[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding chapter 29, can be found here.]
[This entry starts chapter 30, "The Doctrine of Derivative Spirit".]
In this chapter I will mostly take a break from progressing in a developing argument, to spend some time picking at the proposition I have just developed, concerning the relationship of derivative spirits to Nature and to God. In the process I will be considering some questions I have asked myself, and which perhaps I can anticipate from you, my reader. I will also try some illustrative analogies (although with an eye to the limitations of the analogies).
(Keep in mind, however, that I am neither claiming nor requiring this particular theory of mine concerning the process of instigation of the soul, to be certainly correct. It does, I think, fit the bill, and is not self-contradictive; but that doesn't exclude other methods of getting to the same result. On the other hand, I have argued in previous chapters that some other categories of proposed methods exclude themselves.)
I have three stories in mind, each of them variations on the same theme. Two of them may perhaps be mutually exclusive of each other in regard to particulars, but this indicates the range of possibilities left open by my proposal as to precise means. These are, for various reasons, the three ‘most popular’ ‘creation stories’ in Western Civilization for the past thousand years or so, concerning how people came and come to exist. So it behooves me to see how my developed results compare, and to what extent it fits with them: I will try mixing my results with each ‘story’ and see what happens.
My mother and father marry; and in the fullness of time a microscopic bit of physical matter with such-n-such chemical properties passes from his body into hers, where another almost-microscopic bit of physical matter with similar (yet distinctive) physical properties absorbs it. As the egg and the sperm begin reacting and counterreacting to each other within the form of the egg itself, very many chemicals (along with atomic and sub-atomic particles) are moved around into configurations different from what came before.
One result of these developing configurations, is that the egg--now a zygote--begins to absorb other nearby chemical groups which before it could not absorb. These new chemical groups provide the necessary ingredients for further and quantitatively different reactions to take place; and the zygote becomes increasingly more complicated in both function and structure.
All of this follows general 'rules' set up by God. God, being the eternal mainstay of this (and any/every other) Nature, sees and knows what is happening. He may even 'nudge' the material directly here and there--but He has a prior commitment to letting Nature be a real creation, not merely ('merely' is correct although it seems strange to say it) to be God Himself. Therefore, He lets Nature 'take its course' in many respects. Nevertheless, behind even this choice, lie actions of God--His self-abdication, and His maintenance effects for the upkeep of Nature, for instance. And also, the scope for God's direct manipulation within Nature-as-Nature remains very wide.
As the chemicals begin to be ordered into progressively different structures, there is a sense in which the 'shape' of God's self-abdicating actions (underlying the existence and 'nature' of Nature) also collect together into 'shapes' which did not exist 'before'.
This results in a composite behavior for the new entity, dependent on both Nature and God, which is nevertheless not God and also not entirely natural.
It is a synthetic entity.
God could, of course, re-assert direct control over this new entity at any time and place; but that would destroy its uniquely derivative character. Instead, He continually self-abdicates, letting this new entity get along, not indeed 'without' Him, yet indirectly.
The processes involved are similar in many respects to the ones that take place inside the bodies of, for instance, sharks. The difference is that in those cases God maintains a tighter leash, or ensures that the supernatural/physical shapes don't get (or haven't yet gotten) into quite the right configuration, particularly within the organ known as the brain. The result is (as far as we can tell, anyway) a purely reactive creature: alive, insofar as it behaves in a way that distinguishes it from other physical entities (although even the shark isn't purely physical, technically speaking), for it will behave in a fashion that allows it to repair pieces of itself into the membership of its body and also to generate more of its kind. It swims; and eats; and makes little sharks. And that's all it does.
I fully grant, that in its own reactive way, the shark's behaviors and existence could serve a very wide number of purposes within God's general (or even specific) plans for our Nature's history; but it is also quite likely that an individual shark's chief purpose is to take its place in the upkeep of a stable biological environment, ever developing along lines instituted by God and still monitored and upkept (and influenced) by Him. (And perhaps also influenced by other supernatural entities, although I have argued nothing concerning them yet.)
