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December 26, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

Sir John Carew Eccles: Philosophical Indictment of Scientific Materialism

“We regard promissory materialism to be as superstition without rational foundation. The more we discover between mental phenomena and the more wonderful do both the brain events and the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply religious belief held by dogmatic materialism.”
John Eccless and Daniel Robinson in The Wonder of Being Human, 1984, p. 36

“I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by reductionism [the theory that complex phenomena can be explained by analyzing the simplest most basic mechanism or organelles] with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns and neural activity. This belief must be classed as superstition. … We have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.
Sir John Carew Eccles, In Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self, 1991, p. 241

” Since materialist solutions fail to account for our experienced uniqueness, I am constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the Self or Soul to a supernatural spiritual creation. To give the explanation in theological terms: each Soul is a new Divine creation which is implanted into the growing foetus at some time between conception and birth.”
Sir John Carew Eccles, Evolution of the Brain, p. 237

The other is the Immanent God to whom we owe our existence. In some mysterious way, God is the Creator of all the living forms in the evolutionary process, and particularly in hominid evolution of human person, each with the conscious selfhood of an immortal soul.
We may conclude by saying that biological evolution transcends itself in providing the material basis, the human brin, for self-conscious beings whose very nature is to seek for hope and to enquire for meaning in the quest for love, truth, and beauty.”
Sir John Carew Eccles, Evolution of the brain: creation of the self, p. 255

Here is a fuller block quote from Sir John Carew Eccles:

Science and religion are very much alike. Both are imaginative and creative aspects of the human mind. The appearance of conflict is a result of ignorance.

We come to exist through a divine act. That divine guidance is a theme throughout our life; at our death the brain goes, but that divine guidance and love continues. Each of us is a unique, conscious being, a divine creation. It is the religious view. It is the only view consistent with all the evidence.

There has been a regrettable tendency of many scientists to claim that science is so powerful and all pervasive that in the not too distant future it will provide an explanation in principle for all phenomena in the world of nature, including man, even of human consciousness in all of its manifestations. [Karl] Popper has labeled this claim as promissory materialism, which is extravagant and unfulfillable.

Yet on account of the high regard for science, it has great persuasive power with the intelligent laity because it is advocated by the great mass of scientists who have not critically evaluated the dangers of this false and arrogant claim.

I regard this theory as being without foundation. The more we discover scientifically about the brain, the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena, and the more wonderful do the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply a superstition held by dogmatic materialists. It has all the features of a Messianic prophecy, with the promise of a future freed of all problems—a kind of Nirvana for our unfortunate successors.

We have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.

The amazing success of the theory of evolution has protected it from significant critical evaluation in recent times. However, it fails in a most important respect. It cannot account for the existence of each one of us as unique, self-conscious beings.

(Link: Source–Thanks to Dwight Whitsett)

I’ve included some of Sir John Carew Eccles’ background to provide credibility and context to the above quotes. His biographical memoirs are available here. Some of the core questions he consider were:

• how can Man’s enormous capacity for thinking, memory, and emotional feeling and expression be explained?
• how can the ‘Will’ have such a strong and precise effect on our skeletal muscles during voluntary movement?
• since our intentions (‘Will’) appear so strong, can they lead to a change of brain substrates, both structurally and functionally?
• can a mind-brain interaction be localized to certain, selected parts of the brain, or even to specific cells or synapses?
• which physiological, chemical and physical processes are associated with the mind-brain interaction?

One of his core explorations in the mind-body problem is explained in Sir John Carew Eccles’ biographical memoir:

His intention was to develop testable propositions in relation to these questions. In The Self and Its Brain (450, p.355) he summarized his views on the mind-brain interaction: ‘It is a very strong dualism and raises the most severe scientific problems in relationship to the interface between the world of matter-energy, in the special instance of the liaison area of the brain, and the world of states of consciousness that is referred to as the self-conscious mind. Briefly, the hypothesis states that the self-conscious mind is an independent entity that actively engages in the reading out from a multitude of active centres in the modules of the liaison areas of the dominant cerebral hemisphere.’

