Six reasons why you should believe in non-physical souls

(Podcast uploaded, with permission, by ReligioPolitical Talk)

This podcast is a must-listen. Please take the time to download this podcast and listen to it. I guarantee that you will love this podcast. I even recommended it to my Dad and I almost never do that.

Details:

In this podcast, J. Warner examines the evidence for the existence of the mind (and inferentially, the soul) as he looks at six classic philosophical arguments. Jim also briefly discusses Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos and discusses the limitations of physicalism.

The MP3 file is here. (67 MB, 72 minutes)

Topics:

  • Atheist Thomas Nagel’s latest book “Mind and Cosmos” makes the case that materialism cannot account for the evidence of mental phenomena
  • Nagel writes in this recent New York Times article that materialism cannot account for the reality of consciousness, meaning, intention and purpose
  • Quote from the Nagel article:

Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative. Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.

  • When looking at this question, it’s important to not have our conclusions pre-determined by presupposing materialism or atheism
  • If your mind/soul doesn’t exist and you are a purely physical being then that is a defeater for Christianity, so we need to respond
  • Traditionally, Christians have been committed to a view of human nature called “dualism” – human beings are souls who have bodies
  • The best way* to argue for the existence of the soul is using philosophical arguments

The case:

  • The law of identity says that if A = B’ if A and B have the exact same properties
  • If A = the mind and B = the brain, then is A identical to B?
  • Wallace will present 6 arguments to show that A is not identical to B because they have different properties

Not everyone of the arguments below might make sense to you, but you will probably find one or two that strike you as correct. Some of the points are more illustrative than persuasive, like #2. However, I do find #3, #5 and #6 persuasive.

1) First-person access to mental properties

  • Thought experiment: Imagine your dream car, and picture it clearly in your mind
  • If we invited an artist to come and sketch out your dream car, then we could see your dream car’s shape on paper
  • This concept of your dream car is not something that people can see by looking at your brain structure
  • Physical properties can be physically accessed, but the properties of your dream care and privately accessed

2) Our experience of consciousness implies that we are not our bodies

  • Common sense notion of personhood is that we own our bodies, but we are not our bodies

3) Persistent self-identity through time

  • Thought experiment: replacing a new car with an old car one piece at a time
  • When you change even the smallest part of a physical object, it changes the identity of that object
  • Similarly, your body is undergoing changes constantly over time
  • Every cell in your body is different from the body you had 10 years ago
  • Even your brain cells undergo changes (see this from New Scientist – WK)
  • If you are the same person you were 10 years ago, then you are not your physical body

4) Mental properties cannot be measured like physical objects

  • Physical objects can be measured (e.g. – use physical measurements to measure weight, size, etc.)
  • Mental properties cannot be measured

5) Intentionality or About-ness

  • Mental entities can refer to realities that are physical, something outside of themselves
  • A tree is not about anything, it just is a physical object
  • But you can have thoughts about the tree out there in the garden that needs water

6) Free will and personal responsibility

  • If humans are purely physical, then all our actions are determined by sensory inputs and genetic programming
  • Biological determinism is not compatible with free will, and free will is required for personal responsibility
  • Our experience of moral choices and moral responsibility requires free will, and free will requires minds/souls

He spends the last 10 minutes of the podcast responding to naturalistic objections to the mind/soul hypothesis.

*Now in the podcast, Wallace does say that scientific evidence is not the best kind of evidence to use when discussing this issue of body/soul and mind/brain. But I did blog yesterday about two pieces of evidence that I think are relevant to this discussion: corroborated near-death experiences and mental effort.

You might remember that Dr. Craig brought up the issue of substance dualism, and the argument from intentionality (“aboutness”), in his debate with the naturalist philosopher Alex Rosenberg, so this argument about dualism is battle-ready. You can add it to your list of arguments for Christian theism along with all the other arguments like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, stellar habitability, galactic habitability, irreducible complexity, molecular machines, the Cambrian explosion, the moral argument, the resurrection, biological convergence, and so on.

9 thoughts on “Six reasons why you should believe in non-physical souls”

  1. There’s more evidence for free will and responsibility which wasn’t mentioned that I think you have discussed before which is prayer and meditation and their effect on being able to change habits.

  2. Thomas Nagel made an excellent point regarding one of the objections to dualism. Objectors will say that gold is essentially element 79, even though this has to be known through observation. Hence, we can learn of the mind’s physical nature through observation as well. This analogy is faulty because the relationship between gold and element 79 is a necessary one. There just is nothing more to gold than the fact that it has 79 protons.
    Contrast that with the mind and the body, whose relationship is at best a contingent one.

    1. They could be right though. For instance, given a Millian view of proper names and applying that to pain, then it would be a necessary connection of some sort (given one’s flavor of physicalism). However, we can then use Kripke’s argument for dualism that he lays out in Naming and Necessity. His argument is especially strong because it actually bridges the gap between conceivability and possibility instead of merely ignoring the gap.
      Brett Lunn
      brettlunn.wordpress.com

      1. I do not think the mind and the soul are the same. The mind is where decisions are made, and the soul is your spiritual being. An animal has a mind, as exhibited by the observation that they have a free will and emotions, but they do not have a soul. Or at least, there is no Biblical reason to think that they have a soul. I suspect that only humans have a soul.

        That said, there is certainly a connection between the two, and between the soul and the body, although that connection is quite beyond the realm of science because the soul is not observable or detectable. However, I do not believe that a soulless body can function in any way that can be considered ‘alive.’ Thus, a connection between the soul and the body must exist. Similarly, I think there is a connection between the soul and the mind.

  3. If they are not the same thing, and the article provides no reasons for thinking they are, then the reader is only being asked to consider six reasons why one should believe in non-physical minds. The Christian who is an anthropological physicalist is left wondering why he or she ought to believe in non-physical souls.

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