Monthly Archives: February 2009

Justified arguments and unjustified nonsense

In my last post I discussed an odd, yet cunning semantic way of reducing science to “just another form of knowledge” – no more special than any other. Let’s go down the supernatural rabbit hole a bit further…

In short, the last blog was about rejecting supernatural claims because they can’t conclusively be proven and are superfluous to an argument based on empirical inquiry.

An argument in favour of a supernatural belief was raised recently in an online debate I had with our friend from the last blog entry, Kenneth Hynek at http://www.kennethhynek.net. His claim goes like this:

The quest for knowledge stands apart from the reductionist view. We have certainly discovered all these wonderful physical properties and aspects of the human body… but those discoveries themselves are teleologically neutral. Drawing a reductionist view out of them crosses into explicit dysteleology.

Science is based on methodological naturalism – the view that all effects have causes and therefore can be empirically tested and verified. This, however, does not say anything about the existence or non-existence of God and is far from dysteleological (an argument against God from poor design). Indeed, science is a method and says nothing about untestable entities. It is agnostic and can take no a priori position on God.

Here’s what Kenneth is saying: When, through science, we attempt to understand and explain something, the reductionist view, i.e. reducing complex systems down to small identifiable components and explanations, we are in fact trying to disprove God or purposeful design. But in science, as mentioned above, we can take no justifiable position on a supposed supernatural entity and can merely describe what processes are at work.

The rational conclusion we come to after investigation is that our description of nature, though incomplete, proceeds nicely without the injection of anything “extra” that would be by definition unnaturable, unknowable and unexplainable.

The irony is that the ones making the unjustifable claims upfront are believers of one stripe or another. To suppose a supernatural entity interferes with a natural process without any positive evidence for this is admitting ones biases.

Occam’s razor swipes again

Kenneth moves to evolution, where he makes a rather odd claim:

You say that Evolution is not a random process but proceeds through random mutation. You can’t prove that it [mutation] is random and non-directed.

So because we can’t prove definitely a supernatural force (God) isn’t directing the process of mutation in DNA we can’t make the assertion that it’s random?! But we can never rule out supernaturalism and can’t distinguish Buddha interference from Yahweh or Sky Pixies and therefore it is a pointless non-starter.

In fact, because scientific observations are repeatable and natural laws have been repeatedly shown immutable (thus far) it seems the supernatural force involved is either doing nothing or the same thing time and again. Such a force is therefore pointless in practice as well as philosophy.

People are welcome to believe that there is something going on behind the scenes but until that invisible “reality” has been proven we can’t say anything reliable about it.

Everything determined in evolutionary theory stems from observation of nature. Genetic mutation has no discernible pattern. To suppose their is a pre-ordained direction to evolution seems to stem from human vanity (that we are some special goal of the process). This is yet another reason to be skeptical of such a notion.

Since no supernatural causation can be observed, it is useless to suppose something we don’t even no exists is exerting some force on the process. Occam’s razor shaves off the unwarranted assumptions.

Supernatural claims provide no new knowledge

Again, invoking the supernatural is usually done by those with an emotional investment in a supernatural entity/cause. Further, we could posit as many supernatural causes as we like and never prove any of them.

This is a pointless exercise. There are an endless number of unprovable hypotheses and it is a waste of time giving credence to any one specifically (there is no criteria with which to make such a distinction).

If there is a way to falsify a claim then we can test it’s validity against reality. There is an infinite set of unfalsifiable claims we could come up with which really shows that belief in them is arbitrary.

It’s all a question of probabilities

Science deals with probabilities. Falsification is one way of establishing legitimate certainty because we test to eliminate hypotheses. Since we can never be sure that a future test won’t falsify a hypothesis we can never claim absolute certainty.

This is a good thing because the certainty is the currency of human beliefs is and ideology. Science therefore acts to temper the flaws in our innate reasoning and perception faculties.

