I have a lot of time for Stefan Molyneux. He has a ferocious intellect and is clearly fearless in expressing decidedly contrarian views on some very touchy, up-to-the-minute topics. He is also someone who is focused not only on opinions but on how people construct a view of the world that generates those opinions. For me, that is ultimately even more important than the opinions themselves, so I have a lot of regard for anyone like Molyneux who stresses that process.
And sure, he sometimes comes across as a little up himself. But that pretty much goes with the territory if you’re putting yourself out there on YouTube as a guy whose opinion not only matters, but is the embodiment of clarity and fine-tuned critical thinking.
Having said all of that, I can’t buy into his arguments for atheism. Or rather, it’s his definitiveness about there being no justification for any kind of position other than atheism that seems too decidedly materialistic and dualistic. And just too definitive for that matter.
Below are some comments in response to a recent video he produced for his Freedomain Radio YouTube Channel . In the video he takes on a critic of his argument that a God who created the universe can’t exist because consciousness cannot exist without matter. He also resorts to the old trope about “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” which I deal with as well. I would recommend anyone with any interest in the whole God/atheist/consciousness/materialism debate check out Stefan’s video – Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence YouTube Comments – Rebutted! . And if anyone wishes to contribute their own thoughts on the subject please leave a reply on this page.
Reflecting on Stefan’s argument that some kind of transcendent consciousness cannot possibly exist because consciousness cannot possibly exist without matter. It is a very clever argument – although I’m not sure to what degree the cleverness and logical congruence actually reflects objective reality.
It reminds me of Wilfrid Sellars’ notion of the “Myth of the Given” – essentially that you can’t assert the reality of pre-existing entities or structures outside of human awareness.
As philosopher Ken Wilber put it: “Metaphysics is thinking that falls prey to the myth of the given.”
Having said that, it strikes me that Stefan’s position presupposes a strictly dualistic conception of matter and consciousness. In a non-dualistic conception in which reality is seen as ‘one continuous thing’ so to speak – what Whitehead calls the ‘seamless coat of the universe – the question of consciousness existing without matter wouldn’t even make sense. And even if you are going to argue that consciousness has never been observed without matter as proof that consciousness CAN’T exist without matter….are you not then stuck with also acknowledging that matter has never been observed without consciousness?
L. L. Whyte said, “Thus, the immature mind (his word not mine!), unable to escape its own prejudice … is condemned to struggle in the straitjacket of its dualisms: subject/object, time/space, spirit/matter, freedom/necessity, free will/law. The truth, which must be single, is ridden with contradiction. Man cannot think where he is, for he has created two worlds from one.”
The physicist Erwin Schroedinger concurred, putting it this way: “consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception”.
I think this notion that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is kind of a crock.
It was a catchy phrase that Carl Sagan popularized that has become a meme in the culture which everyone now takes as a truism. I find it is used to dismiss anything that conflicts with the orthodoxy in a similar way that applying a label like ‘climate change denier’ is used to shut down debate about the so called ‘consensus’ orthodoxy of the climate change establishment.
Why should one kind of truth claim be held to a different standard of evidence than another? Surely the rigour and standards we already apply are more than sufficient! Why would we trust them otherwise?
Why is it logical to codify a bias in favour of one explanation and against another? How is it desirable to privilege the established orthodoxy against outlier modes of thinking?
The disadvantages to taking this hoary old adage seriously seem much more apparent than any alleged advantage. The most obvious problem is that you have one category for the orthodoxy with very firm goalposts – and another category where the goalposts recede forever beyond the horizon. In other words, regardless of the quality of the evidence, someone invested in the orthodoxy can always say it’s not ‘extraordinary’ enough