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)