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Blurring the line between science and philosophy

How do we use science and logic to carve off unnecessary, made up and “pre-loved” conclusions?

When religious belief is put under a scientific scrutiny, a curious protection mechanism (cognitive dissonance or “outrage”) kicks-in and believers come out all guns blazing.

A great example is can be seen in the recent New Scientist article somewhat controversially titled “Born Believers: How Your Brain Creates God”. The title is a little on the sensationalist side of the equation but it hasn’t stopped believers from admonishing the research the story is actually about.

Scientifically, the article deals with research into the following observations:

  • Under stress people will find meaning in random noise where there is none (to the point of invoking supernatural causation)
  • The human mind has an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect that attributes meaning, design and purpose to natural phenomenon where there isn’t any inherent meaning (mountains, rocks, clouds)
  • The mind has a natural propensity towards dualistic intuition (common-sense dualism).

The studies are all legitimate scientific enterprises into how human beings create meanings from environmental data interpreted by the senses. The research concludes that humans have a natural tendency to create supernatural meanings and that this is a default mechanism of the brain that even atheists never fully get rid of.

This all fits within the existing scientific framework of mind, meaning and attribution so the results though interesting, are hardly startling.

Case study: Attempting to put supernatural belief on the same stage as science

Kenneth Hynek at http://www.kennethhynek.net (no longer active) wrote a piece about the research that advocated, up front, a dismissal of such research as a polemic. His premise is that the research, because it mentions irrationality and God belief, has overstepped its bounds.

He writes that the conclusions of the scientists was probably due to their atheistic bias. This is assuming the researchers are atheists, something which isn’t stated in the article and is irrelevant anyway given these ideas pass through peer review.

He then proceeds to layout a case for why the scientists are injecting their own leanings and philosophy into the study conclusions. He claims the conclusion that our minds create God is a dysteleological argument, and therefore not science because science is teleologically neutral.

This is legal ease for: science does not assume design and purpose in nature, so the attempt to explain God belief as natural is dysteleological (an attempt to argue against God’s existence from poor design). He says that a reductionist approach to the human body (here the mind) is dysteleological. This is nonsense as you will find if you read the New Scientist story.

The crux of Kenneth’s argument is a good lesson, oft misunderstood, about the difference between science, philosophy and pseudoscience so it is worth going over here. Kenneth writes:

You assert that our brains create “the god concept,” but from the same evidence I derive the supposition that our brains are designed to respond to the existence of a (very real) God. Both conjectures are of a philosophical nature, and the scientific evidence “supports” both conclusions, in as much as empirical data can be said to support philosophy in the first place…

…Yes, it’s possible that the mind invents God because it can perceive other minds and projects this ability out into the natural environment. But it’s equally possible that the ability to perceive other minds includes the ability to perceive, incompletely, the mind of God.

In science we are constrained to the evidence and the conclusions drawn from sound logic. You can’t just make a bunch of nonsense up and say, here you go, this is equally as possible as what person X claims. This isn’t science. To say something is “equally possible” doesn’t say anything about the possibility – something is either possible or not possible.

False equivalence

The “equally” is an attempt to denote probability, which is in the realm of science. In short, possible solutions or conclusions are useless – anyone could sit down under tree all day and make up possible alternative explanations. What this argument of “equally possible” implies is that both ideas start from the same place. Therein lies the fallacy.

The conclusion that “it’s equally possible that the ability to perceive other minds includes the ability to perceive, incompletely, the mind of God” has no foundation whatsoever in anything else we know and therefore, by Occam’s Razor, we can eliminate it as a possible alternative (unless some good reason arises in future that makes the claim more plausible).

This would mean finding evidence for some or all of the unknown factors needed to verify the claim, God being the most obvious. Claims that are untestable, and therefore unknowable by any epistemological standard, are carved off straight away. This is the kind of claim Kenneth is making, because by definition it can never be answered.

