Printer Friendly

The Mind And The Machine: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters.

THE MIND AND THE MACHINE: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters by Matthew Dickerson. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011. xxvi + 230 pages. Paperback; $19.99. ISBN: 9781587432729.

Frodo Baggins might be said to exemplify the value of virtue precisely because he freely chooses to do right at great cost to himself. Tolkien uses the concept of heroism, Matthew Dickerson argues, to show that free will to strive toward our telos differentiates humans from machines and allows the possibility of true reason and virtue. Dickerson, professor of computer science and environmental studies at Middlebury College, has written several laudable books about the truths contained in the fantasies of Tolkien and Lewis. In this work, he argues against naturalism, physicalism, materialism, and reductionism, using a stirring argument from the reality of human creativity, heroism (seen as virtue), art, and environmental concern. While the chronicles of Tolkien and Lewis are used to elucidate these concepts, the integrative dualism of Charles Taliaferro is given as philosophical warrant. These human values are set in contrast to the mechanistic ideology represented by Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near and the Matrix films.

In the first section of the book, Dickerson presents the logical conclusions of several physicalist presuppositions and shows how the new atheists disguise these philosophical presuppositions as science. The abolition of creativity and virtue logically follows, along with machine-like life beyond freedom or dignity described by Kurzweil and Skinner. Arguments in this section, largely based on the work of Taliaferro and William Dembski, raise several useful points about the nature and operation of science itself. Science can have no answer for the problem of subjective experience, so although we know beauty and virtue to be true, they are not accessible to science. Dickerson also invokes J. B. S. Haldane's well-known argument about the unreasonableness of using reason.

The second section gives a theistic defense of both reason and science. Reason is not wholly explicable by natural laws and so must have a supernatural source (p. 160). Although our ability to reason is flawed because of our broken relationship to God, Christianity, he says, holds a high view of reason, and ultimately reason can be trusted because the source of reason is a divine Reasoner (p. 163). This appears to me to be a circular argument, although he invokes the miracles of Jesus as supporting evidence for the reasonableness of Christianity.

Taliaferro's interactive dualism is then presented as a more holistic form of dualism than that of Descartes. Rather than explicitly attempting a proof of dualism, Dickerson seeks to confirm its compatibility with the cherished values of creativity and ethical concern for others and for the environment. Although not explicitly stated in the book, Taliaferro believes the soul is cospatial with the body rather than extensible in space; this view allows greater cooperation between soul and body than Cartesian dualism allows. Dickerson avers that Christianity teaches an immortal spirit, which is to be distinguished from the Platonic soul (pp. 156-7). This biblical teaching gives value to the body not found in Platonic dualism. Because Judeo-Christian dualism fully affirms the close connection between body and spirit, it holds both the physical body and the physical cosmos in high regard. This invalidates any denigration of the body seen in Platonic dualism or disregard for creation held by some Christians. In closing, Dickerson appeals to the reader to listen for the personal voice of this divine Reason.

Mind and the Machine provides a mostly well-crafted and accessible popular-level introduction to some of the naturalistic presuppositions often employed in philosophical arguments against theism. It also includes some useful Christian responses to atheism. I found the relative lack of references from either philosophy or theology and, in particular, none from science striking, even though the book is clearly not aimed at an academic audience.

As a neuroscientist, I expected that at least the chapter titled Reason, Science, and the Mind as a Physical Brain would consider some recent findings in neuroscience, but surprisingly neuroscience is not mentioned anywhere in the book. Any evidence for the ever-tightening link between the mind and the brain is omitted, along with the evidence that this interaction works both ways, namely, top-down and bottom-up. Downward causation of the mind on the brain would seem to be a useful addition in support of the antireductionistic argument Dickerson presents. He also fails to distinguish between strict naturalism and other broader forms which allow for the reality of consciousness and mental experience as an emergent from physical reality.

The use of the term spirit throughout the entire book in contexts in which most philosophers and theologians would use soul left this reviewer confused. Although he mentions the tripartite soul (p. xvi) rather than a tripartite person, and refers to the mind as being in the middle between body and soul (p. xvii), I could not decide if Dickerson differentiates between soul and spirit, or conflates the two. For example, even though Matt. 10:28 and 16:26 use the word psyche and not pneuma, Dickerson proposes that these verses deal with death of the spirit. He also states that the eternal spirit is to be reimbodied (p. 200) and that God breathed spirit into the dust to create Adam (pp. 130, 200). We are not told if this use of spirit is specifically intended to distinguish his view from Platonic dualism, or if he is merely appealing to a popular evangelical audience.

My major concern is that Dickerson sets up his argument as if the only alternatives are substance dualism or eliminative materialism, necessitating a choice between the Shire and the Matrix. Of course we desire the heroism and beauty of Middle Earth, but is substance dualism the only compatible philosophy? Even among non-Christian philosophers there are other possible positions which might be relevant. For example, some of Chalmers's arguments could have been applicable even if he were not a theist. As a substance dualist, Chalmers holds that consciousness is a given fundamental of the universe, the same as gravity is. Gravity is physical, but its existence is also not fully explainable in physical terms. The only nondualist proposal Dickerson mentions is John Searle's position that consciousness is not ontologically reducible to brain processes even though it is completely caused by and realized in the brain. Dickerson lauds Searle's affirmation of the reality of consciousness, but dismisses Searle's reasoning.

A more relevant addition to the nonreductionistic argument, I believe, would be the concept of emergence, especially as developed by several Christians. Emergence can be either dualistic (e.g., Hasker) or entail development of a real mental reality from the physical brain. Judging by the number of recent articles in PSCF and Science and Christian Beliefas well as recent books and symposia (e.g., http://rsfs, top-down causality and emergence seem worth considering. Numerous Christian neuroscientists (e.g., MacKay, Jeeves, Brown, Newsome), philosophers (e.g., Murphy, O'Conner, Corcoran), and theologians (e.g., Polkinghorne, Green, Markham, Wright) affirm emergence of consciousness and soul without denying God's action in the universe. Jeeves's notion of dualism of aspects, "an intrinsic duality that we have to deal with but this does not need to be seen as dualism of substances," is widely known among Christians who study neuroscience or psychology. Soulishness and spirituality might be seen in terms of the telos God calls forth as our entire being in all its facets responds to him.

In speaking of substance dualism, N. T. Wright has compared the "god of the gaps" view of creation with what he calls a "soul of the gaps" view of personhood. Howard Van Till spoke of the "functional integrity of a fully gifted creation" which can freely participate in its own development. Discussion of the mind/body problem is ultimately a continuation of the discussion of how God works in the universe--through direct intervention or through the emergence, by God's action, of creative properties. Both scenarios hold God to be causally effective in the universe. Ultimately, however, both dualist and nondualists among us agree that the Holy Spirit is "everywhere present and filling all things" (as the ancient Trisagion prayer expresses), choosing to work with, in, and through the creation over which he hovers.

Reviewed by Judith Toronchuk, Psychology and Biology Departments (retired), Trinity Western University, Langley, BC V2Y 1Y1.
COPYRIGHT 2012 American Scientific Affiliation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Toronchuk, Judith
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Previous Article:Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible.
Next Article:Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters