Boyer Lecture 1

  (11 November 07)


In the first Boyer Lecture of 2007 this afternoon (11 November), Professor Graeme Clark of bionic ear/Cochlear impant fame, said the following: 

"When one considers the complexity of the brain, and its relation to consciousness, we must surely stand in awe. Indeed, Sir John Eccles, a distinguished Australian neuroscientist, who received the Nobel prize in 1963 for his research in that field, said in his 1965 Boyer lecture series: 'I wish to do all I can to restore to mankind the sense of wonder and mystery that arises from the attempt to face up to the reality of our very existence as conscious beings'. So what is it that brings unity to all the sensory experiences? Eccles saw it as a mystery how so many diverse events in the brain are united in the conscious experience of the individual. Eccles came to the conclusion that we have a soul, which is specially created by God, and thus there is the possibility of an afterlife.


On the other hand, Donald MacKay, a Christian as well as a physicist and brain scientist, differed not only from John Eccles but also from Karl Popper, a leading philosopher of science. MacKay considered that brain and soul together form a unity, that our conscious thinking is complementary, and linked to our cerebral processes. Therefore, we have a realistic basis for studying the brain as a machine, but without rejecting the moral and spiritual significance of human nature. Furthermore, Sir John Polkinghorne, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and former professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge University, suggests that, as this world 'is special and finely tuned for life', then we should consider it 'the creation of a Creator, that wills that it should be so'.


So could the physical universe, which physicists now show had only the remotest chance of producing carbon-based life, have evolved into human consciousness by mindless chance? I think not. The human brain is so sophisticated a mechanism that scientists have still not been able to design engineering systems that can match its crucial functions. For me that means a supernatural entity, namely God, was responsible, rather than saying it assembled itself by mindless chance. In any case, a human being would have to know everything to actually know there is no God!"


If we had the chance to question Professor Clark or offer comments on these paragraphs what would we say/ask?


Certainly we do stand in awe of the physical universe within which human consciousness has evolved. It is this awe and reverence for life (with all its plus and minus) that makes us human. To bring God into it is just another way of saying that you're buggered if you know how it all happened. Why not say, "It just did!"

Posted by Roger Swain

I cannot understand why so many erstwhile theologians and even detractors of religion whenever they speak about God say or imply that he is a creator or talk about the earth or the universe as Creation!There is neither creation nor a Creator!!
Why is it palpably manifest only to me that there is no such thing as creation or a Creator but merely God who is everything or conversely everything that is or are , is or are in God.
God is.

There is only a fundamental unity, or advaita, underlying all things wherever they are to be found.

Robert of Perth

Posted by Robert Halsey

Why do the religious continue to insist they can logically justify their beliefs? As long as a religion is based on a fixed set of rules it will be shown to be logically incorrect time and time again.
The religious in society need to recognise their belief is based on faith and leave it at that. Applying logic to their beliefs as Clark did in the boyer lecture just highlights their inability to be objective. Luckily it hasn't stopped him from doing good work.

Posted by Dale

I would very much like to inform Professor Clark that I was so disappointed by this opening to the lecture series I couldn't listen to any more. This left me more than a tad annoyed as I was quite looking forward to it.

Why did he felt the need to bring up the “soul” and a creationist God at all?

Why, after bringing up his God, did he try and justify it with such bad, even childish arguments. “The human brain is so sophisticated a mechanism that scientists have still not been able to design engineering systems that can match its crucial functions.” Give me a break – and this is a lecture series on bionics! If we went back 50 years and replaced “brain” with “ear” it would still be a rubbish argument but perhaps at least Professor Clark would agree.

The other comments about “mindless chance” and a human being having to “know everything” to know there is no God were at worst thinly veiled jibes at evolutionary theory and the scientific method, and at best outright stupid coming from a scientist.

Perhaps one day I'll listen to or read the rest of the lectures, but for now this man has little intellectual credibility in my book.

Posted by Colin

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