The Unbearable Lightness of Materialism

Sometimes theists leave comments on my primary blog, planetologist.net. Recently a comment in response to my screed against Rick Warren prompted a reader - actually not a raving lunatic, rather a pretty calm but (sadly) theist writer - to leave a comment that invoked the M word... materialism. There were also a fair number of "quote me and then argue against my quote" comments, which I find almost as annoying, but that's another issue.

Anyway, I ended up writing so much that I thought I'd at least try to salvage something of my time by posting what I wrote as its own blog entry. Which follows.

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Nope. There will be no Gish Gallups on this blog. No throwing out of ten different fallacious arguments, hoping the moderator (me) hasn't the time to address them all, then when he (I) does, just throw out five more for each point addressed. Mathematically, by this method the galloper wins by default. Well, not here.

To nip this diseased flower in the bud, I'll cut to the core fallacy: materialism. I'm sorry to break this to you, but there isn't any such thing. It doesn't exist. By that I mean it is fictional, imaginary. No scientist looks at a spread of data and says "hmmm, according to a materialist frame of reference my data signifies X...". That does not happen. Ever. The term materialism is a made-up word used by theists when they have run out of arguments... and since they don't have any arguments to begin with, "materialism" gets trotted out fairly quickly in most cases. Using the term materialism lends imaginary credence to the idea that there is a serious branch of study focusing on "non-materialism"... that there is a "material" part of the universe and a demonstrably "non-material" part. The problem with this setup becomes apparent the first time someone tries to pin down a definition for either. What is "material" and what is "immaterial"? According to theists, immaterial things include gods, angels, demons, souls, perhaps ghosts, sometimes faeries. These things, we are told by theists, are immaterial but real, and only our closed-minded refusal to see the real world as it truly is separates us from the ranks of the enlightened faithful. If only we would open our minds, they say, we'd be able to bathe in the light of true understanding. Usually, at that point, Shakespeare's quote about more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, etc., gets trotted out.

Sorry, no. Which of the following is more open-minded: 1) asserting that one simply knows, absolutely and beyond any possibility of falsification, that gods, ghosts and ectoplasmic spirit substance exists, or 2) observing that no reliable models for how anything works, anywhere and at any time, require an immaterial explanation, therefore immaterial things probably aren't really there... but that if good evidence were to come forth, we'd all have an interesting new branch of physics to study? Which of those is the more closed-minded position? If someone is a theist, obviously the second option is more closed-minded, because no theist true believer will ever admit to the possibility that stories told to them from childhood were told to them by people who learned them through the same channel of hearsay, and that they've based their life and wasted their energy on a fiction.

What evidence is there to support the theist's model of immaterial things? That we don't fully understand every aspect of the Big Bang? That the lack of absolute knowledge allows one to insert whatever the hell one wants? Seriously? That's an argument from ignorance, a god of the gaps fallacy. Basically, that point of view asserts: "We don't understand what happened before the Big Bang, therefore I understand what happened before the Big Bang." Sorry, but no you don't. Lacking data about some high-level physics problem does not give one a logical basis upon which to assert some ridiculously even-more-complicated model of a cosmic superintelligence. It does not follow, nor does it lead rationally to the assumption of a benevolent Overmind about which one has highly specific information about its motivation, intent, wishes, and its propensity to answer prayers. It is simply astounding that theists cannot see the self-evident absurdity of their position.

I have no problem with the universe being bigger than I can understand or imagine. I don't assume I have all the answers, nor do I assume that childhood fables prepare me to offhandedly contradict the sum of human knowledge because I find some of its conclusions unsettling. When I put my ego aside and try to examine things rationally, I see no evidence whatsoever for "immaterial" objects or forces. If you have such evidence then please bring it forward. I'm fairly sure we'd all like to see it. But keep in mind that personal imaginary experiences of voices in the dark, or dreams, or a warm fuzzy feeling, or appeals to tradition, or appeals to ignorance, or convoluted psychomasturbatory arguments from pre-industrial greybeards do not constitute evidence.

Scientists - good scientists - try not to assert positively that there is no ectoplasmic dimension to reality, they simply note that such a model is not required by anything we understand so far, nor is there an obvious place where it could fit, nor do we reliably observe the kinds of phenomena that would probably be commonplace if such an immaterial realm existed. The only honest conclusion to be drawn is that the supernatural is fictional. Theists, on the other hand, really do make routine, positive assertions that things exist without a single tiny mote of supporting evidence. They see gaps in our knowledge and are perfectly happy to leap right into those gaps and declare the problem solved by fiat, then shake their heads in sorrow at the poor, dogmatic, close-minded scientist.

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