Saturday 2 July 2011

Dualism misfiled as science — just like intelligent design

Angus Menuge's contribution to Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God appears to have been misfiled. As Chapter 24 it's in the section titled The Question of Science, when it's clearly philosophy. Perhaps the editors were misled by the title, "The Role of Agency in Science" — it's got "Science" in the title, so if you hadn't read the essay you might put it in the science section by default. It's quite densely written, so a hurried perusal might give the wrong impression.

Menuge talks a lot about materialism and intentionality in his attempt to make the case that materialism doesn't explain agency, and — vice versa — agency refutes materialism. I don't buy it. He seems to be proposing some kind of dualism at the same time as arguing (like John Searle with his Chinese Room thought-experiment about intelligence and consciousness) that brain activity does not equate to free will, though he never uses the actual term free will. But to claim that humans have intentions and are capable of agency is to say that they have free will, and I think he's on dodgy and unproven ground implying all these are independent of the brain.
The transitions of neural activations are completely impersonal and in no way involve a point of view. But there is no doubt that there are subjects, individuals with distinct points of view. This has always been recognized by folk psychology since it seeks to provide personal reasons for an agent's actions. Jack does not (ultimately) open the fridge because Jill believes it contains a beer. Note that it will not help the eliminativist to claim that points of view are illusory, since only something with a point of view can be subject to an illusion. (p 121-2.)
I think he's making a mistake when he says that transitions of neural activations don't involve a point of view. He seems to be implying that they must be caused by a point of view that's separate from the brain, when to me it appears far more likely that the point of view, along with the experience of intentionality, free will and the rest, are manifestations of the neural activity rather than the cause of it.

The rest of the chapter appears to be claiming that materialism is self-refuting, but without the references to back up mere assertions, it's difficult to tell if there's anything to it. Menuge's dense prose isn't exactly helpful in this respect.

He mentions the work of Paul and Patricia Churchland. I've no idea if he's representing their views accurately when he disagrees with them, because he provides no references to them. The only reference he gives is to his own paper in which he claims to critique something Daniel Dennett has written. If he's so sure his thesis is correct, why isn't he citing his sources? He finishes with this:
Agency is the Achilles' heel of scientific materialism. If the materialist eliminates agency, he undermines the rationality of science. But agency also fails to reduce to materialistic categories. So, if we want to preserve the rationality of science and follow the evidence wherever it leads, we must conclude that agency is an irreducible causal category. And that is precisely the claim of Intelligent Design.
Yep, it's dualism.