April 27, 2009

Dennett Devolving, Part II

This is the second part of Dennett Devolving, my reflections on Darwinian ideology prompted by philosopher and Darwinian Daniel C. Dennett’s book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995). I posted Part I on 4-23-09. This part will be a discussion of the philosophical shortcomings of materialism for explaining human consciousness (or anything else), and the need for a moderate realism in metaphysics to understand the nature of mind and human knowledge. To keep this post from being any longer than it is, I will continue with the discussion of the intellect and knowledge in Part III. Also, I will present the issues in a simplified form and define various philosophical terms.

The primary philosophical problem is the crude materialism Charles Darwin grafted on to evolutionary theory. The Darwinian bias for materialism precludes it from doing justice to the uniqueness the human mind. This is not a criticism of evolution in itself, which is a fact of biology regardless of how inadequately understood. It is criticism of the materialistic version of evolution in which extreme Darwinians misuse science for their ideology of evolutionism. In this manner, the Darwinian takes science to be evolutionism.

Nonetheless, for ourselves, we can avoid the errors and pitfalls of philosophical materialism through a moderate realism, even though we may not convince a single dogmatic Darwinian to be more scientific and less ideological. Darwinian ideology, the modern Weltanschauung, is the perfect example of Einstein’s observation that the man of science makes a poor philosopher.

Most people understand the basic distinction between material or physical reality and spiritual reality, though their ideas may be a bit fuzzy. We can weigh, measure, and count physical objects. We experience the particular qualities of physical objects that exist in a place through our five senses. We see their colors and shapes; we hear the sounds they make, and so on. On the other hand, the body’s sense organs do not apprehend qualities such as charity, justice, or honesty. These are spiritual qualities.

Material and spiritual reality

The human body is a physical entity and its activities such as eating, breathing and swimming are physical acts. The soul is the spiritual component of the human person, and thinking, willing, are judging, which are proper to the soul, are spiritual acts. In addition, God and the angels are spiritual beings. (No, my dear reader, angels do not have wings and demons do not have horns and a tail.)

Certain schools of philosophy deny the existence of spiritual reality. We call their doctrines materialism. Materialism claims that reality is ultimately physical. At the opposite extreme of the philosophical spectrum, we find idealism. The idealist believes reality is only mental or spiritual, and that matter does not have a separate, independent existence outside the mind. Idealism, as defined here, is of no further concern for this discussion.

Between the two extremes of materialism and idealism are various versions of dualism. The dualist teaches that both material and spiritual entities have real existence, and that material and spiritual reality are truly distinct and different from each other. Platonic philosophy is an example of a radical dualism. Platonic philosophy wrongly claims that man is completely his spiritual soul, which inhabits a physical body. Moderate realism is the common sense dualism of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. Here and in Part III, I will address two of the three main philosophical positions, materialism and the dualistic nature of the moderate realism taught by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.

What is philosophical materialism?

In the ancient world, atomism is the most noted system of philosophical materialism. The Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus founded atomism during the fifth century B.C. According to the Atomist, reality consists of an infinite number of indivisible units called atoms (un-cut). Atoms are too small for us to perceive with the senses, vary in geometrical shape, and they move in the void. In atomism, God does not exist. There is no Prime Mover to account for the origin of motion in the universe as there is in Aristotle’s metaphysics. The human soul and its acts are asserted to be the distinctive motions of atoms. Lucretius gave the classic exposition of atomism in his De Rerum Natura, during the first century A.D.

The consistent materialist is also an atheist, which should come as no surprise to anyone. Materialists are also sensists, and believe that all human knowledge is sensation. Sensists deny the non-sensuous nature of intellectual thought. Materialists are usually determinists. Determinism asserts the physical laws of nature necessarily and solely determine all events in the world. The excessively broad extension of the physical determinism entails the exclusion of purpose or goal directed activity in nature. The determinist views free will as an illusion, and natural processes, both internal and external, completely determine human acts.

