This great quote came from Reddit where a commenter was reacting to my piece on the Carroll/Novella vs Alexander/Moody debate. It’s spot on:
It’s always a false dichotomy with these guys. Either the materialist explanation of consciousness has to describe absolutely everything in its entirety down to the atom, or else magic is true! “Well guys, it looks like we have failed to map every single one of the trillion-some-odd neurons in the brain, so I guess neuroscience has utterly failed and must be discarded. Therefore, the only possibly alternative explanation must be that ghosts are real!”
Same spiel with the intelligent designers: point out one missing link in the fossil record, and the entire theory of evolution must be fundamentally wrong! The only possible alternative, of course, is that god did it.
Philosopher David Chalmers, author of The Conscious Mind, makes a similar fallacious assumption when he argues that because explaining consciousness in materialistic terms is difficult, there must be a supernatural component (though Chalmers probably wouldn’t use the word supernatural, but that is essentially what he is asserting because he claims that a naturalistic explanation falls short.) No one is saying that explaining consciousness isn’t a Hard Problem. I think Dan Dennett makes a pretty valiant argument for a naturalistic method of consciousness inConsciousness Explained. At the very least, I’ll take “we don’t know yet” over “the paradigm of naturalism has failed” any day.
Basically these guys just assume that magic is true by default. They look for mystery in nature, and instead of just accepting it as is – a mystery, yet to be solved – they assume that it is inherently unsolvable in a naturalistic context, and therefore, whatever magical bullshit they can come up with must be true. The burden of proof is never on them, of course – it’s the scientists that have to do all the work of actually giving evidence and then untangling the mess of their opponent’s argument. The peddlers of mysticism are exempt from having to provide proof of their own assertions, let alone a mechanism for how any of it works. The scientists then have to tediously pick apart this nonsense, while simultaneously conveying difficult scientific concepts as concisely as possible in a limited time format. And they still win!