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Why Pretend That There Is a Soul?

Neuroscience, brain, mind, and soulHave you heard of Phineas Gage? He was a railroad worker who, in 1848, was tamping down black powder with an iron rod when the powder blew up and shot the rod through his head, coming in under his left cheekbone and out the top. This picture shows him with the rod, his “constant companion.” (To see his skull and a recreation of where the rod went, go here.)

Mind/brain connection

So what happens when much of the left frontal lobe of a person’s brain is destroyed? His case was one of the first examples that modern medicine had to see how cognition and personality—what we think of as the mind—are connected to the physical brain. Accounts differ as to how severe and how prolonged Gage’s personality change was, but it does seem to have been substantial, at least temporarily.

Modern science has continued to find the connection between various parts of the brain and different functions so that the mind is often defined as simply what the brain does. For example, Henry Molaison had part of his brain surgically removed in 1953 to treat epilepsy. An unintended consequence of the surgery was a type of amnesia in which he could remember (with some loss) events before the operation, but he couldn’t form new memories. He could update old memories and he could learn new motor skills, but he couldn’t remember learning them. He was studied by scientists until his death in 2008.

Another example is Clive Wearing, a British musicologist who got amnesia because of encephalitis in 1985. His long term memory is poor, and he can’t remember new events for more than 30 seconds. He feels like he is continually waking up. He can still play the piano, though he has no recollection of ever being taught.

Then there’s Klüver-Bucy Syndrome, the rare result of some kinds of brain damage from surgery or disease. Its symptoms include hypersexuality, even in children. Or aphasia, the loss of the ability to speak, which usually comes from strokes. Or the kinds of personality and memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia. Or even prions, the misshapen proteins that cause BSE (“mad cow disease”) in cattle and similar degenerative brain diseases in humans and are thought to be transmitted through food.

The more unusual of these are the fascinating kinds of stories that neurologist Oliver Sacks writes about in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other popular books. Indeed, Sacks himself has an interesting disorder, prosopamnesia, the inability to recognize faces.

The “mind” is a useful idea, but this close connection between the brain and mental function leaves no room for the mind—as something separate from the brain—to hide. The same is true for the soul. As a term for someone’s essence or moral character, it’s a useful word, but there is no evidence that the soul exists as anything more than an abstract concept.

The brain behaves exactly as if it’s all that there is, not that it is simply the shoebox in which the soul is stored. How could an injury to the shoebox affect its contents, when the soul is immutable and will be good as new in heaven?

What does physics say?

Physics isn’t a field that usually has much to say about the soul, but a video by physicist Sean Carroll of CalTech makes the intriguing argument that physics shows not only that souls don’t exist but that nothing supernatural exists.

There’s plenty of physics that we don’t yet understand, he says, but the physics of our Newtonian world is all understood. For example, you don’t need to understand string theory to work in chemistry. Any physics that operates in our world would be known to us by now, which leaves no room for the supernatural.

Could new particles hide from our view? Sure, but only if they were (1) very weakly interacting or (2) too heavy to create or (3) too short-lived to detect. In any of those cases, the new particle would be irrelevant to our everyday lives. (@ 4:20)

Everyday physics is understood. We are done. It’s nothing more than

electrons and quarks, with mass from the Higgs field, interacting via gravity, electromagnetism, and the nuclear forces. That’s the everyday world. (@ 6:15)

The physics that remains are non-everyday physics (dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity, origin of the universe, etc.) and complicated systems that are the result of the understood physics (superconductivity, turbulence, cancer, consciousness, etc.).

Compare physics with chess. Knowing the rules of chess doesn’t make you a grandmaster, but it does constrain the kinds of games you can play. Any games in which the pawn moves like a queen, for example, can be simply ruled out.

In physics, we know the rules of the everyday world, and this constrains the kinds of things that make sense. We know enough to simply rule out astrology, claims of clairvoyance, ESP, life after death, homeopathy, and other supernatural claims. If these claims were true, we would know that already.

If you believe in life after death, tell me what particles contain the information that moves your soul from place to place. (@ 9:30)

The ideas that the soul actually exists and that the mind is separate from the brain belong back to the time when demons were said to cause mental illness.

What is freedom of expression?
Without the freedom to offend,
it ceases to exist.
— Salman Rushdie

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    For the record, that’s physicist Sean M. Carroll of CalTech, not the equally brilliant, learned, articulate, and atheistic evolutionary biologist Sean B. Carroll of my own beloved University of Wisconsin in Madison.

  • ctcss

    “The ideas that the soul actually exists and that the mind is separate from the brain belong back to the time when demons were said to cause mental illness.”

    Bob, the soul is a theological concept related to that which is spiritual, not a matter-based concept. Matter doesn’t enter into this any more than matter enters into a discussion about what God is made of. If you want to discuss brain functions and what areas are associated with what functions, that’s fine, but brain functions have nothing whatsoever to do with the concept of a soul, any more than a person who is physiologically deaf or blind or lame must therefore have a soul that is deaf or blind or lame.

    Apples and oranges.

    (Oh, and BTW, I made two posts on the National Day of Doing Something entry, both were noted as awaiting approval, and neither one ever showed up. Has anyone else reported problems like that?)

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Many philosophers and theologians claim souls affect matter (the mind-brain connection Bob refers to). Overlap thus clearly exists. The soul is contended to be necessary in explaining human minds as well. If the brain does that by itself, however, dualism is thus undermined. Moreover, a soul which provides the mental functions should not be affected by such brain damage as Bob mentions, especially if memories are recorded there for review in some afterlife by God, as many religions contend. This is hardly a case of apples and oranges then.

      • http://truthovercomfort.tumblr.com/ Truth Over Comfort

        @mcc1789:disqus, you hit the nail on the head. Theologians most decidedly do not treat the body and soul as belonging to non-overlapping magisteria. In the past two centuries, scientists have collected mountains of hard data regarding the brain-body connection and the brain-mind connection, while theologians repeat millennia-old vagaries. This is a case of apples and apples. Good work, Bob! You’ve written the best critique I’ve read on the mind-soul debate, a pivotal debate most atheists have woefully neglected.

        • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Indeed not. Descartes, to start with, wrote at great length on how he felt the soul and body interacted, as have many other people. This is a case of explicitly overlapping magisteria for most religions.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      ctcss:

      About the moderation, I don’t know why some were and some weren’t moderated. I’m (desperately) trying to get it like it was before, where none were moderated. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, and I hope that this will get resolved soon. (And let me know if other stuff looks weird from your standpoint.)

      To your comment: the concept of the soul either applies to our reality or it doesn’t. It’s either measurable by science or it isn’t. You can’t have it both off limits to science and yet actually applicable and relevant to our reality.

    • Greg G.

      Hi ctcss

      If the spiritual has nothing to do with the physical, then my soul shouldn’t be associated with my body anymore than anyone else’s body. They would be separate entities. If the soul is supposed to control the body, you need to show where it influences matter that ends up as an act of sin or virtue. It’s what Carroll shows can’t happen.

      If you remove the theology of the soul, you return to the theological problems that required inventing the concept of a soul.

      • ctcss

        Greg, the problem with this discussion for me is that I don’t actually have a standard theological take on this subject. (None of what Bob is saying even applies to me. I am not a dualist. I was never taught to believe in a human soul, nor indeed, in a material creature called a human being, but rather, an entirely suppositional, flawed, inadequate, and inaccurate perspective/outlook/viewpoint that one might refer to as the human view of things.) However, conceptually speaking, I was simply trying to point out that damage done to the body (or that seems to be already present in the body ala the claim of a birth defect) has no actual impact on the soul. Jesus alluded to this when he was telling his listeners about purity. (Where lack of purity = damage or besmirchment done to one’s being, but which actually comes from within one’s thinking rather than being something externally imposed or caused. See Mark 7:14-23) And I doubt very seriously that the typical religious view of souls contends that damage to a body results in an equivalent damage to a soul. Such thinking would necessarily need to conclude that death for the body also equals death for the soul, in which case, why would a religion bother talking about a soul at all? That’s why I said there wasn’t a direct connection between the two, and why it’s apples and oranges. (And no, I do not know much of what standard religions think about soul/body interactions. My citation above is all I would personally feel confident saying on the matter.)

