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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Evolution's Problem of Plagiarism

The name Jayson Blair sends shivers down the spine of editors in the New York Times. It isn't that Jayson was some mass-murderer or terrorist that makes the editorial staff of the nation's largest newspaper tremble. It was the fact that Jayson Blair was a Times reporter who plagiarized stories and then the Times published them. Macarena Hernandez, a reporter from the Antonio Express-News first contacted the Times and said that Blair's story had copied “major chunks” of her story and passed them off as his own. Jayson Blair resigned and is considered to be disgraced as a journalist for stealing other people's work.

The crime of plagiarism isn't only found in the written word though. Musical acts have been accused of stealing a melody or a hook from another artist. Graphic designers will copy from well-known pieces. Students will plagiarize from the Internet to get their homework assignments finished. In each medium, the plagiarized content is identified by comparing the new work to the original. If there are enough points of similarity, then one can assume that the work in question is a derivative of the original, that is the original creation was used a second time without crediting the original author. It also implies that without Hernandez's article in the Antonio Express-News, Blair's New York Times piece would read radically different than it did.

The reason I bring all this up is that when we look at the claims of the neo-Darwinists, they face a problem very similar to that of the editors of the Times. The current Darwinian model holds to a form of common descent, where all species diverged and differentiated from a very simple single ancestor millions and millions of years in the past. As the progeny of that ancestor experienced genetic mutations, some proved beneficial within the specific environment in which they found themselves and thus became more prominent. So, the Darwinian model seeks to explain the diversity of biological systems such as why some animals have gills, fins, and scales while others have lungs, wings, and feathers. Different created systems came to be through different avenues.

Because the mutations are random and the environment that bestows that mutation an advantage is different, so the story goes, the variations can be incredibly diverse. In fact, those two features are why paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould remarked that any replay of the tape of evolutionary development “would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the one taken.” But there's problem with this picture: we don't see radical divergence in all biological structures. There are structures, such as the eye, that have the same components in animals as diverse as mammals, octopi, and jellyfish, even though those branches were supposed to have split from one another well before the animal's sight apparatus evolved.

Jonathan Morrow, writing for the Discovery Institute, gives one great example of this type of duplication in the echolocation chemistry of dolphins and porpoises, an ability they share with the bat. The aquatic mammals and the bats share at least 14 amino acid sites that are needed for echolocation. That's fourteen points of similarity on a molecular level, even though these lines would have split when their ancestors were ground-dwellers, long before echolocation became an advantage for them. Morrow goes on to list other examples, but the point is made: how does one account for such similarities when evolution can take so many divergent paths? One may wave off one or two instances, but as more and more of these convergent evolutionary systems are being discovered, it becomes harder to ignore.

With all of the data showing independent, complex systems having multiple points of similarity, what should we conclude? It would be unreasonable to think that so many systems were developed independently over and over and over again just as it is unlikely that Jayson Blair just happened to have the same thoughts and phrasing in his story as Macarena Hernandez. No, it is much more reasonable to conclude that there is a single creative source for this kind of repeating structure across divergent lines.

The simple story of evolution suffers from acts of plagiarism, and as such it simply doesn't ring true.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Evolution Cannot Produce a Mind

Yesterday, I posted an article declaring how the mind is a fundamentally different kind of thing than the brain. I wanted to follow up with a couple of possible objections to the mind/brain distinction that people offer today. The first objection is known as emergence and its proponents claim that the mind, while different from the brain, emerges as the brain grows in complexity. Thus the mind is distinct from the brain but it is the evolution of the brain, growing more and more complex, that eventually produced the first mind.

Emergent properties are familiar in both science and philosophy and they basically mean that the whole cannot be described solely by describing its parts. For example, we can talk about a snowflake by its chemical composition. A snowflake is comprised of nothing more than H2O in a solid state. However, describing the chemical bonds that create H2O does not describe a snowflake. The snowflake is something more specific than the chemical reactions of H2O, and thus a snowflake is an emergent property of H2O. Flocks of birds, molds, even societies are used as examples of emergence, where these things are different than the sum of the parts. 1

Materialists will then use this kind of description to say that the mind may be an emergent property of the brain. It exists because the brain's chemistry and electrical pathways are arranged in a specifically complex fashion. Just as the molecules of water or the grouping of people to form a city emerges as a new property that didn't exist in that entity's building blocks, so the mind emerges as a new property of the brain's makeup. Thus, they claim, the mind is a real property but it comes from the physical structure and function of the brain. No soul is required.

The Problems with Emergence

The explanation sounds good, but there are several problems with the claim that the mind is emergent. First, in a complex system where new properties emerge, those new properties fall into the same domain as the system's constituent parts. In other words, any physical emergent system will produce emergent properties that can be described physically. Water may have properties that hydrogen and oxygen lack such as the ability to crystallize into a snowflake. However, a snowflake is still describable by using the chemical language of solid/liquid/gaseous states and crystalline structures. The components are physical and the new property is also physical. Likewise, cities emerge from groups of people getting together and choosing to live a certain way. People are sociological and cities are described sociologically.

The mind however produces mental properties. As we've said, mental properties are non-physical. Therefore there is still a difference in kind in the property one is trying to account for. How does one account for non-physical properties from purely physical substances?

