Can information theory save ‘the soul’?

Anyone who has read more than a few articles here knows that I am an atheist, and rather a stern one at that. I also briefly thought of myself as something of a ‘New Atheist;’ but I have back-stepped from that for a number of reasons (which I may discuss in the future), although I do enjoy poking religion in the ribs, occasionally. Still, I do think it is worth-while to debate theists, not because I have any interest in shattering their belief – I do not any more, it seems unkind. I will say that I’ve come to believe that the real ground of all religion is feelings – emotions, intuitions and felt needs – and these are almost impossible to adjudicate, or dissuade others from responding to them.

But nonetheless, religions do have their arguments, and it is not only worthwhile confronting them, but doing so is an educative process – as we try to teach others, so do we learn from them.

Concerning a video article at the web-zine, Scientia Salon – Neuroscience and the soul, by Stephen Asma, I had reason to engage a brief conversation with a commenter who goes by the handle ‘labnut.’ He’s actually written a bit on issues of ethics, culture, and philosophy that I agree with. But he is a Roman Catholic, so of course it is inevitable that we clash on certain topics.

The topic of the video article happened to be that, given that modern science and philosophy seem to have no use for the concept of ‘soul’ anymore (and they largely don’t), of what use could be made of talk about the soul, that we find historically as well as in every day language? (I will not recap the video, but it certainly worth while.) https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/neuroscience-and-the-soul/

labnut, being a Catholic, objected, and offered a theory that he seems to be saying could be useful to contemporary philosophy, and possibly to contemporary science. I disagreed (and hope I did so respectfully). But here is the exchange (removing some site-relevant cross talk):

labnut:

“Let’s see, then, what a strong version of a soul hypothesis might look like and ask if neuroscience says anything at all about that. First off, some preliminaries to set the stage.

If you are an atheist and believe there is no God then talk of the soul is pointless. Clearly no God means no soul. Thus the real debate is about God’s existence. Given this, why do atheists bother to attack talk about the soul, since their faith, a-priori, rules out the existence of the soul? The answer to that is a modern God hypothesis makes three falsifiable predictions and one, as yet, non-falsifiable prediction. (I won’t detail the Modern God Hypothesis here since that would require a full length essay, which has been ruled out of the question)

The predictions of the Modern God Hypothesis:
P1. The universe is not a causally closed, complete in itself, wholly explainable in itself, entity.
P2. There will be conscious, free willing agents in the universe.
P3. The conscious, free willing agents will have a soul.
There is a fourth prediction, that is as yet unfalsifiable:
P4. There will be a multiverse.

Falsify any one of these and you falsify the God hypothesis. Thus the atheist attacks on P3, the existence of the soul. This, they sense, is the opportunity to falsify the God hypothesis.

As to P2, it suffices to say say – here we are, conscious and free willing!. Some atheists, of their own free will, argue against free will. What more can I say? Others consciously argue that consciousness is an illusion. There is no need to reply to such incoherent arguments.

Now that the stage has been set we can look at a strong hypothesis for the soul.”

My response:

“The problem is that the only way to prove – or disprove – the existence of a soul, is by first assuming its existence – because otherwise, there is simply nothing to be explained through such proof or disproof. That suggests that those trying to construct arguments against the soul’s existence, or who wish to interpret arguments or evidence that suggest there is no soul – would be those who are in fact attempting to rebut such arguments and evidence. For those who don’t believe in the existence of the soul, all previous discussions about it (once the supernatural architecture supporting it is set aside) reduce to remarks on instances of consciousness, and of life per se. That’s because there’s simply no phenomenon of consciousness or of life that requires assumption of a soul. Or to put it more bluntly, only those who believe in a soul would be interested in a ‘soul hypothesis;’ no one who does not believe has any need for it.

So the question is, why would philosophers or scientists who do not believe in the soul, discuss ‘soul-talk’ or examine events of consciousness attributed by folk psychology to a soul? In order to achieve greater clarity as to what we are really talking about when we use such language or make such attributions. Foe instance, feelings expressed as ‘longings of the soul’ originate in the same physiological and thought processes as other emotions. This doesn’t diminish their importance for the people expressing them, it simply clarifies that this as a human process with human consequences.”

labnut:

“Now to describe my soul hypothesis.

