April 12, 2016

Dear Christians: Answers to Questions for Atheist, Part XIV

Today's section is "The Immaterial".

I've mentioned in prior sections that I believe we live in a material universe. This seems to be confused with the idea that we live in a world in which every.single.thing is material, and there are no subjective experiences. I'm going to try to clarify that in this section, but I would absolutely love to see other responses in the comments if anyone's got a moment to add.

Here's what I came up with.

1.    Are there subjective or immaterial experiences and entities? How do you know?

Yes and no...I'd argue that every experience is subjective and immaterial to an extent, but I don't see any reason for subjective or immaterial entities. (How can an entity be subjective...?)

2.    In an all-material Universe, how do YOU account for the immaterial Laws of Logic, Science, Math, Morality and Uniformity of Nature?

Okay...this one is a doozie. Let's start with laws of morality--I don't believe there are any, and this is borne out, in my opinion, by the way that supposed universal taboos are often interpreted differently by different cultures. For instance, cannibalism is considered a pretty universal moral taboo, and yet there are cultures that have indulged in it under their own unique set of rules. The same with incest--what's incest to one culture isn't to another. There are no objective, immaterial laws for morality.

Science itself doesn't have laws. Science is a method of obtaining knowledge; we've talked about this some in past installments of this series. Laws like the Law of Gravitational Attraction or the variety of thermodynamics laws aren't immaterial. They're laws that explain material phenomena--making them very material in and of themselves.

Math is more complicated. In some ways, the concepts of math are explanations of material phenomena: one is a description of a single item, for instance. It's symbolic too, but at the end is still rooted in the fact of "one". We often speak of mathematical concepts as being "discovered", much the way that we speak of scientific discoveries.

Laws of logic are a cultural phenomenon. This makes them non-material, yes, but not immaterial. They didn't spawn out of the air, and they weren't created by a deity--they were created by us, human beings, in order to better engage with each other and the world around us.

And I have to be honest, I have no idea how Uniformity of Nature is supposed to argue for an immaterial reality. It's literally one of the most material things I can imagine. The idea that things will be constant based on what has come before leaves no room for supernatural interference, especially that of the scope and scale of biblical miracles as literally interpreted. If anything, it's an argument against the miraculous and immaterial.

3.    What or whom is your final reference point required to make facts and laws intelligible?

Myself. I can draw from a variety of sources and resources, but at the end of the day, it's up to my brain to put it together or not.

4.    Is love material? Beauty? Consciousness? Logic? Reason? How are they empirically measured? How much does the number nine weigh?

Yes and no. Love may be an emotion, but we know that without certain chemicals and activities in our brains it wouldn't exist. We've learned how to turn consciousness off--that's what general anesthesia does--although we don't fully understand the mechanism even today. Logic and reason are again phenomenon born of material brain processes.

As for how much does the number nine weigh, that's irrelevant, and I have no idea why it's included in the question. Nine measures a certain number of objects or concepts or what have you--it doesn't measure weight. It's like asking how purple tastes...

5.    Where does thought come from? Is there a non-material mind that transcends the physical brain? How do you empirically know?

This section has been really bizarre. Thoughts come from neurons firing in response to a variety of stimuli, including past experiences and current sensations. We can see it reflected in brain activity on a variety of scans and exams.

6.    Can you empirically observe your mind (not your brain)? If not, does it exist?

I can observe the workings of my brain. MRIs, CT scans, etc, can observe brain activity in certain areas. It can tell me what areas activate when I think of my spouse or children, which activate when I am angry, which ones are at work when I am sad or laughing or speaking. The brain and the mind are one, the same entity. The mind is the brain process--like removing toxins is the kidney, liver, and other organs process, like digesting food is the stomach and intestines process, like breathing is the lungs' process.


So, that's where I wound up. I don't think subjective experiences disprove the idea that we're experiencing a material reality. What do you think?

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