Writing in National Review Online, John Derbyshire provides a nice characterization of what it’s like to argue with creationists:
I’ll also say that I write the following with some reluctance. It’s a wearying business, arguing with Creationists. Basically, it is a game of Whack-a-Mole. They make an argument, you whack it down. They make a second, you whack it down. They make a third, you whack it down. So they make the first argument again. This is why most biologists just can’t be bothered with Creationism at all, even for the fun of it. It isn’t actually any fun. Creationists just chase you round in circles. It’s boring.
It would be less boring if they’d come up with a new argument once in a while, but they never do. I’ve been engaging with Creationists for a couple of years now, and I have yet to hear an argument younger than I am. (I am not young.) All Creationist arguments have been whacked down a thousand times, but they keep popping up again. Nowadays I just refer argumentative e-mailers to the TalkOrigins website, where any argument you are ever going to hear from a Creationist is whacked down several times over. Don’t think it’ll stop ’em, though. (Emphasis in Original).
I’m not quite sure what to make of this argument, though:
Materialism fails to convince because it implies that mind is an illusion. To this, an ordinary person will reply: “To what is this illusion presenting itself?” Materialism has no answer. Nor does it have anything to tell us about free will, morality, or any of the other conundrums discussed at the end of Pinker’s How the Mind Works. To adhere to religious metaphysics, on the other hand, you actually have to belong to one of the established religions, all of which require belief in things (resurrection, transubstantiation, reincarnation, Chosen People) that seem, to many minds accustomed to the evidentiary standards demanded by modern science and law, incredible.
Materialism does not imply that mind is an illusion. It implies only that mind is the product of physical processes. Why is that problematic? Free will might actually be an illusion, but it is one that is so powerful that it is impossible to live your life without accepting its reality. As for morality, it seems to me that materialism, or more precisely the relevant branches of science, have a great deal to tell us about that. More so, certainly, than any conventional religion. Evolution tells us that a capacity for moral reasoning makes good adaptive sense. Cognitive science tells us that there is a portion of the brain which, when damaged, leads to the complete loss of conscience. These are just examples, of course. Religion, by contrast, has only bald, groundless assertions about God’s will. Pardon me for finding materialism more satisfying.
And the fact is, what is the alternative? People may not find materialism convincing, but the fact remains that every shred of the considerable evidence we have points to the conclusion that mind is the product of brain and that is all. Your options are to follow the evidence where it leads, or concoct, from whole cloth, something you find more comforting.
There are of course lots of people who are perfectly satisfied by materialist atheism, and many more who find they can leap the credulity hurdles required by traditional religions. To many hundreds of millions of moderns, though (I am not speaking of only the U.S.A.: the rest of the world does, after all, exist), there is no satisfactory conceptual grounding for their beliefs, desires, and intentions. We really ought to be able to come up with something.
I’m afraid I don’t understand what this means. What does Derbyshire mean by a satisfactory conceptual grounding for beliefs, desires and intentions? If you find it hard to believe that all of the things the brain does arise from physcial processes, and you also find it hard to believe in some supernatural basis for the mind and whatnot, then I don’t see what that leaves you. Perhaps Derbyshire is arguing simply for a supernatural explanation, but one that steers clear of the claims of established religions. Whatever. I merely repeat my assertion from the previous paragraph. The evidence we have tells us that mind comes from brain. You either accept that, or you resort to making stuff up.