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The Creation Explanation

Creation Explanation The Ultimate Design

The Mind-Brain Problem: Material Brain Only or Brain and Immaterial Mind?

Some readers will recognize that the subject of this chapter is actually an updated and extended form of the ancient philosophical moral argument for the existence of God. A crucial problem facing the secularists is the "mind-brain problem." This problem is the focus of current research into the neurophysiology of the brain. Ignoring pure idealism which holds that mind is the only real substance, there are essentially just two possible types of solutions to this problem monistic solutions and dualistic solutions. Materialistic monism is the philosophical view that there is no reality other than that of the space-time-matter-energy universe, that there is no immaterial or spiritual reality. Dualism is the philosophical view that both the material and the spiritual domains have real existence. Thus the common secular concept of human evolution from chemical slime by way of apes is an application of monistic philosophy. Conversely, the biblical concept of man created from the dust of the earth in the image of the infinite-personal God is an application of dualistic philosophy. The monistic view of the mind-brain problem is that only the physical brain exists, and no immaterial mind, self or soul exists. When the physical brain dies, the self disappears, is extinguished, for it never had any real existence. It is an illusion. At this point one might ask, who is having the illusion? But then such awkward questions are not considered to be good etiquette in some circles.

A monistic solution of the mind-brain problem is taken to be the proper scientific goal of neurophysiology by almost surely the majority of researchers in this field. They believe that scientists must always believe or at least work under the assumption that everything in the universe has its full explanation in the properties of atoms, the laws of physics, time and chance. This is, as we have shown in Chapter-5, an entirely erroneous conception of science, a conception based in prejudice against God, in particular against the God of biblical Christian faith.

An excellent illustration of this prejudice which conditions the minds of so many scientists active in neurophysiology is found in an article authored by Nobel Laureate F.H.C. Crick. In the wrap-up article of a Scientific American special issue in 1979 on "The Brain," after summarizing some of the achievements and goals of neurophysiology, he raises a rhetorical question and gives his personal opinions in reply:1

Is there any idea we should avoid? I think there is at least one: the fallacy of the homunculus[i.e., a hidden personal intelligence superintending the brain]....Most neuroscientists believe there is no homunculus in the brain. Unfortunately it is easier to state the fallacy than to avoid slipping into it. The reason is that we certainly have an illusion of the homunculus: the self. There is probably some good reason for the strength and persistence of this illusion. It may reflect some aspect of the overall control of the brain, but what the nature of this control is we have not yet discovered. (emphases added)

The bias and dogmatism in Dr. Crick's statement are readily apparent. He is a public atheist and personally believes that a monistic solution to the mind-brain problem is the only possible one open to a scientist. This decision is not, however, a scientific conclusion, but a philosophical one, for he confesses that he has no monistic, i.e. materialistic, explanation for his alleged "illusion." And although a majority of neuroscientists apparently have chosen the monistic philosophy as a guide for their scientific thinking, some outstanding researchers in the field have felt impelled by the scientific evidence to choose the dualist option or at least see it as not falsified by the pertinent evidence. Nobel laureate neurophysiologist, Sir John C. Eccles, at the close of a distinguished career became an outspoken advocate for the reality of the immaterial self. He explained and defended this conclusion in great detail in the 1974 book, The Self and Its Brain, co-authored with renowned philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper.2 Another pioneer in brain research, neurosurgeon and experimental scientist in the structure and function of the brain as they relate to consciousness, Wilder Penfield, expressed his conclusions in a notable book, The Mystery of the Mind:

And so I come to my final reconsideration: I worked as a scientist trying to prove that the brain accounted for the mind and demonstrating as many brain-mechanisms as possible hoping to show how the brain did so. In presenting this monograph I do not begin with a conclusion and I do not end by making a final and unalterable one. Instead, I reconsider the present-day neurophysiological evidence on the basis of two hypotheses: (a) that man's being consists of one fundamental element, and (b) that it consists of two.... In the end I conclude that there is no good evidence, in spite of new methods, such as the employment of stimulating electrodes, the study of conscious patients and the analysis of epileptic attacks, that the brain alone can carry out the work that the mind does. I conclude that it is easier to rationalize man's being on the basis of two elements rather than on the basis of one....3

