In science, it’s never wise to propose a self-refuting theory.
The first two of three news stories give us practice in detecting self-refuting theories. The third, the harder one, is for extra credit.
Irrationality: Everyone knows people who are crazy, but most of us pride ourselves in our ability to think clearly, employing reason and evidence. Where did that ability to come from? PhysOrg says, “Natural selection can favor irrational behavior.” But if that is true, nobody could know rationality from irrationality without appealing to standards outside of evolution. And if evolution (a mindless, irrational process) actually favors irrationality, then everybody is crazy – including the scientist who argues that natural selection can favor irrational behavior.
Religion: Science Daily offered to explain how religion evolved. Since religious belief is such a global phenomenon, “This has led scientists to speculate that there must be a biological basis for the evolution of religion in human societies,” Gopikrishna Deshpande of Auburn University thought, apparently assuming that if it’s biological, it’s not rational (since the product of unguided natural processes cannot be rational). With that thought in his brain, he went looking for religious biology with functional MRI in other people’s brains. What he didn’t see is the bullet hole in his own foot. Since evolutionary beliefs are just as global as religious beliefs, there must be a biological basis for that, too – meaning his own belief is irrational, because it evolved by the same unguided processes.
Consciousness: A materialist claims to have solved “the hard problem” of consciousness (for explanation, see Michael Egnor and David Chalmers in Evolution News & Views). Basically, it’s the question of how our subjective experience of the world arises from the physical brain. If one can believe a news feature from Princeton, psychology professor Michael Graziano – a materialist – has solved it with a new theory. In order to demystify any “magic” in the brain, his trick was to turn the question around:
“The question has always been how does a brain produce the inner ‘magic.’ What we’re asking is, ‘How does the brain attribute magic to itself,’ and that’s a fundamentally different way to frame the question,” he said.
“Every past theory of consciousness has a gap. Even the most modern theories at some point just point to a circuit and say, ‘And then awareness appears.’ But understanding where the magic comes from is pointless,” Graziano continued. “The phenomenon that scientists can say with certainty happens is that the brain attributes the ‘magic’ to itself. We can understand how that happens and the computations behind it. And that’s what this theory attempts to do.”
The article proceeds to congratulate Graziano for “demystifying” consciousness and showing it to be just a creation of the brain. No longer requiring an “unseen force,” consciousness can now be viewed as a physical consequence of neurobiology. But can it? Who is doing the viewing? More on that later, but first, Aaron Schurger (Switzerland) tries to explain what Graziano’s “attention schema theory” tries to do:
“The only thing for science to explain about consciousness is not, ‘Why is there something more inside of us, apart from just input, processing and output,’ but rather, ‘Why do we insist that there is something more inside of us,’” he said. “The answer given by Michael’s theory is that this is the way the brain describes the process of attention happening inside the brain itself. Even if the phenomenon being described is real, the description does not have to be real.”
Since we attribute awareness to others, Graziano feels, we must be attributing it to ourselves as well. Critics of his theory, he explains with some frustration, just don’t get what he’s trying to say:
“People say, ‘Great, you’ve explained how brains claim to have magic inside them, but you haven’t explained the actual magic.’ That’s almost impossible to get people to see from the opposite perspective,” he said. “Ninety percent of the pushback comes from that belief in magic. It’s really almost like an ideological difference.”
But perhaps they perceive more than he admits. Graziano seems to be standing outside of his brain looking at it and other people’s brains from a privileged platform. By appealing to explanation, he becomes the explainer, someone applying immaterial laws of logic. In essence, he acts as an disembodied intelligent agent passing judgment: he judges that it is illogical to “insist that there is something more”. But to make a judgment or to propose any theory is to appeal to the conceptual realm beyond the physical.
