CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

 
 
One of my more philosophically reflective coworkers asked me this question not long ago:
 
"If you were to clone a human, (lets say it’s possible) would that copy have a soul?"
 
That led to a brief discussion in which we were both reminded of Swampman, a thought experiment by philosopher Donald Davidson. Imagine, suggests Donaldson, that a man is hiking in the woods when a storm hits and a bolt of lightning strikes and kills him. At the very same moment, another bolt of lightning strikes a swamp nearby and as a result a creature is formed that just happens to be chemically, genetically indistinguishable to the first man in every respect. He is, not just a copy, but exactly identical to the man who died nearby in every measurable physical respect, down to the last molecule. Davidson used Swampman to explore questions of personal identity and causal history. 
 
Now my short answer to the soul question is "yes." The soul is that part of man that thinks, feels, and creates. A successfully cloned human, or a Swampman, or a man "beamed" from one planet to another as on Star Trek, would presumably be capable of all these, and therefore would have (or perhaps more properly would be) a soul. On this reading cloning is a novel form of human reproduction, so that a clone would be as much a soul as anyone else born into the world. But the more important question is existential dependence. If the soul (which broadly encompasses mind or consciousness) cannot exist without the body, as many believe, this fact would appear to confirm some form of materialism or physicalism. 
 
On evolutionary or biological emergentism, drawn generally from materialism-physicalism, the conscious mind (and by extension, the soul) is an emergent property of a certain complex arrangement of particles. What we call the soul is a high-level "brain state" of some sort. Arrange the very same collection of particles in the very same fashion, according to this view, and consequently the very same mind or "soul" will emerge. The proof of this is death. When the body (specifically the brain) ceases to function, the mind does as well. Therefore the mind emerges from the body. So goes the argument, which could be formalized as
 
If E, then U.
U.
E.
 
where E is the proposition that consciousness is an emergent property of specific material arrangements and U is the proposition that all dead material bodies are irreversibly unconscious. But is this argument valid? No. In fact it's a classic case of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. If emergence is true, death should not actually be considered irreversible, because in principle the body could be set back to the original configuration in which consciousness emerges. On the premise of emergence, then, a young person, otherwise perfectly healthy, who dies of a gunshot wound should be able to regain consciousness upon receiving a suitable set of "replacement parts" like organ transplants and blood transfusions, and perhaps an electro-shock "jump start."
 
In other words, with our extensive knowledge of anatomy, chemistry and physics, there seems no good prima facie reason on a biological-naturalist ontology why a dead body could not be simply repaired and put back into circulation. Yet for some reason dead bodies cannot be repaired. That seems to suggest that the biological machinery of the human body is a necessary but not sufficient condition for consciousness. That suggests in turn that consciousness is more than an epiphenomenon or emergent property of a person's physical constitution. 
 
The argument directly above could be restated as a valid inference by modus tollens,
 
If E, then R.
Not R.
Not E.
 
where E is the antecedent proposition that consciousness is an emergent property of physical bodies and R is the consequent proposition that consciousness of (dead) physical bodies could be revived with the right amount of mechanical tinkering. Since no amount of mechanical tinkering can in fact revive (dead) physical bodies, it follows that consciousness is not an emergent property of physical bodies.  All this is precisely what we would expect, given the truth of Scripture: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).

10 comments:

Don,

You've built an unsound argument:

If E, then R.
Not R.
Not E.

where E is the antecedent proposition that consciousness is an emergent property of physical bodies and R is the consequent proposition that consciousness of (dead) physical bodies could be revived with the right amount of mechanical tinkering.


What reason do you have to claim Not R? Don't Christians cling to the idea that near-death experiences exist, where the brain is technically dead, and then revives somehow? In fact, the real reason that a dead brain can't be revived is that it quickly begins to deteriorate. However, given the condition that the physical body could be fully restored to a healthy living state, there is absolutely no reason to think that the brain (and its conscious function) couldn't operate as normal.

good article don but in my view soul is a metaphor for life and spirit is consciousness which lives on.