        However, from my theological standpoint, the body is not a meat puppet controlled by a soul. Rather, the body is the expression/outcome of one’s current thinking or understanding. The body actually has no real existence at all, nor does matter. So it’s not a case of the spiritual controlling material, or interfacing with the material at all. It’s a case of ignorance regarding God’s creation (God’s kingdom) vs an understanding of God’s creation. Just as varying degrees of ignorance about math will bring about incorrect mathematical answers in one’s experience, varying degrees of ignorance about God and God’s creation will bring about a less than harmonious view/understanding of God’s creation, and thus, of one’s being as God knows it to be. The more one puts off the ignorance regarding God (or of math), the better the understanding/outcome will be. Of course, God’s view/understanding of His own creation never changes. It always has been, and always will be perfect, because it is the outcome/expression of God’s perfect being. And the (erroneous) human view, being entirely suppositional, doesn’t actually even exist. God, being all, there actually isn’t any other view, just as from the viewpoint of the laws of mathematics, there are no mathematical errors. Mathematical errors are ignorance of what math is. Errors, like cold, are not “something”. They are the absence of the correct knowledge and understanding regarding something, whether about math or God. (See, I told you it wasn’t a standard take.)

        • Greg G.

          Hi ctcss

          What problems with the conventional concepts of reality and ot various forms of theism cause you to reject them all Iin favor of pantheism? If god is all there is and the physical isn’t real, then there is no reason to posit a soul as they wouldbe as unreal as reality unless the whole concept comes out of a fear of death and the soul is added to it soothe it. Your concept isn’t so different than the Hindu dream of Vishnu idea.

        • ctcss

          Greg

          The problem with explaining all these kinds of religious thoughts is that there are a lot of ideas that seem similar, and thus one concept, when not fully understood or explored, seems similar to another concept. I’ve never thought of the religious theology that I follow as pantheism, mostly because it has no material component to it, not matter, energy, time, or space. Similarly, although the concept of spiritual individuality is part of my religious theology, the concept of an individual soul is not. That’s why pretty much everything that Bob writes about doesn’t really match up with what I was taught. He goes with a standard sort of model, whether of the believing type, or the non-believing type. I’m not either type.

          But basically, my foremost desire is to follow the Christ. And when Jesus was engaging in his ministry, he stressed the need to understand and to be in harmony with the knowledge of God and God’s kingdom, that is, to seek, acknowledge, and practice spiritual perfection. It is impossible for God and God’s kingdom to be material in any way in order for that perfection to be possible. Matter is finite, ignorant, limited, indifferent, and discordant. It does not, in any way, reflect the nature of God. So the standard concepts that most people have (either believing or non-believing) aren’t going to take me in the direction of thought necessary to get me to my destination. In order for God to be an all-God and for His kingdom to be entirely spiritual and perfect just as He is, there can’t be any time or place where God and His expression are absent. Thus, there is just God and that which is an expression of God.

          I am an expression of God, not a piece of God, just as Beethoven’s 3rd symphony is not a piece of Beethoven, but rather, is a necessary expression of Beethoven’s nature. Beethoven, in order to be Beethoven, needs to express his musical nature. We see and know Beethoven through his works. If his works (his expression) vanish, we can’t know or experience Beethoven and Beethoven can’t fully exist.

          Thus God, in order to be God, has to to express His nature in all of His creation. If God is Spirit, His creation must be entirely spiritual, If God is eternal (timeless), His creation must also be eternal and timeless. If God is all, His creation must also express that quality of infinitude and be without limits. If God is good, then everything has to be good, just as God is good. If God is Mind, then everything that God expresses needs to reflect the qualities of intelligence, and wisdom. If God is Love, then everything He creates has to be entirely loving and loveable.

          With such a concept of God, there is no problem of evil, because evil cannot exist. There is no place or time for it to exist. God is never absent, nor is any aspect of His creation absent. God, being Spirit (not matter), He is never in conflict with Himself. Likewise, His creation, being spiritual, is never in conflict with God nor with itself. And good, being ever present and absolute, just as God is, is good for all, not just good for some at times, and bad for some at other times. There is no “circle of life”, there is just Life, fully, and eternally, and harmoniously, and perfectly expressed.

          Thus, the standard concepts don’t really get me to God and God’s kingdom as I was taught about it.

          Does that help explain it?

        • Greg G.

          Thank you for the reply, ctcss.

          Your explanation is very much like my understanding of Vishnu’s dream except your god is awake.

          I get around the problem of solipsism by accepting the reality I am presented with or interacting with it anyway because of limited options. Whether it’s actually real isn’t an issue. I experience pleasure or pain, comfort or discomfort depending on my interactions.

          Your position goes the other way to accept an idea that doesn’t follow from the reality presented and is contrived to be unverifiable.

          You mention the problem of evil but not the problem of suffering. The sensations we experience are real to us. Suffering should be unnecessary in God’s realm yet it exists. God should be able to achieve any end with or without suffering. Your god then chooses unnecessary suffering. Why should we suffering when we hit a thumb that doesn’t exist with a hammer that doesn’t exist? That god is a sadist.

          So if god is ever present, you can’t apply the word “good” in any way if there was no suffering. You could only say that he is because value judgements would be biased. But since he chooses to cause unnecessary suffering to helpless creatures, the label “evil” is justified.

        • ctcss

          @Greg

          “Your position goes the other way to accept an idea that doesn’t follow from the reality presented”

          Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe that Jesus was not interested in going along with that which “follows from the reality presented.” For instance, consider these hypothetical sound bites if Jesus were to decide to act in accordance with “the reality presented”.

          “Only 5 loaves and 2 fishes? Better send everybody home.”

          “What, they are all out of wine? Better tell the host to wrap up the wedding feast.”

          “Jairus, I’m sorry to hear your daughter passed away while I was delayed. Would you like me to say a few words at the funeral?”

          “Born blind, huh? Tough break, kid. Here’s some coins to help you get by.”

          It doesn’t exactly sound like Jesus, does it? And that’s the point. I am not interested in following a Jesus who simply acquiesces to what the world presents. I am much more interested in following the Jesus who refutes the world’s verdicts and edicts and presents a divine view of what actually is representative of the kingdom of God where the world’s verdicts and edicts have no standing.

          “and is contrived to be unverifiable. ”

          I think that (for me) the verification comes bit by bit as the kingdom of God is demonstrated more in my own life. So, no, it is not “contrived to be unverifiable” as much as it is not currently seen as clearly as it could be.

          “You mention the problem of evil but not the problem of suffering. … Your god then chooses unnecessary suffering. … That god is a sadist.”

          I apologize for not mentioning suffering, but I thought my descriptions would bring out the idea that suffering would be impossible in God’s kingdom which, as I was trying to say, is conceptually the only kingdom that there is. So, no, God does not choose suffering or allow suffering or create suffering. In what I described, suffering has no existence because matter and human beings have no existence. The human view (incorrect and entirely suppositional) does not even exist. God’s man is not human or material at all. He is entirely spiritual and entirely perfect because God’s man is a reflection of God’s perfect and harmonious nature.

          So, is this what we see from the human standpoint? Nope. But as I was trying to point out, Jesus was not trying to give a clearer sense of the human view of things. He was trying to give a clearer view of God and God’s kingdom, that is, God’s view of things. As I understand God, He is all loving and all good. God’s perfect and harmonious nature and the expression which stems from His nature precludes any sort of evil or harm from ever occurring in His kingdom.

        • Kodie

          It doesn’t exactly sound like Jesus, does it? And that’s the point. I am
          not interested in following a Jesus who simply acquiesces to what the
          world presents. I am much more interested in following the Jesus who
          refutes the world’s verdicts and edicts and presents a divine view of
          what actually is representative of the kingdom of God where the world’s
          verdicts and edicts have no standing.

          So, basically parlor tricks impress you… From the human standpoint, we don’t just lay down when something goes wrong either – the human endeavor is to succeed where “god” fails and keep on poopin’.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          ctcss:

          “Born blind, huh? Tough break, kid. Here’s some coins to help you get by.”

          “You say I cast demons into your heard of swine and now you’re out 2000 head? It’s your word against mine, pal. Take it up with my lawyer.”

          “You say you have a permit to operate this money changing table from the temple itself? Yeah, you and the horse you rode in on, buddy.”

          “Not the season for figs? I’m the frikkin’ Son of Man! Who do I gotta kill around here to get a snack??”