Darwinian ideology denies purpose in nature, but some Darwinians hold that man does have free will. However, these Darwinians are oblivious to the profound metaphysical contradiction involved their position. The brain’s neuro-physiological processes cannot sufficiently account for the non-determined acts of free will. Neither is the rational will an uncaused cause; it is self-causing.

Matter is incapable of rising ontologically above the laws governing its nature and display free, self-causing rational acts. The superficiality of Dennett’s discussion of free will (p. 366-368) makes it pointless to attempt any philosophical critique of his position. Dennett’s resort to talking about memes, genes, and self-controllable flying machines underscores materialism’s utter inability to explain rational free choice.

Only two modern philosophers of any stature have been hard-core materialists: Thomas Hobbes and Karl Marx. The world, as imagined by the materialist, is metaphysically bland. This is all we can expect from a modern philosophical version of atomism. The materialist’s simplistic world-view calls to mind a statement made by the great G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy:

“The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and events miscellaneous, just as the sane man know that he is complex. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist’s world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and a solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts.”

The natural or positive sciences concern themselves solely with the phenomena of physical reality. Epistemology is that branch of philosophy, which treats of knowledge, its nature and limits, it causes, and so on. The epistemological error of Darwinian ideology is the assumption that the only valid and worthwhile knowledge is that gained by methods proper to the natural sciences. A modern trend in philosophy called positivism says that we acquire knowledge only by scientific method. Catholic scientist Pierre Duhem says,

“To be a positivist is to assert that there is no logical method than the method of positive science, that what is inaccessible to that method, what is unknowable by positive sciences, is in itself and absolutely unknowable.”

Thus, the materialist denies that first philosophy, metaphysics, can give us knowledge of the world. He denies the existence God and the spiritual soul since they are not potentially observable phenomena, and thus remain outside the scope and methods of the natural or positive sciences.

For example, Carl Sagan says in the Dragons of Eden, "there is not a shred of evidence" for "the idea that inhabiting the matter of the body is something made of quite a different stuff, called mind." Convenient for Sagan, the only evidence he accepts is what the natural sciences afford. And spiritual reality is beyond the scope and competence of science. Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the spiritual soul or the spiritual nature of the human mind. Sagan's epistemological bias accounts for his avoidance of any open minded consideration for the philosophical proofs of the soul's existence.

The materialist denies that first philosophy, metaphysics, can give us knowledge of the world. He denies the existence God and the spiritual soul since they are not potentially observable phenomena, and thus remain outside the scope and methods of the natural or positive sciences.

Materialism entails atheism, the denial of God’s existence. Many materialistic scientists characterize themselves as agnostic rather than atheist. Darwin’s notable contemporary, evolutionist T. H. Huxley, coined the term “agnostic.” Agnosticism denies the human mind can know anything about spiritual realities. As respectably modish as it has been to call oneself agnostic rather than atheist, agnosticism is just practical atheism. Cardinal Newman remarked,

“I do not see much difference between avowing that there is no God, and implying that nothing definite can be known about Him.”

Darwinian ideology misuses evolutionary biology to promote its own reductionist, materialistic view of the world. Repeatedly, civilization laments the misuse of science, such as Nazi medical and eugenics experiments, and construction of the nuclear bomb. But the damage caused by nuclear weapons, so far, pales in comparison to the damage done to culture by the ideology of evolutionism. The Darwinian ideologist proselytizes its new Weltanschauung or atheistic religion, which undermines the permanent things of civilization. On modern atheism, the eminent Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain noted in The Range of Reason,

“Absolute atheism starts in an act of faith in reverse gear and is a full-blown religious commitment. Here we have the first internal inconsistency of contemporary atheism: it proclaims that all religion must necessarily vanish away, and it is itself a religious phenomenon.”

Maritain’s remark aptly applies to Darwinian Richard Dawkings, some of whose writings display hostility to traditional religion.

