Why “Brain Mapping” Should Matter To Atheists
I was planning to post a piece about the Kalam Cosmological Argument today. It is mostly written and just about ready to go, but I can post that anytime. Sadly, I have a feeling that theists will continue rolling this argument out for quite some time—no matter how many times it is debunked. I changed my mind on the topic for today when I saw the following headline in the New York Times “Obama Seeking to Boost Study of Human Brain”. This is important news for many reasons (Alzheimers, schizophrenia, TBI’s, concussions, etc) . I want to focus on why it should matter to secular Americans, particularly, atheists.
This new study will cost a few billion dollars and will take about a decade or so. It is being compared to the project that mapped the human genome. That project cost a little over $3 billion. Before you scoff at the money being spent, you should know that the research that came out of that project returned about $140 per dollar spent back into our economy. In the end, studies like this help to make the science and health care parts of our economy stronger. Both of those are huge parts of our economy, particularly the latter. It is anticipated that the “Brain Activity Map” study will do the same.
Why should this matter to atheists? If you spend a fair amount of time debating theists, you most likely have had conversations about the soul and consciousness. At this point in time, there is no evidence for a soul, so I am not going to discuss that today. However, consciousness is also not explained very well. In recent years we have made large advancements in our understanding of this phenomenon, but still cannot explain it fully. Through this study, that is likely to change.
One of the favorite arguments from theists is that atheists cannot explain the “immaterial” in our minds—like thoughts, likes, dislikes, love, and all of the other things that can fall under the banner of consciousness. They ask, how can a brain made up of purely physical things, sub-atomic particles, produce something immaterial? While many theists who pose that question scoff at the ideas of chemical reactions and electric activity in the brain as being keys to this slowly unraveling mystery, we understand more than they think we do—or that they are willing to accept that we do.
This study will remove that problem. A mapping of the human brain will remove one more “gap” for god to hide in. When we can fully explain how our brain operates through completely material means, in a logical manner, the theist will no longer be able to claim god as a source for consciousness. Will all theists accept the inevitable conclusion that this is a purely material process? Certainly not, just look at Francis Collins, whose organization will be heading this up. The mapping of the genome did not sway him from his Christian views (see: cognitive dissonance). However, like so many scientific advancements in the past, this will undoubtedly sway many away from the superstitious clutches of god-belief. It will also lead to new apologetics, as things like this often do. I welcome that as well. It would be nice to actually be academically stimulated with new arguments from theists.
I am really hoping that study gets off the ground. The fewer the “gaps” for god, the fewer believers we will see. This has been a trend for centuries. The more we shrink the available spaces for god to hide, the better. I fully anticipate this study to do exactly that, even though it is not at all the intended purpose. This brings me to my last point.
So many theists that I talk with assume that I (and many scientists) are atheists first and truth seekers second. They assume that I reject god because I want to do so—that I have always had some predisposition to do so. They assume that I reject god because I worship science. They assume that I will reject whatever they have to say because I am “biased” by science. They point out that, “ …of course Dr. X says that…he’s an atheist!” This is complete nonsense. What they fail to understand is that me, most other atheists, and many scientists are interested in the truth first, and atheism/theism second. I am an atheist because there is NO evidence to support the idea of god. If this were to change, which at this point in human knowledge, is incredibly unlikely to happen, then there would be fewer atheists. Period. The theist cannot just dismiss what a scientists tells him/her is factual simply because that scientist is atheist. I read a quote from Lee Strobel this weekend. To paraphrase, he said that if a theist has some doubts, which he admits is inevitable, they should look for one of the many books on the subject written by Christian authors. How absurd is that? By all means, read the book by the Christian author, but do not stop there! Read all that you can on the matter, regardless of the religious background of the author! Get all of the facts and information that you can! I can’t help but think that many theists view science the same way. They see an imaginary division between the author/sceintist’s religious background and facts.
In closing, I hope that you support this study. Aside from all of the medical benefits that will be gained, there is the very real potential for the unintended benefit of removing another major “gap” where, in the minds of many theists, god resides.
**When searching for the picture at the top, I learned that the European Union also allocated $1.2 Billion to a study for brain mapping as well. Great news!**
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