Posted by: trev0rclark | May 7, 2009

Causality as problem for “The New Atheists”

21050lg2As I gave my presentation to the department of philosophy the other day, there were some comments that helped me see a big picture problem in Daniel Dennett’s argumentation in the consciousness debate, which lead me to some new more profound conclusions about the New Atheists in general. It was brought to my attention, when talking about “downward causality” in the question of free will, the terminology always used by both Nancey Murphy and Dennett has been in terms of efficient causality (that thing which causes another thing) or material causality (that material stuff which allows for another thing to happen). Very rarely is there any mention about formal causality (what “makes up” this thing) or final causality (what this thing is designed to do). In fact, Dennett says that discussing the purpose of consciousness is the greatest trap in the consciousness debate.

            Yet, in order to save himself from being a materialist in the strong sense, Dennett insists we can have rationality through the theory of ‘go meta’, where we perceiver becomes aware of his reactions to his own environment. Dennett does, thus, assert a kind of final causality here—making him break one of his rules. This leaves me more room to respond with a Kierkegaardian framework, which moves to discuss selfhood in the realm of formal and final causality. Because Dennett (and the New Atheists alike), assert an inherent purpose for consciousness (being to escape biological determinism), they are guilty of stepping outside the boundaries of their science and assigning a philosophical framework to human nature. Looking at it this way, it leaves Dennett and the New Atheists alike open to criticism from not only Christian groups, but other philosophies that take presuppositions of human purpose without inherent scientific implications.


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