Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Menuge)

Angus Menuge

Is Downward Causation Possible?

Abstract: Materialists have advanced several arguments to show that "downward causation" (mental to physical causation) is impossible. It is claimed that downward causation: (1) violates the causal closure of the physical; (2) is incompatible with natural law; (3) cannot be reconciled with the empirical evidence from neuroscience. This paper responds to these objections by arguing that: (1) there is no good reason to believe that the physical is causally closed; (2) properly understood, natural laws are compatible with downward causation; (3) recent findings in neuroscience reported by Schwartz, Beauregard and others provide strong empirical support for downward causation.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Welcome Angus Menuge!

We are grateful to host Dr. Angus J. L. Menuge as our new contributor to the EPS blog. Look for his first post in the next few days! (He recently made news in a New Scientist article that attempted to report on the resurgence of "Cartesian dualism" among neuroscientists and philosophers of mind).

Angus J. L. Menuge is Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin. Born in England, he became an American citizen in 2005. Menuge has written articles on the vocation of scientist, Intelligent Design, philosophy of mind and apologetics. He is the author of Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) and editor of Reading God’s World: The Vocation of Scientist (Concordia Publishing House, 2004). He shares a website with Gene Edward Veith devoted to the Reformation doctrines of Vocation and the Two Kingdoms, www.cranach.org.

Angus, a member of the EPS, is also a frequent contributor to Philosophia Christi.

His most recent article appeared in our 10:1 issue, "Intelligent Design, Darwinism, and Psychological Unity."

Menuge's other Philosophia Christi articles include his "Beyond Skinnerian Creatures: A Defense of the Lewis and Plantinga Critiques of Evolutionary Naturalism" in our 5:1 issue and his "Whereof One Can Speak, Thereof One Must Not Be Silent: A Review Essay on Tractatus Logico-Theologicus" in the 6:1 issue.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

EPS Philosophers Respond to New Scientist Article On "Creationism" and Materialism

Amanda Gefter, an editor with the Opinion section of the New Scientist, wrote a piece titled, "Creationists Declare War over the Brain" (posted October 22, 2008).

Gefter's piece describes what she quotes as a "'non-material neuroscience' movement" that is "attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism ... in hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul."

Among the scholars that she mentions as examples of this "non-material neuroscience movement," Gefter quotes from EPS philosophers and Philosophia Christi contributors J.P. Moreland, Angus Menuge and William Dembski (only Menuge is referenced in the article as being a philosopher).

Moreland, the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University's Talbot School of Theology, recently published his Consciousness & the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (Routledge), which Gefter describes as having "fanned the flames" with its publication in June of this year.

Of Moreland's book, she says that "Non-materialist neuroscience provided him with this helpful explanation: since God 'is' consciousness." But Moreland's book offers a philosophical explanation for non-materialism; it is not dependent on the findings of neuroscience. (She goes on to quote Moreland, which at first glance appears to be from his Routledge book. Yet upon further inspection, it appears that she selectively quotes from a blog post by Moreland).

Nonetheless, in response to Gefter's piece, Moreland e-mailed us with the following reply:
The simple truth is that in both science and philosophy, strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self have been breaking down since the mid-1980s. The problems with physicalism have nothing directly to do with theism; they follow from rigorous treatments of consciousness and the self as we know them to be. The real problem comes in trying to explain its origin and for this problem, naturalism in general and Darwinism in particular, are useless. In my view, the only two serious contenders are theism and panpsychism which, contrary to the musings of some, has throughout the history of philosophy been correctly taken as a rival to and not a specification of naturalism.

(Moreland is set to publish in 2009 a similar book about the philosophical problems of naturalism titled, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism )

Angus Menuge
, Concordia University's (Wisconsin) Professor of Philosophy and Computer Science and Chair of Philosophy, is cited by Gefter for receiving funds from the Discovery Institute for his Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science book and for testifying "in favour of teaching ID in state-funded high-schools."

But as Menuge notes in an e-mail to us, "I did not testify 'in favour of teaching ID in state-funded high-schools,' as the media would have discovered if they had actually reported the testimony given in Kansas instead of recycling a standardized science/religion story-line; we simply maintained that students should learn about the evidence for and against the neo-Darwinian view and insisted that Intelligent Design was not yet sufficiently developed as a theory to be taught in classrooms."

Moreover, Menuge notes, "Amanda Gefter also has her chronology wrong: though I did receive support from the Discovery Institute to research Agents Under Fire, this was not part of a program to develop 'non-materialist neuroscience' (an area in which I have since become very interested) but my attempt to show in detail that scientific materialism is untenable because materialism undermines the rationality of science."

Gefter agrees that "scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons." But she then suggests that the argument against materialism is (quoting naturalist philosopher Patricia Churchland) "an argument from ignorance." Churchland says, "The fact [that] 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."

Menuge admits "it is possible that a materialistic explanation of consciousness might be found, but that does not make the claim that consciousness is non-physical an argument from ignorance." Menuge further counsels,

At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy—the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic—that most resembles a virus?
In one respect, perhaps it is gratifying that the New Scientist raises awareness (if only out of fear) about important challenges to the materialist establishment. On the other hand, "What irony," wrote William Dembski in an e-mail.
Witch hunts, subversion of science, not following evidence to its logical conclusion -- all the things the author worries will happen to science if a non-materialist neuroscience succeeds -- are the things she herself embraces in reflexively assuming that the only valid neuroscience must be materialist.

Updated 10/24, 6:15 Am (PST)

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