Francis Crick, fifteen years after his article in Scientific American, years devoted primarily to the study of human consciousness, published a book entitled The Astonishing Hypothesis. The Scientific Search for the Soul.4 In his review of Crick's book in the journal, Science, J.J. Hopfield of the California Institute of Technology referred to the criticism by Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman of efforts to make consciousness the subject of scientific research:

...Richard Feynman, who throughout his life had spent considerable time pondering the question of how his brain worked, replied that consciousness was a fascinating subject that he had not been able to define in an operational sense. It was therefore not amenable to experiment or to mathematization and thus lay beyond the confines of science at present.5

Hopfield characterizes Crick's book as "a heroic attempt to wrest consciousness from the minds of the philosophers and place it in the hands of scientists." In a letter to Science two months later John W. Fowler of the California Institute of Technology commented:

...A "heroic attempt to wrest consciousness from the minds of the philosophers and place it in the hands of scientists" may well be as appropriate as wresting Chopin's C# Minor Waltz from the minds of the concert pianists and placing it in the hands of skilled riveters.6

In the closing paragraphs of his review Hopfield concludes:

The Astonishing Hypothesis is full of contradictions. ...In my view, until an operational definition can be given to "awareness" independent of the brain of humans, there is no way a science can be made out of consciousness. I side with Feynman in that regard, and Crick, in sidestepping this issue, in the long run defeats his own program. Like many acts of heroism, this one fails to reach its goal. ...

Bible-Science News for April, 1995, includes several articles dealing with the difficulties for evolution posed by consciousness. William A. Dembski and Paul A. Nelson .discuss "The Mind-Body Problem in the Light of Origins and Apologetics."7 They argue that evolutionary theory is incapable of explaining the origin of consciousness, for a number of reasons. Our human consciousness is at its core the consciousness of self and of the distinction of self from non-self. It includes awareness of our own thought processes, of our perceptions of the external world, of at least some of the imperfections and limitations of our sense organs and of our intellect, and therefore of the distinction between our perceptions of the external world and the reality of the world.

Dembski and Nelson comment, "The way things really are is of course at the heart of the notion of truth. What may be useful to me, biologically speaking, may not necessarily be true."8 But human beings are always concerned with the truth or falsity of ideas and all forms of information, and they are aware of their thinking processes and of the fact that they can reason correctly or incorrectly. They consciously intend to think correctly about themselves, about the way in which they think, and about the world around them. Animals do not have such consciousness of self and of their thinking process. Their sense organs coupled with their central systems are designed to give them perceptions of their surroundings that enable them to live and survive. As the theory goes, evolutionary adaptation by random variation and natural selection "created" and refined the animals' perceptions of and their environment and their responses that enable them to survive. Therefore, they do not need to be conscious of truth and falsity of ideas. Consequently, their environment would not give selective advantage to mutations tending toward consciousness of truth and falsity, or of the self's mental processes. Consequently, evolution does not explain the origin of human consciousness.

In an article entitled "What Does Evolution Really Tell Us About the Function of the Mind?" the editor of Bible-Science News quotes John R. Searle, Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at Berkeley. Searle explains in his book, The Rediscovery of the Mind, why intentionality of thought, a key aspect of consciousness, offers particularly difficult problems for evolutionary theory. He shows that efforts to reduce (explain) the mental activity of intentional thought in terms of some non-mental process e.g., physical brain events and/or evolutionary advantage cannot succeed:

So far no attempt at naturalizing content has produced an explanation (analysis, reduction) of intentional content that is even remotely plausible. ...A symptom that something is radically wrong with the project is that intentional notions are inherently normative. They set standards of truth, rationality, consistency, etc., and there is no way that these standards can be intrinsic to a system consisting entirely of brute, blind, nonintentional causal relations. There is no mean component to billiard ball causation. Darwinian biological attempts at naturalizing content try to avoid this problem by appealing to what they suppose is the inherently teleological [i.e., purposeful], normative character of biological evolution. But this is a very deep mistake. There is nothing normative or teleological about Darwinian evolution. Indeed, Darwin's major contribution was precisely to remove purpose, and teleology from evolution, and substitute for it purely natural forms of selection.9

A prominent secular neurophysiologist, Ian M. Glynn of the University of Cambridge, though a believer in evolution, is highly critical of all proposals that have yet been offered to explain how evolution could have created human consciousness. Writing in 1993 in Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, he said:

I want to discuss a problem which was first posed over a century ago, which is important, which is still not solved, and yet which is very largely neglected.