But the entity inside my mother could have quite a different future ahead of it. Not that this is entirely certain; again it depends on how much leeway God allows, such as leeway for the vagaries of Nature and for any derivative actors whom He has already put into the system such as my parents and the people they come into contact with. (I happen to know, for example, that once upon a time there was another little baby in my mother’s womb with me, but he or she died early due to a malformation in the inner lining of the womb--a malformation that killed off most of her unborn children except for myself and eventually my brother.)
Anyway, for this story I will ask you to take my word that this entity does have a qualitatively different future awaiting it than the shark does! The little entity, developing into an embryo, is not an act-er quite yet, but the synthetic structure is coming together into the proper shape for allowing this.
The little entity (which is steadily becoming not-so-little) has been reacting the whole time, of course--otherwise nothing at all would be taking place, not even decay! These reactions become more and more complex, in thousands and perhaps even millions of ways, many of which, in turn, allow for greater development to occur. They also soon begin to resemble reactions the entity will exhibit later in life, after it leaves the womb. Sometimes these behaviors are similar to behaviors the entity will actively initiate, but the entity need not be truly acting yet.
When is a soul invested into this entity?--this baby? The soonest, of course, would be whenever the synthetic (natural and supernatural) structure of the baby has reached the stage where consciousness is a practical capability. I do not know precisely when that stage is reached, but I think some useful clues can be gained by looking at the parts we can scientifically examine: the physical parts.
However, I don't think it is quite right to say that this soul--my soul--was 'invested into' this growing baby. My soul was grown: out of things it was not, out of things which (both naturally and supernaturally) are more complex than it is, according both to general and specific plans of God.
The development of the body and the soul of this composite entity--me--happened in intimate connection to one another. On the other hand, the idea of what God wants for this baby, for me, is something that transcends time and space.
Meanwhile the capability of consciousness does not necessarily mean I was actually conscious yet within the womb; my soul could have been sleeping instead. [See first comment below for footnote here.] But being intimately fused (at this stage, at least) with my body, my soul grew capable of being conscious.
And eventually, I was born.
Also eventually, before or after birth--and physical development certainly continues after birth--my soul began to specially respond to the stimuli bombarding it, part and parcel with being fused to physical structures which transmit that type of energy so efficiently. In a way, my soul had never ceased to respond to that input; but before this point, every response had been merely an automatic reaction. As a synthetic entity, I gained not only the eventual ability to act; but I--even my soul--also automatically reacted to my environment.
As my soul grows (even today, even into the depths of the future), I may or may not become less reactive, partly based on the actions I take. But as a baby, my soul continued to take its shape from my surroundings.
Can God alleviate this process of environmental shaping (assuming this shaping could be a bad thing)? To some extent I conclude (quite gladly!) that He can. But given that He has set up this situation, I can only say that such alleviation will be "to some extent"; otherwise He would be disassociating the person in question from this Nature entirely. He may in fact decide to do this to me eventually; He may in fact do this for everyone eventually. But these are issues to be discussed later: having grown from a baby, here in this Nature, I can say confidently that God has not yet in fact disassociated me from this Nature. And by the inferences I draw from experience, this looks to me like His standard operating procedure for sentient entities of my species.
(I am saying nothing about how God works with other sentient species, either on this world or out of it, within this Nature or another. I think the general underlying principles will be the same in any case of derivative sentience, but the outworking could be significantly different.)
So, as a baby, my soul responds in reaction to my environment--possibly before I am even born, but not certainly, for the synthetic 'shape' must reach a particular level and kind of complexity (just as the philosophical naturalists have always told us, as far as they could account for it), and I for one do not know where that point is, or even if it is the same for every baby.
But as a supernaturally active entity--a shadow of God, not-God but made "in His image"--I will eventually begin (assuming a favorable supernatural and natural environment) to 'stretch' my will. I (quite literally) 'will begin', to initiate my own actions.
I doubt I have suitable imagery to help either you or I picture this event; much as physicists have no truly accurate 'images' of what photons (which transmit visual images to us) 'do' to sub-atomic particles. At best, I can merely ask you to think about how it feels for you to take an action, compared to a situation where you know you are only reacting.
