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Michael Egnor: How NOT to debate materialists

Richard Owen

He tells the story of how a gifted scientist lost a debate with a Darwinist—a debate he should have won:

Owen made a common mistake among those of us who fight the materialist and Darwinist view of man — he accepted materialist premises and thus lost the debate on materialist grounds…

Owen was unwise to base his claim of human exceptionalism — a claim completely vindicated by science and by everyday experience — on the physical differences between apes and men. It is the mental differences which distinguish us. Apes make no claim to ape exceptionalism — they make no claims at all. What distinguishes apes from men is not their brains. I could use ape brains to teach human neuroanatomy to my medical students. Although ape brains do differ somewhat from human brains in cortical anatomy, it is the similarity between the brains of apes and men, rather than the differences, that provides striking evidence of human exceptionalism.

Michael Egnor, “How not to debate materialists” at Mind Matters News

Further reading: Michael Egnor on

reason: The real reason why only human beings speak: Language is a tool for abstract thinking—a necessary tool for abstraction—and humans are the only animals who think abstractly

free will: How Libet’s free will research is misrepresented: Sometimes, says Michael Egnor, misrepresentation may be deliberate because Libet’s work doesn’t support a materialist perspective.


the soul: What is the difference between “soul” and “spirit”? Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor explains the subtle distinction between the meaning of the two, often confused, terms

