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No closure on materialism?

In my last entry I suggested that materialist science can’t deal with all realities, even all important realities. It can’t give an adequate account of “importance,” for example, and if you can’t sort out what is more and less important you can’t deal with anything at all. In other words, materialist science can’t even make sense of itself. It can’t tell us whether to interpret a paper in a scientific journal as a joke, a patently incompetent botch, a pack of inventions concocted to secure funding for a laboratory, a coded text whose Swahili original deals with a completely different topic, an artistic arrangement of black and white patterns on paper, or an actual scientific paper by serious and competent researchers to be read literally and relied upon.

In spite of that, people want to maintain the independent self-sufficiency of materialist science as a way of knowing about observable fact. They may think it’s OK to talk about subjective sensations or for that matter about God, but they want them to be epiphenomenal. They want them to stay in their place and not muck around interfering with what actually happens because then the physical world would not be a self-contained system that can be fully understood through materialist science.

One common way of maintaining the purity of materialist science while allowing some talk of other things is to set up two areas of human concern, maybe “facts” and “values,” or “science” and “religion,” and say that each has its own subject matter and neither has anything to say about matters in the other’s jurisdiction. That obviously doesn’t work. If I say aloud that “it’s good to distinguish facts and values” the event is both a physical occurrence and an evaluative act. If I say “God exists” or “I have a sensation of redness” and I’m right, then a non-material state of affairs (e.g., my sensation of redness) has come to my attention and prompted me to mention it. In other words, a non-material state of affairs has caused a specific physical event.

It would be surprising if the effects of non-material causes on physical events were limited to curiosities like my sensation of redness causing me to say “gee, I have a sensation of redness.” It looks like we’re dealing with a basic structural point having to do with what kinds of things there are and how they relate to each other. With that in mind, odd features of the world like its apparent fine-tuning for the needs of life begin to seem significant, just as the shapes of Africa and South America begin to seem significant once continental drift is recognized.

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