I used to be a hardcore materialist. I confess, I don’t know that I ever would have abandoned the position if it weren’t for becoming a theist (again). So believe me when I say that I understand why an atheist has difficulty even conceiving of what it would mean, to not be a reductive materialist.
Anyway, P.S. Huff (HT2 Gene C.) gives this neat quotation:
From Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, eds., The Waning of Materialism (2010), ix-x:
It is . . . commonly thought that over the course of the last sixty or so years materialism achieved hegemony in academic philosophy, and this is no doubt right by certain measures—for example, in absolute number of self-identified materialist philosophers of mind or in absolute number of books and journal articles defending materialism. It is therefore surprising that an examination of the major philosophers active in this period reveals that a majority, or something approaching a majority, either rejected materialism or had serious and specific doubts about its ultimate viability. The following is just a partial sampling of these philosophers, more or less in order of birth.
Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Carnap, Alonzo Church, Kurt Godel, Nelson Goodman, Paul Grice, Stuart Hampshire, Roderick Chisholm, Benson Mates, Peter Strawson, Hilary Putnam, John Searle, Jerrold Katz, Alvin Plantinga, Charles Parsons, Jaegwon Kim, George Myro, Thomas Nagel, Robert Adams, Hugh Mellor, Saul Kripke, Eli Hirsch, Ernest Sosa, Stephen Schiffer, Bas van Fraassen, John McDowell, Peter Unger, Derek Parfit, Crispin Wright, Laurence BonJour, Michael Jubien, Nancy Cartwright, Bob Hale, Kit Fine, Tyler Burge, Terence Horgan, Colin McGinn, Robert Brandom, Nathan Salmon, Joseph Levine, Timothy Williamson, Mark Johnston, Paul Boghossian, Stephen Yablo, Joseph Almog, Keith DeRose, Tim Crane, John Hawthorne, Richard Heck, David Chalmers.
Materialism plainly has not achieved hegemony when it comes to philosophers of this high caliber.
A footnote adds: “For all the people listed, we have documentation that they either rejected materialism or harbored serious and specific doubts about its ultimate viability. All the living philosophers listed (Putnam, Searle, Plantinga, Parsons, Kim, Nagel, and all those following) have given us explicit permission to include them on the list (under the description used in the sentence preceding this one).”
Gene then reminds us that at least some of the people on the above least are not theists; in fact Bertrand Russell was a pretty in-your-face atheist.
My point in this post is NOT to say, “Hey, these smart guys apparently had problems with materialism, so you should too!” Rather, my point is to caution people–who pop up all the time in these Internet discussions–who are implicitly assuming materialism is true, apparently without even realizing that’s the very thing under discussion.
Now they might flip things right back around and accuse non-materialists of the same thing; perhaps in some cases that charge would be justified. I’m just saying, in a lot of these discussions, people make “points” that only work if they have already assumed their conclusion.
Always remember: You know you have conscious experiences. You don’t know that there is a physical, external world. That is just a theory you use to explain your experiences. It’s possible that our conception of “the real world” is totally wrong; we could all be brains in vats in a universe that is nothing like the one we think we inhabit. However, it doesn’t even really make sense to worry, “Could I not really be conscious, and something is just fooling me into thinking I am?” (I realize I’m just going back to Descartes here, but hey, the guy was sharp.)
Back in grad school, I used to argue with Gene about this stuff. I was a big fan of Daniel Dennett, and confidently told Gene that consciousness was a “user illusion” that conferred reproductive fitness in our evolutionary lineage. Gene asked the devastating question, “For whom is the illusion?” That seemed like such a petty question to me at the time–didn’t Gene get the program? The answer has to reduce consciousness to unconscious matter. Otherwise it doesn’t count as a real answer!