February 02, 2016

Dear Christians: Answers to Questions for Atheists, Part IV

I've decided to take a few weeks and answer all of the questions that I Love Atheists (Just Not Their Worldview) proposed. I'm going to break them down into a section or two at a time, depending on the depth of the material and the number of questions. I'd love for any readers to follow along with me and share your responses too. Some of these are concepts I've never dealt with personally, so I'm looking forward to exploring them and through that, understanding my personal philosophy a little better.

Today, the questions are from the Matter in Motion section.


1.    Is the material reality the only reality (are we just material creatures in a material world and nothing more)?

I am a material girl...living in a material world...

But seriously. Yes, we're material creatures in a material world. We're made of matter and everything we interact with is too.

AH HA, KAYLA SUE, QUANTUM PHYSICS! says the little voice arguing in my head, but the truth is that perception is reality. When I interact with this desk, I know, logically, that it is composed of particles and empty space--but that doesn't change the fact that for me, it is solid, and I can behave in ways that rest safely on the premise that it is solid. I'm not going to behave as if my laptop is going to sink through the top of this desk, because I've never experienced the laptop sinking through the desk, I've never experienced phenomena that would make me consider that a possibility, and I've got no reason to suspect that will change. If it does change, I'll have to revise my assumptions.

If for all practical purposes the world is material, then I see no reason to behave as if it isn't.

It is possible for two realities to exist. Consider this: For small insects, gravity doesn't exist. It's simply not a force that they experience, so for all practical purposes, it doesn't exist for them. For us, conversely, it's arguably one of the most important physical facts of our lives. These two realities are both truth, and they exist side-by-side.

2.    Is reductive materialism synonymous with reason and science? Why?

This was a whopper for me, guys. I'm not as well-schooled in philosophy as I'd like to be, so I've been reviewing this for over a week now. I'm still not sure that I have a total grasp on it.

The view that only the material world (matter) is truly real, and that all processes and realities observed in the universe can be explained by reducing them down to their most basic scientific components, e.g., atoms, molecules, and everything else thought to make up what we know as "matter."

Quantum physics have thrown this into a bit of an uproar. I would say that no, I don't consider reason and science both synonymous with reductive materialism.

I rebel against the idea of painting science as a philosophy. It isn't. It's an investigative system. It's a method. You can apply a scientific mindset to most topics--I try to apply it to research when I am writing. Create a hypothesis, accrue evidence and observations, test, make conclusions. Try to remove biases as much as possible. Science is more empirical, naturally, but the investigative tools it provides, that mindset, are widely applicable.

This is different from merely reducing things to their most basic components. Science, in my opinion, can work in both directions. It moves out, to understand the entire picture, and in, to focus on individual details.

As for reason, no, I don't see it as synonymous either. Reason gives us the ability to bounce back and forth between big pictures and small details. It's not just about breaking things down. Reason enables us to build arguments, too.

I do believe that we have the ability to understand a wide variety of a phenomena that we don't currently. I think that we've proven this time and again. Take weather. Is there anything that our ancestors would have considered more chaotic than weather? If it didn't rain, you died. If it rained too much, you died. At one time, a freak weather event would have meant citizens burned for witchcraft. Today, we can predict the weather in advance with an incredible degree of accuracy. We understand it, and we understand it because of science. This trend will continue, and we will accrue a greater understanding of the universe.

On the flip side, however, I believe that there's a limit, and one day, we will hit the limit for humanity's ability to comprehend. Perhaps we will evolve around it after that, perhaps we won't.

For me, materialism has a place, but it's not the entire story. There is a world around us that for all practical purposes is physical and material and can be understood as such. But I liken it to recent research in top-down and bottom-up processing.

Recent research has suggested that hallucinations may actually be a normal brain function that's run awry. Essentially, our brain starts absorbing details about what it is seeing--bottom-up processing--but also starts sketching in details itself based on knowledge and experience it already possesses--top-down processing. When these two processes are in balance, what we get is a mostly accurate picture of what we are looking at. If it's skewed in favor of top-down, you may wind up with something that's not even close--a hallucination.

In my humble and entirely subjective opinion, this is what reality is. Part of it is the world around us that we interact with. This is bottom-up. It's providing us with actual physical feedback due to various laws and phenomena in the universe. But there's also top-down--the details our perception is filling in for us. Part of this we can understand through materialism, but there's going to be points where we have to look at it differently.


Can I be honest? I have no idea what about these questions is supposed to make me second-guess my atheism...? Because nothing about it made me question it.

I do know that going forward I am going to be doing a LOT of reading on philosophy, because the few college classes I took back in the day are not cutting it anymore. I'm looking forward to reading Philosophy Made Simple, one of the books already on my To Read shelf, and who knows? I may wind up revising this subject when I find myself better equipped with some background knowledge.

How did y'all answer?

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