Friday, March 23, 2007


Cognitive Dissonance

It must be difficult to be an ID theorist these days. Driving the horse-drawn buggy of intelligent design against the flow of traffic on the six-lane superhighway of scientific research has to be a harrowing experience.

A particular example of the cognitive dissonance required of the ID theorist today is Denyse "Buy My Book" O'Leary. Yesterday, O'Leary wrote, "Materialist neuroscience argues that the mind does not really exist. The mind is merely the functions of the brain or a simulacrum thereof. So you do not really have a mind, let alone a soul or free will."

O'Leary, you see, is an advocate of "non-materialist" neuroscience.

O'Leary cites as evidence that the mind exists independently of the brain an article by Mario Beauregard’s in Progress in Neuroscience, which she claims identifies "areas of progress in non-materialist neuroscience."

In fact, the article does nothing of the sort.

Beauregard writes that results of studies involving neuroimaging "indicate that the mental functions and processes involved in diverse forms of psychotherapy exert a significant influence on brain activity."

In other words, "beliefs and expectations can markedly modulate neurophysiological and neurochemical activity in brain."

This, of course, is not evidence for mind, a term O'Leary uses interchangeably with soul. This after all is what she's after, something of consciousness that lives on after the body dies to sit at the right hand of God.

Years ago, a New York neuroscientist old me, "Going to the symphony will change your brain chemistry."

Materialists have no problem at all -- in fact, it's exactly what one would expect -- with the idea that our memories, emotional states, and beliefs are a both product of, and reflected in, changes in neurophysiological and neurochemical activity in brain.

How else would it be done?

Here's the difficulty for O'Leary, who is flogging her soon to be released book on "non-materialist neuroscience."

An article by Benedict Carey in yesterday's New York Times reports that "damage to an area of the brain behind the forehead, inches behind the eyes, transforms the way people make moral judgments in life-or-death situations."

An injury to the brain, in other words, affects the moral choices a person makes. This, as the article reports, has a tremendous impact on legal cases. "Jurors have reduced sentences based on brain-imaging results showing damage," Carey reports.

So, while O'Leary and her friends in the intelligent design movement continue the search for the soul, neuroscientists are demonstrating that all of our memories, feelings, and beliefs are rooted in the brain. Physical changes in the brain are reflected in what we perceive as mind.

Intelligent design theorists are the Amish -- without the charm, of course -- of modern science. While everyone else is busy doing research that will pave the way to deeper understanding of the human race and the universe we live in, the ID theorists look back with longing at the 10th century.


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