In Darwin’s Descent of Man, we find the absurd materialistic idea that the human moral sense evolved. This is tantamount to denying the existence of the natural moral law. Civilizations for millenniums have recognized the existence of the natural law. Ancient Greek philosophers, the Stoic philosophers, Roman jurists, the Church, and so on, recognized the existence of an unchanging law higher than human law. Since Darwinian ideology rejects natural law and evolution does not provide anything toward a system of ethics, Dennett argues for creating a naturalized (materialistic) ethics (Ch. 17, “Redesigning Morality”). The idea of manufacturing an ethics that does not recognize God, the spiritual soul, or natural law, contains within itself the seeds of its own failure. As Thomas Merton says,

“Agnosticism leads inevitably to moral indifference. It denies us all power to esteem or to understand moral values, because it severs our spiritual contact with God Who alone is the source of morality and Who alone can punish the violation of moral laws with a sanction worthy of our attention.”

In conclusion, I have attempted to explain the place of Darwinian ideology on the philosophical spectrum, which is at the extreme of metaphysical materialism, and that it has proven itself as a profoundly inadequate philosophy. In the next part, I will continue explaining why materialism cannot correctly deal with the philosophical issues related to biological evolution, especially the problems of the human mind and knowledge itself. We will also see that moderate realism provides the conceptual tools for correctly understanding the human mind and unlocking the mystery of knowledge.

Moderate realism and the nature of human knowledge

To be continued…

April 23, 2009

Dennett Devolving, Part I

Can evolution alone account for the advent of human consciousness, meaning and intentionality? Analytic philosopher and Darwinist, Daniel C. Dennett thinks so. However, a critical look at Dennett’s position reveals its poor logic and philosophically untenable ideas. To illustrate a few of Dennett’s philosophical difficulties I have selected several passages from his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), which I think are particularly representative of his views on human consciousness.

In Chapter VIII, Dennett discusses (p. 204-207) the “Darwinian campaign” to subvert the traditional understanding of the origin and nature of human consciousness, saying,

“Through the same molecular-level microscope we see the birth of meaning, in the acquisition of “semantics” by the nucleotide sequences, which at first are mere syntactic objects. This is a crucial step in the Darwinian campaign to overthrow John Lock’s Mind-first vision of the cosmos. Philosophers commonly agree, for good reason, that meaning and mind can never be pulled apart, that there could never be meaning where there was no mind, or mind where there was no meaning. Intentionality…is the “aboutness” that can relate one thing to another--a name to its bearer, an alarm call to the danger that triggered it, a word to its referent, a thought to its object. Only some things in the universe manifest intentionality. A book or a painting can be about a mountain, but a mountain is not about anything…Where does intentionality come from? It comes from minds, of course.”

Dennett next lists salient points in the traditional (Lockean) view of intentionality’s origin: original intentionality is God, who is Mind; and since we are God’s creatures, our intentionality comes from Him.

This is the view that Darwinism inverts. By "Darwinism" I mean here Darwinian ideology, not Darwinian science. The scope and competence of natural science properly does not concern itself with God. It is philosophy (primarily metaphysics), and theology that concerns itself with non-material reality. It is Darwinian ideology, grounded in philosophical materialism, which removes God from the picture and reassigns the origin of mind to mindless matter. Instead of mind originating in a top-downwards creation, so to speak, it arose from a ground-upwards “creation” by natural forces.

For Darwin and his followers, mind originated by chance and the random activities of earth’s natural events: “from the initially mindless and pointless algorithmic processes that gradually acquire meaning and intelligence as they develop (Dennett).” Pseudo-meaning evolves into full-fledged meaning in an incremental process: “Before intentionality can be fully fledged, it must go through its awkward, ugly period of featherless pseudo-intentionality (Dennett).”

If we ask of Dennett just how mindless matter can result in human consciousness, he does not provide a philosophically tenable hypothesis. Dennett attempts to deal with the problem by creating a picture of continuity between the mindless and minded by interspersing supposedly transitional elements: the “semi-minded,” “pseudo-meaning,” and so on. This approach has its own logical and philosophical problems, which I cannot go into here. Yet, we can ask the same question about causality regarding the transition from mindless matter to the dubious “semi-minded” that we asked about the transition from the mindless to consciousness. Dennett’s speculation remains as vague and imprecise as “featherless pseudo-intentionality.”

