Mind-Body Dualism: It’s Back!

PRE-SCIENTIFIC speculation, although it has no scientific value, never seems to die. One of this blog’s earliest articles was: Discovery Institute Revives Mind-Body Dualism, in which we wrote:

The “theory” of ID has taken so many hits lately in courtrooms and in state school boards that the Discoveroids apparently sense the need to beef up their “science” with additional instances of mystery forces at work. Thus — after digging deep into the pre-scientific past — they are now pushing the age-old idea that there are ghosts (or spirits, or something) at work inside the human brain. Yes, that sounds bizarre, but they’re serious.

To further this goal of providing intellectual company for the Intelligent Designer, the Discoveroids are reviving the ancient notion of mind-body dualism; therefore Plato, who flourished about 24 centuries ago, is having a big comeback among the Discoveroids. This reversion to ancient philosophy gives the Discoveroids a multi-syllabic (but content-free) way of asserting that if something isn’t yet fully understood, then the answer must be … Oogity Boogity! This claim that “ignorance of X means proof of Y” is the philosophical foundation for belief in all kinds of unscientific ideas, including the Intelligent Designer.

[…]

Thanks to Plato, the Intelligent Designer isn’t alone any more. He has an invisible buddy in your very own brain!

Although it’s inherently silly and unverifiable, we knew the ancient notion of a mystical mind-body dualism was too good to lie idle, so we’re not surprised to read this article in New Scientist: Creationists declare war over the brain. Excerpts, with bold added by us:

“YOU cannot overestimate,” thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, “how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down. You’re gonna hear a lot in the next calendar year about… how Darwin’s explanation of how human intelligence arose is the only scientific way of doing it… I’m asking us as a world community to go out there and tell the scientific establishment, enough is enough! Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality.

Whoa! We didn’t know “the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down.” This sounds serious. What’s going on? Let’s read:

Schwartz and Beauregard are part of a growing “non-material neuroscience” movement. 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. The two have signed the “Scientific dissent from Darwinism” petition, spearheaded by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, headquarters of the intelligent design movement. ID argues that biological life is too complex to have arisen through evolution.

Ah, now it’s falling into place. These mind-body dualism guys are associated with the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). Let’s see what else the article has to say:

Well, the movement certainly seems to hope that the study of consciousness will turn out to be “Darwinism’s grave”, as Denyse O’Leary, co-author with Beauregard of The Spiritual Brain, put it. According to proponents of ID, the “hard problem” of consciousness – how our subjective experiences arise from the objective world of neurons – is the Achilles heel not just of Darwinism but of scientific materialism. This fits with the Discovery Institute’s mission as outlined in its “wedge document”, which seeks “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies”, to replace the scientific world view with a Christian one.

Okay, it’s all clear now. Not only are magical forces (which they call Intelligent Design) at work in evolution, but of course they’re at work in your own head. It’s all quite obvious.

The article goes on to describe their “evidence” — brain scans reveal patients can alter their patterns of neural firing at will. So what?

From such experiments, Schwartz and others argue that since the mind can change the brain, the mind must be something other than the brain, something non-material.

How can anyone argue with logic like that? Continuing:

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.

However, counter-arguments aren’t terribly difficult. The article goes on:

“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.”

Good point. Very good, actually. Here’s more:

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.”

As we said in our earlier article — and we love quoting our own writing — The claim that “ignorance of X means proof of Y” is the philosophical foundation for belief in all kinds of unscientific ideas, including the Intelligent Designer.

Back to the article:

And as Clark observes: “This is an especially nasty mind-virus because it piggybacks on some otherwise reasonable thoughts and worries. Proponents make such potentially reasonable points as ‘Oh look, we can change our brains just by changing our minds,’ but then leap to the claim that mind must be distinct and not materially based. That doesn’t follow at all. There’s nothing odd about minds changing brains if mental states are brain states: that’s just brains changing brains.”

Yes, but:

That is the voice of mainstream academia. Public perception, however, is a different story. If people can be swayed by ID, despite the vast amount of solid evidence for evolution, how hard will it be when the science appears fuzzier?

That’s the problem. We can always count on the enemies of reason to exploit any apparent weakness in our current understanding of the world. And as our understanding will always be incomplete, the mystics will never lack for arguments.

This is a good article. Click over to the New Scientist and read the whole thing.

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3 responses to “Mind-Body Dualism: It’s Back!

  1. You shouldn’t worry. We have a secret weapon. Denyse O’Leary is on their side.

  2. mightyfrijoles

    And here I thought I was just schizophrenic.

  3. That’s not schizophrenia. The Force is with you!