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Renowned brain psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist defends God, says atheist views of consciousness ‘wholly incoherent’

by Tola Mbakwe
Iain McGilchrist vs Sharon Dirckx_Web Thumb (1000x1000).jpg thumb.jpg - Banner image

Dr. Iain McGilchrist and Dr. Sharon Dirckx discuss what both experience and science teach us about the mind/brain connection and what that can tell us about the big questions of life in episode three of “The Big Conversation,” a video podcast series from Premier Unbelievable?, produced in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation. 

This episode’s conversation attempts to answer the question, “Is there a master behind our mind?” 

McGilchrist is perhaps most famous for his book “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.” In this episode of “The Big Conversation,” he explains why he believes that consciousness is a phenomenon that points to  God, presenting a surprising critique of atheist perspectives of philosophers such as Daniel Dennett’s view that the concept of consciousness comes from a purely scientific material phenomenon.

“It’s a very basic and well-known point that not everything that matters is matter,” McGilchrist said. “Love: where do you measure that? The meaning of music: in what lab is he going to find that? I think [ Dennett’s] position is wholly incoherent; he says that consciousness is an illusion. I would point out that for it to be an illusion there would have to be a consciousness to be ‘illuded.’” 

Sharon Dirckx (a speaker, author and adjunct lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics) agrees from her study of the brain that “we can be clear, from what science tells us, it gets us to a connection between the ‘mind’ and the ’brain,’ but it doesn’t speak to the nature of that connection.”

Critiquing atheists who bring their naturalistic worldview to their science, she said, “We need to be clear on when we make that leap from science and inference, and into worldview and philosophy,”.

A good portion of the rest of their conversation is spent discussing belief in the supernatural and the nature of God as a divine source for meaning, purpose and consciousness.

“If you ask people in this country… ‘do you follow a religion?’ – I think about 11% or 12% say yes,” McGilchrist said. “But if you ask people, ‘do you think there is more to the Cosmos than is contained within the reductionist materialist position?’ – about 95% of them say yes. Everywhere I go, I find that young people are very receptive to these ideas.”

When the topic of a conscious experience after death arose, McGilchrist admitted that accounts of near-death experiences are hinting at something beyond couldn’t be denied. Dirckx went a step further.

“If we are more than just our brains and if there is indeed a life to come, then we can make sense of that – that kind of data fits with the idea that there will be consciousness,” Dirckx said. She maintained that at the heart of the Christian faith, that idea would be embodied into reality.

“This episode presents a fascinating dialogue between Iain and Sharon, dealing with some really meaty topics in a way that was quite understandable, with great moments of humor, as well,” said Justin Brierley, host of The Big Conversation and Director of Apologetics and Theology for Premier Unbelievable?. “I always enjoy these conversations, especially when our guests show such great respect for one another, finding areas of agreement while clarifying their areas of disagreement, which I think is of enormous benefit to our audiences. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series!” 

The Big Conversation” season launched May 20 with a debate between renowned atheist Richard Dawkins and former NIH Director Francis Collins. The second episode featured former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in a discussion with author Paul Kingsnorth about the idea of spiritual conversion, which released June 3. 

Future guests include leading atheist philosopher Graham Oppy and his French counterpart, Guillaume Bignon (who is now a Christian), cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, and physician and author John Wyatt who currently serves as senior researcher at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge. For a millennial perspective, the season includes a live presentation by popular podcast hosts Mikhaila Peterson and Jon McCray on the topic, “Are Millennials and Gen Z Ready to Believe in God?” at 3 p.m. EDT July 12. Advance preview links of each episode are available for media upon request.

The Big Conversation” video series from Premier Unbelievable? features world-class thinkers across the religious and atheist communities discussing faith, science and what it means to be human. Premier Unbelievable? has amassed millions of followers throughout the world, most notably in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. The series is produced by Premier Christian Radio in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation. 

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