The corollary – that “beliefs are formed by a biological brain and that an overactive sense of cause and effect leads to invoking supernatural causation” is not contradicted by existing science. In fact, the prediction that minds will tend find meaning where there is none stems from other hypotheses of human interaction with the environment.

By the way, the definition of Occam’s Razor as stated by Wikipedia is:
The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory.

Conclusion

Ironically, in arguing that philosophy is being called upon instead of rational reasoning and evidence, Kenneth succumbs to the pure philosophical rambling he is accusing the scientists of.

This “equally possible” brainstorming seems to be an attempt to even the playing field so that an implausible belief is characterised to be as plausible as a tested and supported claim. It necessarily requires diminishing the role of evidence in conclusions and elevating nonsense well above its justified level.

The researchers, and the New Scientist story itself state that their efforts nor their findings by no means prove or disprove God and that studies into cause and effect cannot solely account for the cultural phenomenon of religion.

It is, however, a legitimate study to find out why every culture on Earth has invoked supernatural causation to events and the attribution of meaning to objects and phenomenon. The research is aimed at finding out how the supernatural is conceptualised inside the human brain and what conditions exist for supernatural reasoning to trump reason and rationality.

Since we have no reason to posit a supernatural agency as the cause, what is the mechanism that allows those factors to emerge in human minds? And what they found is not surprising: we invent reasons because of an innate sense of cause and effect that tends to overextend.

The Power of Evolution

Darwin’s theory of descent by natural selection may, to some anyway, seem far-fetched and even a little overwhelming. I think most people who embrace science with an open mind would admit that there is a point when learning specific theories where the jaw drops and the mind expands. This is especially so with evolution. Perhaps one of the greatest insights that evolutionary theory can bring to the human mind is the idea of bottom up development, in all it’s autonomy and parsimony. The idea that natural forces, given cetain conditions, can create greater and greater complexity over time is a fascinating and mind expanding idea. Richard Dawkins calls this consciousness raising and Daniel Dennett calls the bottom-up development process a “crane”. Once our consciousness has been raised to the point where we can identify the crane in nature (natural selection) this can extend into many other areas, including physics and specifically the origins of the universe.

Cranes and consciousness raising aside, evolutionary biology represents a powerful affirmation of the power of science as a knowledge gathering and testing tool. Science proceeds by through a rigourous approach to testing hypothesis and a ruthless discarding of those that can’t withstand such scrutiny. Ideas are evaluated on their own merits and will rise or fall given the evidence. A theory should make testable predictions about further discoveries. Evolution, as it happens, makes tonnes of predictions which can be tested in multiple lines of inquiry.

For instance, when Darwin published On the Origin of Species 150 years ago he knew there were many as yet untested ideas that could potentially falsify his theory. Inheritance and natural selection fit with what he saw in the anatomy of plants and animals and the fossil record, as incomplete as it was in 1859. What his theory lacked was the gene and specifically DNA. The requisite discoveries in genetics and molecular biology came much later and when they did, evolution was a stronger theory. By the end of the 19th century, pre-eminent physicist of the day Lord Kelvin calculated the age of the Earth to be 100 million years old. This was seen by many as a death blow to evolution as long periods of time were necessary for the kind of changes needed for evolution to explain the diversity of life on the planet. Time was also necessary if continental drift were to have occured as postulated in the 1920s. With the promise of radioactive dating techniques providing an answer, the age of the Earth wasn’t settled until the 1950s when it was settled at about 4.56 million years. Another separate endeavour supported evolution, as did the discovery of DNA, also in the 1950s. These are just some of the lines of evidence that support evolution and they provide a great example about how evidence from separate inquiries triangulate and point to one hypothesis over another.