The point of my post was not to get sucked into a silly and inane debate about whose cat is better. I used my cat and her first time encounters with a balloon to illustrate the difference between ‘paws & claws’ and hands. Civilization could have not been built with paws and claws nor could it have been built with a cat’s curiosity and problem solving ability. Is it all just coincidence that humans evolved hands that are so intricately correlated and coordinated with the ability to think and reason abstractly? Is there a gene for abstract thinking? So is it all just an accident that the genes controlling the evolution of the human hand and human mind just coincidentally got changed at the same time. john_a_designer
JaD@11, I bought a Mylar balloon for my wife’s 60th. He dragged it down from the ceiling in a matter of seconds. I guess my cat is smarter than yours. :) Ed George
John A Designer- I see that you didn't get the memo: Balloons and Wildlife: Please Don't Release Your Balloons ET
About a month ago I bought my cat a bright red helium filled Mylar balloon. To the ribbon of the balloon I tied a piece of twine with the other end the twine tied onto the tail of a small toy Mini Mouse so that the mouse was hanging 8 to 10 inches above the floor. The balloon of course was free to bounce around off the ceiling and where ever the indoor air currents happened to carry it… It quickly became my cat’s favorite toy. She literally had hours and hours of fun. However, she soon became bored stalking and attacking the toy mouse. I noticed that she kept looking up at the balloon. It was obvious what she wanted. She wanted that balloon. She soon figured out that by pulling on the string she could get up the knot where the twine was tied to the ribbon and then pulling down on the ribbon with her paws and claws she just might-- she just maybe get that damn balloon. But alas it was to no avail. I saw her get to within 6 or 7 inch of the balloon after getting all tangled up with ribbon and twine but she never made it to her goal. A few days ago we went outdoors released the balloon, which was almost out of helium, and let it drift off to wherever freed balloons What’s my point? Well actually I have several points. The first is that animals, chiefly mammals, share with human’s things like curiosity, imagination and the ability to do problem solving which requires a basic level of intelligence. The balloon, for example, presented my cat with a very unique and novel problem, which she tried, albeit unsuccessfully to solve. Secondly, what my cat was unable to do with paws and claws could have been very easily accomplished by a small child, a monkey or an ape with hands and fingers. Thirdly, without the human hand civilization which led to modern science, technology and industry would have been impossible. So how did the human hand evolve from paws and claws? And what good would a human hand been without the human mind and intelligence? Is it all just the result of a string of fortuitous accidents? john_a_designer
@9 JVL
Not interested.
Translated: you can not defend your argument. Truthfreedom
Truthfreedom: Why not? Not interested. That sounds objective. We agree that something is ‘bad’ for no reason? Is it objective? Gosh, I was just talking about what seems to work for the benefit of the vast majority of people on the planet. I could be wrong though. Maybe most people secretly want to rape and pillage and only don't do so because there are laws deterring them. That could be true. Gosh, it is kind of complicated. What if most of the human beings on earth really would like to be completely hedonistic and are only deterred from doing so because there is some law or precept or god-given dictate which stops them? Wow. Such a law would have to have obvious enforcement that would completely discourage most folks from violating the rule. The penalty would have to be massive because otherwise there'd be carnage. Assuming most individuals are complete jerks and would gladly act like dicks unless there were incredibly severe penalties to stop them. Are most of the people you know like that? Are you like that? Do you only behave nicely because otherwise you'd be tortured beyond all comprehension? Is that what keeps you in line? I was assuming you were, at heart, a decent human being that didn't require a humongous threat to keep you acting fairly. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe, at your core, you're a completely nasty individual who would stomp on everyone except for the fear of retribution from some great sheriff. Is that the truth then? JVL
I don’t want to.
Why not?
According to all (or most) of us. That counts.
That sounds objective. We agree that something is 'bad' for no reason? Truthfreedom
Truthfreedom: Why not? What is stopping you? I don't want to. ‘Terrible’ according to whom? According to all (or most) of us. That counts. JVL
@4 Jim Thibodeau
You should be raping and murdering
Why not? What is stopping you?
and doing all kinds of terrible things
'Terrible' according to whom? Truthfreedom
Angry person: That’s because you’re atheisting wrong! Sorry! I'll do better tomorrow. Seriously though, they are trying to make a point about the implications of a non-theist world view. The real question being: IF there is no ultimate judgement or reckoning why wouldn't you just do what you really want? Then it gets messier 'cause I'd say: but I don't want to rape and pillage and eat babies. Well, why don't you want to do those things? Uh . . . because I don't. But where did that come from? It comes down to, as always, that there has to be a cause for everything. Nothing just is or is determined by what works. Even the basic laws of the universe MUST have been specified and spelled out. There must be an agent, somewhere. Life, my life, has a purpose. It has to. Otherwise I,,personally, have no purpose. Why don't you have your own purpose? Why can't you find beauty and meaning and love and joy on your own? Why do you need it dictated to you? Because it's isn't 'ultimate'? Because it won't still be true a millennium from now? Will anyone even know who you are a millennium from now? When you and your children and your children's children are dead and gone do you want people to remember you as the one that inflexibly stuck to some unwritten code that didn't work for a lot of humanity? Sorry, sorry. I'll stop now. I generally avoid such outbursts. But I'm a human being and I allow myself to have the occasional rant. JVL
@Ed George what i love is this thing that keeps happening: Angry person: according to my understanding of your beliefs, you should be raping and murdering and doing all kinds of terrible things because your morality isn’t grounded blah blah blah blah blah. Atheist person: actually, we commit crimes at a lower rate than you do. Angry person: That’s because you’re atheisting wrong! I mean, when the facts declare your hypothesis wrong, you should get a new hypothesis. But they don’t. They just add epicycles. Jim Thibodeau
To defeat a Darwinist, simply start on their premise that they do not believe they have value.
That is an excellent strategy. Tell your opposition what they must believe, regardless of what they actually believe, and then criticize it. http://www.artsjournal.com/engage/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/StrawMan.jpg Ed George
To defeat a Darwinist, simply start on their premise that they do not believe they have value. Every argument they make is nothing more than a computer spitting out answers and has no real meaning. If there is no real meaning behind anything they say, then they have no greater value than a homeless person. Since I have value, my point of view will always be stronger. BobRyan
Of related note:
“Suppose you were coming from outer space, you're a biologist, right?,, You come to the Earth and you listen to a long lecture about Darwin, the immense importance of Darwinian biology, but then, you open your own eyes,,, What are the two things that would most strike you about living systems on the face of the Earth? Not the Darwinian rhetoric, but just the evidence of your own eyes?,,, One is that all life is related.,,, Biochemistry is the same throughout life. All life has very, very many of its properties in common.,,, The second thing you'd notice, if you are honest, is that there is a vast inseparable distinction between two kinds of living systems -- human beings and all the rest. That is something that's rarely noticed, rarely emphasized. The distance between a human being and our nearest chimpanzee-like ancestors, common ancestors is much, much, much greater than the difference between a chimpanzee and a flower. We're talking about a bifurcation in the manifold of Biology. Human beings on one side, the rest of the animal kingdom or the plant kingdom on the other. These are facts that I think that any untroubled observer, and by untroubled, I mean someone who is not previously adhered to any kind of ideology such as Darwinism. Would it once recognize life is connected? It's in some sense one living system, but profoundly divided between human beings and all the rest. That's the first step towards some sort of system of reconciliation because it prompts the inevitable question. "Hey, how come? Why are human beings so different? Why do they organize themselves differently? Why do they have mathematics, literature? Why do they speak to one another? Why do they have creative thoughts? A chimpanzee is probably a lovable animal, but nobody ever asked the chimpanzee a question that was possible for the chimpanzee to answer. So, these are I would say, orthogonal to the main axis of ideology.” - David Berlinski - 2018 https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/david-berlinski-on-the-link-between-evolution-science-and-progressivism

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