Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sorry, but your soul just DIDN'T die ...

In a recent interview (August 11, 2008) with editor Carol Iannone of Academic Questions, Tom Wolfe, the famous New Journalist who coined terms like "radical chic," backed away from the materialism chronicled in his Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died:
Iannone: About neuroscience, though, I thought I was getting from I Am Charlotte Simmons the idea that we’re resisting that, resisting that we are just impulses and synapses and so on?

Wolfe: There’s neuroscience the science and there’s genetic theory. They are two entirely different things. José Delgado, the Spanish neuroscientist, son of the Copernicus, the Galileo of neuroscience, José M.R. Delgado, puts it very clearly: “The human brain is enormously complicated. We have made only a few small steps in finding out how it works. All the rest is literature.” Delgado mentions no names, but if he has noticed them at all, “all the rest” probably includes some of the best known genetic theorists, such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, a zoologist and a philosopher. They are not neurologists. They know precious little about the human brain. They seem to have captivated a big following, especially Dawkins, but not with anything that could be called neuroscience. They’re writing speculative literature. Their theory is that the human brain is nothing but a machine, after all, a form of computer, and therefore it has no free will. In any situation we find ourselves we can only do what our evolutionary software—they love computer talk like “software,” meaning genetic makeup—has programmed us to do.

So at a recent conference on the implications of genetic theory for the legal system—five distinguished genetic theorists are up on stage—I stood up in the audience and asked, “If there is no free will, why should we believe anything you’ve said so far? You only say it because you’re programmed to say it.” You’ve never heard such stuttering and blathering in response to anything in your life. But I have to confess that I made the mistake of conflating science and genetic theory in the first piece I wrote about neuroscience, “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died”…
Trust me, Tom old boy, I have heard the stuttering and blathering too

Labels: ,

Adopting a dog better for your health than pills?

An e-mail from Canada's historic Maclean's Magazine tells me that "Pfizer believes in more than medication":

If so, Pfizer agrees with most Canadians:
While the results of Pfizer Canada’s More than Medication Survey* were sometimes surprising, the in-depth Ipsos-Reid survey (conducted between December 2007 and January 2008) involving 4,001 consumers, 200 physicians and 190 natural health experts, showed more similarity than differences between the three groups.

“More than 90% of all three groups (consumers, family physicians and natural health experts) agree that good health is about More than Medication — and the majority agree the most important ways to stay healthy include: eating well, regular exercise, keeping a positive attitude, supportive friends and family and spirituality/religion,” says Sean Simpson, Ipsos-Reid.

The message from Maclean's focused on adopting a dog - a great idea if you want to go out a lot with someone who totally loves you.

Campaigns like these signal a departure from the much more materialist and mechanist attitude of decades ago (= got a problem, take a pill). As Mario Beauregard and I noted in The Spiritual Brain,

... by the 1960s, materialism was so pervasive in medicine that [Herbert] Benson had a hard time persuading his colleagues that mental stress could contribute to high blood pressure. Mentors warned that he was risking his career when he began to study the physiology of meditation in an effort to understand how the mind influences the body. (Pp. 233-34)
The question of whether mental stress contributes to high blood pressure continues to be a source of controversy, but the idea that meditation might help is now uncontroversial, at least in principle.

And will Pfizer go broke, encouraging people to adopt dogs instead of take pills? I doubt it. Pfizer has a big veterinary medicine division - Pfizer Animal Health.


Arch-atheist Dawkins now thinks serious case can be made for deistic God?

According to British journalist Melanie Phillips, when Richard Dawkins and John Lennox had their second debate, at the same location (in Oxford) where Samuel Wilberforce and T.H. Huxley famously debated, Dawkins offered a surprising (for him) admission:
This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could.

- "Is Richard Dawkins still evolving?", Spectator, October 23, 2008
Personally, I think Dawkins is becoming increasingly incoherent. His latest effort is a bus ad for atheism, which is slam dunk ugly. If the atheists can't hire a better graphic designer, they have more problems than I thought. (What's with the block, upper case letters? Why the fade to yellow on the key message?)

Anyway, why doesn't Richard Dawkins just start speaking in tongues and be done with it. You know, "Is Dawkins also among the prophets?"

Labels: ,