        • Greg G.

          “Only 5 loaves and 2 fishes? Better send everybody home.”

          Didn’t Elisha do the same trick in 2 Kings 4:42-44? Didn’t Telemachus sail to a feast with 5000 people in The Odyssey? Why was there a second episode of this that Jesus walked to? Was it because Telemachus walked to Sparta for a feast with over 4000 people?

          “What, they are all out of wine? Better tell the host to wrap up the wedding feast.”

          That story sounds like 1 Kings 17:8-24. Why does Jesus say “O woman. What have you to do with me?” The widow says to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O man of God?” Elijah made a pither of meal and a vessel of oil that never would run out.

          “Jairus, I’m sorry to hear your daughter passed away while I was delayed. Would you like me to say a few words at the funeral?”

          That sounds like Elisha raising the child in 2 Kings 4.

          “Born blind, huh? Tough break, kid. Here’s some coins to help you get by.”

          Is that the one where Jesus took two tries to heal him? He said the people looked like trees. If he was blind since birth, how the heck would he know what trees looked like?

          “It doesn’t exactly sound like Jesus, does it?”

          It sounds like mimesis of the literature of the first century. Nearly all the Jesus miracles are exaggerations of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. He could have conjured up the internet or something original. But he didn’t do anything that a first century person couldn’t imagine.

          People have been seeing the kingdom of God right around the corner for two millenia now. Paul expected it to happen in his lifetime.

          You deny that suffering happens? If it isn’t real, then why do people think they are suffering? Whose idea was that? If people perceive they are suffering, they really are suffering.

          If God just is, you have no standard to judge God as perfect. If God says he’s perfect, he’s an egotist. How did God get to be perfect? Random chance or did he change? How would he know what to change to become perfect?

          Most of the stuff written about Jesus in the gospels can be traced to the literature of the day that we still have. It’s thought that some other stuff came from a few lost documents. There’s not much left to have come from “oral traditions”.

          The epistles never talk about that Jesus. No ministry or teachings or quotes or anecdotes. Everything that they say about Jesus can be found in the Old Testament. They don’t know anything about a recent Jesus. The epistle writers thought he came before the Bible was written and they think the are finding hidden clues as Paul says in Romans 16:25-26.

          You believe you live in an imaginary universe but you want to emulate a guy who was imagined by imaginary people. You sound like the young Buddha. You should get out of your cocoon and contemplate suffering a little more deeply.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Greg:

          Is that the one where Jesus took two tries to
          heal him?

          Reminds me of movie, “Fists of Jesus.” Things get interesting at about 1:45 when Jesus tries to raise Lazarus.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2013/05/jesus-zombie-slayer/

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          ctcss:

          Thus God, in order to be God, has to …

          Why imagine that God exists? Is it just a faith thing, or do you have evidence?

          With such a concept of God, there is no problem of evil, because evil cannot exist

          What do you call the bad stuff that happens in people’s lives? Just a misinterpretation of life? Perhaps the error is in the person labeling a murder (say) as “bad”?

        • ctcss

          @Bob

          “Why imagine that God exists? Is it just a faith thing, or do you have evidence?”

          I think we’ve been over this before. I believe that I have evidence (but not absolute proof), and that evidence means something to me, but I do not think that what I consider to be evidence would necessarily be considered as evidence by others. I have mentioned such things to others in real life and have received a “meh” in response. The difference between their “meh” response and my own more enthusiastic response (which impels me to further pursue my religious path) is context. That which I consider to be evidence is something that has provided a necessary answer to me in a time of need. To others, hearing a simplified version of my experience, but not having such a need (nor an answer) themselves, an impressed response is not forthcoming. In many ways, this strikes me as being similar to someone who meets that special someone whom they then desire to marry. Others, not understanding why that spousal candidate is so special (because they don’t meet a need for that other person), are either puzzled or not as impressed. Thus, they can easily dismiss something that doesn’t mean much to them. But to the person who finds value in that same something, ignoring it or discarding it is not a viable option. Thus, you and I disagree because our contextual view of this whole God and religion thing is very different. No biggie.

          “What do you call the bad stuff that happens in people’s lives? Just a misinterpretation of life? Perhaps the error is in the person labeling a murder (say) as “bad”?”

          Somehow I don’t think you understood my response to Greg. The description I gave of God and God’s kingdom (which, conceptually speaking, is the only kingdom that there can be) can have no “bad” thing in it. Matter does not exist there. Material life is non-existent there. Time does not exist there, which means that material history of any sort is an impossibility. Limitation and discord of any sort does not exist there. (Sin, disease, death, disaster, etc. just don’t exist.) So it is not a question of interpreting something “bad” as “good”. There simply is nothing “bad” there to begin with.

          And yes, that means my view of what is considered to be real and your view of what is considered to be real are almost completely opposite to one another. (I am quite sure that we both agree that love, justice, mercy, compassion, intelligence, wisdom, understanding, etc. are quite valuable. I am also quite sure that we consider hatred, indifference, injustice, cruelty, unkindness, mindlessness, ignorance, etc. to be things that we do not value.) But the whole God vs matter thing puts us poles apart.

          Basically, as I understand it, the human view is a suppositional misinterpretation of that which actually is. The human view doesn’t even actually exist. God’s view is the only correct view and, in fact, is the only view that there is. So unless the human view fully corresponds to the divine view, the human view will be lacking in some way and thus, will need to be replaced by that which is entirely true.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          ctcss: OK, thanks for the perspective.

        • Greg G.

          “Good”and “bad” are relative terms to the human condition that can vary with time. Both should be recognized as existing in your concept. Saying “bad” doesn’t exist doesn’t mean “bad” doesn’t exist. It means your concept is unrealistic.

          I think fresh donuts are worth the calories but day old donuts are not. Some people like day olds but not stale donuts. A starving person would consider stale donuts to be good.

          But as flexible as the term is, if the sensation of suffering exists, a being who could prevent it cannot be called good.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1374438730 Greg King

          Ctcss said, “…the soul is a theological concept…”. To me this is a standard theologoical take.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1374438730 Greg King

      Here we go again, someone claiming religion owns the definition of soul. Ugh!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Norris/1405051812 Richard Norris

    Alex Rosenberg, in his book The Atheists Guide to Reality, takes a similar view of the “soul” as you do. The correlation of brain damage to loss of function is seen as proving that the “mind” really is just the brain. However, being a thourough-going naturalist, he also points out that things like information, belief, and thoughts are not real. That is, since these things have an aboutness to them, a final causality or teleology to them, they cannot exist in any meaningful sense but can only be illusions beheld inside of the ultimate illusion of all, which is consciousness. We don’t really think, we convey no information, and we believe nothing. No one has free will either, so being an atheist is no better or more “rational” than being a theist, since rationality requires us to be able to choose facts out of the information presented to us by the world in order to construct a meaningful picture of our reality. To deal with this sort of world, where all human activity seems to be dependant on stochastic chance, Rosenberg suggests that when we get depressed we can just take anti-depressants. This comes across as only a half-joke at best.
    Once you are forced to let go of so much of yourself in the face of flat-out scientism, what is left to you?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      Richard: Interesting summary of Rosenberg, thanks.

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Not having yet read The Atheists Guide to Reality, I don’t know the specific arguments the author makes. However, it is certainly not true that the mind being the brain automatically means information, belief and thoughts are “not real” according to many naturalists. As I understand it, they contend these have existence as neural activity. I do not know enough to say which theory, if any, is right. Assuming Rosenberg is correct though, it’s being depressing would change nothing. Truth is not always comforting. I find the world view of an omnimax God depressing myself, particularly since we could view ourselves as mere illusions within the mind of a being like this, as some philosophers have speculated. However, that has nothing to do with whether it exists. I do not happen to believe it does.

  • King Dave @ Newsvine

    Great article.
    Spirituality is what I call the imagination.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

    avalon:
    Interesting excerpt, but I don’t think it addresses Carroll’s point.

  • Lewis C.

    Ah positivist reductionism. How quaint.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      I infer that this is a thumbs down, but I don’t know why.
      Just ’cause?

    • Kodie

      Where does your opinion go when you change your mind? Why do people believe they have a soul and that when they die, that soul still exists and goes somewhere else?

      • Greg G.

        Where does your opinion go when you change your mind?

