1. Tulse says

    I especially liked this passage in the review, which seems to sum up the book’s argument quite nicely:

    To claim that the only way to account for spirituality and genuine personhood is to posit an immaterial soul is a non sequitur. It is like saying that, since neither hydrogen nor oxygen is wet, when God creates water he must add an immaterial “soul of wetness” to it.

  2. shiftlessbum says

    The last passage in that review is very good;

    Let me conclude with what might deserve the “most ironic moment” award, the authors’ mention of cognitive dissonance (p.42). It is certainly true that all of us at times deal with the tension between what we think we know (often because we’ve heard it from an authoritative source) and what we see/experience. But that anyone could mention this without using movements such as creationism and intelligent design as illustrations of this phenomenon would be a missed opportunity. But for a proponent of one of these views to use this as an argument against their opponents without realizing that it applies to them – now that’s irony. The inability of the proponents of ID to be self criticial and to accept criticism from peers shows that the movement is neither scientific nor Christian in any genuine sense.

    Emphasis mine.

  3. June says

    What a great review, and what a great lesson in how to rip a book apart without being intemperate in the slightest.

  4. Sastra says

    In his review, McGrath wrote:

    I genuinely agree with the authors when they object to those who suggest that, because we are animals, there is nothing genuinely distinctive about us (pp.41-42). Such “nothing buttery” or reductionism is unjustified.

    My recollection is that in Dennett and/or Dawkins, the “nothing buttery” phrase wasn’t applied to naturalistic mind/brain dependency theories which deal with the human animal, but to the straw-man versions of “greedy reductionism” created by dualists, who decide that if humans are animals, then they must be declared nothing but animals, and we lose any distinctions. “Nothing buttery” is a phrase invented by materialists to describe the errors of the dualists and their inability to understand materialism. It’s nonsense, of course. Just because elephants and mice are both animals doesn’t mean there are no significant differences between them, ditto for humans and the other apes. McGrath seems to be buying in to the Great Chain of Being idea, where either man sits above animals, or it’s all one big chaotic stew.

    I have not read Mind Made Flesh, but am currently reading what looks to be a similar book by Ray Porter — Flesh in the Age of Reason: The Modern Foundations of Body and Soul. In the chapter entitled “Science rescues the Spirit” (early scientists felt that the ultimate purpose of scientific investigations was to prove the supernatural), Porter quotes from Ralph Cudworth, writing in 1678:

    “And incorporeal Deity, he stressed, ‘moves Matter not Mechanically but Vitally, and by Cognition only. And that a Cognitive Being as such hath a Natural Imperium over Matter and Power of Moving it without any Engines or Machines, in unquestionably certain, even from our own Souls: which move our Bodies and Command them every way, meerly by will and Thought.‘ God’s relation to the universe is mirrored in the soul’s relation to the body.”

    Thus the importance of throwing out materialist theories of mind and brain. God is plausible and recognizable to us only because we find dualism plausible and recognizable to us by the way our non-material mind tells our material body what to do without any physical means of doing so. If that turns out to be false, the analogy is false. Neuroscience is as devastating to the likelihood of God as evolution.

  5. says

    Mmmm. I wasn’t terribly impressed. Sastra (#4) has already summarized my chief complaint. To elaborate: first, who in blazes claims that there is “nothing genuinely distinctive” about the human species? This is quite baldly ludicrous, and by saying that people take this position seriously, McGrath is perpetuating a strawman.

    Second, he mangles the definition of “reductionism”. The most straightforward way to adopt a “reductionist” stance would be to assert that the observed behavior of a complicated object is predictable from the behavior of its constituent parts. (For example, a water droplet has surface tension because its molecules attract one another.) This is not at all the same thing as “reducing” human beings to mere-animal status. McGrath conflates two different kinds of “reduction”, muddling the philosophical waters far more than necessary.

  6. tjh says

    “How the doctrine of an immaterial soul can be considered more fundamental to the Christian faith than loving one’s enemies is not explained.”

    Ooooh, nice one.

    A well written review – I don’t come from the same place as the author (i.e., I’m not a Christian, and my only ‘born again’ experiences were false positives), but he writes elegantly and expresses some key objections to ID from within a Christian framework.

  7. Ichthyic says

    considering the amount of time Pim spends on Panda’s Thumb examining how those with religious beliefs also reject ID/creationism, I really think you should link this thread over on the Thumb, PZ.

  8. says

    Sastra @ 4:

    I have not read Mind Made Flesh

    If you are referring to Soul Made Flesh, I can only urge you to read it at your earliest opportunity. It is wonderful stuff. If you’ve already read Zimmer’s other books, of course, you’d expect nothing less. But this one does something his other books don’t: it juxtaposes history over evolutionary time (what PZ and the other labcoat-wearers here do) with history on the much more intimate human scale (which is what I was first trained in). It’s lovely to see how people who accepted as the gospel truth things that many modern religious people, let alone atheists, would dismiss as laughable superstition nonetheless made enormous strides in true scientific endeavour. Indeed, they more or less invented it.

    But as against you and Blake @5, I agree with tjh @6: of course this reviewer is going to have opinions and arguments you don’t buy. He’s a believing Christian, after all. Point is, he seems to be one who is striving to be intellectually honest, and as a result concludes he has no option but to tear this book a new one. Politely, of course, as June @3 notes.

  9. Sastra says

    Argh, sorry, I got the title wrong — I did mean Soul Made Flesh — and I do intend to read it some day. Interesting, though — your description of it would also fit Roy Porter’s Flesh in the Age of Reason. Has anyone else here read that one?

  10. says

    I am optimistic enough to think that a person of devout religious convictions could in principle detect an egregious strawman and refrain from propagating such a caricature.

  11. Sam says

    The inability of the proponents of ID to be self criticial and to accept criticism from peers shows that the movement is neither scientific nor Christian in any genuine sense.

    Definitely one for the scrapbook.

  12. Doozer says

    It seems pretty clear that, prior to the writing of the Book of Daniel, the standard viewpoint was that in the grave one either no longer existed, or existed in at best some shadowy form

    Won’t know till we open the casket, eh?
    The canonization of Werner Heisenberg is long overdue…

  13. says

    Thanks for all the comments about my blog entry! I thought I’d share something ironic – one blog has treated my review as a recommendation of The Spiritual Brain! See

    This reminds me of a youth hostel where I once stayed in Ireland. A sign said that the hostel is recommended in The Rough Guide to Ireland. There was a couple from England staying there at the time, and they had the Rough Guide. What it actually said was “This place is OK, since it is so inexpensive, but women travellers in off-season should be warned about the proprietor’s sleazy innuendo.”

    I guess some people really do believe there is no such thing as bad publicity! :)

  14. Ichthyic says

    one blog has treated my review as a recommendation of The Spiritual Brain!

    I checked that link out;

    I don’t recall ever seeing such a large disconnect from reality.

    don’t know what drugs that guy was on, but aside from that, or a bad case of intellectual dyslexia, I can’t for the life of me figure out how on earth he managed to conclude Pharyngula, PZ, or you were actually RECOMMENDING that book!

    truly bizarre.

  15. Ichthyic says

    btw, i made comments to the above effect on his blog (with no foul language, or even derision, just questioning how he could get it so wrong), only to have the comment deleted (oh yes, it posted).

    great advertisement for another blog to stay the hell away from.