Dennett’s assumption that intelligence developed from nature’s mindless activity, entails his rejection of the traditional principle that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. Dennett’s position assumes there is something in the effect that was not contained in the cause. But nature gives us no examples of this. For instance, everything that an oak tree is was contained in the acorn. Science, especially genetics, tells us that nature adds nothing new as the acorn matures into a full-grown tree. In contradiction to what we know about natural causes, Dennett asserts that human consciousness is the product of all the “semi-minded” and “mindless bits” that make up the individual. The effect, consciousness, is greater than its cause, all the “semi-minded” and “mindless bits”.

Dennett asks, “Can it be that if you put enough of these dumb homunculi together you make a real conscious person?” Dennett answers, “The Darwinian says there could be no other way of making one.”

The idea that Nature can drop enough “dumb homunculi” into a hat and magically pull out a conscious person is no explanation at all for the origin of human consciousness. The absurdity of Dennett’s position, as previously stated, involves the metaphysical impossibility of an effect being greater than its cause. As far as I am aware, Dennett does not address his irresolvable predicament.

Dennett's proof that initially mindless and pointless algorithmic processes eventually resulted in a conscious person is, “The Darwinian says there could be no other way of making one.” The logical fallacy here, proof from authority, “The Darwinian...,” is no proof at all. He provides no genuine evidence to support his speculations on the origins of consciousness. Dennett’s conclusion is merely question begging.

The Darwinian assumes the conscious person, as a whole, to be a product of evolution. Why does he believe this is true? Because, he claims, “there could be no other way.” For the extreme Darwinists, there is no other way since the epistemological presumptions of Darwinian ideology arbitrarily limit what the human mind can know about reality.

The extreme Darwinist excludes the possibility of a non-materialist account of human consciousness. Yet he remains unable to provide us with an account that is scientifically sound and philosophically coherent. Dennett’s view on human consciousness, rather than being good science and good philosophy, is more like an elaborate myth of human origins adorned in modern scientific garb. The poor logic of Dennett’s naturalist doctrine, a subtle form of reductionism characteristic of modern philosophical materialism, accounts for the gross inadequacies of his speculations about human consciousness.

To state the matter more specifically, the philosophical naturalist commits an inductive fallacy of favoring select types of data over equally evident types. That is, he favors the data of the natural sciences, while being discriminatory against data involving a significant range of specifically human activities and interests. As a result, the naturalist’s law of continuity is an unwarranted assumption into which he must force-fit the data of human consciousness, abstract thinking, will, philosophy, religion, and much more.

A researcher’s particular underlying philosophical assumptions influence pre-investigatively the type of the questions he asks, and post-investigatively the kind of the conclusions he draws from his data. We see a highly problematic instance of this fact in Darwin’s Descent of Man, where he assumes a strict continuity between the human and animal mind. Darwin says,

“Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”

I stated that Darwin “assumes” this claim, even though Darwin said it was “certain”, because he lacked scientific evidence for his conclusion.

The best research and thinking supports the difference in the human mind and higher animals as one that is radical in kind. Neo-Darwinists (e.g. Ernst Mayr, et al) reject Darwin’s position on the mind and maintain the human mind differs in kind and not just in degree from that of higher animals. However, the neo-Darwinists’ difference in kind is a difference that is superficial; it is not a radical difference in kind. One reason for claiming that man differs radically in kind from the higher animals and anthropoid apes is that he is the only animal capable of propositional speech. (M. J. Adler)

Why did Charles Darwin, a brilliant scientist, insist on his peculiar conclusion about the mind of man over the objections of Mivart, Wallace and others? Though Darwin was not philosophically inclined, he possessed an underlying philosophical view about man and the world, a certain Weltanschauung, which skewed his judgement about the nature and origin of the human mind. Some folks may object that I have these matters in reverse chronological order; that it was, instead, Darwin’s scientific research that determined his views on the human mind. However, comments Darwin made in his Early Notebooks tell a different story.

