Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Suppose I Had a Victory of Sorts

I'm afraid my IM discussions with my Christian coworker have gone about as far as they're likely to go. Last night, the Christian started making liberal use of entirely capitalized sentences and then turned openly conceited. It seems he's reached the end of his patience.

One of our primary points of contention, and the one we always came back to was whether or not thoughts arise from purely physical processes. I know little about neuroscience, so it was a difficult subject for me to argue. Of course, my coworker knows even less about it, so that was a moot point. Anyway, I maintain that thoughts are the result of physical processes, and I feel the evidence fully supports it. The Christian obviously feels differently. Even when I point out that specific portions of the brain show electrical activity during thought formation or that damage to specific regions will render a person unable to feel the emotions or thoughts generated by that area, the Christian insists that the evidence is only correlation, not evidence of origin:

but if you cannot explain physically where a thought comes from originally (NOT HOW IT'S EXPRESSED) then should you hold to your materialistic beliefs or look for another explanation?

In response, I pointed out that we simply don't understand the workings of the brain well enough yet to properly "read" thoughts. Why dismiss a possible and explanation before it's falsified, especially when there's a strong correlation? In response, the Christian accuses me of taking it on faith that we will eventually be able to read thoughts simply because I have an irrational belief in materialism. As he says it, we can't completely explain the origin of thoughts now, so there's no reason to assume natural causes. We automatically have to go with the supernatural.

While the fact that I have a "belief" in naturalism is certainly true, we can only build judgments based on our beliefs and experiences, I feel the history of science shows that you can't assume anything is unknowable, especially when natural causes have explained so much already. Just because people couldn't imagine or even measure the presence of relativity before the 20th century doesn't mean it wasn't a property of the universe.

Nevertheless, the Christian went into a diatribe that one must consider the supernatural for things we cannot measure, such as thoughts. Really, it was nothing more than a "god of the gaps" argument dressed up in a way that sounded philosophically pleasing enough to make his faith sound science-based. When I pointed the obvious fact that his insistence on the supernatural is wholly dependent on his preferred beliefs, he threw the following down:

philosophical naturalism... not science. I'm honestly kinda disappointed you won't consider intelligent causes

Despite the gross misunderstanding of science, the Christian's declaration of his superiority kind of pissed me off. I didn't say anything about it, and just let him continue on his tirade for a while. I made a couple of attempts to further explain my argument, but the Christian was pretty much done with the debate at that point and decided to call it a night shortly after that. I never expected any sort of victory. We view the world in fundamentally different ways, which means we will never agree on certain aspects.

Nevertheless, the fact that I kept it cool and reasoned, while he was the one to make it personal gives me a small degree of satisfaction. No, it won't change a damn thing, but I'll take it. Still, I think I'm about done talking with him about religion. Now that he's made his disdain open, I see little reason to continue.


  1. Current lack of explanation is a perfectly valid place to be. Your friend's contention that you should consider some sort of ID cause boils down to simply shutting down curiousity. I don't know what gravity is (no one really does), but that doesn't mean smarter people than me don't keep asking questions about it.

    email me at mpekarek@hotmail.com if you would like to discuss.

  2. Check out the latest issue of Scientific American

    The have an article on some of the workings of the brain.

  3. J Bar, I'd be willing to bet that just because Christian decided to call it a night at that point doesn't mean the debate is truly over. While you can graciously accept that you view the world in fundamentally different ways, most Christians cannot. That just won't do - for them. Don't despair, though. Be happy knowing that they're always praying for you!!

  4. You might be right on that one, Alba. And don't worry, I won't despair. Life's too short to worry too much about what other people believe...unless they want to force me to believe it too.

    Anon, thanks for the link. I thoroughly enjoyed the SciAm article.