And not just the famous atheist Daniel Dennett, but all the clever-clever people who suppose science somehow proves the non-existence of free will, good, evil, and–yes–God.
In the cover story of the current Weekly Standard, Andy describes the controversy surrounding philosopher Thomas Nagel’s new book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Like no one else I know, Andy is capable of writing about complicated concepts clearly, engrossingly, and–really, no one else even attempts this–humorously. And along the way, Andy draws a few conclusions of his own.
“[M]aterialism,” Andy writes, is
the view that only matter exists…the view that all life, from tables to daydreams, is ultimately reducible to pure physics…the view that every phenomenon, including our own actions, is determined by a preexisting cause, which was itself determined by another cause, and so on back to the Big Bang.
Scientists such as Daniel Dennett, Andy continues, have elevated materialism to the level of a grand over-arching explanation of all existence–and the new atheists, including the late Christopher Hitchens, have likewise championed the materialist view, insisting–insisting!–that the view is superior to other explanations of existence because, unlike religion, materialism is so very scientific.
Andy then points out a logical flaw in the materialist world-view–and does so concisely and devastatingly:
Materialism…is ﬁne as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go as far as materialists want it to. It is a premise of science, not a ﬁnding. Scientists do their work by assuming that every phenomenon can be reduced to a material, mechanistic cause and by excluding any possibility of nonmaterial explanations. And the materialist assumption works really, really well—in detecting and quantifying things that have a material or mechanistic explanation. Materialism has allowed us to predict and control what happens in nature with astonishing success. The jawdropping ediﬁce of modern science, from space probes to nanosurgery, is the result….
But the success has gone to the materialists’ heads. From a fruitful method, materialism becomes an axiom: If science can’t quantify something, it doesn’t exist, and so the subjective, unquantiﬁable, immaterial “manifest image” of our mental life is proved to be an illusion….
But this is a fatal weakness for a theory that aspires to be a comprehensive picture of the world. With magnetic resonance imaging, science can tell us which parts of my brain light up when, for example, I glimpse my daughter’s face in a crowd; the bouncing neurons can be observed and measured. Science cannot quantify or describe the feelings I experience when I see my daughter. Yet the feelings are no less real than the neurons.
The point sounds more sentimental than it is. My bouncing neurons and my feelings of love and obligation are unquestionably bound together. But the difference between the neurons and the feelings, the material and the mental, is a qualitative difference, a difference in kind. And of the two, reductive materialism can capture only one.
Materialism is a premise of science, not a finding.
With one sentence, Andy strips Daniel Dennett and his fellow materialists of everything but their hubris.
Brilliant prose, beautiful close reasoning, and an utterly fearless insistence on the truth. All by himself, Andy Ferguson is enough to restore a man’s faith in journalism.
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