The Materialism Pun

by tristero

This is about as good as it gets in terms of defining the scientific/philosophical nature of "materialism," "methodological naturalism," and the fundamental worldview of science. Unfortunately, like most such descriptions, it all but ignores the rhetorical sleight-of-hand that underlies much of the advocacy for anti-materialism. Steven Novella comes close to understanding it here:
Therefore, the broader “anti-materialist” movement of ID, dualism, and various healing pseudosciences is more accurately defined as anti-naturalism. But I guess for propaganda purposes it is better to be against “materialism” than against nature.
This is the heart of the issue.

Scientifically, and philosophically, materialism is non-controversial. Science can't say, as Steven puts, "and then there's a miracle." Philosophically, dualism creates enormous problems.

But, colloquially - and lets face it, these arguments are aimed at the general public, not at anyone with any knowledge of philosophy or science - "materialism" equals greed, selfishness, vulgarity, the everyday, the ordinary. Being against materialism, therefore, aligns oneself with "higher aspirations" than the accumulation of wealth, a bigger car, even social status. It is hard, even in a society as warped as this one towards rewarding the rich and greedy, to be openly "for" owning a third SUV.

What is going on is a kind of pun. The Wedge Strategy conflates the colloquial understanding of materialism with the technical. A scientific worldview then can be portrayed as a crass, vapid, incomplete, and unsatisfying view of life. It is for that reason that, as Steve says, they are against "materialism" rather than nature.

Accordingly, elegant, even eloquent, defenses of the technical sense of materialism miss their target. The Wedge Strategy is not about reason but about appeals to unreason. The pun between materialism (greed) and materialism (naturalism) is what this confrontation is about and needs to be very clearly acknowledged when trying to refute the Wedge Strategy.

h/t PZ

UPDATE: Please don't get me wrong. What Steven wrote is terrific. I simply believe the real issue is not materialism versus dualism, say, but the Wedge Strategy's rhetorical exploitation of a pun.