Dembski extrapolates out of his ass
My good friend and colleague Jeffrey Schwartz (along with Mario Beauregard and Henry Stapp) has just published a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that challenges the materialism endemic to so much of contemporary neuroscience. By contrast, it argues for the irreducibility of mind (and therefore intelligence) to material mechanisms.
A bit of background: properties of a system are emergent if they arise via interactions of the system's components, but cannot be predicted by understanding the behavior of individual parts of said system. For example, knowing all there is to know about water molecules doesn't explain the property of "wetness". Likewise, the taste of salt can't be inferred from knowing every chemical detail about sodium and chloride. Emergent phenomena are supervenient* upon their components, which basically means they can't be explained reductively. (Whether supervenience qualifies as irreducibly complex in the Intelligent Design world I don't know, since ID'ers don't give a good, consistent, workable definition of irreducible complexity.)
Note that an emergent phenomenon is no less a part of the material world just because it isn't
A look at the abstract, so we can see where Dembski is going with this:
Neuropsychological research on the neural basis of behaviour generally posits that brain mechanisms will ultimately suffice to explain all psychologically described phenomena. This assumption stems from the idea that the brain is made up entirely of material particles and fields, and that all causal mechanisms relevant to neuroscience can therefore be formulated solely in terms of properties of these elements.
If you just appended that segment with "or interactions among these elements", you would have an accurate statement that I could agree with. As it stands, Schwartz is pretty much spot-on.... for 1950. Neuroscience is no longer filled with reductionists, although the bulk of us need not look past reductionism to explore the subfields in which we specialize.
Schwartz goes on to make a rather nasty error in the next part of the abstract:
Thus, terms having intrinsic mentalistic and/or experiential content (e.g. ‘feeling’, ‘knowing’ and ‘effort’) are not included as primary causal factors.
Bzzzzzt. The reason mental events are not included as primary causal factors is because they're frickin' hard to study. This doesn't make them intractable, and indeed there are studies out there which looks at mental events as causal events which Schwartz acknowledges at the end of the abstract! Once again, the ID cheerleaders are trying to take credit for another first down.
The rest of the abstract is more of the same, pretty ho-hum. Schwartz covertly bloviates (is that possible?) about the need for a paradigm shift when our perspective has been changing already, so the ID crowd certainly can't take credit for it. But Schwartz is correct on one thing: reductive materialism likely can't explain all brain phenomena. This does not invalidate all naturalistic explanations, as Dembski falls just short of suggesting (and can you just sense him dying to type "NATURALISM"), just the reductive materialistic ones. Property dualism, for example, would still be fair game**.
The strategy looks pretty plain to me: equivocate irreducibility with Irreducible Complexity (IC) to make an argument for ID. One problem is the lack of an argument in support of ID-style Irreducible Complexity here, as you can remove parts of brains and they still function just fine. (In fact, if you grab 'em young enough, you can cut out an entire hemisphere and the child will grow up to be normal, for all intents and purposes.) Another problem is that concluding ID from an irreducible structure is a non-sequitur; it simply just does not follow that a designer had any role.
Bottom line, Bill needs to keep it in his pants; this angle is going to fall prey to all the same old criticisms of every IC incarnation. It seems there's nothing new under the sun here, just more ID supporters trying to appear ahead of the game and take credit for something, when in fact they're still playing catch-up. Hopefully the article itself will prove to be more intellectually stimulating.
*50 cent word.
**not to be construed as an endorsement of property dualism.