Science steps on people’s toes, no question. Far from being a weakness of science, this is its principal strength – science can inform and sometimes challenge and dismiss our intuitive/non-rational ideas of the world. It is innately human to find meaning where there is none and to draw false cause-effect inferences from the data in the natural world. These flaws combined with biases, emotions, flaws in reasoning and other perceptual/cognitive foibles prevent human minds from discovering true cause and effect mechanisms around us. Science is a methodology to control for all these flaws and shortcomings so that we can accurately interpret nature. Evolution is a powerful theory that is still denied today by people (creationists) who claim the authoritative writings of their holy book contradict evolution, therefore evolution is wrong. This kind of flawed logic, reasoning and bias is why science so important. Human beings are not in the business of truth testing – our default brain mechanism is belief protection through confirmation bias. Because of this, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Darwin have all had to battle established and cherished beliefs in presenting their now celebrated works. Science protects ourselves from our own faulty belief creation mechanisms.

Darwin insisted that theory comes to and from the facts, not from political or philosophical beliefs, whether from God or the godfather of scientific empiricism.

-Michael Shermer in Why Darwin Matters.

As one final point, evolution is powerful because it unites all living things via a tree of descent back to a common ancestor. A single unifying theory of all nature is not only humbling – it’s also a good starting point to dismantle all the xenophobic distinctions and cultural, ethnic, racial and religious vendettas that still seek to divide us.

Darwin and his magnificent theory

Happy Birthday Darwin!

February 12, 2009 marks what would be Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his landmark publication, On the Origin of Species. Lovers of science and those who acknowledge what an important discovery evolution is, will celebrate by having Darwin celebrations, lectures and discussions.

The reason Darwin is lauded as a genius may be a mystery to some, particularly to those who are fundamentally opposed to the theory of evolution. With that in mind, I will discuss a few reasons why science lovers and scientists will honour Darwin and his assertion that the tremendous variety of life is recorded in the natural world around us.

Evolution is the most well-supported and solid theory in the science canon. Even gravity, which is self-evident every time we get out of bed, does not boast such unified support. Russian-American geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky even went as far to say that “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. Put simply, evolution is the unified theory of biology.

Before moving on with a thorough treatment of why evolution and Darwin are celebrated it is worth mentioning what Darwin presented in On the Origin of Species 150 years ago. Darwin outlined his observations of the natural world and therefore evidence that populations modify and adapt to environmental pressures. He called the mechanism that gives rise to new adaptations and species “Natural Selection”. Here is a snippet from On the Origin of Species that sums up his theory nicely:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

This pattern of inheritance, adaptation and selection was later coined “Survival of the Fittest” though Darwin himself never actually coined the phrase. In todays terms, evolution is defined as a change in gene frequency over time. Darwin only had a simple, vastly incomplete fossil record and observations from his time in the Galapagos archipelago. It would take more than 70 years after Darwin’s death in 1882 for a more complete picture of how evolution occurs in the cells of organisms. It was James Watson and Francis Crick who discovered the DNA helix and the genetic revolution began, confirming the observations made by Darwin and his contemporaries.

Since Darwin’s account entered the scientific arena it has successfully withstood an immense amount of testing from multiple lines of inquiry. Today there exists a massive amount of evidence with a more complete picture of how evolution works. Genetics, geology, molecular studies, biochemical and anatomical findings converge to show evolution to be a fact and natural selection (among other drivers) as a mechanism for evolutionary change. The fossil record now contains a wealth of species and a tree of evolutionary change emerges from this data. As we dig deeper, the fossils become less complex until there are no vertebrate species – showing that vertebrate species emerged during the Cambrian Explosion 530 million years ago.

Geneticists can now map the entire genome of species showing how species are related on a genetic level. For instance, the human genome is approximately 98% identical to that of chimpanzees. More specifically, mutations in genes provide unambiguous clues to inheritance. A great example can be seen in the fact that humans cannot synthesise vitamin C. Unlike many other mammals we need to consume vitamin C in our diet, which isn’t a problem given the amount of oranges we produce! The gene for the synthesis of vitamin C exists within humans but is “faulty”. Our primate ancestors, who also cannot synthesise vitamin C have the exact same gene with the exact same mutation that gives rise to it not working.

