Minding the Brain, or Braining the Mind?
There’s a battle brewing over who controls your brain: nature or your mind. Materialist scientists are recognizing that creationists are getting a foothold on this hill and “declaring war over the brain,” according to an article in New Scientist. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz fired this salvo: “Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.”
Amanda Gefter, author of the article, also took note of the book The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul by O’Leary and Beauregard. Schwartz and Beauregard were among the speakers at an international symposium in Manhattan called Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness. Gefter listed several fronts in the war to reclaim the mind: “Schwartz and Beauregard are part of a growing ‘non-material neuroscience’ movement,” she explained. “They are attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism – the idea that brain and mind are two fundamentally different kinds of things, material and immaterial – in the hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul.”
After giving adequate white space for proponents of the non-materialist view (including Angus Menuge, J. P. Moreland and the Discovery Institute), Gefter clearly wanted to throw her vote to the reigning materialist paradigm on this matter of mind. She commented on an experiment Schwartz used to support the independent existence of mind, saying, “these experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology – the material brain is changing the material brain.”
In the middle of her article, Gefter got really serious:
Clearly, while there is a genuine attempt to appropriate neuroscience, it will not influence US laws or education in the way that anti-evolution campaigns can because neuroscience is not taught as part of the core curriculum in state-funded schools. But as Andy Clark, professor of logic and metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh, UK, emphasises: “This is real and dangerous and coming our way.”
He and others worry because scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons. “Progress in science is slow on many fronts,” says John Searle, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley. “We don’t yet have a cure for cancer, but that doesn’t mean cancer has spiritual causes.”
And for Patricia Churchland, a philosopher of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, “it is an argument from ignorance. The fact something isn’t currently explained doesn’t mean it will never be explained or that we need to completely change not only our neuroscience but our physics.”
To Gefter, the debate is just a quibble over words:
The attack on materialism proposes to do just that, but it all turns on definitions. “At one time it looked like all physical causation was push/pull Newtonianism,” says Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy and neurobiology at Duke University, North Carolina. “Now we have a new understanding of physics. What counts as material has changed. Some respectable philosophers think that we might have to posit sentience as a fundamental force of nature or use quantum gravity to understand consciousness. These stretch beyond the bounds of what we today call ‘material’, and we haven’t discovered everything about nature yet. But what we do discover will be natural, not supernatural.”
Andy Clark continued his tone of alarm over this battle, calling the intelligent-design position “an especially nasty mind-virus” because it “piggybacks on some otherwise reasonable thoughts and worries.” He argued that it is a non-sequitur to leap from the empirical evidence that we can change our brains with our minds to the conclusion that the mind is non-material. “That doesn’t follow at all,” he said, applying his material brain to the process of logic. “There’s nothing odd about minds changing brains if mental states are brain states: that’s just brains changing brains.”
Gefter became enough alarmed over this new front in the creation-evolution battle to suggest some strategy. “If people can be swayed by ID, despite the vast amount of solid evidence for evolution,” she worried, “how hard will it be when the science appears fuzzier?” She reminded scientists of criticisms that they have already been too lax in teaching the public about evolution. It’s time to get on offense. “Maybe now they need a big pre-emptive push to engage people with the science of the brain – and help the public appreciate that the brain is no place to invoke the ‘God of the gaps’.”
Apparently the irony of this article was completely lost on Amanda Gefter and her materialist experts. They were all using their minds to argue and debate about immaterial concepts. If nothing more was happening than molecules bouncing around in their skulls, how could they even know what they were saying?
Remember when Mom, Dad, or some other childhood mentor showed you that when you point an accusatory finger at someone else, three other fingers are pointing back at you? Clark just lectured us on logic. Flanagan just lectured us on definitions. Gefter just lectured us on God-of-the-gaps arguments. All three have just shot their little finger-guns right back into their own skulls. Example: Gefter dismissed Schwartz’s empirical evidence that the mind can change the brain by saying, “the material brain is changing the material brain.” OK, class, what’s the next question? Think about it (yes, think), [Jeopardy tune plays], and the bell rings – Aha! Who is making the material brain change the material brain? And who is observing the change?