What reason do you have to claim Not R? Don't Christians cling to the idea that near-death experiences exist, where the brain is technically dead, and then revives somehow? In fact, the real reason that a dead brain can't be revived is that it quickly begins to deteriorate. However, given the condition that the physical body could be fully restored to a healthy living state, there is absolutely no reason to think that the brain (and its conscious function) couldn't operate as normal.

you think they had ICU I first centaury?

What reason do you have to claim Not R? Don't Christians cling to the idea that near-death experiences exist, where the brain is technically dead, and then revives somehow?

No, to my understanding belief in NDE's is not a tenet of Christian doctrine. But if you don't cling to that idea yourself, on what grounds would you dispute Not-R? (Keep in mind that you are the empiricist here.)

In fact, the real reason that a dead brain can't be revived is that it quickly begins to deteriorate.

Interesting. If deterioration is such a powerful principle of nature (and I agree that it is), then right there is good prima facie evidence against life, let alone a human brain, evolving from inorganic chemicals by undirected natural causes in the first place. On the other hand, if a brain is in fact so much naturally evolved machinery, it seems we should be able to simply repair it, or maybe swap it out and then reboot the whole system like a computer with a bad hard drive.

Now my argument would weaken considerably if it could be shown that natural selection is exceedingly more intelligent than the collective wisdom of our best scientists, engineers, technologists and physicians. But why should anyone believe that?

However, given the condition that the physical body could be fully restored to a healthy living state, there is absolutely no reason to think that the brain (and its conscious function) couldn't operate as normal.

Perhaps, given that condition. Do you have any evidence whatsoever that a given dead body could be restored to its healthy living state at will, with the aid of any amount of human technology or ingenuity?

No, to my understanding belief in NDE's is not a tenet of Christian doctrine.
- That is not my claim. However, many Christians do believe in it because they think is supports the notion of a soul that lives after death.

on what grounds would you dispute Not-R?
- It's your argument. You're saying that if we had the ability to fully restore a brain, it still wouldn't function. Granted that has never been done, but this is a hypothetical. So why wouldn't it function? The only reason I can think of is that you believe the soul has departed. But there isn't a shred of evidence for such a thing. Evidence tells us that a cognitive function occurs in a healthy brain, and that it is impaired by damage to the brain.

If deterioration is such a powerful principle of nature ..., then right there is good prima facie evidence against life ... evolving from inorganic chemicals by undirected natural causes in the first place.
- The old thermodynamics canard. You shouldn't argue something that you don't understand. Science is not on your side.

it seems we should be able to simply repair it, or maybe swap it out and then reboot the whole system like a computer with a bad hard drive.
- If we had the technological capability to repair a brain, then I agree in principle. Perhaps it will happen someday.

Now my argument would weaken considerably if it could be shown that natural selection is exceedingly more intelligent than the collective wisdom of our best scientists, engineers, technologists and physicians. But why should anyone believe that?
- I'm not sure what your point is. Evolution has no intelligence at all. It is a process that occurs in nature.

Do you have any evidence whatsoever that a given dead body could be restored to its healthy living state at will, with the aid of any amount of human technology or ingenuity?
- A brain is like a tomato. It rots, and the process begins immediately when we die. I don't claim that we can repair that rot. Your argument says that since we don't have the technological ability to repair what is rotted "it follows that consciousness is not an emergent property of physical bodies." NO, it does not follow. What if we could restore a brain? What basis do you have for your claim that it wouldn't function?

It's your argument. You're saying that if we had the ability to fully restore a brain, it still wouldn't function.

No, that's pretty much backwards. I'm saying that if the function of the brain (consciousness) were dependent strictly upon a particular mechanical arrangement of its parts, we would have the ability to repair, rebuilt or at least replace the dead brain, and its function could be restored. Function cannot in fact be restored by any of these methods. Therefore the brain is not dependent strictly upon a particular mechanical arrangement of its parts.

The old thermodynamics canard. You shouldn't argue something that you don't understand. Science is not on your side.

Who said anything about thermodynamics? Material objects deteriorate consistently. Life fails to arise from nonliving matter consistently. (Look up "spontaneous generation" for various rigorously empirical confirmations of the latter observation.) How about this? I won't argue something I don't understand if you won't argue against straw men. Fair?

