Arrgghhh. Here we go again.
I think I’m going to do a PhD in how religion attempts to conscript science in a desperate attempt to prove itself relevant.
Previous examples include appealing to the physics of music, in which Mr. Begbie tells us that the holy trinity is real because its members co-exist in space and time like the harmonics of a musical note, and quantum physics, in which – on second thoughts, don’t get me started on this again. (No links provided – just pick any article on rationalbrain at random, and it’s bound to be relevant).
This time, it’s neuro-science and systems theory that’s being ‘borrowed’, and re-purposed.
The offending piece is in an episode of Radio National’s Big Idea program, in something called the “Rollie Busch Memorial Lecture”, by a Nancey Murphy, and may be heard in full here. But I warn you, it’s dense, and as one commenter on RN’s site said:
Turgid pseudo intellectual rubbish ranking right up there with the marvels of ntelligent design
And that’s exactly how it sounded to me. The intro paragraph says of the lecture:
Philosophical dualism has been with us for a long time. It’s one of the key components of Western thought: good and evil, masculine and feminine, subject and object, and the big one for this week’s program—mind and body. Nancey Murphy is a Christian philosopher who doesn’t believe in the soul. She’s a physicalist, which means she believes that ‘the soul’ is really just a by-product of neurobiology. But if all our rational decisions come down to brain impulses, where does that leave moral responsibility? And what kind of Christian doesn’t believe in the soul anyway?
And if you think any of these questions are answered in her talk, you’ll be disappointed.
Yes, she’s a physicalist – or at least pretends to be. My feeling is that it’s a tactic to deceive people into thinking she’s done real science and come up with the inescapable conclusion that ‘god does it’. She says she doesn’t believe in a soul, but then goes on at painful length, mainly quoting from the work of others, about neuroscience and activity in the brain, and how the body is made up of systems, and for each of these systems the sum is greater than it’s parts, so what is the extra bit above and beyond the parts? While she doesn’t actually say it in as many words, when asked by an audience member whether the extra bit is god, she doesn’t disagree.
It’s all a painful, meandering, pseudo-intellectual con. Yes, she’s talked about some real science, but it is completely irrelevant to the questions she puts. OK, there are complex systems, and some appear to operate ‘top down’. News flash Nancey – it’s probably not god, sorry. Systems theory is a well-known science- yes, even non-linear systems (about which you made such a big deal). There’s no magic ingredient (even though it is only a ‘theory’ 😉 ). There are inputs, outputs, stuff happens inside, and they obey our physical laws, like conservation of energy, and the 2nd law of thermodynamics. There’s positive feedback and negative, and our bodies rely on homeostasis – it all works. There is no top-down. We don’t need any more explanations.
Unfortunately, the whole lecture was designed to build doubt about our scientific knowledge; to imply that there are unknowns, and to further imply that those unknowns are god etc.
Well, after listening to that misplaced mumbo-jumbo, I think I’d prefer good ol’ quotes from the bible. At least there’s no subterfuge then.