When one really grasps the power and elegance of evolution and what it says about how life developed, it is as startling and as astonishing as looking at another galaxy through a high powered telescope.

I have run out of space here to fully explain how and why evolution is probably, as Richard Dawkins would say, “the most powerful idea to ever occur to a human mind”. Hence forth, I shall return to this fascinating topic soon.

Skepticism And NDEs

In my last blog entry, “Dualists Cling to Near Death” I approached the idea of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) as proof of dualistic hypothesis of mind rather skeptically. A claim such as “the brain is not adequate to completely produce mind” is currently beyond the scientific consensus and is therefore asserted without a solid foundation.

In doing so, I drew on the writings of Bryan Appleyard, where I levelled the accusation that he was a believer in dualism and the idea of conscious survival beyond death. Bryan wrote responded, and it is his response I will address now, in an effort to communicate my position as clearly as possible.

Bryan writes:

This is a bizarre account of my article. You do not seem to understand the difference between reporting a view and holding that view nor the obligation to give a balanced account of different opinions. You also don’t seem to be on top of the body-mind issue. Your scepticism is highly selective. Yours is the only wholly negative response to my article which is why I am commenting here.

Fair play Bryan. My entry was written on the fly and I probably burn’t the messenger in the process. The point I wanted to get across was more a criticism of the ideas of Mario Beauregard, and his unwavering committment to the idea that mainstream neuroscience has some materialist agenda. Bryan is a great writer and very funny. I encourage anyone reading this to visit his site – www.bryanappleyard.com

I will address Bryan’s claim that “you do not seem to understand the difference between reporting a view and holding that view nor the obligation to give a balanced account of different opinions… Your scepticism is highly selective. This is a fair observation but the assumption here is that there are two or more sides to the issue and therefore both should be given a fair and even hearing. First of all, there is not two sides here in a scientific sense. The science unequivocally shows the mind can be currently explained in natural terms as the product of a biological brain. Too give equal weighting is to approach the issue with a bias… of giving speculation equal weighting as facts. Skepticism is by nature a selective process. True skepticism weighs up different opinions/positions and the evidence for/against them. The claims supported by evidence are granted more validity than those that aren’t. If claim/opinion is at odds with science then I’m not going to place it on an equal footing. I call this the “fair and balanced fallacy”.

In this way, dualism is comparable to creationism. The evolution versus creation/intelligent design conflict is an ideological conflict, not a scientific one. Science is absolutely settled in evolutionary biology – species evloved from simpler forms and natural selection is the main mechanism of this change. Sitting on the fence and saying creationsim deserves an equal platform to evolutionary biology would be as fallacious as giving dualism an equal footing in neuroscience. In giving the dualist/spiritual claims a balanced hearing, Bryan Appleyard makes all the noises of a believer, whether he is or not. There is no obligation to give claims an equal footing. Science is the courtroom where these claims are put under scrutiny fairly and objectively. Giving alternative claims an equal footing after the court case has established the facts is not being objective.

The similarities don’t end there. Creationists (dualists by nature) are now teaming up with dualist sympathisers such as neuroscientist Mario Beauregard. This is part of an organised attempt to “wedge” open science and academia to insert all kinds of untestable and implausible nonsense. It is no surprise that the next battleground between science and “intelligent design” is in the area of consciousness. This is a further attempt to plug an unknown (a gap) with a God explanation. This is, however an argument from ignorance. Despite this obvious logical flaw, creationists have forged on after losing the “gap” battle with the fossil record and the “irreducible compexity” argument.

Prominent UK scientist and author, Dr Susan Blackmore, made similar noises about giving weight to claims that go against science in this article, following a BBC documentary entitled The Day I Died. The documentary asserted that the brain has power to survive after death.

