Saturday, July 7, 2007

An Immaterial Soul

So, I want to return to the article I was discussing a couple of posts ago, "Science of the Soul?" I have argued that the naturalism with which it begins and ends represents a faulty, artificially-constrained approach to science that actually limits our ability to discover truth about the world in which we live. Now, I want to get a bit more specifically critical, to show that this particular article is grossly imbalanced in its treatment of this controversial subject.

The conclusion of this article is the party line among naturalists, that mind and consciousness are merely emergent properties that have evolved in higher animals, including humans. This is meant to convince us that physicalism is true, and that there are no immaterial aspects to reality (God, angels, souls). And this, of course, would have to be true if naturalism is true. We've already discussed the circular nature of this sort of argument. But this article also comes nowhere near giving an accurate depiction of the state of research in this area of science.

Once Darwinism gained wide acceptance (despite the abundant evidence that continues to present huge problems for it), researchers in nearly all fields of science (and history, economics, sociology, and other disciplines) began to adopt a naturalistic approach. Thus, neurobiologists and brain physiologists (for the past many years) have begun with a working belief in naturalism and physicalism (and a denial of any immaterial component). But the evidence has inexorably caused objective researchers to come to the opposite conclusion.

A case in point is Wilder Penfield, considered the father of neurosurgery.
Through my own scientific career, I, like other scientists, have struggled to prove that the brain accounts for the mind.
In the end, the evidence (primarily from brain stimulation experiments) caused Penfield to give up the struggle:
To expect the highest brain mechanism or any set of reflexes, however complicated, to carry out what the mind does, and thus perform all the functions of the mind, is quite absurd. What a thrill it is, then, to discover that the scientist, too, can legitimately believe in the existence of the spirit.
Likewise, Sir Charles Sherrington, Oxford physiology professor and Nobel Prize winner, after a career of pioneering research in the workings of the brain and spinal cord, said (five days before he died)...
For me now, the only reality is the human soul.
Even affirmed naturalists acknowledge that the physicalist position is unsupported:
We don't have an adequate theory of how the brain causes conscious states, and we don't have an adequate theory of how consciousness fits into the universe.
Another area of research that has caused scientists to abandon the physicalist view is the study of near-death experiences and the continuance of consciousness after death. Sam Parnia, a physician conducting such research says that it
would support the view that mind, 'consciousness,' or the 'soul' is a separate entity from the brain.
Anthropologist Marilyn Schlitz makes a similar summary of the evidence...
I would take the position of a radical empiricist, in that I am driven by data, not theory. And the data I see tell me that there are ways in which people's experience refutes the physicalist position that the mind is the brain and nothing more. There are solid, concrete data that suggest that our consciousness, our mind, may surpass the boundaries of the brain.
In light of this glimpse of the actual situation in this field of scientific research, the New York Times article can be seen (at best) as a very poorly-balanced piece of jounalism. At worst, it represents a mere insistence that physicalism must be true (because 'I don't want to make room for God in my worldview'), with no more convincing evidence and argumentation than that of the child who screws up his face and balls his fists and repeats unendingly "but I want that one!"

(Most of what I've shared in this post--including all of the quotes--can be found in chapter 10, "The Evidence of Consciousness" in Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator. I also recommend Beyond Death by Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen! I've read most of Lee Strobel's books and love them. Now I've got another one to read. Thanks.