Story Plus Presupposition Equals Worldview

As I read The Atheist's Guide to Reality by Alex Rosenberg I am reminded that a worldview, any worldview, needs two components - a good story and some presuppositions. Rosenberg aptly co-opts physics and biology for his own worldview. Newtonian physics, for Rosenberg, is what one needs to provide a constitutive account of reality, everything is made of force and stuff ("bosons" and "fermions"). Physics explains all reality, tells us what all of reality is made of, and is almost complete in its attempt to comprehensively describe how everything relates to everything else. Presuppositions done.

Now for a good yarn, a story that tells us how we got to where we are. That, for Rosenberg, is found in the biology department. The story teller is Charles Darwin and the yarn is a ripping good one. It is a tale of adaptation, species after species emerging through natural selection. Where we are now is a result of an unguided process of change, a gradual amazing emergence. Story done.

That's all we need, right? Well not exactly. There are some other things to think about. Personally, I think the worldview in question is a little anemic when it comes to just about everything else.

In regards to the presuppositions, there are some things to figure out. For example, what about non-physical things like thoughts? And what about logic? As far as the story goes it has a simple answer for just about everything - emergence. Things changes over time and things happen to have changed in such a way as to produce "this" (point at thing one is attempting to explain). However, there is some difficulty in using such a story when trying to say anything that counts in all possible worlds, moral laws, for example. Also, as many are fond of pointing out, what are the chances that things emerged in precisely the way they have, in a way able to sustain life as we know it, if everything started with a big farty explosion?

A worldview like the one in question should be subject to a host of other questions. And I am not sure this combo cuts the mustard. Questions for any worldview are questions like: does it account for human experience? Does the presupp-story combo do its job? In other words, does it lead to madness, the denial of meaning, a totalitarian regime or any other absurdity? Importantly, can it be lived out in daily life, can its principles be practiced?

In my estimation Rosenberg's worldview cannot account for anything like a universally binding moral law; it cannot account for consciousness; it cannot account for laws of logic, for laws of human thought or even for the grammar of language it uses to argue for the fundamental purposeless of existence. It is a defunct worldview not because of its lack of symmetry, but for its complete lack of resources to make sense of anything in human experience. Rosenberg glibbly concludes that if he is right then some kind of nihilism follows. Rosenberg calls this "nice nihilism" which is just nonsense. There is nothing nice about pointlessness.

The beauty of Rosenberg's simple physics/evolution combo is hard to avoid. Everything is stuff and energy and it got here by emergence, adapting to circumstance. However, if it was true, then it fails on just about everything else.

Note: I am not saying there is anything wrong with biology and physics or that Newton or Darwin are devils; only that if your worldview amounts to a reduction to physics combined with a ameliorated version of Darwinism then you are committed to a reduced and ameliorated worldview that has to say things like: "there are no moral laws" "laws of logic could have been otherwise" "thoughts are material or don't exist" and "the universe and everything in it is purposeless and meaningless" 

2 comments:

Slimjim said...

Beautifully short, to the point and powerful point Ben.

Ben Holloway said...

Thanks Slimjim