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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  January 2009

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE January 2009

Subject:

Re: fw: Sheldrake THE CREDIT CRUNCH FOR MATERIALISM

From:

herb fox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 2 Jan 2009 15:39:55 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (193 lines)

Robert has more than once made clear that he is a believer, a position 
for which i do not believe one can fault him.  Most, if not all humans 
believe in things that they cannot prove.  What difference could i, a 
non-believer, have with Robert or Rupert?  Certainly not the question of 
the reality of the object of their belief.  The existence or 
non-existence of a supreme being is not a proposition that lends itself 
to proof.  What does seem a legitimate domain of discussion between 
believers and non-believers is the domain of action of such a being and 
the social role of the organizations that humans have erected around 
that belief.  For example, physicists do generally express or manifest 
in their scientific work a belief that the cosmos is an ordered 
structure in which the laws of physics valid here on earth are valid 
everywhere.  But, because they are scientists and governed by the 
fundamental tenet of science that theories and concepts must ultimately 
pass the test of agreement with nature, they will of necessity abandon 
even that fundamental assumption if confronted by irrefutable material 
evidence from nature itself.

R. Sheldrake's argument is rather shallow for a scientist communicating 
with scientists.  He asserts that the firm belief of some scientists in 
their capability to reveal a secret of nature through scientific 
investigations is in some way connected with their non-belief in a 
supreme being.  It is not.  It is a consequent of the belief that we 
human beings can discover over time more and more about the nature of 
the universe, including the living things that live within it.  When we 
fail, as we do more often than not, we do not thereby assert that there 
is a supernatural explanation.  That is ipso facto non-scientific.  Our 
response is characteristically, "back to the drawing board."  When he 
writes: "The problems of development and consciousness remain unsolved.  
Many details have been discovered, dozens of genomes have been 
sequenced, and brain scans are ever more precise.  But there is still no 
proof that life and minds can be explained by physics and chemistry 
alone.", i want to know what he is going to do about it--give up or work 
on the problems.  If he wants not to work on the very problems which are 
the joy and achievement of science--revealing the secrets of 
nature--then he has ceased to be a scientist.  If on the other hand, he 
wants to energetically pursue the relevant science to determine "what 
God hath wrought.""  Fine, we have no argument.  But then his 
proselytizing is inappropriate. 

If believer scientists want to assert that the Big Bang was an act of 
God, what can we say?  We don't have adequate proof that it wasn't, 
although most of us have sufficient tolerance for ambiguity that we 
don't find it necessary to nail down our ignorance by asserting a 
trans-human actor.  The belief in God has nothing to do with our belief 
in humanity's ability to uncover nature's secrets; it has to do with 
needs many humans express--the need to fill in the empty spaces being 
one.  There are others.  Consider the pains associated with the life of 
most on this earth--losses of loved ones to natural catastrophes, war, 
and disease, Etc.  For these religion is the opiate, a necessary pain 
alleviator, primarily through its assertion of a trans-material soul 
with an eternal existence.  Unfortunately for science, there are few 
that subscribe to this opiate that don't also accept unscientific 
conceptions, primarily the immanence of God, a trans-natural capability 
in conflict with observed reality.  As a person without faith i confine 
disagreements with believers to the role of God, not its existence.  To 
assert that the universe and its evolution is the unwinding of God's 
clock or the product of God's daily will is contrary to science and an 
unnecessary assertion for believers 

The other domain that i suggest is appropriate for discussion between 
scientists with and without faith in a supreme being is religionss role 
in society.  But this a long discussion i shall forgo here.

It is not a scientists role to proselytize for or against belief in 
God.  The scientist''s role is to struggle to enlarge humanity's 
knowledge of the material world in which we live including all processes 
of our own bodies, which include, until proved otherwise those of our 
minds.  In addition, because scientists are human beings, a highly 
social species, it is also our role to purse science that benefits our 
species and the environment in which it exists, in a way that enhances 
the continued viability of our species and lessens the suffering to 
which it is presently subjected.

