What makes for a good scientific theory?
A thorough summary can be found here. We will focus on the essentials. Here are some preliminaries: if a putative theory is self-contradictory, it is a complete non-starter. Next, it must be testable. “Not Even Wrong” is a book title and a jibe at string theorists for expending vast efforts on a theory that may not be testable. Next, any theory must be simpler than the phenomena it purports to explain. This is referrred to as “explanatory power”. A list of observations would not qualify as a theory. Finally, many theories are proposed, but few are chosen: any valid theory must make predictions that are confirmed by experiment and observation.
What makes for a great scientific theory?
Great scientific theories explain an entire realm of observation with just a few principles. For example, Newton’s Laws of Motion, combined with his Law of Gravity, explain the orbits of the planets, the trajectories of projectiles, the tides, and the motions of billiard balls, just to cite a few examples. Maxwell’s four equations govern all of electromagnetism, and enable engineers to design (predict) all matters electronic. So these theories have great explanatory power.
So now let’s take a look at Scientific Materialism, which I shall refer to here as “materialism” for short. Specifically, let’s look at how materialism applies to our ordinary subjective experience of consciousness.
First, let us define “subjective” and “objective”. Subjective refers to our personal experience, say of the color red. Objective refers to that which is eternally verifiable. So, objectively speaking, corresponding to someone seeing the color red, a certain group of neurons are firing. There is a parallelism between the neurons firing and a person’s experience, but not an identity: the neurons in question do not turn red. Subjective = inner experience. Objective = observable by others. Of course, we may all agree a stop sign is red. If so, it is objectively true. Contrariwise, a person might just be dreaming the color red.
The central principle of materialism is that every physical effect must have a physical cause. From quarks to quasars, to the quirks of human behavior, there can be no exception. Regarding human behavior, every human action is caused by the firing of motor neurons. This in turn is caused by the firing of neurons in the motor cortex, which in turn is caused by the firing of neurons elsewhere in the brain. Such activity ultimately traces back to sensory inputs, interacting with brain structures such as memory. There cannot be a spiritual “ghost in the machine” magically causing nerve impulses. All human activity must be physically explainable.
Where does this leave the subjective awareness that we refer to as consciousness? According to materialism, consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” of all this neural activity. It cannot be the independent author of any act – all is caused by the purely physical activity of our neurons. Consciousness is merely an accident, along for the ride. Choice and free will are mere illusions.
Some materialists are fond of speculating as to how and why consciousness may have evolved. However, according to materialism, consciousness cannot influence behavior. Its existence or lack thereof cannot then be subject to forces of natural selection. So evolution could play no role in the origination of consciousness.
Therefore, according to materialism, consciousness has no apparent cause and no apparent purpose. Its existence is neither predicted nor explained. Materialism predicts something contrary to subjective perception: there is no free will and our actions are involuntary. So, as regards consciousness, materialism has, at best, zero explanatory power. Nonetheless, it remains an article of faith among materialists. Such a “theory” would not be tolerated regarding any other phenomenon.
Previous Atheist Digest Diaries:
Intro and How I became an Atheist By Xneeohcon
Glossary By Rieux
On Christian Claims to Moral Superiority By Xneeohcon
Debunking Dogmas, Part I: Creationism By wilderness voice
The believers' path to Atheism By Brahman Colorado
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