Friday, June 15, 2007


What's the Matter?

Sometimes, when poor, old RSR reads something that passes for thought over at Evolution News and Views it leaves us not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

A case in point: Michael Egnor, the ID activist who's made it his life's work to prove that brain surgery need not be rocket science, asks "What does it mean to say that altruism is located in the brain?"
If altruism is located in the brain, then some changes in location of the brain must, to use a mathematical term, 'map' to changes in altruism. That is, if you move your brain, you move your altruism in some discernable (sic) way. And ‘moving’ altruism means changing its properties. It won’t do to say that moving altruism changes its property of ‘location,’ because ‘location’ of altruism is the issue. That begs the question.

Let's say I take a gallon of milk from the fridge and place it on the counter. I've surely changed its location. I may even have stirred up the molecules inside the jug.

Have I changed its "properties" by moving it?

Altruism, indeed any thought, is a product of the electrical and chemical impulses passing across the synapses of the brain. Moreover, it must be expressed in action. Water, rocks, the air we breathe, even plants do not exhibit the attributes of altruism -- except to those who practice some primitive animist religions, and perhaps Pat Robertson, who usually sees not altruism, but retribution in the insentient forces of nature.

In fact, researchers at Emory University have used functional MRI scans to observe the operation of altruistic behavior in the brain. They reported their findings in the July 18 issue of the journal Neuron. You can read a report of their study in Science Daily.

According to Science Daily, researchers "used fMRI to scan the brains of 36 women while they played the 'Prisoner's Dilemma Game,' a decades-old model for cooperation based on reciprocal altruism." The scans revealed revealed different patterns of neural activation depending on whether the subject's playing partner was identified as a human or a computer.

"Mutual cooperation was the most common outcome in games played with presumed human partners" reports Science Daily. In these cases, researchers were able to observe increased neural activity in the nucleus accumbens, the caudate nucleus, ventromedial frontal/orbitofrontal cortex and rostral anterior cingulate cortex when altruistic interactions occurred.

All of this, quite naturally, goes unexamined in Egnor's post on the matter.

Egnor goes on the write: "Matter and ideas share no properties. Ideas like altruism aren’t material, so they can’t have a location."

In other words, if we were to remove a test subject's nucleus accumbens, caudate nucleus, ventromedial frontal/orbitofrontal cortex and rostral anterior cingulate cortex from their brain, their ability to express altruism would be utterly unaffected.

Altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others. Selflessness or altruism is a property of human beings, and some animals. When a person dies, even though their body remains, they no longer exhibit the attribute of altruism.

It would be pointless to speak of the existence of altruism in the period of earth's history before life evolved. It will likewise be meaningless to speak of altruism -- indeed there will be no one to think the thought or to speak the word -- after the planet has ceased to be.

Egnor maintains that ideas such as altruism have no basis in the material world, but he doesn't bother -- just as the ID activists never bother with operation of design -- to elaborate on their nature.

If altruism is not a property of human beings, then what is it? Where does it come from. How does it operate.

To the ID adept, this absence of explanation is not troubling. They intuitively know the answer to these questions just as they know it can't be openly stated: altruism is a property of the god-given immortal soul.

How do they know? The Bible told them so.


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