        Opinions are broken down by your liver and filtered out by your kidneys. Just like your youth, they get pissed away.

  • smrnda

    Let’s take computers and compare them to human beings. If I don’t have access to the software level and I just see some images on screen and hear some sounds, and I open up the machine I just see a bunch of complicated parts that don’t seem to line up with the functionality I’m getting when I use the computer. I don’t see “Microsoft Word” anywhere on the hardware level, but it is there, it’s just encoded in a very intricate way on a very small level.

    I really see nothing that can’t be explained through the hardware level. If souls exist, where do they come from? Do people give off spirit particles when they die that can either go to some afterlife or end up sticking around if you take the word of ghost hunting enthusiasts?

    also, most of my posts are getting stuck in moderation… so this might not even show up.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      Sorry about the moderation thing. I approve them as soon as I see, and I’m trying to make it so that no one is moderated.
      Not everyone gets this poor treatment. Maybe guests only w/o Disqus identities? Anyway, I hope this is temporary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

    To me the brain is simply the hardware used by the soul/spirit to operate the body. People can tap into it and short circuit it if you like and manipulate it whether with drugs or electronically,but that is all they are doing.This does not prove or disprove anything,only a little bit more understanding of how the brain works.

    • Kodie

      How does the soul do that? What you describe sounds like puppetry, and also ignorance. What exactly is your soul, that’s what I would like to know. The elements that make up your actual self, they change. The “soul”, what is it. Who are you when you leave your body and go to heaven if you don’t have a brain to hold your thoughts? When you meet god, it will be like amnesia.

      • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

        Your soul and spirit is who you are, your brain is what your spirit uses to operate your body,it doesnt hold your thoughts and on the con try when you meet God you will remember everything.

        • Greg G.

          Does a flower have a soul to operate its blooming everyday? Jellyfish don’t have brains. Can their souls bypass the brain and operate their bodies directly? Are their souls better than ours? Do dogs have souls that use their brains to operate their bodies?

          More importantly, how do you know a soul uses the brain? Surely you use a more reliable method than thinking there’s a soul is more comforting. What is that method?

        • Obliged_Cornball

          Orthodox theologians argued for different “levels” of soul, some of which can be accounted for entirely in materialistic terms. Only humans are special in that they possess an immaterial soul. There are some (bad) arguments that are meant to establish this through the supposed immateriality of the intellect. But since even the intellect is corruptible based on material changes, I have reason to believe that even this (intuitively) more sensible view fails as well.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Only human beings have a soul,plants and animals were created and may or may not have a spirit but only man was created in the image of God.So why do you think because you can track some of the brain functions that it disproves the existence of a soul ?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Norm: And why do you think only humans have a soul? Just cuz?

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Thats a good question Bob, the bottom line answer is in Genesis ch1 in that God created all things by His word until He got to man where He said v.26,”Let us make man in OUR image,after OUR likeness…v.27 “so God created man in His OWN image”. So man isnt “just” another part of creation created for His pleasure but to be in relationship with Him. Ch2,v.7 and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,and the man became a living SOUL. We could write a book on just this subject and many have but is getting late and l have an early start.

        • Greg G.

          Hi Norm

          How does that explain anything better than the fact that humans have much bigger brains? We know Christians say that the image is a spiritual thing but later on we learn they didn’t have knowledge of good and evil and the were gullible enough to listen to a talking serpent. Christians also tells us that the serpent was Satan but God punished all serpents for it which would be like imprisoning all Republicans because someone wore a Mitt Romney mask during a bank robbery. The mythology falls apart. God is Elohim in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2 is Yahweh. Genesis 2 is the older story while Genesis 1 is the Priestly rewrite where God doesn’t interact directly with humans so sacrifices must be made at the Temple where the Priests can get a share.

          If Genesis is about the form of humans then we’re more like vertebrates, mammals, primates, and chimpanzees than other creatures. Is God a mammal or a monkey? Was he saying “Let us make this fish a little bit in our image with bones instead of cartilage”?

          Spirit comes from the word for breath. They didn’t understand air so wind and breath seemed like magical invisible forces to them. Trying to move it to a spiritual realm doesn’t make sense.

          Please tell us what a soul does. If it’s not responsible for operating a physical body then why is it punished for the actions of a body? If it makes decisions, please explain how the spiritual element affects measurable electrical activity that can predict a decision before the person conciously makes the decision.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Greg you seem to have it all figured out,there is plenty or resorces available if you actually do want to know more about the spirit and soul.

        • Greg G.

          Hi Norm

          I have seen many other sources but they don’t have any verifiable information. It’s like they have a cherished explanation that no longer explains anything but they can’t let go. It’s like a tattered security blanket that doesn’t reach from shoulders to knees. The most highly cited sources on the subject have no more authority than you have so they can’t provide any more hope than you can. Are you implying that you can’t or that you won’t answer my questions?

          1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Ha Greg,I think the scenario here is more like Big Bang Theorys Dr.Sheldon Coopers inability to comprehend basic social cue’s Most people in the world have a basic understanding of spiritual concepts that some atheists lack, you may be one of them The verse you quote,like pretty much all quoted here is with little understanding and out of context. The key word in it is the word HOPE,thats what you should answer. A more appropriate verse would be Matthew 7v6 Give not that which is holy to the dogs nor cast pearls before swine. You see if the person you are talking to really doesnt want to know,but is just being contentious then time is to precious to waste and they should pull their own tattered security blanket over their head and have a lie down. .

        • Greg G.

          Hi Norm

          You said I took the 1 Peter verse out of context. The context of 1 Peter 3 is about not going to Matthew 7:6 to imply that someone is a dog or swine.

          Don’t get mad at me just because you can’t support your position.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Hey Greg,I rarely get mad,my typeing skills are limited so l tend to use the minimum words.You were doing what religious people do all the time and that is pick a verse and use it to manipulate others to do what they want or to agree with them.

        • Greg G.

          Hi Norm

          It’s easy to get snarky on the internet. I don’t take it personal. You were not addressing my questions and were telling me to go elsewhere so I pointed out 1 Peter 3:15 in context .

          JohnH2 and I had an extended conversation on Ecclesiastes and the meaning of “spirit” over on the Incredible HallQ blog. I think article’s title is something like The Verse I Wish Christians Would Learn . Check it out and see where you disagree.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          I did check out the post on Hallq and no surprises l think its out of context again.Iv’e also responded to posts and comments a number of times and they havent been displayed for what ever reason.

        • Greg G.

          How is it out of context? The context only enhances the meaning of the verse on its own.

        • Greg G.

          This is interesting. I responded to this last night but it doesn’t appear in my laptop browser. It does appear on my smart phone along with several comments from BobS, Kodie, and Norm that aren’t here either.

          I came here to make a couple of edits that are easier to do on the laptop but are cumbersome on the phone. The conversation I had with JohnH2 is on the Uncredible HallQ’s blog. The article is I wish more Christians knew this Bible verse but I don’t recall whether I had it right. John’s first response can be found here.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Norm:

          Most people in the world have a basic understanding of spiritual concepts that some atheists lack, you may be one of them

          So it’s the atheist who is at fault here? You need to do a little more work on your hypothesis since most believers in the world think that whatever you believe is wrong.

          [don’t] cast pearls before swine.

          I think I’ve been insulted!

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Not at all Bob,the basic understanding I refer to is the existence of a spiritual realm,on this we all agree. And to be insulted by the quoted verse is a good example of your comprehension of scripture. Read it again and see what it means ,not just says.

        • Kodie

          So words also mean different things to you than they do to the rest of us. Interesting that you can find another meaning but you don’t explain, you just tell swine Bob to read it again until it means something else.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Norm:

          Not at all Bob,the basic understanding I refer
          to is the existence of a spiritual realm,on this we all agree.

          And I was referring to the part on which you all don’t agree, which, I think you’ll admit, is substantial—Jesus as the only way to heaven, and so on.

          And to be insulted by the quoted verse is a
          good example of your comprehension of scripture.

          Pearls = spiritual wisdom. Swine = unworthy people who will dismiss your wisdom.

          Where am I missing your point?

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          But Bob your not here to workout just who is right and who is wrong on certain issues but to tell us we are all wrong and why. Also pearls=something you value.Swine=someone who will denigrate what you value

        • Greg G.

          Swine=someone who will denigrate what you value

          That’s an insult to swine. Real pigs have never been known to denigrate anything. Oink oink.

        • Greg G.

          But Bob your not here to workout just who is right and who is wrong on certain issues but to tell us we are all wrong and why. 

          It’s a matter of who has facts and evidence to back up their positions. Most of us have lived your position so we already know it. We rejected it as untenable. Now we can see it from an objective perspective without the subjective need to believe.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Now all you need is a personal experience Greg,youve checked out religion which is a waste of time.If you ever do have a spiritual encounter,even if its not of God,only then will you be able to say you have a objective perspective.Hopefully if you do and it is of God you will happily be subject to Him because you can now believe and know Him and understand the difference between religion and knowing Him.

        • Greg G.

          Hi Norm

          Been there, done that. I had what I thought were spiritual experiences. Spiritual experiences are by definition unverifiable. I’ve had comparable experiences that were not religious in nature but evoked the same euphoric feelings. One was testable and it failed the test.

          Taking these experiences too seriously can be dangerous to yourself and others. Some have been so convinced that their spiritual experiences were real that they blow themselves up or burn others at the stake.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          No they are religious experiences Greg,and dont forget there are two sides in the spirit realm

        • Greg G.

          Most people are not of your religion but that goes for every religion as well. No matter which religion plays the Satan card, he is winning. Or it could be that enlarged monkey brains are easy to manipulate with practiced psychological ploys.

          For example, before they take the collection, do they have a prayer in frontvof the congregation? If prayer worked, it should be just as effective done privately in a prayer closet a la Matthew 6:5-6. But preacher’s have learned that the haul can be magnified by praying at the people about anything and everything that would make as many people as possible give more. Guilt works. The promise of blessings works. Why would the preacher have to tell God that? Why does an omnipotent being need tax free money? Ecclesiastes10:19 has the answer.

        • Greg G.

          Not at all Bob,the basic understanding I refer to is the existence of a spiritual realm,on this we all agree.

          I don’t agree with that. What are the distinguishing characteristics of the spiritual realm that differentiate it from the imaginary realm? For that matter, what differentiates the soul, the spirit, and such things from imaginary contrivances?

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Aaah,one is real and the other isnt, on this you will agree when your there or youv’e experienced it before you get there

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Norm: So, no evidence then? Even if we’d like to believe that the soul exists, we’re just gonna have to take it on faith?

        • Kodie

          You didn’t say we would see and agree then, you said we all agree. And I echo Bob – you have no evidence, you just keep making claims and not having any way to relate your proof, these pearls you said you had.

        • Greg G.

          Great! Now, how do you know which one is real? Religious experiences are very unreliable tests. Practically any religion can produce the same sort of experiences. They can induce delta waves in your brain with soft music to make you suggestible or they can excite you with dancing and loud music to make you suggestible. Since the religion is irrelevant to having very convincing religious experiences, then either most or all are inauthentic. How do you know yours is real and the Whirling Dervish is not?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Or if you do get some sort of ecstatic experience, who’s to say that it was the Good Guy behind it? That’s just the sneaky kind of thing the Bad Guy would do, just to suck you into his power.

          And speaking of which, the experiential argument for a good God (the existence of puppies and sunsets) are no stronger than that for a bad God (the existence of Dengue fever and tsunamis).

        • Greg G.

          How can you appreciate the beauty of a sunset if you think it’s God’s handiwork? It’s nice but I would expect more from an omnipotent being. It should be a technicolor aurora borealis only better.

          If a personal experience is to be evidence of God, why isn’t every minor setback proof of no God? A life changing experience should change your life in ways that aren’t just psychological.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Greg l think you just summed up the attitude that most of the “new atheists”fit into and that is,”if there is a God He should do this and do that,life should be all happy and rosy,if He really cared”. Because you dismiss the spirit realm,you will never begin to understand what is going on.Until you get it that God isnt your sugar daddy.He knows what you at this stage cannot possibly comprehend and until you stop relying on your limited intelligence to understand Him He will always seem beyond understanding.

        • Greg G.

          Hi Norm

          It’s not “the attitude of new atheists”. It’s the logical extention of Christian beliefs. There is suffering in the world that God either can’t or won’t prevent. If God is omnipotent, it’s a “won’t”. That means suffering is actually unnecessary and that God chooses for people to suffer unnecessarily. Therefore, the adjective good can’t apply to an omnipotent God.

          Real monotheistic religions accept that their god is neither good nor bad. Faux monotheisms blame the bad parts on other supernatural beings. Satan is said to be more powerful than nearly any polytheistic god so it’s just semantics to insist that Christianity is monotheistic.

          Your religion has installed some weak answers in your brain to prevent you from thinking too much. That’s what apologetics does to you.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          True Greg,music can “set the scene”,but so what,thats what is so good about music,it gets you in the zone whether your playing football or making love.Spiritual experiences arn’t a test.God is a creative God,people like to think He does things their way but this is why we have different denominations.Who am l to authenticate anothers experience ,but one thing l am aware of that you will hate more than the possibility of there being a God is there being the “great deceiver,the angle of light,the devil.”

        • Greg G.

          I’m not asking how you can authenticate others’ experiences. How do you authenticate your own when it seems to be the human condition to have faux spiritual experiences?

          Dogs and cats have dreams. So do we. We sometimes have dreams that seem real but we wake up in bed so we know it was a dream. Sometimes the dream is that we are in bed so we’re not sure if it was a dream or not. A friend called the police when a car crashed into his front room after he had gone to bed. When he got up, everything was normal. It was a dream that seemed really, really real. If the dream happened to be about deceased loved ones, angels, or space aliens, everything would seem normal but all you would have is a feeling that it had really, really happened. Many people claim these as their spiritual experiences or alien abductions.

          Here’s the Wikipedia article on Religious experience.

        • Kodie

          Why do you think we don’t understand what you’re talking about? It’s that it’s completely not true, and your information sources are garbage. The verse you quote sounds like spite is a biblical value. Spite and labeling people retarded if they don’t agree with your delusions.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Norm: Gen. 2:7 doesn’t mention a soul. If you’re saying that this is why you, as a Christian, believe that only humans have a soul, that’s fine (though not particularly well supported by the text). But I’m sure you can see that this isn’t compelling to anyone else. Your soul hypothesis is merely a religious claim.
          And I always like that bit in Gen. 1 about making man in our image. The polytheism of early Judaism is evident.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Try the King James Version Bob

        • Greg G.

          Hi Norm

          The Hebrew “nephesh” is better translated as “living being” and refers to the physical. “Soul” is a Christian reinterpretation of the word. If the ancient Hebrews had a concept of the soul, we should find at least one specific word for it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Greg: Would you say that the New Testament “soul” idea is a Greek import?

        • Greg G.

          I’m not sure. Richard Carrier shows that many new religions sprung up through the Hellenization of the area’s native religion and Christianity is like that.

          On the other hand I think the idea may come from Egypt. Osiris ruled the afterlife and Horus ruled on earth. The afterlife would help the living if the living helped them. When Horus passed on, he became Osiris and the Pharaoh became the Horus figure. And so on. As long as the body existed and was protected, the dead Pharaoh could help out. Eventually the wealthy started getting in on the act with the mummification. This may have lead to everyone getting to the afterlife.

          The Greeks may have been the conduit too.

          I suspect the Hebrews got circumcision from that myth of Osiris. He lost his penis and the Egyptians thought they’d have a better chance of getting into the afterlife if their penis wasn’t completely intact. The OT doesn’t have a good reason for why God wants them cut. When they ejected the polytheistic myths they lost the justification for their rituals.

          The Hebrews didn’t take the soul concept with it though. That came much later.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Greg: I hadn’t heard that hypothesis about the origin of circumcision. Interesting.

        • Greg G.

          I’m simultaneously having a comment conversation with John H2 on HallQ’s blog. The word spirit shows up in the OT several places. I contend that the Hebrew “ruwach” means breath as they had no concept of air, they could feel breath but not see it, and when someo e died they stopped breathing. They would conclude something magical was going on with breath. It would be easy to reinterpret it to be something not felt either.

        • Kodie

          I think that’s what bears think about their bear god too.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          xxx

        • Kodie

          What, you don’t think all the animals believe they’re the top animal?

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Ha,ask all the rabbits and mice .

        • Kodie

          I think they’d agree. They would say their god is wrathful but merciful, none may know the day when they will be taken, animals mourn their dead and such, what is the lesson learned when an owl eats your father – probably tribal beliefs and superstitions. Do you think animals otherwise understand their order on the food chain? If there’s a mouse in my apartment, you think he doesn’t think he’s higher than his host? He poops behind my refrigerator, and eats whatever he likes, no honor toward my rank. I mean, a healthy fear of being caught but otherwise, I think he supposes all mice are better and more in god’s image than any person. All animals have a lot in life, a niche to speak of, and every animal of each species is far more interested in the life of its species than any other species most usually. You obviously haven’t done any observing of cats at least. A dog, on the other hand, would be able to honor my rank because dogs intuitively honor a ranking system amongst themselves, but you have to train them or else they may assume they are the alpha.

          Clearly you haven’t noticed any behavior of animals and why they all try to stay alive. Do you think they all read some memo somewhere that we keep them around although would could annihilate them and that we are their god? Do you think they are that humble? You’re not, and that’s one reason your religion ain’t true – the simple arrogance of believing there is nothing on earth better than you that you have to invent something, among other rumors that atheists desire to be #1, while Christians submit to position #2, just below god. No, the rest of us know we are all in this together and there is nobody helping us but us, but basically all it is is the same innate urge all other creatures share – to not go extinct. I’m not just trying to make fun of you, I’m actually making a point you have missed.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          All you’ve explained so well is how the nazis saw their place in the world,the alpha race.You were born in the wrong generation Kodie,you would have fitted in and felt right at home in Germany 1940,and no l’m not making fun of you
          mind you l can see you with your hair in a bun and marching in uniform…Aaaaarctung

        • Kodie

          You make the most sense when you just shut up.

        • Greg G.

          You invoked Godwin’s law. That is bad form. You could just as well have said he could have been one of God’s chosen people, a Greek who considered everyone else barbarians, or almost any other group of people.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          Read Kodies ramblings Greg, how she sees the way it all works is just like Hitler,survival of the fittest,the strongest dominates,and he was right . But Kodie rarely can make a point without being derogatory in some way.Weve clashed many times on other blogs in the past,Ive tried to be patient,gentle and even apologetic to no avail,l see her as a very sharp and smart woman but wounded and fragile so l tend to ignore most of what she says,but there are times when she just pisses me off.

        • Kodie

          Norm, once you compare someone to Hitler, the argument is over. If that’s how your reading comprehension automatically compares what I wrote about Christians thinking they are the highest order of animals (like every animal does) means you are conflating evolution with eugenics, then I don’t really have a lot of inclination to simply believe anything you say. When you tell Bob or Greg that the bible says what you want it to say if they would only read it again, and I have you calling me a Nazi because I described Christians as ordinary as another animal, and slightly closer to Hitler in fact than I am as long as we’ve turned to this page, we can fucking tell how poor your reading comprehension is. We can see how your gears turn to interpret what you want to see instead of reading and comprehending the text that is there. Nothing you say from here on out is credible.

          YES, we have got into arguments before – well I have. You don’t offer anything in the way of supporting arguments or example what you mean. You are swayed by the poorest logic and you don’t convince anyone, yet you are convinced of your superior position; you called Bob a swine. This is how you think – you think you have the superior position but you think nobody believes you because everywhere you go, people think you’re an idiot. Well, Norm, it’s because you’re an idiot. Believe it or not, you don’t have to be that smart to fall for the shit you believe. You’re apparently not mad at how they manipulate you and you’re nothing but a puppet to the Christian faith. But Godwin’s law means that when you compare someone to a Nazi it’s over and you lose. Your manipulated narrow-minded thoughts went there as soon as you saw the trigger phrases, you didn’t comprehend what I said, you just saw Hitler Hitler Hitler.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          My reading comprehension is low you say,lol Kodie you say a lot without saying to much at all.I wade my way through your ramblings for what your really trying to say and occasionally its good but what I mostly see it a person who feels unheard, un happy and un loved.Thats where the anger comes from, not from anything l say.

        • Kodie

          How about, “I went a little too far when I compared you to a Nazi,” Mr. Christianity? It would be gravy for you to admit you can’t read, or admit that your interpretation of the bible in particular is very poor and difficult for you to explain, since so far, you haven’t.

        • http://www.facebook.com/norman.donnan Norm Donnan

          xxx

        • Greg G.

          So why do you think because you can track some of the brain functions that it disproves the existence of a soul ?

          A thing can’t be disproved unless you tell us what it is. The soul concept might be a comforting explanation in a prescientific mind but in light of better explanations it doesn’t explain anything, there’s no evidence for it, and holding on to the idea could be detrimental. The demon-theory of disease held back the germ theory of disease and medicine. The idea that lightning was something that a god did was wrong and theists apposed the use of lightning rods because it “interfered with God’s will”. Theists also opposed anesthesia when doctor’s first started to use it.

          First you said that “the brain is simply the hardware used by the soul/spirit to operate the body” as if the spirit and soul was the same. Now you say that a spirit might not even be necessary to control a body and a soul isn’t necessary in animals at all. Why is one necessary for a spirit or soul to control a human brain? Compared to other animals, the human brain is big enough to take care of itself.

          The ratio of the size of the brain vs the weight a mammal is generally related to the intelligence of the animal. Humans have a much larger brain compared to body weight than any other mammal. That is sufficient to account for man’s greater intelligence.

          The human mind is very capable of concocting ideas that cannot be disproven. However, it’s irrational to believe in such things without evidence just because it is so easy to come up with them. How is the concept of a soul any different? What does the soul actually do? Most importantly, how do you know that?

        • Kodie

          Maybe you’re not reading the article again and just telling us what you think.

        • Obliged_Cornball

          Your position confuses me, because most theologians I’ve spoken with admit that earthly memories and sensations will perish along with the body. These people generally argue that we are a mix of body & soul, and that only the latter will persist after death. And while our souls live on, it is incorrect to state that we “are” our souls, just as it is wrong to claim we “are” our bodies. Perhaps this view is exclusive to orthodox circles?

          But anyway, under your view I would predict that our internal experiences (such as thoughts and memories) would never be affected by changes in the brain. What we would be seeing in brain damage patients is a failure of those thoughts to connect with the body. I cannot access others’ thoughts apart from their behavior, but I find this hard to believe: I’d be shocked if people who act & say they are confused still possessed & experienced thoughts they couldn’t act upon.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Cornball:

          These [theologians] generally argue that we are a mix of body & soul, and that only the latter will persist after death.

          What about that whole bodily resurrection thing? Wasn’t there a schism in the early church over Docetism? I thought bodily resurrection was a key tenet.

        • Obliged_Cornball

          Indeed there was, I use “orthodox” to mean the majority consensus that succeeded in propagating its message. Not that that was the only conclusion drawn back then – Christianity has always been “divided” to a degree.

    • Greg G.

      So, is every interaction where the soul operates the body a miracle? What does the soul do that initiates any action or thought the physical body does? Does the soul use electromagnetism, gravity, the strong nuclear force, or the weak nuclear force to manipulate the brain? How about dark energy? As Carroll shows in the video, none of those would work without reaching detectable levels.

      I’ve heard that the soul is the seat of free will. I’m also told that the possibiity of sin is necessary for free will. So, if the seat of free will goes to heaven, there must be the possibility of sin there. The Bible says that angels get kicked out of heaven. If angels can’t last forever in heaven what chance does a human soul have? Remember that the coolest places in hell will already be occupied when you get kicked out of heaven.

      How long do you think you’ll be able to stand streets of gold? Why would anyone care what the streets were made of if they had wings? What about food in heaven? God sent manna from heaven to the Hebrews when they wandered through the desert for 40 years. They got tired of it and complained. It took less than a few decades. If God can’t get something as simple as variety in the diet of his creations, what in heaven might he get right? If he can’t satisfy people who are starving in the desert, why would you want to spend an eternity with that kind of stuff?

      Then there is suffering. If God is omnipotent, he could achieve anything with or without suffering, so suffering is unnecessary, so God chose for there to be unnecessary suffering. That’s sadistic. Maybe God isn’t omnipotent and stopping suffering is beyond his capability.

