Neurology shows us there is an extremely close relationship between our beliefs and neuron firings, which can be drug induced, or even surgically removed. There is therefore no need for the supernatural explanation of the soul.A few points:
- I'll take Loftus at his word. Since he's referring to the rather broad field of neurology without further detail, then I'd like him to cite where in a scientific journal like Neuron or Nature or the latest editions of standard physiology textbooks like Guyton and Hall or Boron and Boulpaep that a scientist claims "neuron firings" (i.e. nerve cells generating action potentials) lead to belief formation in, say, skeletal muscle, smooth muscle, or cardiac muscle cells? After all, nerve cells, which are the predominant object of study in neurology, have a significant role in muscle contraction as well!
Okay, obviously this is a "cheeky" request. But I make the point to illustrate that in all likelihood Loftus has no idea what he's talking about here. Or is there another reason he seems, at best, clumsy in his communication of the science? For example, does he mean "beliefs" or "neuron firings" can be "drug induced"? Which one? Both? I suspect he means we can use certain drugs to induce a neuron to fire which in turn, I suppose according to Loftus, would somehow produce a belief through a series of other events which involve other aspects of the nervous system such as neurotransmitters and synapses? Of course, Loftus never spells it out for us. Or at least cites a journal article to which we can refer. Likewise, is Loftus referring to "neuron firings" when he says something can be "surgically removed"? How would he propose to "surgically remove," say, an action potential?
Rather, I think Loftus is just throwing around the authority of science without apparently understanding its content. I'm not asking him to become a scientist, but if he's going to make such sweeping, categorical pronouncements, he should at least familiarize himself with enough of the science to understand what he's trying to say in the first place. If he did, I think he'd not only phrase things better, but more importantly he'd find neuroscientists and related experts aren't all agreed (e.g. he can run a simple search on the topic via PubMed). There's hardly a scientific consensus on the topic, even among secular scientists (not to mention other scholars like philosophers). At this point, it'd behoove Loftus to cut back on the overly confident rhetoric when it's quite debatable whether the science backs him up. A more modest claim would've been the wiser way to go.
- But let's say it's true our beliefs are a result of "neuron firings." So what? As Alvin Plantinga points out in Warranted Christian Belief: "To show that there are natural processes that produce religious belief does nothing, so far, to discredit it; perhaps God designed us in such a way that it is by virtue of those processes that we come to have knowledge of him."
- Also, Loftus assumes without argument that correlation establishes causation or even identity i.e. "neuron firings" = beliefs. But it'd be like someone saying since rain comes from clouds, therefore rain and clouds are the same.
(Or possibly he's saying the one supervenes upon the other. If this is what he's saying, we can cross this bridge when we get there.)
- By making the claim that "Neurology shows us there is an extremely close relationship between our beliefs and neuron firings," Loftus has to assume the reliability of his cognitive faculties. So how does he know he has accurately read and remembered the scientific journal articles (or whatever) he read which presumably support his claim?
- BTW, if a person's beliefs can be reduced to "neuron firings," then is Loftus arguing against the influence of upbringing, people, and other external environmental factors on a person's beliefs? If so, then he's undermining the need for his own Outsider Test for Faith (OTF).
However, if he'd respond by saying environmental and other factors influence how neurons fire (or something along those lines), then he's not reducing beliefs to neurophysiology alone, in which case his point would likewise work against the atheist's beliefs since the atheist's "neuron firings" would be subject to similar environmental and other influences too. And, as such, the atheist ought to be subject to the OTF on these same grounds, which would contradict what he has said in the past.