His theory, therefore, becomes self-refuting: he needs to employ magic to claim there is no magic there. Graziano realizes his theory may have an Achilles heel:
“There are two questions to ask about this theory: First, does it provide an actual explanation, or does it just appeal to magic like so many other theories? And second, is it correct? The answer to the first question is yes,” he said. “As for the second, that’s up in the air. I’m very encouraged by it, but one never knows, I suppose.”
One can rightly ask, who is doing the supposing? Who is judging the theory to be provide an actual explanation? Is that not a conflict of interest? (If so, it tosses morality into the muddle.) And if no one can ever know if his theory is correct, what differentiates his “explanation” from gobbledygook?
If you practice the art of detecting self-refuting propositions, you can watch much of evolutionary theory evaporate. Darwinists don’t realize that they suffer from a serious mental disorder known as the Yoda Complex (look it up in the Darwin Dictionary). They pretend to be rational creatures, not evolved ones. But the moment they try to argue that Darwinism is true, they shoot their feet. Why? One cannot get knowledge (a justified true belief) from causes that are, at their base, irrational. G.K. Chesterson, Arthur Balfour, and C.S. Lewis understood this (also, more recently Alvin Plantinga has applied more rigor to the argument). Learn more about this in Discovery Institute’s 2012 book, The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism and Society. See more examples of the self-referential fallacy or self-refuting fallacy in our Baloney Detector.
In his lectures, philosopher of science J.P. Moreland has elaborated on why one must avoid self-refuting propositions: they are necessarily wrong, he says: no amount of new information or evidence will ever make them right. They are false, and they will always be false. To find someone guilty of a self-refuting position, therefore, is to disarm them of making any truth claims. Once that is done, it becomes superfluous to quibble about details; their “truth” claims are false claims, not worth pursuing further.
Why do smart people keep committing this fallacy? Evolutionists like Michael Graziano and the others we critique here are not stupid. Don’t they see how they box themselves into absurdity with their evolutionary explanations? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. I believe it is because they are so committed to their evolutionary ideology, it blinds them to their fallacies. They want so much to rid all science of the “supernatural,” the “magic” as Graziano puts it. They feel they are doing mankind a favor by resolutely pursuing the Enlightenment ideal of “demystifying” nature. Out must go all appeals to gods, angels, demons, spirits, and “unseen forces.” What gets tossed out with it, they fail to notice, is their own spirit. They gain the whole material universe and lose their own soul.
But–and here’s the rub–if you lose your soul, you reduce yourself to matter. The only tools at your disposal are unguided, aimless, irrational causes. So out goes your claim to explain things scientifically. You become an absurd, emergent thing wandering between a bang and a heat death. The price of demystifying the universe is intellectual suicide. Think about that when the next rabid creationist-hating Darwin doberman comes barking. We get them here sometimes. With righteous fury, they deny righteousness; standing haughtily on the pillar of rationality, they plant it in the air.
Only the Biblical worldview provides the grounds for justified true belief. Starting with God, who is rational and the source of all rationality, who is also good, and therefore trustworthy, we can anchor our explanations in the rational. Our knowledge may never be exhaustive, but it can be genuine. We can appeal to rationality and the laws of logic, because they are justified as real in the nature of God. No other world view provides that anchor.
Deep down, the evolutionists know better. It’s obvious, Paul wrote in Romans 1:18–22. By suppressing the truth (that is evidence in creation), they choose to become fools. (See sophoxymoroniac in the Darwin Dictionary.)
Exercise: Listing major world religions, find which ones purport to be rational. Of those, which are not self-refuting? (Hint: Greg Bahnsen is helpful on this.) Example: when a Hindu says, “All is Maya, illusion” he cannot exempt Hinduism from being an illusion, too. But if Hinduism is an illusion, it is necessarily false: all is not illusion – the statement refutes itself.
Resource: Dr. Jason Lisle’s talk, “The Ultimate Proof of Creation,” on YouTube, borrowing from Greg Bahnsen’s apologetics and Romans 1, explains worldview presuppositions and which ones provide knowledge.