I happened to see this argument put forward by Michael Egnor writing at the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the major group promoting “Intelligent Design” – essentially a heavily stripped-down version of young earth creationism that allows them to argue one and only one point: life is too complex to be explained by naturalistic evolution, it needs an intelligent entity to create it. In some ways, they were supposed to be more scientifically based than their young-earth creationist sibling. (ID allows people to believe in common descent and an old earth, which is absolutely rejected by YECs.) Well, this Michael Egnor guy has been writing for the Discovery Institute, and his articles are mind-numbingly stupid. Supposedly, he’s vice chairman of the department of neurological surgery at SUNY, though I’m still not entirely convinced anyone could be this stupid (nevermind the fact that he’s supposedly highly educated). I guess it just goes to show how ignorant the Discovery Institute is if they actually think his articles are worth putting on display. So, what’s his argument? If the mind is a purely material thing, then altruism would reside inside our heads, and our sense of altruism would change as your head moved – for example, if you walked across the street, or tilted your head. But, altruism doesn’t have a location – it’s an idea, and it doesn’t change when you move through space, therefore altruism and the mind itself must exist in outside the material world and in some non-material one. I’m not even going to post a rebuttal, I’m just going to let you sit back and ponder the incredible levels of idiocy of that idea. I seriously have to wonder if Egnor is satire of an actual creationist/IDist. Here it is in all its ignorant glory:
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 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.
Does altruism have location? The brain does; it can move in space by moving in any of six degrees of freedom: in a Cartesian system, it can move in the x, y, or z direction, or it can pitch, yaw, or roll. These are the movements possible for a material body.
Matter and ideas share no properties. Ideas like altruism aren’t material, so they can’t have a location. Altruism has no yaw or pitch or roll. Location is a property of matter, not ideas. Benevolence is a property of ideas, not matter. Matter can’t be benevolent, and ideas can’t have location. And matter can’t, by itself, cause ideas, because they share no properties.
Clearly matter can influence ideas (ethanol makes us think differently), and ideas can influence matter (we can move our legs on purpose). No one knows how matter and ideas influence each other. Dualism, which is the theory that the mind and matter are separate substances, has its own problems, the most serious of which is: how can mind and matter interact if they are completely different substances? I favor dualism, because I accept the reality of immaterial causes, and dualism is consistent with our intuitive and nearly universal belief in the existence of the soul.
A strictly materialistic explanation of the mind is an oxymoron, because the mind isn’t material. A real understanding of the mind must be open to immaterial causes.
If I was an IDist, I think I would hide in embarrassment because the premiere ID group actually puts this stuff up on their website.