding aim being to challenge hardened assumptions, I take on atheists and agnostics as well as traditionalist Christians. In a friendly discussion with one atheist, I tried to find some common ground by asking whether we could agree on defining spiritual reality as consciousness, which includes thoughts, ideas, decisions, beliefs, affect, attitudes, intentions.
He said No, that's all material reality. There is no immaterial realitynothing beyond material reality exists. It's not just that the physical generates the spiritual, he declared, it's that there is no non-physical reality. 

According to this individual, science says that everything we perceive is due to the brain; thoughts and feelings are perceived and generated by the brain. Everything we perceive is material reality, even if we don't have a scientific explanation for it yet. There is no difference between the mind and the brain. 
This seems extreme, even for atheists.

Going on with the materialist position, phenomena like psychic events (the truly inexplicable ones) and the findings of quantum mechanics—a human intention determining a physical outcome—may seem to refute materialist belief but we trust that the explanation just hasn't been found yet.

I say materialism is not the inescapable conclusion of science but the materialist interpretation of science. I’d like to know if other atheists whom this reaches agree with him. When I read or listen to scientists, notably in interviews with KristaTippett, I try to infer their position on this. I would expect Sam Harris, to reject materialist belief, for instance.

Often I hear scientists profess disbelief in a personal God. I also do not believe in a personal God as they define it—a humanlike individual—but I have a deep personal relationship with God. Daily I seek spiritual guidance and receive it. Like the subjects in William James’ study (previous post), I cannot be shaken from my conviction, because my experience of spiritual reality suffuses my life.

As I stated in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, atheists take their image of God from the popular but pinched Christian image—a humanlike personality. I join atheists in rejecting this external deity. The esteemed theologian Catherine LaCugna in her acclaimed work, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, draws a relevant distinction: God is not a person, that is, an individual; but God is personal, or loving and caring.

I consider LaCugna’s distinction useful to all thoughtful religious believers. Especially those who join me in saying, when we hear atheists describe the god they don’t believe in, “I don’t believe in that god either.”

My profession of belief and disbelief
I am an atheist because I do not believe in a god, an external deity, a certain God-image, a god-man Jesus or any other idol.
I revere Jesus as the manifestation of God to Christians, the Way-Shower whose unique spiritual teachings resound through earthly time and space.
Although an atheist, I am not a materialist because I believe in spiritual reality, which materialists deny.
           
Next time—the views of Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan. After that, more from Eben Alexander.

4 comments:

Chris said...

Hi Jeanette,

Happy New Year! I've commented here before on a few occasions. I do not agree with your pov, but I sympathize with it. It would seem that you agree with theists of many stripes in opposing the total reducibility of consciousness to matter/energy. Nevertheless, you deny that the Divine (universal consciousness) is not transcendent (beyond space and time) and not personal
("having" intellect and will).

Why?

Chris said...

Jeanette,

I'm curious about something. What is your position on Christian mysticism that doesn't reject orthodoxy? Do you believe that mysticism and dogma are incompatible in principle?

Chris said...

Correction-

you deny that the Divine is
transcendent and personal.

I presume you picked up on that.

Thanx!

formidablefaux said...

Well I happen to be one of those other atheists you reached, and I figure I'll leave a comment in regards to the spiritual reality vs material reality that you discussed with your friend.

I think I agree with both of you - just on different scopes. When your friend says that what you qualify as 'spiritual reality' is entirely physical, I wouldn't say he is *wrong*. Consciousness is almost certainly, though we don't yet know the details, a physical process, as are all the other things you mentioned.

But - that's a stupid way to talk about the world. It'd be like trying to discuss the nature of love with someone and them responding with "love is just a bunch of neurochemicals." While such a statement is technically true, it doesn't account for the meaning and experience of love as it relates to being a human and the human experience.

Though I don't particularly like the word 'spiritual' because it tends to bring with it supernatural associations, it's a very important part of a person and deserves talking about, not dismissal.

I dunno, definitions are particularly difficult for these kinds of discussions I find. But I think the attributes you listed are a good description of what makes up the individual as spiritual, but it certainly does not exist independent of the physical either.