Thursday, June 12, 2008

Evidence? If you are a materialist, you need never bother with evidence

In "What science cannot tell us", Dinesh D'Souza cautions,
Skepticism is of course a central tool of science, but many skeptics make the mistake of failing to apply skepticism to science itself. They are skeptical within science but they are not skeptical about science. They naively believe that science can answer all the questions that require answers. Thus they demand of science what science has never provided and is not likely to provide in the future.

I call this the "atheism of the gaps." The basic idea is that if science hasn't figured something out, just wait a few years, because the brilliant scientists are working on it. Have faith that they will come up with good answers in the future, just as they have in the past. In other words, we should assume that people who are smart enough to make toasters are also smart enough to figure out whether there is life after death.

D'Souza is almost right here, but he overlooks a critical question: What will count as answers? There is no problem whatever with materialist theories generating "answers." If "science" is about generating materialist "answers" and those are the only answers permitted, then it does not matter that the answers sound unsatisfactory or just plain wrong or even contradict evidence or fly in the face of common sense.
The materialist owes it to himself to believe them.

In fact, Shermer told D'Souza that even if a planet were found with the words YAHWEH MADE THIS blazoned on it, he would conclude it was an accident.

As Mario and I recount in The Spiritual Brain, philosopher Neal Grossman had a similar experience: He
found that discussing NDEs with committed materialists is generally a waste of time. Reproducing a snatch of frustrating dialog, he recalls:

Exasperated, I asked, “What will it take, short of having a near-deathexperience yourself, to convince you that it’s real?”

Very nonchalantly, without batting an eye, the response was: “Even if I were to have a near-death experience myself, I would conclude that I was hallucinating, rather than believe that my mind can exist independently of my brain.”

Grossman reflected later, “This was a momentous experience for me, because here was an educated, intelligent man telling me that he will not give up materialism, no matter what. Even the evidence of his own experience would not cause him to give up materialism.”

(Neal Grossman, “Who’s Afraid of Life After Death?” Journal of Near-Death Studies 21.1 (Fall

The main thing to see is that the evidence does not cause the materialism. The materialism determines whether or not the evidence may be considered.