Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Angus Menuge

From the official biography of Dr. Angus Menuge, Concordia University Wisconsin:
My interests now are in promoting Christian teaching and scholarship, and developing my own meager talents in that direction. Interests of mine are currently C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Christianity and Culture, and the battle for the Christian Mind (if you want to know what that is, get George Marsden’s The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship).

He's a professor in philosophy and computer science at Concordia, a Lutheran school in Wisconsin. The Missouri Synod (to which he asserts membership) is the more conservative of the American Lutheran groups. Through the Concordia Theological Seminary, he is a member of the Cranach Institute, which aims to show that "Christian ideas, emerging out of a Biblical World View, can challenge the weakness of secularism and offer constructive alternatives grounded in the truth of God's Word."

Which is all well and good. Where there is weakness, let it be challenged. But it isn't clear how this bears on science. Science isn't about religion or secularism. It's a process.

Here's a review of his attack on Dennett. He thinks that naturalism leads to reductionism, which in turn leads to eradication of the notion of things like "rationality." He is either wrong or he misunderstands when he says
it is simply false to claim that reductions are to be valued simple because they rid us of something we cannot explain. The test of a successful reduction is not whether one or more thing can be explained (the crane that is substituted for the skyhook) but whether there is a net increase in explanatory power, which won't happen if the crane mystifies what the skyhook made plain.

If a "reduction" is not more explanatory, it won't be accepted as superior. He either misrepresents the practice of science, or misunderstands it.
His book on IDC, Agents Under Fire, extends his argument and argues that teleology is what makes life coherent. I think that the flaw in his reasoning is that he ignores emergent properties. If rationality is a pure result of the interactions of neurons, is that an "eliminative reduction"? I think not. I think we've reduced a fuzzy and ill-defined notion to complex emergent process. That's a reforming reduction, rather than an eliminative reduction. Most invocations of a "god of the gaps" are debunked in an eliminative reduction, but few other things are eliminated.
As for rebutting him, he's dealing on a level quite removed from the actual science, so there's relatively little to bother with. He'll muddy the waters, but I don't see him making much trouble. Science doesn't rely on philosophical naturalism, just practical naturalism.