Science and “I”

I’m currently reading Roger Scruton’s “The Soul of the World“, which is a typically articulate and, at times, entertaining demonstration of how a reductionist and materialist explanation of the world cannot account for intuitively necessary elements of existence, such as personality, relationships, moral intuitions, beauty, and so on. While not arguing for a purely subjective existence, Scruton argues that Science cannot explain to me who I am without destroying that which I consider most important in any full account of who I am, let alone explaining where I am.

‘”I” is an indexical term, like “here” and “now” … Although there is a sense in which I cannot mistakenly identify the place where I am as here, and the time at which I am speaking as now, I have no special privilege as to what is going on here and now, other than those privileges that depend on my use of “I”. On the other hand, it is clear that there is no place for indexical terms in science, and that, just as a unified science must replace all reference to “here” and “now” with positions identified in four-dimensional space, so must it drop the use of “I”. As Thomas Nagel has pointed out [1], however, this leads to a singular puzzle concerning the relation of the world, which identifies all the particles and fields of force, all the laws of motion that govern their changes, and which gives a complete identification of the positions of everything at some given time. But, however complete this description might be, there is one fact that it does not mention and which is, for me, the most important fact there is, namely, which of the objects in this world am I? Where am I, in the world of unified science? The identification of any object in the first-person case is ruled out by the enterprise of scientific explanation. So science cannot tell me who I am, let alone where, when or how.’

Scruton, The Soul of the World (Princeton, 2014), p31

[1] Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (OUP, 1986)

The religion of materialism

From Edward Feser, The Last Superstition (Kindle edition), Location 363-387:

…the so-called “war between science and religion” is really a war between two rival philosophical worldviews, and not at bottom a scientific or theological dispute at all. Occasionally you’ll find a secularist who admits as much. Nagel is one example [See this post].  Another is biologist Richard Lewontin [See this post] … Similarly, physicist Paul Davis tell us that “science takes as its starting point the assumption that life wasn’t made by a god or a supernatural being,” and acknowledges that, partially out of fear of “open[ing] the door to religious fundamentalists … many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled.” [1] Among prominent contemporary philosophers, Tyler Burge opines that “materialism is not established, or even clearly supported, by science” and that its hold over his peers is analogous to that of a “political or religious ideology”[2]; John Searle tells us that “materialism is the religion of our time,” that “like more traditional religions, it is accepted without question and … provides the framework within which other questions can be posed, addressed, and answered,” and that “materialists are convinced, with a quasi-religious faith, that their view must be right” [3]; and William Lycan admits, in what he himself calls “an uncharacteristic exercise in intellectual honesty,” that the arguments for materialism are no better than the arguments against it, that his “own faith in materialism is based on science-worship,” and that “we also always hold our opponents to higher standards of argumentation than we obey ourselves.” [4]

Feser’s footnotes:

[1] Paul Davis, The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life (Simon and Schuster, 1999), pp. 17-18, emphasis added.
[2] Tyler Burge, “Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice,” in John Heil and Alfred Mele, eds., Mental Causation (Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 117.
[3] John R. Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 48.
[4] William G. Lycan, “Giving Dualism Its Due,” a paper presented at the 2007 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference at the University of New England. The draft is available on Lycan’s website.