Saturday, February 17, 2007


Wired Magazine, 'What We Don't Know About....'

This month's edition of Wired Magazine contains a section on 'What We Don't Know About...' which includes the following interesting comments:

'Where did life come from?

... What creates life out of the inanimate compounds that make up living things? No one knows. How were the first organisms assembled? Nature hasn't given us the slightest hint. If anything, the mystery has deepened over time. After all, if life began unaided under primordial conditions in a natural system containing zero knowledge, then it should be possible - it should be easy - to create life in a laboratory today. But determined attempts have failed... no one has come close... Did God or some other higher being create life? ...Until such time as a wholly natural origin of life is found, these questions have power. We're improbable, we're here, and we have no idea why. or how.' - Gregg Easterbrook, p. 108.

This quote is very revealing because it is a secular admission that: a) if chemical evolution is viable 'it should be easy' to reproduce in the lab, but determined attempts to do so have met with repeated and total failure (what's the nature inference here then..?!); b) the naturalist's problem is explaining life in terms of a closed natural system 'containing zero knowledge' - i.e. the problem is explaining the origin of information (hence ID is right to call attention to this problem); c) the suggestion that some higher being who may or may not be God created life has 'power' in the absence of an adequate naturalistic explanation of the data, hence ID is currently an explanatory hypothesis with 'power'!

'How Does The Brain Produce Consciousness?

...Nobody really knows how... scientific theories on consciousness are all over the map... Some philosophers still argue that consciousness is too subjective to explain, or that it is the irreducible result of matter organised in a specific way. That philosophic black-boxing is probably more nostalgic than scientific, a clinging to the idea of a spirit or soul. Without that, after all, we're just organisms - more complex, but no less predictable than dung beetles. But scientists live to reduce the seemingly irreducible, and sentimentality is off limits in the lab. Understanding consciousness means finding the biophysical mechanisms that generate it. Somewhere behind your eyes, that meat becomes the mind.' - Richard Rhodes, p. 116.

This is fascinating, a frank admission of ignorance and an implicit commitment to both scientism and reductionism. Rhodes ignores the fact that 'philosophers still argue that consciousness is too subjective to explain [naturalistically]...' and explains away the non-reductive beliefs of these philosophers as 'sentimentality'! Since when have philosophical arguments been mere pieces of sentimentality? Since when has science been defined as the attempt to reduce the seemingly irreducible? All reduction has to stop sometime and somewhere, hence science cannot be an eternal quest to reduce, but a quest to understand the truth about reality, and if it is possibly true that mind is one of those irreducible realities that science must acknowledge, then a science dedicated to reductionism is a science dedicated to forever failing to understand the truth about the mind! A philosopher might point out that if we are just organisms, as 'predictable as the dung beetle', this sort of determinism applied to rational discourse is self-defeating. Apparently philosophers only argue for the irreducible nature of consciousness because they are sentimental, and scientists only argue for reducing mind (although they can't actually do it) because they are being as predictable as dung beetles, from whom we differ in complexity but not in quality... Rhodes ends with a dogmatic creedal affirmation that the mind is nothing but the brain, a claim the merits John Polkinghorne's label of 'promissory naturalism', an exercise in scientifically 'black boxing' consciousness into a sealed and empty black box labled 'a naturalistic understanding of consciousness'.

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