PZ Myers gave a talk Sunday entitled "There Are No Ghosts in Your Brain: Materialist Explanations for the Mind and Religious Belief." If I lived in Minnesota, I totally would have been there. (Maybe I should have tried to convince my brother to take a day off from bear-wrangling and go in my place, though he might not have appreciated it as much.)
Anyway, everyone's favorite logically-challenged creationist neurosurgeon has taken it upon himself to offer PZ some advice on giving future talks. Never mind the fact that Egnor didn't attend PZ's talk.
Egnor, as usual, just makes one bad point after another. It's painful to read, I won't even bother linking it. But I would like to address two particular points that stood out.
First, Egnor revisits one of his recent favorite inane points:
Although you can’t expect a whole lot of real skepticism from atheist ‘skeptics’, there may be a few in the audience who aren’t gullible enough to accept the assertion that ‘religion is an evolved adaptation’ without noting the obvious corollary: ‘atheism is an evolved adaptation’.
Um, no. A while back he tried that same trick on evolutionary psychology, noting that evolutionary psychologists like to look at the origins of religious belief, but never the origins of evolutionary psychology. Egnor, of course, has never hinted at what his idea of the origins of a materialist worldview would be, or what relevance it would have to such a worldview's credibility. He's just trying to launch a smear campaign, discarding an evolutionary account of religion as mere persecution of the faithful. He doesn't address the facts at all. He doesn't address a single claim made by evo psych; he just tries to write it off as mean and hypocritical.
But if Egnor really wants to know how atheism arose, here's the answer: reason. Human beings evolved a fantastic capacity for reason, and through that capacity we found that the religious beliefs shaped over generations by our cognitive biases didn't jibe with reality. It's as simple as that.
The other bit of idiocy I wanted to address:
Because you are promulgating 19th century materialist ideology, avoid any reference to quantum entanglement and the ‘observer effect’ in quantum mechanics. Material reality at the quantum level only sharpens into focus when it is observed by a mind. The implication is that the mind, in an important and fundamental way, is distinct from matter, and in fact is a prerequisite for discrete physical reality at the quantum level. The observer effect in quantum mechanics adds credence to the dualist theory of the mind. Don’t remind the audience.
Well, we can all rest easy knowing that, in addition to being inept in evolutionary biology and neuroscience, Egnor is a few credits shy of a quantum physics degree.
The "observer effect" to which Egnor alludes goes something like this: objects on the quantum scale tend to exist as wavelike probability distributions rather than discreet particles. However, when an observer looks at such an object, the object collapses into one of its available states. A favorite example is the double-slit experiment. Imagine a point light source projecting light through two parallel thin slits onto a screen. If the photons are acting like waves, then each photon-wave can pass through both slits at once, forming an interference pattern on the screen. However, if we set up a sensor to observe which slit the photon goes through, then it collapses into a photon-particle and can only pass through one slit or the other, and we end up with two bright blobs on the screen instead of the interference bands.
That's all well and good. But Egnor uses this phenomenon to suggest the observing mind has some magical wave-collapsing power, which is ridiculous. The photon in this instance collapses into a particle because of physical interaction with the observing mechanism. If we hook up our sensor to observe which slit the photon passes through, then we won't get an interference pattern, whether or not a human being looks at the results. The photon (or electron or atom or buckyball or what have you) doesn't give a damn about whether there's a grad student reading the output from the sensor; the photon only cares about the sensor itself. So unless Egnor wants to say our lab equipment has a mind of its own (wouldn't surprise me, given some of the stuff I've seen in the lab in my day), his argument for dualism from quantum physics is entirely, utterly wrong.
It'll be entertaining to see whether PZ decides to grace Egnor's "advice" with a response.
EDIT: PZ has responded. Apparently a video of the talk is on its way, so stay tuned for that.
FURTHER EDIT: Welcome, Pharyngula readers! Please enjoy your stay!