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Sigh October 9, 2007

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, Science.

When will people stop making arguments like this?

“But the materialists have two problems. Their certainty of victory is, for the moment, a leap of faith. There is no clear scientific consensus on how the brain produces the higher functions we call being human. And, second, the great mystery, the ultimate hard question, remains: How does matter produce mind, how can it? Irrespective of religious belief, immaterialism cannot easily be dismissed. What is the nature of what I am thinking and feeling now? To tell me that it is all a by-product of my brain is to tell me nothing. What I am is at least as real as the chair I am sitting on, and what I am seems to be immaterial.”

This is simple nonsense. The fact that a research program is relatively new and incomplete is not evidence that some alternative hypothesis must be true–especially when there is substantial evidence supporting the research program and no evidence supporting the alternative hypothesis.

Cognitive science and neuroscience continue to make empirically testable hypotheses and have explained a variety of complex mental functions, though a complete explanation of consciousness is still elusive. The alternative, that there is some sort of “soul” that explains mental functioning, has generated few empirically-testable hypotheses, those that have been tested have failed the test, and the hypothesis itself borders on the incoherent. No one has ever suggested a remotely plausible answer to the question of how a non-physical substance can causally interact with a physical substance.

Confidence in materialism (or physicalism) is not based on faith but on evidence. It is a plain fact that mental states are exactly correlated with a range of specific brain events. Although a correlation between mind and body does not guarantee a causal relationship, if physicalism were false, this correlation would be an utter mystery. Furthermore, the causal relationship has been established with regard to a variety of mental functions.

Give it up already.



1. Nina Rosenstand - October 13, 2007

I sense a bit of frustration here! Take two hours on the couch with Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” and you may feel better–maybe well enough to take Dawkins to task for being excessively militant! He dismisses the “argument from experience” rather quickly.
However, the recent mental states-brain correlation research is more than compelling, although I believe that its final conclusion (reductive materialism) will come gradually and quietly, rather than a collective epiphany. The concept of the “soul” may find a new redefined role as primarily a poetic expression–I think we’re seeing that happen already.

2. Dwight Furrow - October 14, 2007

Dawkins is a palliative, especially his refusal to suffer fools gladly.

Why do you consider his activities “excessively militant”? Why is vociferously defending a claim that has substantial empirical and conceptual support problematic? He is not throwing bombs, writing laws to immiserate millions or even banging on my door with a book of fairy tales wanting to be my “friend”.

Scientists and scholars are supposed to be in the pursuit of truth and in democratic societies have a responsibility to make the results of their inquiry available to the public. Yet, somehow, when those truths run up against the “soul hypothesis” they are supposed to pussyfoot around as if the mere utterance of a straightforward refutation will call down the wrath of God upon us.

Defenders of the “soul hypothesis” have been loud and proud for centuries–and have not hesitated to use violence, deception, and fear mongering to suppress competing claims. Minds will not be changed if materialists act like they are afraid of their own shadow.

3. Huan - October 15, 2007

Something funny and perhaps even more disturbing. New moving coming out called “Expelled the Movie”. It pretty much is a Michael Moore documentary rip off, questioning the “censoring” of Creationism in the scientific community. I find it hilarious.

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