Secondly, emergence runs into the problem of impotence. J.P. Moreland notes that if the complexity of the brain produces a mind "like fire produces smoke or the structure of hydrogen and oxygen I water 'produce' wetness," then the mind is nothing more than an effect of the brain and it therefore has no causal powers. J.P. writes that if this was the case, "mental states are byproducts of the brain, but they are causally impotent. Mental states merely 'ride' on top of the events in the brain." 2

If this is true, then we cannot change our minds, really. We can only dance to the electro-chemical reactions that are happening in our heads. In other words, we have no free will whatsoever! We are simply victims to whatever processes our body and any outside events that we come in contact with cause. We are not making decisions, but our brains, like so many dominoes falling in a row, are just following the rules of chemistry and physics. The mind is simply the smoke, but it's the fire of neurons in the brain that's doing all the work.

The self-refuting nature of a material view of self

Because a purely material origin for the mind leads to determinism, such a description can be seen as contradictory. J.P. quotes from H.P. Owen who says:
Determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false.3
I think Owen and Moreland are right here. Much like the argument from reason, trying to relegate our conscious awareness to the physical becomes a fool's errand of determinism and contradiction. Such suggestions really don't explain why unique properties of the mind exist and it leads us to conclude that no one really makes any free choices. That's an awful lot to give away in order to escape the necessity of the soul.


1 For examples of emergence as used popularly today, see this slideshow provided by the PBS science show Nova.
2. Moreland, J.P. and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downer's Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2003.240.

3. Ibid. 241.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Your Mind Cannot Be Your Brain

When I was a child, my mother used to look in at the clutter of room and exclaim, "How in the world can you leave your room in such a mess? Have you lost your mind?!" My mom's statement was hyperbole. She was expressing both disapproval with my living in a way that contradicts appropriate practice and bewilderment at why I would even want live in such a state of disarray. It simply made no sense to her how a teenage boy could say he cared for his things while treating them as such. Of course a lot of this was simply immaturity expressing itself through laziness. Today, it does not take a pole vault to get from my door to my bed.

However, I fear that our today culture is in danger of losing our collective minds. As I've stated before, we live in an age where science is lauded above all else. With the overemphasis on science comes a presumption of materialism—that is that the material aspects of ourselves are the only things that are real or they are the only things that really describe us and our actions. Neuroscientists scan the brains of serial killers, looking for some physical trace as to why those individuals would commit such heinous acts, even if the findings show that they themselves have the same physical traits as the killers!

The problem is that while modern scientists assume that brain scans are all we need to understand the mind, no one should make the mistake that the mind is the brain. The mind is something completely different than the brain and one can see that in several ways.

Mental states are fundamentally different than physical states.

First off, when we talk about the mind, we are referring to things called mental states. These include thoughts about something, experience, will or desire, intentions and things of this sort. A serial killer has intent to hunt and kill a victim even before he does so. After News Year's Day, many of us change our eating habits because we have an intent to lose weight, so we conform our actions to our intent. Notice that biologically, the drive to eat would make sense. We feel hunger. But our intention overrides that natural feeling and we curb our eating anyway.

Things like thoughts, ideas, desire, intention, and will are qualitatively different from brain states. A thought contains content that is not physical at all. Think of the sentence "I think, therefore I am." That sentence holds an idea, a concept that doesn't exist physically. If you are reading this on a computer right now, you cannot understand the sentence in the least bit if you were to measure its length and width on your screen. Neither will it help you if I explained the inner workings of my computer and told you how electrons traveled from my keyboard through my CPU, how data is stored on servers on the Internet and how it's delivered to your device. None of this tells you anything about the sentence, what it means, or whether its true. The idea is independent of the mechanism by which it is delivered. The idea is understood by the mind, regardless of how it was perceived by the senses and brain.

Because ideas are fundamentally different, we must recognize that they are not physical, and the same is true for thoughts, desires and other mental actions. It makes as much sense to say that my intent to lose weight rests 4.5cm from my right ear near my cerebellum as it does to measure the letters on your screen to understand a sentence. Mental states simply cannot be described using physical descriptors. That should be a tip off that mental states are fundamentally non-physical. The working of the mind, therefore, is not the same thing as the working of the brain. The mind is an immaterial aspect of a person. Thus, a person must be made up of material and immaterial components. That part of a man that is immaterial is the part Christians identify as the soul and the mind is one part of a man's soul.

In the rush of science to reduce knowledge to those things that are physical, they have run roughshod over the idea that the mind is distinct from the brain. Brain scans are supposed to tell you your thoughts, even though such a process is completely incapable of so doing. Such a concept bewilders me as much as my messy room confused my mother. It shouldn't be considered appropriate practice and I believe it reflects a level of ignorance and immaturity among its adherents.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Don't lose yours in the hype.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Answering Arguments for Abortion: "We'd Mess Up Three Lives"

Recently, a media commentator talked about how he and his girlfriend at that time had decided to have an abortion after she found out she was pregnant. He claimed that "abortion saved my life." Many times we hear that an abortion is necessary not only for the mother, but for the child and the father, too. It is said that all three lives would be destroyed if the pregnancy were to continue. Here's why such a claim fails.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Science is founded on faith as much as religion

Dr. Paul Davies, Regents' Professor and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University is a very well-known name in astrophysics. His contributions to his specialty have resulted in him being awarded the Templeton prize, the Kelvin Medal from the UK Institute of Physics, and the 2002 Michael Faraday Prize from the Royal Society. He's a scientist's scientist.

Below is a quote from Davies from an article he wrote for the New York Times where he comments that science has as much a faith component as religious belief. Davies states:
The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn't so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence. 
This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships. 
And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.
Read his whole article here. For more on science versus scientism, see my series of articles here.
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