Seidensticker Folly #8: Physics Has Disproven Souls?

Seidensticker Folly #8: Physics Has Disproven Souls? August 16, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

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In his post, “25 Reasons We Don’t Live in a World with a God (Part 5)” (3-5-18), Bob triumphantly proclaims:

12. Because physics rules out the soul or the afterlife

This is a related argument by another physicist, Sean Carroll. He notes that there is plenty of physics we don’t understand, but the physics of the everyday world is very well understood. If a soul exists, it would need to exist in particles, and it would need particles to convey it into the afterlife. No such particles exist. Unlike “Have you looked everywhere in the universe?” we have looked everywhere for particles that interact in our daily lives. We’ve found them all, and none could explain the soul.

Here’s his critique of hiding places for the soul particle(s):

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. (Source)

The Christian god needs physics to build a soul, but physics isn’t cooperating. This doesn’t offer much hope for the afterlife, either. (More)

I hate to be harsh, but folks, this is a level of [philosophical] “stupid” that is almost beyond comprehension, coming from an educated and accomplished man:

After graduating from MIT in 1980, I designed digital hardware, about which I wrote my first book, The Well-Tempered Digital Design (Addison-Wesley, 1986). I have programmed in a dozen computer languages and in environments ranging from punch cards, to one of the first windowing environments, to MS-DOS, to Windows (starting with version 1.0). I am a co-contributor to 14 software patents and have worked at a number of technology companies from a 10-person startup to Microsoft and IBM.

It’s very easily refuted:

1) Physics is a branch of science (like all branches, in fact) that studies matter.  This is not controversial. For example, Wikipedia (“Physics”): “Physics . . . is the natural science that studies matter and its motion and behavior through space and time . . .”

2) Whether matter is all there is (materialism or naturalism) is a separate question.  But that science studies matter is beyond dispute.

3) Because science deals with matter only, it is not within its purview to comment upon spirit or souls or God (an immaterial spirit in most religions). It can only do so if the spirit somehow becomes connected with or intersected with matter (like, for example, the incarnation, where the immaterial God took on human flesh and became man: Jesus Christ; but even then, if we looked at some of Jesus’ cells in a microscope, I highly doubt that we would be able to tell that they were unique “God-Man cells”).

4) Souls (believe in them or not) are not material, by definition. Therefore, physics cannot disprove their existence. It’s apples and oranges. Philosophical outlooks that incorporate souls and other immaterial things are dualism or idealism. These have a long respectable history in philosophical thought (again, agree or disagree). The mind-body problem is one of the great and classic philosophical discussions, that involves this very dispute. Accordingly, an article entitled “Science and religion: Reconcilable differences” on the Berkeley web page stated:

[P]eople of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Many simply acknowledge that the two institutions deal with different realms of human experience. Science investigates the natural world, while religion deals with the spiritual and supernatural — hence, the two can be complementary.

5) There is also such a thing as a dualist atheist (who denies that matter is all there is in the universe). A prominent example would be David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher who has had at least four books on  consciousness and the mind published by Oxford University Press. His Wikipedia entry states:

Chalmers argues that all forms of physicalism (whether reductive or non-reductive) that have dominated modern philosophy and science fail to account for the existence (that is, presence in reality) of consciousness itself. He proposes an alternative dualistic view he calls naturalistic dualism (but which might also be characterized by more traditional formulations such as property dualismneutral monism, or double-aspect theory). . . .

Chalmers argues for an “explanatory gap” from the objective to the subjective, and criticizes physical explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist. Chalmers characterizes his view as “naturalistic dualism”: naturalistic because he believes mental states are caused by physical systems (such as brains); dualist because he believes mental states are ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems.

6) Seidensticker simply assumes from the outset what is his burden to prove (the logical fallacy of circular reasoning or begging the question), by assuming that everything in the universe is matter and nothing but matter (and apparently also that there is no such thing as atheist dualism). And he makes basic category mistakes, as mentioned. Thus, he thinks thatIf a soul exists, it would need to exist in particles, and it would need particles to convey it into the afterlife.” This is all part and parcel of his naive scientism, that I have already critiqued twice.

It’s very elegant and decisive, isn’t it?! Not only has Seidensticker supposedly disproven the existence of the soul and the afterlife (because of physics, no less!), but also, that of good ol’ God Himself (though he seems too intellectually humble to admit the latter accomplishment): all because none of these alleged entities can be, or have been, observed under a microscope or stored for later analysis in a test tube.

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He does manage to state one true thing (thank heavens!):we have looked everywhere for particles that interact in our daily lives. We’ve found them all, and none could explain the soul.” Exactly! And they can’t explain the soul because they have nothing to do with a soul, whether or not the latter exists. The soul doesn’t consist of matter.

Not understanding all these basic distinctions of definition and category, Bob cluelessly, quixotically opines: “The Christian god needs physics to build a soul, but physics isn’t cooperating.” Why would it, I inconveniently ask, since — again — it has nothing to do with the philosophical / theological / spiritual question in the first place?

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Photo credit: geralt (2-2-15) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons  license]

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