Stupid Theist Tricks: Denial of Physical Reality
This is the first of a series called "Stupid Theist Tricks" that will focus on the various ways theists use false logic and similar sleights of hand to support their belief in God.
Today's topic is the denial of what we observe in nature. Specifically, what we observe is that nervous systems in biological creatures produce various levels of cognitive function, and the most complex nervous systems can produce cognitive function on the level that we would regard as "mind" capable of rational thought. Theists beg to differ. They insist that mind can only result from some non-material source.
It is not my intention here to try to convince them that empirical evidence and science are not on their side in this debate. They've heard it all before. They know enough of the facts that they should at least have strong doubts about the superstitious nature of their own beliefs. But they cling obstinately to those beliefs despite the facts.
Victor Reppert has written a book that defends this notion that mind cannot arise from purely physical causes. His logic amounts to an argument from ignorance. He says something like this: There are no mental objects at the most fundamental level of physical reality, along with the subatomic particles that form the building blocks from which physical things are made. And therefore, there are no building blocks for mind. This leads to the conclusion that mind is fundamentally non-physical. In other words, I don't understand how a physical system could result in rational thinking. Therefore it must be impossible.
The observed facts tell a very different story. First, mind is not an object that is made of physical component pieces. Mental activity (what we call mind) is a function. It is the activity of a physical object that we call the brain, in much the same sense as "computing" is the activity of computer. Without the computer, there is no computational function. Would Victor insist that since there are no fundamental particles called "computons", that the activity of computers must be non-physical?
But computing is not exactly the same as mind. The computers we have today certainly are different from thinking brains. In some respects, they are faster and more accurate than human minds, and in other respects, they don't have the same level of comprehension or understanding that minds have. Does that imply that it is not possible, even in principle for a computer to have sufficient complexity to perform cognitive functions on a similar level to that of humans? Theists would argue that they don't and can't ever have any understanding at all. This is based on the religious belief that understanding derives from something other than physical stuff. But computers get more powerful every year, and they already have achieved amazing levels of cognitive ability. Many people believe that the time is not so far off when they will match or exceed the cognitive capability of a human mind.
Evidence tells us that our cognitive function is physical. We see that brains (or nervous systems) of different complexities give rise to cognitive function of corresponding complexity. We see that if the brain is physically damaged, cognition is damaged as well. We see that when the brain dies, cognitive function ceases. None of these things would be entailed by the theists' theory of a non-material mind. Indeed, they insist that the mind lives on after the death of the body, and that it is the materialist who denies reality.
I agree that between theists and materialists, at least one is in denial. The theists' version if reality is unobservable, unexplainable, and contrary to what we see in our world. It is based on the fear of dying - it provides the comfort of believing that the person lives on after the body is dead. The materialists' version is at least consistent with our observations of the world and the physical behavior of biological systems. While it may not be comforting for some to realize that death is the end of their existence as a person with a mind, it is the reality that we see, rather than the fantasy world that we hope for.