According to this article from New Scientist, creationists have a new strategy in their never ending push to get religion into science class. They are trying hard to convince people that the existence of consciousness cannot be explained by reference to the physical brain. Therefore the mind must be “spiritual” in nature. It must be heavenly. Like a multitude of new agers, some are saying that quantum physics somehow makes this all true. (See my rant about such ridiculous misuse of science at the end of this earlier post.)
Anyway, it’s all another “god of the gaps” argument. If science can’t explain it yet, then god did it. An old version of this argument is that thunder and lightning must be evidence that the gods are angry. More recently the argument was that bacterial flagellum (the little propellers bacteria use to move) could never be explained by evolution, so god must have made them. Of course, just like thunder and lightning, we now actually have a pretty good idea of how flagellum came to exist.
This whole notion that whatever we don’t understand yet is proof of god just isn’t going to fly. In this particular instance, a little time spent in an Alzheimers ward or a head trauma clinic might convince you that one’s state of consciousness is directly related to the physical brain. Meanwhile, science is making gradual progress in understanding the brain and there’s no reason to suppose we won’t someday know the physical factors that create consciousness.
Creationists: mind the gap in your understanding of reality. The rest of you: be wary of attempts to degrade science education–we can’t afford it.
Extra reading assignment: An in-depth discussion of the philosophical and scientific issues surrounding mind/brain can be found on the always excellent Neurologica Blog. There are posts before and after the one I’ve linked to that also address the issue.