Materialism makes Muppets and Muggles of us All

“Materialism” can mean one of two things. If you are “materialistic”, you love shopping. If you are a “scientific materialist”, you believe that everything that exists is material. Biology is a sub-set of physics. Psychology is a sub-set of biology. Everything can be ultimately explained in terms of complex arrangements of matter and material processes.

Muggles are materialistic. They judge themselves and others according to their material possessions and material-acquiring-capacity (money). They don’t think much beyond the stuff around them. They spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on stuff. They feel lost without it.

Muppets are materialists. They think that scientific descriptions of regularities in Nature qualify as solid and robust metaphysics. They fail to understand that physics is not metaphysics. They would probably retort that science has no need for metaphysics. But then again, neither does snooker. Human beings do, however.

I am constantly taken aback by the arrogance and philosophical ignorance of scientific materialists. In one sweep they dismiss religion and philosophy as outmoded and unnecessary. Science is the only reliable truth. And science says that only matter matters.

Science doesn’t say anything of the sort of course. Science has absolutely nothing to say about anything beyond it’s self-delimited field of inquiry. Philip Goff makes this point with great perspicuity and lucidity in his book Galileo’s Error. Galileo explicitly defined the limits of science: scientists observe the external behaviour of natural phenomena but are silent about the intrinsic nature of things. Science does not ask what something is, only what it does. The soul, consciousness and experience are intentionally left out of the equation.

Due to its astounding success, however, especially in the development of ever more impressive technologies, we seem to have forgotten the limits of science. It appears as though science is capable of explaining everything, of offering a grand TOE (theory of everything), and taking the place of metaphysics and religion. But it only provides knowledge of the exterior of things. When it comes to essence or meaning, the “why” and the “what” rather than just the “how”, it can’t help us.

Scientific materialists need philosophy if they are to escape their materialistic strait jackets. They need to read Philip’s book. They need to read Mind and Cosmos: Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel. They need to read The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake. They need to read Science and Religion by Alister McGrath. They need to read Miracles by C.S.Lewis. But they probably won’t.

The “Materialist Fallacy” is the first philosophical error affecting muppets. The second is the “Relativist Fallacy”. The third is the “Egalitarian Fallacy”. The fourth is the “Rationalist Fallacy”. In a discussion in the pub last night my antagonist committed all four fallacies in the space of half an hour. This is not uncommon in Muppet World, since the four fallacies naturally reinforce each other.

The Relativist Fallacy is the belief that all interpretations are equally valid because they are ultimately subjective and so have no external reference point or standard beyond themselves. The Egalitarian Fallacy is the belief that it is in fact the case or if not presently the case that it is desirable that all human beings are or should be equal. As with the Relativist Fallacy, just a little reflection reveals how contradictory and ridiculous this belief is.

The Rationalist Fallacy is the belief that reason and logic are sufficient for making sense of the world, as long as the words used to describe it are taken in their most literal sense. The rationalist has no time for metaphor. Which makes sacred scriptures like the Bible completely nonsensical and impenetrable. So whether you choose to “believe” it or not, a literal, rationalistic reading of scripture makes you a Rationalist Muppet, whether you are a tub-thumping religious fundamentalist or a tub-thumping anti-religious fundamentalist.

Perhaps it is no accident that the people I argue with on our Wednesday night discussion meetups are predominantly computer scientists and computer programmers. The Muppet Fallacies are a perfect match for left brain hemisphere dominance.

I studied poetry at university. I experimented with psychedelics. I went to illegal raves. I stayed at a Zen monastery. I read spiritual classics. I listened to sacred music. I went to church. I went for walks. Art, literature, music, religion, nature, the body, spiritual experience: these are the province of the right hemisphere. Science, binary logic and computer code are the darlings of the left. How to bridge the gap?

How can God even begin to make sense in Muppet World?