Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

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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Monday, May 19, 2008

Interview with J.P. Moreland: Consciousness & the Existence of God

We did an interview with J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University, about his just released Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge, 2008). Moreland has written similar items on this subject-matter in Philosophia Christi 7:2 (Winter 2005) and 1:1 (Summer 1999).

What do you attempt to do in Consciousness and the Existence of God?

The book's central claim is that the existence of finite, irreducible consciousness (or its regular, lawlike correlation with physical states) provides strong evidence for the existence of God. I call this the Argument from Consciousness (AC). I defend AC and rebut its extant rivals.

Chapters three through five rebut naturalist rivals to AC: John Searle and contingent correlation, Timothy O'Connor and emergent necessitation, Colin McGinn and mysterian "naturalism." Chapters six and seven rebut two additional rivals: David Skrbina and panpsychism, Philip Clayton and pluralistic emergentist monism. Given AC and the failure of its rivals, non-theists should prefer strict physicalism to emergent property dualism. In chapter eight, I argue that, contrary to what many claim, science provides virtually no evidence at all for strict physicalism. Since most physicalists claim that science is the main justification for the view, it is important to ask why strict physicalism is so popular. In chapter nine, I argue that the fear of God - "the cosmic authority problem" - is the main reason for physicalism's popularity. I conclude that it is the relationship between dualism (substance or property) and theism, especially as formulated in AC, that accounts for physicalism's hegemony.

How would you characterize this monograph's contribution? Is this philosophy of mind or philosophy of religion work or both?

To date, there has been no book length treatment of this topic. Swinburne, Oppy, and others have short treatments of this argument. Further, the vast majority of treatments of irreducible property dualism and its implications take place within a prior commitment to naturalism. My book combines philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion into a book-length treatment of the problem from a theistic perspective. In that regard, it is uniqe in the literature.

What sort of discussion would you like to see sparked as a result of your book?

I want to challenge naturalists to opt for strict physicalism as a result of taking the naturalist turn because I believe that it is the most reasonable alternative for them by far and it is obviously false. I also want to challenge the naturalist employment of emergent properties as a way of harmonizing the irreducible features of various entities with a naturalist worldview. Emergent properties are the things that need to be solved, and calling them "emergent" names but does not solve anything, or so I argue.

J.P. Moreland is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. He is currently working on other projects at the intersection of philosophy of religion and philosophy of mind, along with developing further work and leadership with his award-winning Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan, 2007). For more of J.P. Moreland, visit www.kingdomtriangle.com

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