      So, if you’re right, at best you get to spend eternity eating the same food with either a sadist who enjoys inflicting suffering or a being who is incapable of preventing it. If I’m right, I will spend eternity in the same serene state I was in before I was born.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

        Greg: Lots of good questions. You remind me Andy Rooney doing his 60 Minutes thing. (“Didja ever notice that … ?”)

    • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

      Did you even read the Phineas Gage example?

  • Kodie

    The way you explain it makes me think of the brain as a sophisticated blob reacting to stimulus, which is how it seemed to me anyway in words I could never think of before. My brain is a blob reacting to your stimulus right now. If you cut me do I not bleed? If you say words to me, do I not hear them and refer to my experience to think what I should say back? Earlier, I had a lot of random things to say about the soul being like the weather. How can an artist capture an emotion and then set it free on the audience with predictable (mostly) results? Manipulating the emotions is one of the things that some artists do well. Some people are more sensitive than others, some more sensitive to blatant manipulation and resist it. I tell a joke and you laugh or you don’t think it was funny. I have heard it’s the delivery and timing, but “sense of humor” is a thing. I have one, most people do, but criticizing someone else for not having one when they don’t simply have the same one as you, or they don’t have a soul because they don’t cry at the same movies or even like movies where you get to cry. The brain is obviously available to poke and I don’t think there are that many ways to react to it, just seems like a lot because we are sophisticated by language and fine motor skills to craft a literate response.

    • Greg G.

      Yes but the sophisticated blob is composed of lots of smaller blobs that monitor specific requirements and interrupt to have the blob’s focus when necessary. For example, the part that monitors my bladder is more active when I work out*.

      *By work out, I mean drink beer.

      • Kodie

        It doesn’t interrupt the brain’s focus unless you don’t get up and go to the bathroom, or for that matter, outside in the snow, where you can write your name or perhaps a quatrain of original poetry, depending on how much you worked out.

  • Msironen

    What I find interesting in the “soul” concept is that it really doesn’t solve the problem it tries to. This has more to do with free will, but consider the religious/dualistic notion that you have an immaterial soul making your moral decisions.

    Suppose then that criminals have souls that make bad moral decisions. But those criminals didn’t choose to have such souls, did they? What would make that decision, when and especially why (would a supposedly good “proto-soul” choose a bad one)?

    But if a person doesn’t have a choice in what kind of soul they have, how are they to blame for their decisions any more than in a “meat automaton” scenario? It’s simply pushing the problem back one step. In fact it just creates more problems while failing to solve any.

    • Greg G.

      But if a person doesn’t have a choice in what kind of soul they have, how are they to blame for their decisions any more than in a “meat automaton” scenario? It’s simply pushing the problem back one step. In fact it just creates more problems while failing to solve any.

      Right. Does eating paint chips as a child affect the soul or do lead paint related sins not count against the soul?

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      Sam Harris argues exactly that in his book “Free Will.” One can’t help being born with the soul of a psychopath, any more than the neural chemistry of one. Even the most ardent “free will” supporters admit cases in which this is compromised-but why? The soul is immaterial, and thus should be unaffected by any material cause that might do this you can name. Or are we to believe that no matter how impaired, a person “freely chooses” every action? There would thus be no such thing as an “insane” person, only people with wildly divergent “life choices” from the rest of us. I do not know of any dualists willing to go that far.

      • Msironen

        My thinking in this has been much influenced by Harris. I probably should’ve stated that outright.

  • Kodie

    So the bible can’t be wrong?

  • John Kesler

    Since some Christians believe that “life begins at conception,” and that this is the point at which a “soul” is imparted by God, what about the roughly half of all fertilized eggs that never implant? Are these “people” guaranteed a spot in heaven, while the rest of us battle various temptations and other “sins” which could land us in hell? If so, then for what purpose is anyone allowed to be born?

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      One might well argue, contrary to what many Christians say, that abortion is (if children below some “age of accountability” directly enter heaven) a gift and blessing, sparing them a potential eternity of pain in hell. http://sight66.com/2013/03/01/fetus/ Of course, you’re right-this just brings up the question why anyone is created or born to begin with.

  • trj

    I just gave the article a very quick skim, and I’m not impressed. It seems to be an exercise in re-categorizing indeterminable events to ascribe them some special meaning (which the author invents). It’s basically teleological pseudo-philosophy.

    There’s no basis for putting emergent behavior or random events into new categories to make them special compared to other “ordinary” physical influences. At most doing so is conceptually convenient, but it has no bearing on the physics.

  • trj

    Your body is a physical thing in a physical world. No test has ever shown the human body to possess any special physical attributes compared to any other physical object.

    This also means the human body is influenced by the same forces and laws as anything else. Which again means the soul would need to exert a physical influence on the body to have any kind of interaction with it. As Carroll points out, if any kind of force or particle exists which can influence our bodies in this way, we would know about it. There’s no way we could not.

    The only way to get around this it is to resort to silly paradoxes, such as a physical force which does not operate in any physical way. I suppose that’s what religious people are left with.

  • Greg G.

    Hi Patrick

    However, according
    to the Bible body and soul belong together and man has a body in the afterlife,
    albeit an altered one (see Luke 24,36-40, John 5,28-29, 1 Corinthians 15,44).

    Your verses don’t support your statement. Besides that, if you read further:

    1 Corinthians 15:46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.

    also:

    19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

    So the Bible says that the natural body and the spiritual body are two different things, which contradicts your statement. That’s the problem with relying on the big book of multiple choice as a source for knowledge.
    If an exact duplicate of me was produced right now, both of us would think we were the original but one of us would be wrong. If the exact duplicate replaced me, neither the world nor the clone would ever suspect anything like that happened. But it still wouldn’t be me. If a copy of my thought patterns were reproduced in a body of a different form, it would think it was me but it would not be the real me. If a spiritual clone is made of my natural body after it has long ago returned to dust, it may think it is me, but it won’t be the real me. The real me has to have a continuity of being. I don’t even know that I am not a clone of the person I was yesterday. It wouldn’t be rational for a god to reward or punish beings with somebody else’s memories.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-Reed/533130423 Stephen Reed

    Good post.
    I would have to disagree with one thing, however. I don’t believe that life after death can be ruled out. Here is one possible scenario that could result in life after death that doesn’t violate anything established by science (as far as I’m aware):
    1. You are a volume of space that consists of particles and energy fields, which can be described by a specific quantum state
    2. If certain multiverse theories are true, and there are many universes that exist and will exist in the future, than the quantum state of everything that makes up your volume of space, as it was before your death, may once again happen to exist once more in one (or more) of these other universes, at some place and some time in the future.
    3. If the number of universes are infinite, then this can presumably happen an infinite number of times.

    • Greg G.

      Sure, but those infinite copies of you are each somebody else, and not you.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-Reed/533130423 Stephen Reed

        Nope. There is nothing known to science, beyond time and location, to distinguish the two. And, as Bob’s article and the Sean Caroll explained, anything else that could exist and have any meaningful kind of interaction has effectively been ruled out.

        If you fall asleep, and I move you to a different bed while you are unconscious, then you are still the same person who wakes up in the different bed than the person you were before you fell asleep, agreed?

        There is absolutely zero difference between doing this vs. killing you while you sleep and making a brand new copy of you in the other bed, where everything contained within the copy containing your volume of space is in the exact same quantum state as it was immediately before death.

        Now, what if I waited one year after killing you before making the copy?

        Welcome to the wacky world of just what exactly it means to be “you” and for “you” to survive in some sort of afterlife.

        • Kodie

          If you made a copy of me but you imprisoned me and didn’t kill me, and I could watch my copy taking over the rest of my life, I don’t think I’d consider that other me “me”. The fact that you kill me instead, leaving the copy to live the rest of my life, seamlessly fitting in as if it is me does not mean it is me. It would be “good” (and I put that in quotes because I’d actually rather not live forever) if I was dying of a fatal injury or illness to “survive” in some sense without a scratch and all cured and all that. I find it hard to believe that’s actually possible but science-y people keep saying it’s not that far away.

        • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

          The reason why the simulation would be “you” is that continuity of identity is an illusion. If the “you” of now and the “you” of 10 years ago are the same “you”, then what connects the two? The two are largely not made of the same atoms; they just share a similar pattern. The sense of continuity is there only because the change was slow.

          Suppose that over the next ten years, every day a small percentage of the biological neurons in your brain were replaced by silicon counterparts that function identically, so that by the end of the ten years your brain was totally electronic. At any given point along that process, would your brain stop being you?