I'm saying that if the function of the brain (consciousness) were dependent strictly upon a particular mechanical arrangement of its parts, we would have the ability to repair, rebuilt or at least replace the dead brain
- Just like we have the ability to un-rot a tomato? Sorry, but we just don't know how to do that. Does that mean it couldn't be done in principle? No. As for replacing a brain, it's not as easy as you might think. The brain is intimately connected to the body that it is a part of. To some degree, its very structure is built upon that intimate connection. You can't just stick another brain in its place and expect it to work the same. You'd have to restructure the brain to have the same memories, the same associations with physiological functions, etc.

Your assumption that our lack of technological capability to restore a brain equates to the non-physical nature of its function is unfounded and absurd.

Who said anything about thermodynamics?
- You did. When you talk about deterioration, you are talking about thermodynamics, whether you know it or not. But your statement "Material objects deteriorate consistently" is simply false. In the long run, thermodynamics tells us the every material object will deteriorate into random particles, but we know that before that happens, there is plenty of structure being built in nature. If that weren't true, then there would be no stars or planets. There would be no crystals, there would be no molecules more complex than a hydrogen atom, etc. The fact is that material objects do not deteriorate consistently when there is energy available from some external source that can be used to build or maintain structure. This is true for both living and non-living things, although living things have more ways to to make use of that energy.

Just like we have the ability to un-rot a tomato? Sorry, but we just don't know how to do that. Does that mean it couldn't be done in principle? No.

Right, there's not too much that can't be done "in principle." That's why I keep appealing to your purported empiricism. Life never generates from nonliving matter, we cannot manage to rebuild it, and everything that we can manage to build lacks consciousness, not to mention reproductive capability, metabolism, etc.

Now we can reasonably expect the mindless powers of nature to be more powerful than we are, sometimes awe-inspiringly so. The one thing we can't expect of the mindless powers of nature is be more intelligent than we are. But in creating brains more functionally complex than our finest feats of engineering by many orders of magnitude, that seems to be the problem here.

Your assumption that our lack of technological capability to restore a brain equates to the non-physical nature of its function is unfounded and absurd.

Not really. It may be that I'm just not neck-deep in materialistic science and naturalistic metaphysics. Otherwise it's quite reasonable to expect human beings to be capable of outperforming mindless natural forces in tests of intelligence.

When you talk about deterioration, you are talking about thermodynamics, whether you know it or not. But your statement "Material objects deteriorate consistently" is simply false. In the long run, thermodynamics tells us the every material object will deteriorate into random particles, but we know that before that happens, there is plenty of structure being built in nature.

Granted. I probably should have said that from an empirical standpoint, material deterioration is final and inescapable, something like that. I stand corrected.

But given that entropy can be temporarily decreased in an open system, does that mean you have a coherent, empirically testable theory explaining the origin of life (humans, tomatoes, or any other kind) from nonliving matter?

That's why I keep appealing to your purported empiricism. Life never generates from nonliving matter
- Our empirical observation of nature tells us that there is no supernatural force at play. There are perfectly good natural explanations for the emergence of life and mind.

The one thing we can't expect of the mindless powers of nature is be more intelligent than we are.
- Nature is not intelligent, since it is mindless. There are many examples of evolutionary accidents we observe that no intelligent designer would create intentionally. But we have seen experimentally that evolutionary processes can create functional systems that are beyond the power of a human mind to design.

It may be that I'm just not neck-deep in materialistic science and naturalistic metaphysics.
- No, just neck-deep in theistic belief and supernatural metaphysics.

But given that entropy can be temporarily decreased in an open system, does that mean you have a coherent, empirically testable theory explaining the origin of life (humans, tomatoes, or any other kind) from nonliving matter?
- Indeed it does.

... there seems no good prima facie reason on a biological-naturalist ontology why a dead body could not be simply repaired and put back into circulation. Yet for some reason dead bodies cannot be repaired. ...
A more likely reason is that the brain quickly becomes damaged when starved of oxygen, and we have no way to repair that damage.

Just look at the effects of a stroke, a severe medical condition when oxygen fails to get to a party of the brain. The effects are permanent because the brain cannot be "simply repaired", as you so glibly put it.

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