This is the 17th 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 Do We have the Brains to Deal with Ourselves? (I). 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.
The philosophical assumption that the material world is all that exists has led some to conclude that notions of self, consciousness and free will are all nothing but illusions created by the biochemistry of the brain. No one or no thing is in charge of the brain, they would say. However, these same folk then go on to offer advice how to shape society along completely “rational” lines of thinking which would seem to belie their claimed belief that no one is in charge, nor could be. Why are these folk committed to scientism so strongly fighting to control how we understand what they label as an illusion – consciousness not to mention conscience? Yet fight they do against all who believe in free will. Determinism reigns or so they claim, and they are determined to ensure that they reign with it. Their agenda is philosophical and political and they are ideologically committed to an opinion – none of which seems to be grounded in the materialism they extol. They don’t want any forces resisting the determinism they claim to believe in – certainly not religious forces nor freely chosen beliefs of individuals or social groupings.
Thankfully enough the thought control police of scientism are kept partially in check by the fact that our emotions and memories turn out to be the product of what Carl Zimmer labels “a staggeringly complex combination of factors.” (DISCOVER, May 2012, p 32). Zimmer explained in the April 2012 issue of DISCOVER:
“Neuroscientists know that the brain contains some 100 billion neurons and that the neurons are joined together via an estimated quadrillion connections. It’s through those links that the brain does the remarkable work of learning and storing memory. Yet scientists have never mapped that whole web of neural conact, known as the connectome.”
I said “thankfully enough” above because as Tallis points out some of these neo-atheists are committed to attempting to control humanity through controlling the biochemistry of the brain. In itself this seems to be a contradiction of what these atheistic materialists are claiming. On the one hand they affirm absolute belief in materialistic determinism and deny free will. On the other hand, they claim traditional methods of dealing with ethical issues and failures are all wrong because the methods are not based in materialism. It is hard to understand philosophically how if determinism in fact controls everything, they could even suggest there is a right or wrong way of doing things, or that it matters. And that they themselves want to promote an alternative method of dealing with social problems would seem to deny their adherence to determinism. They are claiming that by following their rationale we can somehow cooperate with determinism rather than resist it. The very notion that we are resisting or cooperating with determinism would seem to deny absolute determinism. That they can propose a change in how we deal with anything also denies that determinism is the ultimate force in the universe and would in fact suggest what we do does change the course of events.
The push for scientism is an ideological push not a scientific one. The denial of free will or consciousness or self serves to promote an agenda for a belief system which claims anything we choose to do is only an illusion of free will. So they freely choose to promote an agenda to attain certain ends in a system which they claim is completely determined by forces we cannot influence or control.
Nevertheless they continue to promote and advocate for changing human behavior and beliefs in a world in which they say such efforts are an illusion. How this is consistent or rationale is not easy to explain.
This is of course why Tallis, himself a secular atheists, thinks the rest of the world needs to pay attention to the claims of these “neuromaniacs” and “Darwinitists” and not cave into their illogical and unfounded presuppositions. A lot is at stake, and the agenda of scientism should call to mind for us the experiments done on humans in the name of science in the Mid-Twentieth Century. Once we accept a notion that humans are nothing but a peculiar manifestation of the material world, then we can easily and readily accept experimentation on humans in the name of science. All we have to do is remember Japanese Unit 731 or Dr. Mengele – science guided by ideology. When we dehumanize our fellow human beings and reduce them to their material existence we become inhuman ourselves; we treat others like dirt. Crimes against humanity, slavery, genocide, holocaust all proliferate when we practice that reductionist thinking which denies personhood or humanity to others.