How does it feel when a cat hair or grain of pepper makes you sneeze, compared to when you sneeze in a stage-play because you chose to do that for the sake of advancing the story? Admittedly, there is a wide field for error and misinterpretation in asking you to imagine this, but I can think of no other way. Acting, even derivative acting, is something that just isn't like anything else--or, rather, other events are at best merely like truly acting. (A statement that happens, by the way, to fit in quite well with the relationship of any created thing to the Ultimate Act-er!)
When I say that I, as a baby, began to act, I don't mean that I began to pump my legs and arms around by choice--that would come later. Nor do I mean that I began to draw what we would call 'formal inferences'. These types of actions (especially the formal inferences) are rather advanced ones. Once more, the best I can do to describe this action, is to ask you to imagine the difference between tasting a soft drink when you are thirsty (incidentally tasting it as you swallow) and tasting a barbecue for purposes of judging it at a state fair. Or perhaps it would be better to ask you to imagine trying to ignore a horrible taste.
Similarly, I began in very simple ways to 'taste' my environment on purpose. This is the simplest possible way an entity can begin 'understanding' the environment; this is the process of beginning to learn what the environment is (instead of only being reactively trained)--or rather, to learn what character the environment has.
I expect it would be extremely difficult--maybe impossible--for someone standing outside this process, observing it, to distinguish it from a mere reaction to the environment. (Not surprisingly, many scientists of a particular philosophical stripe interpret any such events precisely so that there can be no such distinction possibly taking place!) But you, my reader, have an advantage in your own case; for you don't only observe what you do: you actually do it! While you can be in doubt about some particular instances, there should be situations where you are dead-level certain that you have acted or reacted, that you have initiated an event or have merely been part of the flow.
Then again, even when you do perceive 'I am merely part of this flow', you have to that extent rendered a conscious judgment, and thus have acted.
I suspect therefore (although I am not certain) that the state of being conscious does not appear until the baby (or otherwise sentient entity) begins to actively reflect upon (not merely reflect through reaction to) his or her environment. There is a sort of willful seizing, grasping, tasting. It's a qualitative difference. Parents in particular are always wondering and guessing when their baby is starting to do this. I suspect that in some cases it happens much sooner, or much later, than the parents themselves suspect.
(Almost two years after originally writing this chapter, I came to have private reasons for believing that the soul of one person I know, did become active in the womb more than a month before birth. I do not know how often this happens, and I won't discuss my reasons for believing this--they are not specifically religious or even merely philosophical. I won't base any arguments or positions on this belief of mine, either. But I thought you, my reader, might like to know, for sake of disclosure at least.)
I also suspect a very similar uncertain curtain of guesstimation hangs between our attempts to figure out when, or whether, animals other than humans exhibit those unique sorts of behaviors.
Almost the whole host of psychophysical sciences can now be imported into the worldview for which I am arguing--everything with the exception of any notions that, in essence, our thoughts (specifically your and my thoughts) are only non-rational reactions: the Golden Presumption must not be broken, at peril of nonsense.
One reluctance some people feel at accepting a theistic philosophy, is that they believe we would have to start all over again from scratch in our sciences. This is simply not true--despite what some insensitive and naive preachers (or atheistic propagandists) might lead you to believe.
It does not involve replacing the engine in the car. It involves defusing a bomb lurking under the hood, waiting for us to reach a certain mileage on the odometer--and then replacing that bomb with a supercharger! What I catch many philosophers doing, is ensuring that the odometer doesn't reach a particular milemarker in their studies, by surreptitiously resetting it when they think we aren't looking. And historically they have been quite successful at this. But it doesn't really deal with the bomb.
The story I have been telling has so far left out issues such as the effects of death on my synthetic soul; or the question of rebellion by me or of betrayal by God; or much of anything concerning direct interpersonal relationships at all--in other words, the question of ethics. I will begin dealing with ethics soon in Section Four, after this chapter. But for now, let me go back and retell my story again; from a different historical perspective but with (I think) the same principles.
[Next up: an evolutionary story]
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[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, concluding chapter 29, can be found here.]