X-Message-Number: 1079
From: more% (Max More)
Subject: Re: Life force and faith
Date: Wed, 29 Jul 92 23:51:14 PDT

I disagree with Charles Platt on the matter of materialism vs vitalism and
articles of faith, though the disagreement is probably mostly verbal.
I don't think we should say that our materialist view of life processes is
an article of faith, in the same way as is a belief in vitalism.  To say
this implies that materialism and vitalism are equally reasonable, or

	I agree that the materialist view of the world has not been proven to
be true, but I deny that this makes it a matter of faith.  At least since
philosopher of science Karl Popper [see The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and
Conjectures and Refutations] it has been clear than scientific theories can 
never truly prove anything conclusively.  As Charles pointed out, Newtonian 
physics seemed to explain everything for a while (actually I doubt that's
really true).  Going further back, the positing of a substance called caloric
seemed to account nicely for heat - its transfer and conservation.  However,
no one now believes that caloric exists, because a vastly more powerful
theory came along - thermodynamics.  Scientific theories differ frm dogma and
faith in that they are open to refutation.  It is a strength of a theory 
if it is obvious that there are many ways of testing it, but few sets of 
circumstances compatible with its truth.  The more testable possibilities a 
theory excludes the better.  But faith is resistant to refutation... it will
twist itself to become compatible with anything. ("Ah yes, but God put the
fossils there to test our faith.")

	Yet, despite scientific theories not conclusively proving anything, 
our reliance on them (but not our blind, unquestioning belief in them) is
reasonable, and not a matter of faith.  Here I am using "faith" to mean
"belief in something in the absence of, or contrary to the evidence".  Belief
in vitalism (or dualism, if we're talking primarily about consiousness) is
a matter of faith; belief in (using a working model of) materialism is not.
	Why the difference?  Because vitalism is a superfluous hypothesis.
Good old Occam's Razor tells us "Do not multiply entities beyond what is 
strictly necessary to explain the phenomena."  The materialist posits only
one kind of stuff - matter, whereas the vitalist posits two.  This would not be
a count against vitalism if it could explain phenomena that were inexplicable
in materialist terms. But it cannot.  I'm sure, in this crowd, I don't need to
go into the many phenomena that materialism can explain.  By contrast, what
can the vitalist tell us about vital essence?  Can he tell us anything 
about its internal constitution?  Of the elements that make it up?  Can he 
tell us of the laws governing its operation?  Of its method of interaction
with biological material?  Can he explain its methods of operation?  Or how
it explains illnesses, aging, or development?

	Besides this, all the evidence suggests that humans have evolved from
simpler forms.  We see no evidence of vital essence in these simpler
lifeforms,and can increasingly explain their natures in purely materialist
terms.  Why should we believe that humans are different in this respect?

Max More		
EXTROPY: The Journal of Transhumanist Thought

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