herb



Robt Mann wrote:
> Sheldrake welcomes the new year with this blast on the Edge web site
>
> *        THE CREDIT CRUNCH FOR MATERIALISM*
> *
> *
> *                RUPERT SHELDRAKE*
> /Biologist; Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project; author A New 
> Science of Life/
>
>         Credit crunches happen because of too much credit and too many 
> bad debts. Credit is literally belief, from the Latin/ credo/, "I 
> believe."  Once confidence ebbs, the loss of trust is 
> self-reinforcing.  The game changes.
>         Something similar is happening with materialism.  Since the 
> nineteenth century, its advocates have promised that science will 
> explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry; science will 
> show that there is no God and no purpose in the universe; it will 
> reveal that God is a delusion inside human minds and hence in human 
> brains; and it will prove that brains are nothing but complex machines.
>         Materialists are sustained by the faith that science will 
> redeem their promises, turning their beliefs into facts.  Meanwhile, 
> they live on credit.  The philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper 
> described this faith as "promissory materialism" because it depends on 
> promissory notes for discoveries not yet made.  Despite all the 
> achievements of science and technology, it is facing an unprecedented 
> credit crunch.
>         In 1963, when I was studying biochemistry at Cambridge I was 
> invited to a series of private meetings with Francis Crick and Sydney 
> Brenner in Brenner's rooms in King's College, along with a few of my 
> classmates.  They had just cracked the genetic code.  Both were ardent 
> materialists. 
>         They explained there were two major unsolved problems in 
> biology: development and consciousness.  They had not been solved 
> because the people who worked on them were not molecular biologists - 
> nor very bright.  Crick and Brenner were going to find the answers 
> within 10 years, or maybe 20.  Brenner would take development, and 
> Crick consciousness.  They invited us to join them.
>         Both tried their best.  Brenner was awarded the Nobel Prize in 
> 2002 for his work on the development of the nematode worm/ 
> Caenorhabdytis/.   Crick corrected the manuscript of his final paper 
> on the brain the day before he died in 2004.  At his funeral, his son 
> Michael said that what made him tick was not the desire to be famous, 
> wealthy or popular, but "to knock the final nail into the coffin of 
> vitalism."
>         He failed.  So did Brenner.  The problems of development and 
> consciousness remain unsolved.  Many details have been discovered, 
> dozens of genomes have been sequenced, and brain scans are ever more 
> precise.  But there is still no proof that life and minds can be 
> explained by physics and chemistry alone.
>         The fundamental proposition of materialism is that matter is 
> the only reality. Therefore consciousness is nothing but brain 
> activity.  However, among researchers in neuroscience and 
> consciousness studies there is no consensus. Leading journals such as/ 
> Behavioural and Brain Sciences/  and the/ Journal of Consciousness 
> Studies/  publish many articles that reveal deep problems with the 
> materialist doctrine.  For example, Steven Lehar argues that inside 
> our heads there must be a miniaturized virtual-reality full-colour 
> three-dimensional replica of the world.  When we look at the sky, the 
> sky is in our heads.  Our skulls are beyond the sky.  Others, like the 
> psychologist Max Velmans, argue that virtual reality displays are not 
> confined to our brains; they are life-sized, not miniaturized.  Our 
> visual perceptions are outside our skulls, just where they seem to be.
>         The philosopher David Chalmers has called the very existence 
> of subjective experience the "hard problem" of consciousness because 
> it defies explanation in terms of mechanisms.  Even if we understand 
> how eyes and brains respond to red light, for example, the quality of 
> redness is still unaccounted for.
>         In biology and psychology the credit-rating of materialism is 
> falling fast.  Can physics inject new capital?  Some materialists 
> prefer to call themselves physicalists, to emphasize that their hopes 
> depend on modern physics, not nineteenth-century theories of matter.  
> But physicalism's credit-rating has been reduced by physics itself, 
> for four reasons.
>         First, some physicists argue that quantum mechanics cannot be 
> formulated without taking into account the minds of observers; hence 
> minds cannot be reduced to physics, because physics presupposes minds
> Second, the most ambitious unified theories of physical reality, 
> superstring and M theories, with 10 and 11 dimensions respectively, 
> take science into completely new territory. They are a very shaky 
> foundation for materialism, physicalism or any other pre-established 
> belief system. They are pointing somewhere new.
>         Third, the known kinds of matter and energy constitute only 
> about 4% of the universe.  The rest consists of dark matter and dark 
> energy.  The nature of 96% of physical reality is literally obscure.
>         Fourth, the cosmological anthropic principle asserts that if 
> the laws and constants of nature had been slightly different at the 
> moment of the Big Bang, biological life could never have emerged, and 
> hence we would not be here to think about it.  So did a divine mind 
> fine-tune the laws and constants in the beginning?  Some cosmologists 
> prefer to believe that our universe is one of a vast, and perhaps 
> infinite, number of parallel universes, all with different laws and 
> constants.  We just happen to exist in the one that has the right 
> conditions for us.
>         In the eyes of skeptics, the multiverse theory is the ultimate 
> violation of Occam's Razor, the principle that entities should not be 
> multiplied unnecessarily.  But even so, it does not succeed in getting 
> rid of God.  An infinite God could be the God of an infinite number of 
> universes.
>         Here on Earth we are facing climate change, great economic 
> uncertainty, and cuts in science funding.  Confidence in materialism 
> is draining away.  Its leaders, like central bankers, keep printing 
> promissory notes, but it has lost its credibility as the central dogma 
> of science.  Many scientists no longer want to be 100% invested in it.
>         Materialism's credit crunch changes everything.  As science is 
> liberated from this nineteenth-century ideology, new perspectives and 
> possibilities will open up, not just for science, but for other areas 
> of our culture that are dominated by materialism.  And by giving up 
> the pretence that the ultimate answers are already known, the sciences 
> will be freer  -  and more fun.
>
>
>
>

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