Now, if you think that is just a logical trick, you have to realize that without a person doing the changing, no one would ever know a change had occurred. This is a mind-body problem that cannot be so easily swept away. If you could shrink yourself to the size of a cell and wander through the brain, you would no more see thought than if you wandered through Big Ben could you see time. Time and thought live in the conceptual realm, not the material realm. Suppose you walked through a computer chip like a pedestrian on the streets of London. Would you see Boolean logic? Oh, you might see certain switches light up, and perhaps you could perceive electrons in a diode or transistor junction flowing one way instead of the other. But it is not the chip that would be sensing that logic is occurring: it would be you, the Observer. The operation of a physical system is not the same as concept behind the system. A system cannot tell itself the purpose of the system in a way that brings understanding. That takes a Person. Consider: if Amanda’s mind is not directing her argument, how could she have any free will to believe that her argument is true, and that ID is so false it should be pre-empted? And to what is the pre-emptive strike referring, if not some well-intentioned but misguided appeal to immaterial truth and morals?
Gefter and Flanagan dismissed this all as quibbling over definitions. But look at the fingers pointing right back at them: they suggested that any possible concept might be enveloped within the words material or natural – even things like sentience, a quantum-gravity theory of consciousness, or any future discovery of science. “These stretch beyond the bounds of what we today call ‘material’, and we haven’t discovered everything about nature yet. But what we do discover will be natural, not supernatural.” This is a rescuing device to end all rescuing devices. No matter what the evidence, they can envelop it, like The Blob, into their materialistic worldview.
OK, let’s push that envelope. Suppose they find irrefutable evidence for angels. Will they call them material? Will they be a part of the “natural” universe? Even God has a divine “nature.” The word nature or natural is so slippery it can mean a dozen different things – including immaterial things like natural laws (Note: material things may obey natural laws, but laws are not material). Materialists constantly invoke non-material things in their reasoning: mathematics, abstract logic, scientific methods to name just a few. They also frequently make reference to unobservable entities – information, feedback, signal transduction, classification, reason, honesty and much, much more. They help themselves to immaterial concepts and stuff them into their materialist bag, oblivious to who is doing the classifying.
God-of-the-Gaps: J. P. Moreland, who was mentioned in Gefter’s article, has three comeback arguments to the perennial charge that Christians fill gaps in scientific knowledge with appeals to God. Paraphrasing, he says, (1) Christians would not expect there to be many gaps. The Biblical worldview indicates that the world runs according to predictable patterns (natural laws) most of the time. In fact, it is only the Biblical worldview that makes sense of the concept of natural laws. (2) Some gaps are getting wider. Scientific discoveries about the cell and the origin of life and the fine-tuning of the universe are resisting all attempts at materialist explanations. We should follow the evidence where it leads. If that evidence is pointing to design, so be it. (3) Materialists are just as guilty of the charge. Whenever some incredibly-complex mechanism is discovered in a cell, for instance, they assume that natural selection produced it, or assume that some day in the future, a material cause will be discovered. This is nothing more than naturalism-of-the-gaps.
The material/spiritual and natural/supernatural distinctions are false dichotomies. They cannot stand up to a half-hour of scrutiny by a skilled philosopher. What it boils down to is this: naturalism is anything and everything that allows a scientist (or a party animal on drugs) to avoid responsibility to their Maker. That’s the real argument from ignorance. They can believe in space aliens or unobservable multiverses – anything, no matter how crazy, as long as they never have to bow the knee and confess, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou hast created all things, and by Thy will they exist, and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
You can put a brain into a jar of formaldehyde, and you can throw a used computer onto a junk pile, but the concepts of mind and design, like Halloween ghosts, will always find the materialist’s haunted house and come back to join the party.