In January of 1879, William James published an article in the journal Mind entitled 'Are we automata?', in which he asked the question: Why has consciousness evolved? This question had not seemed a problem to Darwin, or indeed to anyone else until James raised it.10

Glynn goes on to explain that as long as the traditional biblical dualism of an immaterial soul interacting with a physical brain prevailed, it was thought that natural selection could account for the evolution of consciousness. However, as more and more scientists and philosophers followed Darwin in espousing the anti-Christian world view of materialistic monism (i.e., nothing exists but the material universe), the idea of an immaterial soul presiding over a material brain was gradually pushed out of the arena of scientific discourse. Today any scientist who thinks that way is considered by the majority of his peers to be unworthy of his profession.

Prof. Glynn proceeds to expose the failures of various secular proposals for the evolution of consciousness. One of these, proposed by T.H. Huxley, Darwin's "Bulldog," was one we mentioned earlier in this chapter. It is that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, merely an incidental phenomenon that accompanied the evolution of the physical brain. Glynn explains James' response to this idea:

He pointed out that if mental events are epiphenomena they cannot influence behaviour. They will therefore be ineffective in Darwin's struggle for existence, and they will be ignored by natural selection. But if they are ignored by natural selection if they have no survival value why should we have evolved brains that make them possible? (One can, of course, make the ad hoc assumption that the physical events of which mental events are the epiphenomena are themselves advantageous, but one then has to explain what it is about physical events in this class that makes them advantageous. That they make conscious thought possible is not relevant, for thought that merely accompanies behaviour without influencing it will be ignored by natural selection.).11

So we see that in the ranks of secular scientists there is a not insignificant party of those who recognize that the enthusiasm of Dr. Crick and so many others for a monistic view of the mind-brain problem springs from philosophy, not from scientific evidence. John Searle observes, "Acceptance of the current views is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of their truth as by a terror of what are apparently the only alternatives."12 The core alternative he has in mind is the real existence of a spiritual self that presides over the physical brain. The editor of Bible-Science News comments, "But science doesn't require us to pursue the project of naturalism. The search for knowledge, and the naturalistic worldview, are two very different goals. One can abandon one without abandoning the other."13 We would add that, as was explained in Chapter-5, we Christians must be careful not to imitate the secularists' mistake of confusing our philosophical world view with science.

Let us close our examination of the current search for a purely physical explanation of human consiousness by asking a pointed question and noting an absurdity. If consciousness is an illusion, who then is experiencing the illusion? And the absurdity? Are not the secularist neurophsiologists attempting to prove their own non-existence?



1. Crick, F.H.C., Scientific American, Vol. 241, Sept. 1979, p. 224.

2. Popper, Karl R. and Eccles, John C., The Self and Its Brain (Springer International, New York, 1977).

3. Penfield, Wilder, The Mystery of the Mind (Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 113-114.

4. Crick, Francis, The Astonishing Hypothesis. The Scientific Search for the Soul (Scribner, New York, 1994).

5. Hopfield, J.J., Science, Vol. 263, 4 Feb. 1994, p. 696.

6. Fowler, John W., Science, Vol. 264, 1 April 1994, p. 14.

7. Dembski, William A. and Paul A. Nelson, "the Mind-Body Problem in the Light of Origins and Apologetics," Bible-Science News, Vol. 33:3, April 1995, pp. 17-20.

8. Ibid., p. 19.

9. Searle, John, The Rediscovery of the Mind (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992), pp. 50, 51; partially quoted in "What Does Evolution Really Tell Us About the Function of the Mind?" Bible-Science News, Vol 33:3, April 1995, p. 16.

10. Glynn, Ian, "The Evolution of Consciousness: William James's Unsolved Problem," Biological Reviews, Vol. 68 (1993), pp. 599-616, see p. 599; quoted in Bible-Science News, Vol. 33:3, April 1995, p. 16.

11. Glynn, Ian, ibid., p. 602.

12. Searle, John, ref. 9, p. 4

13. Dembski, William A. and Paul A. Nelson, ref. 7, p. 16.

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