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Egnor Debates Materialism with Philosopher of Science David Papineau

David Klinghoffer
Photo credit: David Matos via Unsplash.

Philosophical neurosurgeon Michael Egnor accepted a quite interesting invitation to debate philosopher of science David Papineau about “Consciousness and the Brain.” It was particularly interesting because the YouTube program, Theology Unleashed — “Where Eastern Theology Meets Western Skepticism” — evidently has a Hindu background to it. The host goes by the name Arjuna, which is a character from the Mahabharata. Also intriguing is that the subject went considerably wider than the announced topic. It was really about materialism versus philosophy. Dr. Papineau teaches at King’s College London and thinks physical processes account for all we see in nature. Our colleague Dr. Egnor, obviously, does not share that view!

Egnor was simply superb, and I very much admire Papineau’s willingness to have this lively conversation, which became heated at a few moments. What can one say, however, to the fact that the existence of the universe itself is due to an event, the Big Bang, that had no physical reality preceding it and therefore no physical cause? Presented with this, Papineau is momentarily silent. Had he not thought of it? He does a lot of interrupting of Dr. Egnor, though Mike is not in the least intimidated by it. He calls it out directly when Papineau tries to adduce his own authority as if that were an argument, and when he,  Papineau, seems to mock the whole Aristotelian and Thomistic tradition as appealing to “magic” or “ectoplasmic mind stuff.” Of course Egnor himself is an authority on the neuroscience that casts doubt on a rigidly materialist worldview, demanding a dualist perspective instead.

Sample dialogue: Egnor: “Do you want me to explain Thomistic dualism to you?…David, do you not know how St. Thomas explained intentionality?” Papineau: “Uh, no.” Egnor: “It’s very straightforward,” as he goes on to show. As one commenter observed, “Wow, Papineau really had it handed to him.” You are going to have a lot of fun watching this one: