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Hand Waving is Not an Argument

In this article British neuroscientist Patrick Haggard has his assistant stimulate parts of his brain in a way that causes his fingers to twitch.  Then the scientist announces in magisterial tones, “See, we have no free will.”  Rubbish.  

For decades we have known that stimulating certain areas of the brain with electrical impulses causes reactions in the muscles.  No one has ever disputed this or that there is a material (in the philosophical sense of that word) cause-effect relationship between brain function and body function.  It is one thing to conclude there is a material cause and effect relationship between the brain and body function, but it is something entirely different to assert that the existence of this material cause and effect relationship proves that human consciousness is an illusion and there is no free will.  

Dr. Haggard has committed the logical fallacy of “affirming the consequent.”  This logical fallacy takes the following form:

 1.  If A, then B

2.  B

3.  Therefore A.

 For example,

 1.  If I get in my car I always go to my office.

2.  I am at my office.

3.  Therefore I got into my car.

Notice how the conclusion does not follow as a matter of logic from the premises even if both premises are true.  It may be the fact that every time I get in my car I go one and only one place, i.e., my office.  It may also be a fact that I am in my office.  It does not necessarily follow that I got into my car to get to the office.  I might have taken a cab or walked or gotten a ride from my wife.  The error in affirming the consequent comes in failing to take account of the fact that A may not be the only sufficient condition of B.  Factors other than A might also account for B.

 Let’s see how Professor Haggard committed the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent.

 1.  Chemical/electrical reactions in the brain cause human actions.

2.  Human actions occur.

3.  Therefore, the human actions were caused by chemical/electrical reactions in the brain.

 Not so fast.  Might there not be other causes of human actions?  Consider qualia for example.  Apprehending that the sunset is red is a human action.  Appreciating the “redness” and “warmth” of the sunset are also human actions.  Can the subjective appreciation of the qualities of the experience of the sunset be reduced to the same chemical/electrical impulses that allow us to experience it in the first place?  However one answers this question (and even many materialists believe the answer is “no”), certainly the question itself cannot be dismissed out of hand as Professor Haggard does.

 I am not minimizing for a moment the hard problem of consciousness.  But the puerile insouciance with which Professor Haggard simply waves the problem away is truly astonishing.

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13 Responses to Hand Waving is Not an Argument

  1. Mr. Arrington,

    Here are a couple of related studies:

    A Reply to Shermer Medical Evidence for NDEs (Near Death Experiences) – Pim van Lommel
    Excerpt: For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories (information) inside the brain, so far without success.,,,,Interrupting the electrical fields of local neuronal networks in parts of the cortex also disturbs the normal function of the brain, because by localized electrical stimulation of the temporal and parietal lobe during surgery for epilepsy the neurosurgeon and Nobel prize winner W. Penfield could sometimes induce flashes of recollection of the past (never a complete life review), experiences of light, sound or music, and rarely a kind of out-of-body experience. These experiences did not produce any transformation.(15-16) After many years of research he finally reached the conclusion that it is not possible to localize memories (information) inside the brain. Olaf Blanke also recently described in Nature a patient with induced OBE by inhibition of cortical activity caused by more intense external electrical stimulation of the gyrus angularis in a patient with epilepsy
    http://www.nderf.org/vonlommel.....sponse.htm

    Scientific Evidence That Mind “Transcendently” Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiment, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”

  2. But what about the glaringly obvious question: were the actions of Haggard’s assistant willed or not?

    It is, I submit, somewhat difficult for Haggard to argue this experiment proves the sort of causality he is claiming when it is so very obvious that conscious intent and deliberate choice of action is effectively assumed as a precondition of the experiment.

  3. Every time someone pronounces that he has proven free will is just and illusion, it just makes me laugh. The question I would ask is?

    “Mr. Haggard, so you are asking me to read the results of this experiment and choose that I don’t have a choice, decide that I am unable to make a decision, and believe that I can not form a belief?”

    I say it advisedly, but Mr. Haggard is a fool.

  4. 4

    So Haggard argues that our lives are simply a network of uncontrollable non-rational reflex actions.

    The real worry in this sort of argument is that it removes the aspect of responsibility for our actions. It removes any concept of moral or immoral behaviour. It destroys the idea of good actions and evil actions.

  5. Thanks for some very clear explanations of the concepts and the examples you used to illustrate the problem.

  6. Better Question:

    To Dr. Haggard’s Assistant:

    Miss Fuentes, Dr. Haggard has stated that this experiment was done according to the outlined procedure and proves that there is no such thing as free will. Do you swear of your own free will, and with no inappropriate coercion, that the account given above is a truthful representation of the facts?

  7. Any sort of communication by Dr. Haggard or anyone else requires free will. Otherwise, the selection of each individual letter that is used in each message must be explained by the laws of physics. Also, the coding structure (symbols) must be explained by physics. Also, the rules governing the arrangement of the symbols in the code must be explained by physics – IF we have no free will. As it turns out, physics cannot explain any of this.

    It makes a nice modus tollens argument. If we had no free will then language would be impossible. But language is possible. Therefore, we do have free will.

    I agree with JDH that Psalm 14:1 pertains…

  8. People are still arguing against free will? Unbelievable.

  9. TGP, you are most correct sir.

    It is the central issue. The entire apparatus falls apart at the feet of meaning – the very thing that our materialist opposition tell us is not among the properties of matter, which explains all there is.

    t-wang

  10. 10

    “No!” they say.

    ‘Meaning is not a property of matter’ it is an emergent mental state associated with human consciousness.

    Problem. Life itself is written in meaning. It existed long before humans were around to think it up.

  11. @upright

    -”Problem. Life itself is written in meaning. It existed long before humans were around to think it up.”

    They will say in a typical pagan fashion that it’s nature (goddess natura) that was there to think it up… Which of course begs the question and also raises another issue… How can a non-conscious, meaningless, purposeless “thing” (nature) observe, let along create meaning?

    The only answer to that is magic and caprice!

    Superstition at its finest!

  12. He coupld have “supported” his “conclusion” more directly and with less expensive technology simply by tapping his assistants’ knees with a small rubber mallet.

  13. TGPeeler:It makes a nice modus tollens argument. If we had no free will then language would be impossible. But language is possible. Therefore, we do have free will.

    I made a similar observation some months ago (in an email to Mrs O’Leary).

    In <a href="this thread, a materialist asked:
    Information gets into the body via sound, light, touch, etc. Why does Beauregard think that information can’t be carried by these stimuli?
    .
    What is surprising about the fact that differing patterns of physical stimulation have different effects on the brain, and therefore the mind?

    My response was:

    Never mind the inane mis-understanding of ‘information’ (and of ‘mind’) on display here, I have another target in mind.

    What is the difference between “How much is four plus two?” and “Wie viel ist vier und zwei?

    My point is that were materialist question-begging about what ‘mind’ is (and what ‘information’ is) actually true, then there is no difference, and can be no difference, between those two sentences, whether written or spoken, in the effect thay will have upon those who hear or read them. Were materialism true, a speaker only of English and a speaker only of German and a speaker only of some other language would all be equally “stimulated” by these sentences.

    And, in fact, were materialism true, then there could exist at most one human language — and it must be spoken, it cannot be represented in writing — for the meaning of the word must exist in the sound of the word itself. And, as is far more the rational position, there could exist no human language at all, were materialism the truth about the nature of reality and the nature of human beings.

    But, in the real world, all words are inherently meaningless; words are symbols which mean nothing in themselves, whether spoken, or written, or signed, or digitalized, or represented in any other way. The meaning of any and all words exists entirely within the immaterial mind of the speaker/writer and listener/reader.

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