March 8, 2004 at 11:53 pm #64302
Philosopher: Don’t buy scientific materialism’s hype
By Gregory Hansell
PHILADELPHIA — Scientists and philosophers who consider scientific materialism the last word in worldviews should reconsider, a philosopher of science said at a recent lecture on emergence.
“Does the preponderance of scientific evidence make scientific materialism more probable than not? I say no,” said Michael Silberstein, a philosophy professor at Elizabethtown College and the University of Maryland.
Silberstein told an audience at the Metanexus Institute that participants in the science-and-religion debate must become familiar with its technical terms. “Don’t shy away,” he said. “You have to learn the science.”
Equating scientific inquiry and the available scientific data with the reductive methodology of scientific materialism should be understood as an interpretative trend rather than simply proper scientific thought, Silberstein said, adding, “Scientific materialism is a philosophical worldview that is a very large inductive leap from the actual scientific data, which is of course itself open to interpretation.”
Silberstein espouses the alternative interpretation of emergence, adding that he sees two kinds of emergence: epistemological and ontological. He said epistemological emergence arises as a function of ignorance. An example is the weather, which seems to emerge from a complex group of unknown factors.
Ontological emergence happens when something new comes from a relationship but cannot be reduced to the parts of the relationship.
Ontological emergence, Silberstein said, is an alternative to scientific materialism.
“Emergent phenomena are not fundamental ingredients and they are not identifiable with any fundamental ingredients,” he said. “That is a false dilemma that many philosophers and scientists push on us, that things may be one or the other. I argue that they emerge or arise through time as the universe unfolds.”
Consciousness is a good example of an ontologically emergent phenomenon, Silberstein said, calling the brain, body and environment “mutually embedding and embedded systems, tightly interconnected on multiple levels.” Consciousness cannot be reduced to fundamental brain states, he said, nor is it identifiable with such fundamental states. Silberstein said consciousness is an emerging process of self-organizing networks.
He encouraged those who oppose scientific materialism to “arm yourself,” saying, “You’re going to have to dig your heels in, because a lot of what they’re selling you is hype and spin. It doesn’t at all follow from what we really know in science.”
Silberstein co-edited The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Science, in which he wrote a chapter on reduction, emergence and explanation. He said he is now working on a book called, Emergence the Whole Story: Emergence, Reduction and Explanation Across the Disciplines.
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