Thursday, October 31, 2002

The World-as-Accident, Ideas and Truth & Falsity

Mark Shea and Mark of Minute Particulars have both been having their own conversations regarding theism, materialism, etc. with Jody of Naked Writing.

The topic of both conversations has most recently concerned the accidental (or not) nature of the universe, specifically in regard to the true or false nature of ideas. I'd like to briefly touch on a related issue.

Jody -- by my reading -- seems to be pretty much a materialist: someone who posits that matter is all that is, was, and ever shall be. This means, of course, that the mind is nothing more than the brain, i.e. the matter wherein neural activity is located. It also means that the things that we "think" -- our thoughts -- are also material, being nothing more than a particular arrangement of atoms and molecules in our brains. The difference between one thought and another, then, is merely a difference of arrangement on the molecular and atomic level.

If this is true, though, a problem arises: the notions of "truth" and "falsity" cannot be applied to our ideas. Why? Because ideas (in this worldview) are only arrangements of matter, and arrangements of matter are not true or false... they simply are.

In his nice little book The Journey, Peter Kreeft gives the example of leaves and their arrangement as an analogy for ideas, which follows necessarily from materialist premises. Kreeft points out that the "idea of materialism" represents one particular arrangement of leaves (i.e. atoms in our brains), while the "idea of spiritualism" (the term I'll use here for the viewpoint that there is more than matter in the universe) represents another particular arrangement of leaves.

Now, if we stumbled upon some leaves scattered on the ground in a particular pattern or arrangement, we would not say, "oh! This pattern is true", or "this pattern is false". Why? Because -- as I noted above -- the notions of truth and falsity cannot be applied to things or to their patterns. This clearly leads to an unacceptable conclusion -- that no ideas are true, and no ideas are false... they simply are. Let's return to Kreeft's examples: there, materialism is one pattern, spiritualism another. Neither is true, neither is false; both simply are different arrangements of "leaves" (atoms and molecules in our brains).

But no one accepts this, let alone argues it. Jody clearly believes that materialism is true, while Mark Shea, Mark of MP, and I believe that materialism is false and spiritualism is true. Yet this seems to be the inescapable conclusion to which materialism leads.

Update: Josh Claybourn has also been dialoguing with Jody, here, and here (the latter being a quick comment).

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