        • Greg G.

          I have made similar arguments elsewhere in this thread. Making a copy is not the same as making the same thing. Two things with the same configuration of indistinguishable protons, neutrons and electrons will be different things whether they are in the same universe or different universes, the same time or different times. The same atoms that make up me could be reconfigured to make up a copy of you, probably with some left over, but the copy would not be you or me.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Greg: This is my objection to Ray Kurzweil’s sci fi scenario in The Age of Spiritual Machines. He imagines a near future in which we’ll have the equipment to do a scan of the brain, understand what it all means, and create a computer simulation of that person at that moment. If the simulation was sufficiently general, that set of data could evolve and change in a similar way to how the real brain is doing.

          Here’s the problem: he seems to imagine that this would be a great way to live forever. However, as I’m slowly dying of cancer while my computer self is off have lots of sex, I’m not going to imagine that this is me living forever at all.

        • Greg G.

          Agreed. If Kurzweil is correct that it is possible, it is extremely more likely that we are already existing in a computer simulation. Even more, we are most likely in a Russian doll simulation of a simulation of a simulation…

          I can imagine a scenario where what I might call the continuous me could exist. Molecules within the brain can be replaced without affecting the mind process. Even cells could be replaced. What if neuron-sized quantum computers could replace neurons gradually while maintaining the full function of the cell? Once the brain was converted to computers, the body wouldn’t be necessary and the brain could then be transplanted into other bodies or androids and could be connected to the Collective.

        • Greg G.

          We could talk about My Grandfather’s Axe and the Ship of Theuseus but those don’t apply. The thing I call me is my mind which is a process. One big chemical reaction. Created clones with identical brains are running different processes so they are different people. Separate processes run in similar bodies in identical universes are not the same person. They may look and act alike but if they met, each would consider the other a different person. If two identical twins who were separated at birth met, they would be different people even though they were once the same fertilized egg.

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      I believe this is what’s called “quantum immortality.” Really not so much the “afterlife” as multiple, parallel versions of the same life, which is hardly what most people mean by that. Of course, they might just be wrong about it.

    • Sue Blue

      I’ve heard some people use the principle of conservation of matter and energy to posit a scientific explanation for an “afterlife”. The problem I see with this idea is that it doesn’t explain how consciousness – an awareness of self, memories, and an ability to think – could remain coherent as simple “energy” after the destruction and loss of the neurons that produced them.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

        Sue: Interesting point. But, as you suggest, why imagine that there’s a soul to conserve?

        Things live, and then they become worm food. That seems to explain where everything goes just fine to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1374438730 Greg King

    Excellent topic. I hear a lot of people use the word soul, the expression heart and mind, so it reminds me, often, why I don’t think they exist in reality. I get sick of hearing these terms used like they are physical properties. I agree, they definitely exist as abstract concepts. Okay, if one wants to use soul, the mind, the heart as a metaphor for personality, feelings, emotions, okay, but I think most people who use those terms mean them literally. This is a great topic, and those who use that term must not think or question the meaning of these words at all because they use them like they are real. Your Phineas Gage example really drives home, no pun intended, how the brain and the mind are connected, or one in the same. Kill damage, remove part of the brain, and you kill certain functions of the brain. The evidence you used doesn’t lie. If only those people who use the word soul literally read your blog, maybe it would jar some logical and evidence base thinking loose.

  • Al Cruise

    What really happens after death no one really knows, everything is just guessing. You won’t really know or not know until it happens to you.

    • http://profiles.google.com/david.mike.simon David Simon

      Everything all the time is just guessing. But some guesses are better than others.

  • The Watchman

    I’m sure you can explain it all to God when you stand before Him.

    • dorcheat

      Care to explain the evidence for souls Watchman. Mindless preaching will get you nowhere in this forum.

  • Greg G.

    Hi avalon

    That clarifies your position for me but I still don’t think I agree with the wording. The mind is what the brain does. Digestion is what the digestive tract does. Digestion is an intangible thing. The breakdown of solids into a chemical slurry affects how lower parts of the digestive tract can absorb nutrients.

    When you say “a strict physical determinism can’t explain an intangible affect”, it sounds like you mean in principle. That’s what I disagree with. We may not be able to explain all the intangibles but it is for practical reasons.

    If you mean it in the sense that we can’t solve a problem involving three orbiting bodies then I agree with you. The system is unstable but we can’t determine when it will fly apart because we can’t model it accurately enough into digital formulations. When you have to divide by the difference of two nearly equal numbers, the results can vary by wide margins. But we know why that is.

    If they can model a worm’s brain with six neurons, they can model one with seven neurons. As the neurons increase, the complexity of the interactions increases exponentially. If there was a principle that kicked in that prevents further understanding (besides financial and physical limitations), there should be a specific number of neurons for that limit, where it would be impossible to do it for x number of neurons but still possible to do it with x – 1 neurons.

    An absolute proof for determining x would persuade me of your position. I think a plausible explanation for solving for x would at least persuade me to consider your position.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

    avalon: Yes, relationships affect our lives. Is the soul carried in relationships? If not, then we’re back to Carroll’s point that any relevant bit of physics would be known by now.

  • numenian

    Lol, such articles always seem a bit childish to me. Read some recent research on consciousness. “The ideas that the soul actually exists and that the mind is separate from the brain belong back to the time when demons were said to cause mental illness.” Scientific Theory, at this time, negates this belief. Look it up. Or continue in your faith of atheism, whatever you hope defeats God.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      numerian: You disagree. OK–one vote in the “No” column. But do you want to tell us why? If this post is childish, it should be child’s play to show why it’s flawed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1374438730 Greg King

      It is not about what defeats God, it is about the truth. You make a lot of assumptions numenian.

  • Y. A. Warren

    As close as I can tell, pheromones move what we call the soul from “place” to “place.”

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      How are pheromones involved with it, and what do “we” call the soul?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1374438730 Greg King

    Ctcss said, “…the soul is a theological concept…”. I have heard this same assertion from religious people. So I guess they don’t know their own religion, or the Bible. I don’t think the concept of the soul is an either or concept. I think it can be defined in many ways, and in a way that has nothing to do with theology.

  • jammgor

    Hence the Biblical saying “knowledge puffs up” – we have all this puffery here – we know this and we know that. You can’t make a maggot, you can’t change one day of weather, you can’t make a butterfly. – and your body is merely the tool of your spirit. Like a broken hammer, the body may be damaged and an imperfect tool of your eternal spirit. It is damaged, it dies. Your spirit will never die. And if you spend your life hating God, your eternal spirit will go where God chooses not to go! CPR has brought us pictures of Hell and Heaven – better prepare, you dozy beggers – your time is coming like all of us!.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      jammmmm:

      You’re a confident guy! Thanks for the threats, I guess, but if you have
      any information about why the soul, heaven, or God exist, fill us in.

    • Greg G.

      Hi jammgor

      As a person who can distinguish knowledge from puffery, perhaps you can explain why near death experiences confirm Christian beliefs for Christians, reincarnation beliefs for Hindus, and Sufi-Islamic beliefs for Sufi-Islamists. Why should any of them be preferred over a semi-conscious awareness creating a model of one’s environment?

      It’s been shown that secondary reports of NDEs tend to emphasize similarities while ignoring the misses. They have been running an experiment in hospitals across the country for several years to see if any NDE experience can relate verifiable information that would be available to an out of body awareness but not from a patient’s body perspective. Not one has passed the test.

    • Kodie

      Hence the Biblical saying “knowledge puffs up”

      Consider why the bible likes to feed you such lazy arguments: “They’re right and we got nothin’.” You dismiss whatever you can’t understand.

  • Sue Blue

    V.S. Ramachandran’s “Phantoms of the Brain” is also an excellent, easy to read explanation of the architecture and function of the brain, and how it uses the senses to construct our concepts of reality, personality, cognition and consciousness.

    NDEs, out-of-body experiences, seeing or sensing apparitions of the dead, deja vu and presque vu, all have been induced and/or studied under laboratory conditions. They are nothing more than constructs of the hundred-billion or so neurons in our brains and their myriad interconnections with each other and the nervous system.

    I don’t know how anyone can still believe in a “soul” unless they are completely ignorant of the advances made in neuroscience…or they’re willfully ignorant.

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