“It is dishonest to present a completely unworkable and mysterious theory as though it were real science, and to dress it up in the trappings of real science, as you did with Hameroff’s theory. It may be true that you “were very clear to point out that is not proven” but pointing out that it is not proven is not the same as pointing out that it (a) does not make sense (b) does not fit with lots of reliable evidence about the brain (c) is rejected utterly by most scientists and philosophers who know about it.”

Skeptics and science as a whole has been labelled as “materialist”. Scientists are said to cling to a “materialist paradigm” which they are somehow afraid of losing by admitting that “immaterial” causation is the answer to what science can’t currently explain. This is simply a semantic ploy, as I have noted earlier. Science is a naturalistic method. The abstract idea of “non-material” causation makes no sense given the universe we reside in. It is therefore outside the realm of science and what can be reliably known to human beings. The “materialist” charge is synonomous in many ways with “Darwinist” or “Evolutionist” which are used as dismissive terms that imply dogmatic belief in “Darwinism”. This is a total mischaracterisation of science – as if science and scientists have an agenda against certain beliefs. Science is completely a knowledge gathering field based on testing hypotheses. If learning more about the universe is a threat to people’s beliefs it is totally irrelevant to the scientific enterprise.

Finally, invoking quantum physics in an argument for paranormal phenomenon is very questionable indeed. Any study can only be one study and is by itself not confirmation of the existence of a new phenomenon, as a dualistic account would entail.

Dualists Cling To Near Death

Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are not reliable evidence of anything other than psychological phenomena that happens when the body is in a state near death. This hasn’t stopped people who are desparately seeking confirmatory evidence for the afterlife, dualism and religious claims, to cling to the idea that NDEs can somehow “disprove skeptics” and validate their own claims. The word skeptic is often derided and when it comes to NDEs this is no different. Skeptics, adhering to sound scientific practice and correct logic, do not have the luxury to make claims without good reason to do so. Given the nebulous nature of NDEs it takes a very large and fallacious logical leap to use them as evidence for paranormal phenomena. So skeptics justifiably remain unconvinced that the NDEs are somehow the continuation of the self beyond the physical function of the brain. The burden of proof from the claimants has not satisfactorily been met.

This does not mean NDEs should not be reseached but it is critical that any studies should be scientifically tight. That is – well controlled, peer reviewed and conclusions drawn within the constraints of logic. A lot of studies fail in one or all three of the above conditions, primarily because they are conducted to validate claims of dualism and by extension, the paranormal.

A recent piece in the Sunday Star Times by Bryan Appleyard highlighted one of the largest studies that will be performed on NDEs. The study, By Sam Parnia, will involve about 1500 cardiac arrest participants from 25 hospitals in the UK and US. The basic methodolgy of the study is to see whether the NDE stories of Out of Body Experiences (OBEs) are actually out of the body, or more plausibly, are these experiences simply animations of the mind.

Dualists – those who think the mind is somehow separate from the biological brain, are excited about the prospects of positive results from this study. This is in part because they claim that someone who is unconscious shouldn’t have such an active mind. Therefore, they reason, NDEs are evidence of the continuation of the self beyond death. There is no evidence for such a claim, and it represents someone looking for confirmation of a prior belief rather than representative of reality. The notion that the brain is somehow at flatline and therefore “dead” is also false. Neuroscientist Dr Steven Novella explains:

It has not been established that the brain is not sufficiently active to generate experiences. In all cases people survived the experience (by definition) to report what they remember. That means the brain did not go entirely without oxygen for very long or otherwise it would have been catastrophically damaged. During cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) the cardiac output is about 20-25% normal – enough to delay damage to tissues. So the brain is getting some oxygen. Not enough to be conscious, but enough to have some function – perhaps generate a dream-like hallucination or out-of-body experience.

