I see Michael Egnor is writing more of his dualist drivel, in what was presumably supposed to be a rebuttal to Steven Novella. It is notable that in his latest piece, Egnor again fails to answer any of Novella’s actual points, but instead relies on more of the same fallacies of logic that he relied on before. I’m sure that Novella will have a detailed rebuttal to this “rebuttal” out soon, but Egnor’s arguments are so bad I couldn’t resist getting in a quick response first. Egnor’s main point seems to be that his invocation of dualism to explain the mind, purely on the basis that materialism cannot (yet) fully explain the mind, is not a dualism of the gaps argument. He starts with:
I must say that I’ve never understood the rhetorical force of the ‘God of the Gaps’ argument.
And this is the only point that I agree with - Egnor does not understand this argument. (Although I would dispute that it is rhetoric - it's actually logic. Strictly speaking, fallacious logic.) Egnor goes on to demonstrate his ignorance of what the God of the Gaps really is, with this:
The God of the Gaps sneer is invoked to imply the inexorability of materialism as a complete explanation in natural science.
No. You. Don’t. Understand. The. Argument. Not even close. Dualism of the Gaps means that if materialism cannot (yet) explain everything then dualism does not get to be the explanation by default. It really is that simple. For us to accept dualism you need to provide some evidence for dualism, and pointing out that not-dualism doesn’t yet explain everything is not evidence for dualism, it’s just evidence of our own lack of knowledge. And as Novella pointed out, you can’t justify a positive claim with a lack of knowledge.
Having completely misunderstood the argument from ignorance fallacy that he relies on, Egnor’s next argument relies on another logical fallacy – the one that in my experience non-materialists always come back to:
Dr. Novella responded recently to my post in which I clarified my views on the mind-brain problem. He accuses me of using a ‘Dualism of the Gaps’ argument. I’ve merely pointed out that the salient characteristics of the mind, such as intentionality, qualia, free will, incorrigibility, restricted access, continuity of self through time, and unity of consciousness (the ‘binding problem’) seem to be impossible to explain materialistically. Materialistic explanations for subjective mental states are not impossible merely because we lack experiments or evidence. Materialistic explanations for the mind are impossible within the framework of materialism itself, because mental properties are not physical properties. [My bold.]
Because mental properties are not physical properties? Because? This is where he’s going wrong. And I’m going to overkill this explanation in the hope that even Egnor might begin to understand. (And apologies to those who already get this point, but I’m going to spell this one out in detail, so hopefully anyone can understand it.) Here we go. This is Egnor’s conclusion: the mind is not caused by the physical brain, or (to put it another way) mental properties cannot be caused by material properties. That’s his conclusion. That’s what he wants us to accept – that mental properties are non-physical so dualism is necessary to explain the mental. OK so far? But he just said that materialistic explanations for the mind are impossible because mental properties are not physical properties. The “because” means that what follows is his premise. And the premise that follows (“mental properties are not physical properties”) is the same as his conclusion. The premise being the same as the conclusion is the definition of circular reasoning. He has just assumed his conclusion, namely that mental properties are not physical. But he does not know that mental properties are not physical. He provides no evidence for this. He just assumes it. It’s a purely circular argument. He does not and can not know that mental properties cannot arise from a physical brain.
The next bit is just pure assertion - he just asserts as if it were fact, what he wants you to accept:
Nothing about matter as understood in our current scientific paradigm invokes subjective mental experience. The essential qualities on the mind are immaterial. Invocation of immaterial causation that incorporates subjectivity seems necessary for a satisfactory explanation of the mind.
Yes, I'm sure that invocation of immaterial causation "seems necessary" to Egnor, but that doesn’t mean it is necessary.
Yet we know nothing — nothing — about how subjective experience could arise from matter alone.
And we also know nothing — nothing — about how subjective experience could arise from non-matter. The difference is that at least we know that matter exists. Where is Egnor’s evidence that his “immaterial causation” even exists, let alone is necessary to explain the mind?
Dr. Novella is wrong to attribute the inference to dualism to an argument from ignorance. The exact opposite is true. The reason that immaterial causation is invoked to explain the mind is because we know so much about the mind and about the brain, and it’s evident to most people (that is, people who aren’t dogmatic materialists) that the mind isn’t material. It isn’t an argument from ignorance. It’s an argument from deep knowledge — deep knowledge of the mind and of the brain. The invocation of immaterial causation for aspects of mental states is the result of our deep knowledge of the difference between mind and matter.
This is the bit that Egnor doesn’t get – Dualism of the Gaps is an argument from ignorance fallacy because we know nothing about the non-materialistic explanation that Egnor wants us to accept by default. It’s just a made up magic placeholder non-explanation that he thinks fits the gap of our current knowledge. It’s totally fallacious reasoning. On the other hand, the “Materialism of the Gaps” argument that Egnor is trying to make into a fallacy is not a fallacy because we know the material world exists. (Unless you’re an idealist or a solipsist.) It is a fallacy to insist that your explanation must include some unknown entity that you just made up; it is not a fallacy merely to exclude made up entities. Ironically Egnor then writes about the “deep knowledge of the mind and of the brain” – and yet he provides no knowledge about where minds comes from. None at all – just the undefined and un-measurable “immaterial” causation that Egnor thinks "seems necessary." But "seems necessary" is not the same as “deep knowledge.” His “deep knowledge” is really a lack of knowledge.
The materialist argument is essentially this: ‘materialism is the complete explanation for the mind, and if you ask questions, you’re a neuroscience denialist’.
Now Egnor presents the straw man materialist. No, the materialist argument is that materialism is currently the best explanation for the mind, and we have no reason to invent magic “immaterial” explanations.
It gets worse. Egnor goes on to claim that materialism is in trouble in the scientific world, and to support this he (drum roll) invokes quantum mechanics:
Quantum mechanics, in many of its interpretations, invokes an observer in order to collapse a waveform.
LOL – Woo Handbook #9. Actually really only one interpretation, not “many of its interpretations.” And even if the Copenhagen Interpretation is true and not just a metaphor to help scientists get their head around what is happening, it is well known that the “observer” could easily be just the equipment, not a human being. The need for a conscious observer is completely unfalsifiable, which is why it is not part of the scientific theory.
Egnor can’t resist closing references to some authority figures:
It's notable that many of the leading neuroscientists — Sherrington, Penfield, Eccles, Libet — were dualists. Dualism of some sort is the most reasonable scientific framework to apply to the mind-brain problem, because, unlike dogmatic materialism, it just follows the evidence.
Personally I’d be very interested in following the evidence for dualism. Unfortunately, Egnor didn’t provide any. Not a shred. Instead all we got was:
- Misinterpretation of the Dualism of the Gaps argument
- Circular reasoning
- Argument from ignorance (Dualism of the Gaps )
- Straw man
- Appeal to quantum mechanics
- Appeal to authority