This is the 16th blog in the series which began with The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self and is exploring ideas about free will, the mind, the brain and the self. The previous blog is A Test Case – Applying Neuroscience to Law. This blog series is based on the recent books of two scientists who are considering some claims from neuroscience about consciousness and free will: Michael S. Gazzaniga’s WHO’S IN CHARGE?: FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN and Raymond Tallis’ APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.
As we have seen, even some scientists have reservations about the claims being made promoting scientism rather than science based in the newly unfolding neuroscientific studies. Because science does command a fair respect in the U.S. population as a whole invoking science in support of one’s ideas often is seen as proving one’s ideas. In a recent essay in THE WILSON QUARTERLY (Spring 2012), “Left, Right, and Science,” Christopher Clausen explores how “Liberals and conservatives alike wrap groupthink in the cloak of science whenever convenient.” He concludes, “The results are seldom good.”
Science is being used to prove or support ideas that are not scientific at all but rather are philosophical, moral and political. Additionally, a vocal number of those committed to philosophical scientism intentionally use science to promote their own ideology and political agenda which is far beyond what science itself is able to deal with by the scientific method which it claims is the only way to measure truth. Tallis especially warns of the dangers inherent in scientism as a political ideology.
Clausen in TWQ writes in the debates that occur regarding abortion questions are raised as to when life begins:
“Nobody disputes that both sperm and ovum are as alive and human as their hosts. The moral question of the stage at which a fetus becomes entitled to the legal protections accorded human beings has no possible scientific answer.
These examples betray a common instinct to use science as an assault weapon in political combat even when it really has little or nothing to say.”
Science cannot answer the question regarding to whom civil rights should be extended nor at what age this should happen. Science alone cannot answer moral questions to which society demands an ethical answer. It is the dilemma to which Einstein once referred when he said that science tells us what can be done (what is scientifically, mechanically, technically possible) but it is not able to tell us what should be done (what is morally good and right). We again come to the limits of science even when society has further questions about an issue which it needs answered. In another example, Clausen notes:
“…when Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled a Food and Drug Administration recommendation last December that the ‘morning-after’ pill be made available without prescription to girls younger than 17, both she and the FDA couched their disagreement in scientific terms, though the issues were really moral and political. Scientists are no more qualified to pronounce on these matters than anyone else, and to believe otherwise is to confuse different realms of thought.”
Science studies questions related to the material universe, but it can cause in the human community questions of ethics which can only be answered in philosophical discussions. They need to be answered, but science itself cannot provide the answers. The answers of the neo-atheists are coming from scientism not from science. The very fact that these ethical questions exist tell us that in fact humans, individually and collectively are faced with choices, AND they must make decisions which effect all of humanity. Thus the philosophical questions and the debate then engender would seem to indicate the existence of consciousness and choice. Those who are committed to scientific materialism may in fact have little to offer to debates about moral issues. Ethical issues go far beyond the limits of materialism. The desire of the neo-atheists to use neuroscience as a basis to disprove the existence of free will, should also lead them to remain silent on moral issues for which they have no moral authority, especially since they claim only the material world really exists. Clausen points out:
“… while science as an ideal is detached and self-correcting, actual scientists can be as fallible and ideological as anyone else.”
Thus the claims by the neo-atheists that ‘free will does not exist’ resides in their ideology, not in science but in scientism. And these folk have a big agenda they are attempting to foist on society in the name of their materialist beliefs. For example in the debates regarding public schools and teaching evolution or intelligent design, Clausen writes:
“The Scopes trial began as a contest not just over the rights or wrongs of Darwinism but whether majority rule should determine what a public school teacher might or might not teach on a sensitive subject. According to Scopes’s liberal defenders, by banning evolution from the classroom the state of Tennessee had put itself in the position of the Catholic Church with Galileo. More than that, it was practicing thought control by overriding individual conscience, the very organ that both Protestantism and the First Amendment to the Constitution supposedly held sacred. … Today the shoe is on the other foot. … Public school teachers are now forbidden to discuss “creation science,” “intelligent design,” or related doctrines as alternatives to Darwin’s theory. … The justification usually given by scientists and others who defend what looks like a double standard is that creationism in whatever guise is religion, not science. No question, but the corollary that all mention of such a widely shared view should therefore be excluded is less obvious. It can hardly be considered either socially marginal or irrelevant to the subject of human origins”.
What the neo-atheists claim to want to do is to create a society which is based solely in reason (science) and not based in nebulous belief systems. What they do is to intentionally replace science with scientism and thus work to impose an ideological belief system on everyone. It is mind control games from people who deny the existence of the mind claiming it is nothing more than biochemical reactions taking place in the brain.
Clausen points out another instance where one can see how the ideological purposes of scientism are endeavoring to control people: in the climate change debates.
“Beyond the immensely complicated evidence and computer models that predict the future climate of the entire world, however, lie familiar political factors, such as a vast increase in government power over the economy and everyday life that advocates say is immediately necessary to avert calamity. “
Thus the issue becomes not science but creating a government power capable of controlling the course of human events. This, these ideologues would say is simply governing the world by reason. But one wonders why those who ardently believe in determinism and deny free will are so determined to create institutions which govern everyone and everything. If free will is an illusion created by the brain as they claim, why the need to create institutions to govern and channel free will? The claims are not as based in reason alone as they claim but are ideologically driven based in their own assumptions to achieve their own non-scientific agendas.