“Maverick” Scientists Find Friends In Creationists

What do you get when you mix fringe scientists with creationists? As close to an anti-science scouts jamboree as is possible.

But that’s what happened according to this article in New Scientist recently. The reason both camps get on famously is a great opening to examine the scientific method, and why some scientists are considered “fringe” and why creationists will never qualify in the arena of science.

“You cannot overestimate how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down,” claims self-confessed “maverick” psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz. His audience, a crowd of uncritical creationists and dualists at the international symposium called Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness.

He goes on: “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.”

All this ranting about materialism and a non-materialist causation is not new but it’s completely bunk. Jeffrey Schwartz and fellow neuroscience researcher at the University of Montreal Mario Beauregard, claim that current models on consciousness do not explain the true nature of consciousness. In essence, they subscribe to the “ghost in the machine” essentially a non-material soul type of entity that animates the mind from a purely biological brain. The scientific consensus on this subject is that a purely naturalistic model of the brain explains the phenomenon of mind and consciousness quite adequately, although the research in the field is still very much ongoing. Both Schwartz and Beauregard have science backgrounds, yet both signed the creationist “Dissent from Darwinism” petition at the conference, much to the delight of the Seattle-based creationist organisation, the Discovery Institute.

The act of signing such a petition is really a complete submission into nonsense. That aside, let’s look at what in fact Schwartz and Beauregard are efectively saying. They are claiming that science is interested only with material causes and is therefore excluding other, supernatural areas that the two feel are valid. What they fail to recognise is that science can only deal with what occurs naturally because science is naturalistic methodology for examining the cause and effect universe. Non-material causes cannot be validated or falsified and therefore only exist in the realm of the imagination. Science can only be employed when the claim is natural. Darwin’s much attacked yet blatantly misunderstood theory of evolution is the best explanation of how life as we know it came to be given the evidence. For anyone involved in science, signing a creationist petition, which no doubt carries the belief that the world is less than 10,000 years old and was created by the Christian God, is simply career suicide.

This is exactly why the method of science was invented in the first place – to separate objective analysis of the natural world from the biases, leanings, ideologies and fallibility of human perception and reasoning. Schwartz and cohorts are not undermining science by taking on the scientific community like this, they are confirming why science is important. Real science is a meritocracy and therefore by definition separates ideas that are speculative from those that are based on evidence and sound logic. Ideas that are both untestable (creationism), lack a plausible mechanism (creationism and dualism) and unfalsifiable (both again) lie outside the realm of nature and therefore are off-limits from the scientific method.

Further to that, science is completely indifferent to specific claims, it is simply a method for testing claims, providing they can be tested. Science is not decided by vote, in a courtroom or by petition. The method does not care how a person feels about a belief. This is why science is important – beliefs drive us to accept claims on emotion thereby putting us at odds with what may actually be true and preventing new data from changing our previously accepted notions. The evidence is the evidence, the facts the facts. The problem with believers in various supernatural or pseudoscientific phenomenon is that should thier ideology run up against a scientific finding (as history attests) then it is science that is wrong! People just aren’t humble when it comes to the beliefs.

To further steamroll the ideas put forth by Schwartz, Beauregard and there new creationist pals is that both dualism and creationism rely heavily on the argument from ignorance (it’s true because you can’t prove it isn’t true) and the argument from personal incredulity (I don’t know personally therefore your claim isn’t true). Creationism goes one step further and adds the argument from authority (it’s true because it’s in the bible).

Distortion of logic and science is par for the course when dealing with people absolutely convinced that their view of reality is correct. Of course, all these petitions and rallying cries to bring down science is just a smokescreen for introducing some ideology that has had it’s toes stepped on by science. In this case the supernatural Christian story of creation. One really must reconsider their ideological leanings if it requires them to launch a smear campaign on science in order to support their ideology.

For a scientific rant about his topic, take a peak here at PZ Meyers Blog Pharyngula. For a more detailed expose visit Dr Steven Novella’s blog Neurologica, specifically this post.

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