The entire NDE phenomenon rests on memory and therefore anecdotal evidence – which is subject to all kinds of errors. Many of the stories of those who have NDEs aren’t coherent and it is impossible to determine whether the stories represent an experience while unconscious or are concocted from recollections beforehand. No compelling stories exist of an experience that could be used as evidence for the mind separating from the physical brain.

Still, Dr Parnia and colleagues have come up with a way to test it. Signs will be placed on the tops of shelves in emergency departments and patients will be asked after an NDE to determine whether they did actually leave their body and look down on the room. It has the hallmarks of a study doomed to fail. But it is worth a go, even if its plausibility is really damaged by a burgeoning neuroscience literature that confirms all the predictions that the mind is merely an animation of the biological brain.

Appleyard then invokes quantum physics to rescue his ailing argument that materialism is inadequate as an explanation. This is a favoured tactic of many a paranormal claimant and is a huge red flag for pseudoscience as Dr Gordon McCabe describes in this blog post. Here is his a sample of his analysis:

Appleyard even claims that “quantum non-locality could mean the mind is capable of being non-local to the brain, of floating to the ceiling of the room.” Quantum non-locality pertains to non-local interactions between particles separated over large distances, and entails no such possibility of separating the mind from the brain.

It seems Appleyard is a believer in the claims of dualists, as seen in another of his stories. He wrote a book review on The Spiritual Brain by dubious neuroscientist Mario Beauregard. He starts with the line “Neuroscience is a warzone”. It is important to point out that it is only a warzone in the same sense as creationism (which has the link of attempting to destroy “materialism”). That warzone is outside the realm of science – in the public sphere – not in science itself. The attacks on neuroscience are not within neuroscience in the real battlefield of peer review.

Appleyard then discusses two central claims in the review, as stated by Beuregard:

But the materialists have two problems. Their certainty of victory is, for the moment, a leap of faith. There is no clear scientific consensus on how the brain produces the higher functions we call being human. And, second, the great mystery, the ultimate hard question, remains: How does matter produce mind, how can it?

The first claim is bogus. It is a gap argument along the lines of “well, science can’t explain X therefore the current conclusion from science is false”. It is not a faith position to say the brain is material and the mind is dependent on this brain functioning. If the brain dies, then the mind dies with it. The current conclusions in science represent the predictions that flow from tested hypotheses. The claims in science is confined to the evidence. All the predictions stemming from the material brain hypothesis that have been tested confirm this hypothesis. The fact science can’t supply all the answers yet is not a reason to go out and invent theories of brain and mind that have not been proven and then accusing skeptics and scientists of being close-minded for not believing them. That is the faith position. Show us what you’ve got, really, if there is good reason to believe, beyond faith, that the material brain is insufficient to create mind then let us know. As yet the evidence has not surfaced.

How does matter produce mind? This seems to be the central problem by which Beuregard is puzzled and therefore uses as a springboard to suggest materialism is insufficient to explain the existence of mind. But this is simply an appeal to personal incredulity. Beauregard apparently stops the inquiry there and then disappears down the rabbit hole of dualism.

Warzone aside, the whole framing of “materialism” is mostly a semantic ploy. Science is a naturalistic outlook – observing that causation is a fundamental of the natural universe. Furthermore, claims to the supernatural lay outside of what can be tested – and therefore outside of what we can be certain of. Science is a methodological way of testing and accumulating knowledge is indifferent to whether something is material or immaterial. While science as a field is indifferent to results, individual scientists are human and likely be biased in some way. This is why some scientists will always be outsiders – they refuse to accept their conclusions are without foundation. Study replication and peer review tends to weed out scientists who are certain they are right when the studies show otherwise.

Unfortunately the whole dualistic argument is rife with inconsistencies – further reinforced by trying to argue quantum mechanics somehow supports it. It does nothing of the sort, but that doesn’t stop the scientifically illiterate from using it to explain why their brand of woo woo is not just an elaborate fantasy. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to uncover such trickery.