Monday, March 12, 2007

Thinkquote of the day: Skeptical of "skepticism"

In its March-April Newsletter, the Center for Naturalism (there is no mind, only matter) offers a variety of resources, including a link to an article by Ralph Dumain that attempts to explore the uses of the terms "naturalism" and "materialism." It appears that, for all practical purposes, the terms are commonly used in the same way.

In my previous book By Design or by Chance?, I used the term "naturalism" and in the present, co-authored book, Spiritual Brain, I called it materialism.

That said, author Ralph Dumain shares my, um, skepticism about the use of the term "skepticism" to cover the waterfront of materialism and naturalism:
I have a fundamental problem with adoption of the term skepticism. As represented in magazines like Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, the term is applied to paranormal and other claims deemed disreputable by these proponents of reputable science. I object to the term because some of the individuals involved themselves and their knowledge claims merit skeptical scrutiny, but more generally because "skepticism" is also a philosophical position which I would not want to adopt or see confused with the specific meaning adopted by the "skeptical" movement, which has ties to secular humanist and atheist circles.

Indeed. One possible difference between materialism and naturalism that occurs to me is this: A materialist must deny the existence and efficacy of the mind and therefore - to grab an example - use every tool available at his disposal to discredit psi/paranormal research. But, if he decides to start calling himself a naturalist, it is unclear why he must continue to do that. We don't know all that is in nature (think of the dark matter problem, for example). If some people can beat the odds on guessing remote information, well then they can.

I myself call these skeptical inquirers "unidirectional skeptics" because their skepticism (of psi research, for example) flows only one way. Their agenda is pretty obvious, and that's not surprising because they have a complex problem on their hands: Whereas a non-materialist like myself can readily conceded that some claims for psi are not validated in the lab, the materialist must insist that no such claim is ever legitimately validated. His entire system depends on no psi claim ever being true. So he is - understandably - in a constant state of agitation about such claims and must seek to discredit every one. The worst part of his being such a busy little bee is that he helps to winnow the better ones.

Plus, in a display of absurd pretension, the unidirectional skeptics also like to call themselves "freethinkers" and to announce to the world that they engage in "free thought." Oh really? Tell that to poor young Sam Harris, the non-materialist atheist. He can tell you how much free thought is allowed in such groups. And it's all the funnier because they represent such a small splinter of atheism.

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