Philosopher neurosurgeon Michael Egnor accepted a rather interesting invitation to debate from science philosopher David Papineau on “consciousness and the brain”. It was particularly interesting because the YouTube program, Theology unleashed – “Where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism” – clearly has a Hindu origin. The host’s name is Arjuna, who is a character from the Mahabharata. What is also intriguing is that the topic went considerably beyond the advertised topic. It was really about materialism versus philosophy. Dr Papineau teaches at King’s College London and believes that physical processes explain everything we see in nature. Our colleague Dr. Egnor, of course, does not share this point of view!
Egnor was simply superb, and I very much admire Papineau’s willingness to have this lively conversation, which grew heated in a few moments. What about, however, the fact that the existence of the universe itself is due to an event, the Big Bang, which had no physical reality preceding it and therefore no physical cause? Presented with this, Papineau is momentarily silent. Hadn’t he thought about it? He interrupts Dr. Egnor a lot, although Mike isn’t at all intimidated by that. He denounces him directly when Papineau tries to assert his own authority as if it were an argument, and when he, Papineau, seems to mock the entire Aristotelian and Thomist tradition as appealing to “magic” or to “ectoplasmic mind stuff”. Of course, Egnor himself is an authority on neuroscience who casts doubt on a strictly materialistic worldview, requiring a dualistic perspective instead.
Example of dialogue: Egnor: “Would you like me to explain Thomist dualism to you?… David, don’t you know how Saint Thomas explained intentionality? Papineau: “Uh, no.” Egnor: “It’s very simple,” he continues. As one commentator noted, “Wow, Papineau really made him hand it over. You will have a lot of fun watching this one: