Monday, March 21, 2016

Materialism Is a Problem for Atheism

Allsaints Spitalfields clothing store - Chicago

I think atheism is forever welded to materialism. This is sad for the intellectual atheist, since this creates intractable problems caused by certain stubborn, recalcitrant facts about our world. This is not sad for the Facebook atheist, since they have little or no understanding of such things, and have become "atheists" either out of emotions (e.g., hurt by some Christians), the bandwagon effect championed by intellectually dishonest slogans (such as, "An atheist is someone who just worships one fewer God than a Christian does"), or false reasoning (e.g., unbiblical fundamentalist readings of the Bible; Dawkins' The God Delusion, and so on). So, in their ignorance, they remain happy.

I think about these kind of things, a lot. What provoked me today is that I picked up my copy of The Waning of Materialism, by University of Texas philosopher Robert Koons and Yale University professor of philosophy George Bealer.

Historically, materialism is the "reductionist position that mental properties are identical to - and in that sense are nothing but - physical properties." That is, reality is only physical, without remainder. With this historical core explained, Koons and Bealer state the variations on Core Materialism.

What especially recaptured my attention today is their long list of very well-known and esteemed philosophers who either reject materialism or have significant doubts as to its intellectual stability. Koons and Bealer received permission from each one of them (if still living) to print their names, affirming their rejection of materialism or their doubting its stability. They are, in historical order:
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Rudolph Carnap
  • Alonzo Church
  • Kurt Gödel
  • Nelson Goodman
  • Paul Grice
  • Stuart Hampshire
  • Roderick Chisholm
  • Benson Mates
  • Peter Strawson
  • Hilary Putnam (who died a week ago [3/14/16], and whom philosopher Martha Nussbaum here calls "a person of unsurpassed brilliance" and "one of the giants of our nation")
  • John Searle
  • Jerrold Katz
  • Alvin Plantinga
  • Charles Parsons
  • Jaegwon Kim
  • George Myro
  • Thomas Nagel
  • Robert Adams
  • Hugh Mellor
  • Saul Kripke
  • Eli Hirsch
  • Ernest Sosa
  • Stephen Schiffer
  • Bas van Frassen
  • John McDowell
  • Peter Unger
  • Derek Parfit
  • Crispin Wright
  • Laurence BonJour
  • Michael Jubien
  • Nancy Cartwright
  • Bob Hale
  • Kit Fine
  • Tyler Burge
  • Terence Horgan
  • Colin McGinn
  • Robert Brandom
  • Nathan Salmon
  • Joseph Levine
  • Timothy Williamson
  • Mark Johnson
  • Paul Boghossian
  • Stephen Yablo
  • Joseph Almong
  • Keith DeRose
  • Tim Crane
  • John Hawthorne
  • Richard Heck
  • David Chalmers
Koons and Blealer write: "An examination of the major philosophers active in this period reveals that a majority, or something approaching a majority, either rejected materialism or had serious and specific doubts about its ultimate viability... Materialism has plainly not achieved hegemony when it comes to philosophers of this high caliber." (Op. cit., ix-x.)