Dale, at fruitful faith.net, has a new post, moral things, with which he hopes to extend recent discussions on morality. Unfortunately he has somehow activated a log-on requirement which I can’t penetrate. Hopefully this is an error and he will correct it soon as I think he makes some interesting points worth discussing.
At this stage (and in the hope he finds this here) I want to comment on the use of labels. Dale is interested in understanding how ‘materialists’ “arrive at their value-judgements.” I think he wishes to call people like me ‘materialists’ although he acknowledges that I do “not accept the label.” Lets clarify this.
I think we can get by without labelling people and I usually resist such temptations. In fact, I don’t think I often feel that temptation. However, I have noticed that several people commenting here wish to apply labels to me and other commenters (I wonder if this is a form of judgmentalism?). The problem, of course, is that people interpret labels like ‘materialist‘ differently. This results in people setting up straw men. It’s best just to discuss the real issues and positions – not the imagined ones.
What is ‘matter’
So my concept of ‘materialism,’ and indeed ‘matter,’ is very different to that of one commenter, for example, who limits ‘matter’ to something with substance, – ‘physical, mechanistic.’ That, to my mind, is an archaic definition. It certainly doesn’t cover the widely different forms of ‘matter’ we recognise today. In fact, I would suggest that it doesn’t cover any ‘matter’ at all if we think of matter as a property (or field) of space/time – a position which modern scientific understanding of the fundamental nature of ‘matter’ seems to be coming to. Have a listen to this fascinating Blogging Heads discussion between Sean Carroll (from the blog Cosmic Variance and who researches theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation) and Jennifer Ouellette for a better description of this.
I am quite happy to call myself ‘materialist’ if my definition of ‘matter’ is used – but certainly not if an archaic definition (commonly meant by those who bandy about this word) is used. Dale applies the label to those who deny “a spiritual realm/dimension” or have the “view that ‘mind’ = ‘brain’ (roughly speaking) or that ’spirit’ = ‘body’ (or that ’spirit’ = nothing).” Well, I currently don’t believe in a dualist model of consciousness, that consciousness could exist independently of the brain. Not because I am a ‘materialist’ but because currently the evidence is that is not the case. This position is also often held be people normally not called materialist – including Christians like theologian Nancy Murphy. (Interestiongly intelligent design guru Phillip Johnson attempted to get her “expelled” from the Fuller Theological seminary in 1999 after she wrote a negative review of his book ‘Darwin on Trial’).
However, the study of consciousness is difficult and in its early days. it could be that sometime down the track we do find evidence for existence of consciousness apart from the brain. If we do it will be fascinating – we will have a new form of ‘matter’ to investigate and bring into our theories. This would certainly be acceptable to my definition of ‘materialism’ – but not that indicated by Dale and some others.
Liberation from the labels straight-jacket
So I avoid using these labels because (i) they mean different things to different people. But also because (ii) they can end up being a rigid definition of a ‘world view’ which obliges the holder of the label to apply blinkers and force their thinking, opinions and appreciation of reality along predetermined lines.
I actually find it liberating not to acknowledge ideological labels. It makes it easier to take reality as it comes, rather than expend all that effort required to force reality into an ideological straight-jacket.
So, Dale, hopefully you will see this and alter you blog settings to allow comments on your interesting article.