In conclusion, the challenge for those in search of scientific and philosophic truth is to separate sound Darwinian science from the erring Darwinian ideology of which Daniel C. Dennett is a notable proponent.

This discussion will continue in a future post where I will explain the nature of human knowledge and the conditions that make knowing possible. This will provide some insight why philosophical naturalism, which underlies Darwinian ideology, can never be adequate to the task of explaining human consciousness.

April 1, 2009

Heaven above the heavens

Heaven is the place to be! That is where God is. Yet, God is everywhere. What do we mean when we say that God everywhere? God is non-physical being, so He cannot exist in a physical place. God is spirit. We do know that it is in Him that we move and have our being. In a manner that is not yet clear to us, we are in God and God is in us.

Heaven, our final destination, is the soul’s perfect union with God. In Heaven, we see God face-to-face, just as He is. This is the Beatific Vision, Happiness, our blessedness, complete and everlasting.

Heaven is a state, a particular way of existing. Heaven is also a place. That is, physical bodies must be in a place. Since Jesus and Mary are in Heaven, body and soul, Heaven must be a created place, as well as the condition of existing in perfect union with the God.

We may need to redefine our notions of matter and space to account for (though it may not be humanly possible) spiritualized bodies, and their mode of being in a place. Our resurrected body will be a spiritualized body in the manner of Christ’s resurrected body.

Since Heaven is a place, then which direction is it from earth to Heaven? Medieval cosmology said, “Upwards” from the earth, above the natural phenomenon of the heavens. Today, with our more accurate understanding of the universe, we can only answer, “Up,” in a figurative sense. Our current knowledge tells us that we do not know the answer to this question.

Advances in astronomy overturned a geocentric solar system. Man supposedly lost his privileged place of existence at the center of the universe. Science now shows that our heliocentric system is just one small group of cosmic entities among billions of galaxies in an incredibly vast and continuously expanding universe. Did the Hubble telescope humble man?

Perhaps the medieval center of the universe was not the privileged place of existence we think it was. In early cosmology, the center of the universe was its lowest point. Before the discovery of gravity, natural philosophers believed objects fell downwards because of their inclination to reach the lowest point in the universe. Man’s earthly existence was close to that lowest point. Medieval man also lived adjacent to Hell, you know, that place where they keep strict etiquette. He believed the fires of Hell were somewhere below the surface of the earth, while Heaven was far away. Therefore, being at the center of things may by itself have been a little humbling.

Whatever the case may be, modern man seems not to know his true “place” in the universe. He feels lost, and lacks real identity. He does not know himself. He feels alienated and insignificant in this immense cosmos. In comparison, medieval man knew where he was at in the universe. He knew his place, because not only was it a smaller universe, but more importantly, his faith and the structure of medieval society, which included significant Church influence on culture, formed his identity.

Since late Renaissance humanism separated knowledge from its ultimate source, the Church has increasingly lost her influence on culture. The resulting secularization of culture with its false humanism, which is virtually an anti-humanism, are the present-day spiritual and social disorders that make it difficult for modern man to know his “place” in the universe. Yet, it is equally true for both medieval and modern man that each finds his real identity only in Christ.

Rather than feeling insignificant or lost in a vast universe, a greater understanding of the cosmos should enliven our spirits. Our finite beings are insignificant only in comparison to infinite Being. That we can know and love our Creator, and know that He loves each of us with an infinite love, means each human soul is more valuable than the entire cosmos, a cosmos incapable of knowing its Creator. The inconceivably immense size and energy of the cosmos, with all its variety of being and activity should arouse in us wonder and awe at its Creator. The heavens can reveal more to us about its Creator in Heaven than can the small physical universe of medieval cosmology.


“The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that the imagination loses itself in that thought.” –Blaise Pascal, Pensees, II, 72.

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