Eccles maintained that conscious experience is provided by the self-conscious mind by itself, and not by the neural machinery of the brain with its excitatory and inhibitory synaptic interactions (450, p.362). He further proposed that the mind-brain liaison has traffic in both directions, from the brain to the mind in perception and from mind to brain in willed action (111, p.281). His term liaison brain included all those areas of the cerebral cortex that are potentially capable of being in direct liaison with the self-conscious mind, and he located this liaison brain in the cerebral cortex of the dominant hemisphere, but only in those areas which have linguistic and ideational performance. Further, he felt that a small part, maybe less than a tenth of the cortex, in the right state of activity would be enough to give an effective mind-brain liaison (111, p.283). To illustrate the mind-brain interaction in the liaison areas, Eccles used an analogy: ‘a multiple scanning and probing device that reads out from and selects from the immense and diverse patterns of activity in the cerebral cortex and integrates these selected components, so organizing them into the unity of conscious experience’ (450, p.363). The language Eccles used here is similar to that used by a neuroscientist to explain neuronal interaction in an activated cortical area. He stated, however, that the self-conscious mind is not identical to some physical part of the cerebral cortex like cells or synapses.

He proposed that ‘the self-conscious mind exercises a superior interpretative and controlling role upon the neural events by virtue of a two-way interaction across the interface between World1 and World2’ (450, p.355), using Popper’s nomenclature: World 1, the world of physical objects, and World2, the world of subjective experiences.

Sir John Carew Eccles’ publication bio includes:

1932, Reflex Activity of the Spinal Cord.
1953, The neurophysiological basic of the mind: The principles of neurophysiology, Oxford: Clarendon.
1957, The Physiology of Nerve Cells.
1964, The Physiology of Synapses.
1965, The brain and the unity of conscious experience, London: Cambridge University Press.
1969, The Inhibitory Pathways of the Central Nervous System.
1970, Facing reality: Philosophical Adventures by a Brain Scientist, Berlin: Springer.
1973, The Understanding of the Brain.
1977, The Self and Its Brain, with Karl Popper, Berlin: Springer.
1979, The human mystery, Berlin: Springer.
1980, The Human Psyche.
1984, The Wonder of Being Human – Our Brain & Our Mind, with Daniel N. Robinson, New York, Free Press.
1985, Mind and Brain: The Many-Faceted Problems, (Editor), New York : Paragon House.
1989, Evolution Of The Brain : Creation Of The Self.
1994, How the Self Controls Its Brain.

Here is a short list of the honors Sir John Eccles’ research has received:

The research work of Eccles in neurophysiology has been recognized by several honours and awards amongst which the following may be mentioned: Knight Bachelor, 1958; Fellow of the Royal Society, London, 1941 (Ferrier Lecturer, 1959; Royal Medal, 1962); Fellow Royal Australasian College of Physicians (Rennie Lecturer, 1963); Fellow Royal Society of New Zealand; Fellow Australian Academy of Science (President 1957-1961, Flinders Lecturer, 1963); Honorary Foreign Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1959; Fellow, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 1961; Member Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher «Leopoldina» (Cothenius Medal, 1963); Foreign Honorary Member, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1963; Honorary Fellow, Exeter College, Oxford; Honorary Member, American Philosophical Society, 1964; Hon. Sc.D. (Cantab.), 1960; Baly Medal, Royal College of Physicians, 1961; Hon. D.Sc., University of Tasmania, 1964; Hon. Fellow, Magdalen College, Oxford; Hon. Member, American Neurological Association; Hon. LL. D., University of Melbourne, 1965; Hon. Life Member, New York Academy of Sciences; Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences, 1966; Hon. D.Sc., University of British Columbia, Vancouver; Hon. D.Sc., Gustavus Adolphus College, 1967; Hon.Fellowship, American College of Physicians; Hon. D.Sc., Marquette University; Honorary Member, Accademia Medica Lombarda; Hon. Fellow, Indian Academy of Sciences, 1968; Hon. Member, Czechoslovak Medical Society J. E. Purkyne; Associate Member, Académie Royale de Belgique, 1969; Hon. M.D., Charles University, Prague; Hon. D.Sc., Loyola University, Chicago; Hon. M.D., Yeshiva University, New York.

You can learn more about him here and here.

One Comment

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  1. Curtis Steinhauer / Dec 28 2011 4:18 am

    “God is the Creator of all the living forms in the evolutionary process,” This is a very good read, however I do not agree with you here. One of the biggest misconceptions in the modern christian community is that Macro Evolution and an aged earth are facts. The bible says that God created the earth in six days,a nd while we have evidence for micro evolution (evolution within the kinds) we don’t have any direct evidence for Macro evolution. Some really good resources to check out about this are Kent Hovind and Chuck Mizzler. Two christian scientist who believe in literal six day creation and a 6000 year old earth.

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