S1. God has an infinite memory. What this means is that once information is created it never ceases to exist.
S2. The mind, at any instant, can be characterized as the information state of the brain.
S3. God is instantaneously aware of the information state of the brain (mind) at all times.
S4. Once the person dies the mind (information state of the brain) is preserved in God’s memory.

This we call the soul. It is immortal because information is eternally preserved in God’s mind. The Bible describes this state as ‘being asleep in Christ’.

This is already in partial agreement with what is called Mind Uploading. Except that the information state of the brain is preserved in a computer. It goes further and claims that the uploaded mind can resume its consciousness in a suitably powerful computer simulation. Yes, I know it is controversial but some well known scientists support this possibility.

This of course raises the question – what next? Is there life after death? There are three possibilities:

1. The mind continues a simulated existence in God’s mind, which can be regarded as an infinitely powerful computer. This would be analogous with the uploaded mind in a supercomputer.

2. The information state of the brain (mind) is instantiated in a new brain and body at some future time. This would correspond, in some sense, with the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, in the Apostle’s Creed, line 11. I say in some sense because it would not be the resurrection of the previous body, but the resurrection of the mind in a new body (but then wouldn’t we all want a new body?).

3. Reincarnation. The information state of the brain (mind) is instantiated in a new brain and body but minus memories, in an ongoing cycle. I favor this possibility which makes me something of an oddity among Catholics. I think there are powerful arguments for it but that is another discussion.

Note that there are important consequences.

1. The objections to dualism are irrelevant. We don’t need dualism for there to be a soul.
2. Brain science objections to the soul are moribund (…). No matter how far or deep you look in the brain you will never find the soul, for the simple reason that the soul is the information state of the brain. All the traditional objections to a soul are rendered null and void. Very neat! Biological naturalists may rejoice.

Finally, can this hypothesis be falsified? Perhaps only in one way. If it can be shown that the mind is not the information state of the brain. Other than that it is wholly dependent on the belief that God exists. But if you believe that, the rest follows.

In short, the soul is the mind which is the information state of the brain in a suitable biological environment. The information state is preserved in God’s memory after death and possibly re-instantiated in a new brain and body.”

My response (this has been edited; originally it included remark’s on someone else’s comment as well, but that person has objected that I misread his comment, so my reply to that has been removed):

“The trouble is, (your hypothesis doesn’t) explain anything about consciousness or about the empirical realities in which we live. In fact, the only phenomena (it) explains at all is your own beliefs in the soul. Labnut, your hypothesis amounts to, ‘if we believe in the soul this is what we might be believing in.’ What experience of consciousness or living entities does it explain? You’re not providing a hypothesis about phenomena that can be researched, you are saying that the soul is a phenomenon that science should prove, or admit it cannot disprove. That’s just failing to understand the initial bases of any scientific inquiry; no matter how outre a science may seem to get, it always starts with the empirical. The sciences always begin by asking ‘what is this stuff, and how does it function?’ I see no stuff addressed by your hypothesis. Even if our consciousness could be discovered reducible to information sets – and I don’t think it can – this would not trigger any need to conceive mind-uploading into a divine intelligence that would need to be assumed without evidence. The ‘stuff’ there, the information, is not yet addressed by any hypothesis of ensoulment. It is still just stuff, as far as I can tell – stuff that needs explication in empirical terms. You seem to be saying, ‘this is the soul that we could believe in,’ but I see no need to go down that route. (…) (K)nowledge already developed in philosophy and the sciences that have long been demonstrating that the attributes people once assigned to the soul have quite material origins, and no longer need any belief – or assumption, or hypothesis – of an immaterial or immortal soul. The sciences asked questions about living-stuff, and about human brain-stuff, and even about social stuff, and in the research discovered physical, material, empirical explanations, to the extent that both scientists and philosophers came to understand that supposing any immaterial or supernatural causal or motivating factors to life, consciousness, or society, was simply no longer necessary.

That doesn’t mean you can’t believe in it. But there is no longer any place for such belief in the sciences; and, frankly, I see no place for it in any philosophy that wishes to address the human condition today.”

– At this point the conversation was somewhat interrupted by a commenter I can only refer to as a troll. They seem to be inescapable on the internet these days. In any event, labnut chose not to reply on Scientia Salon, but he did attempt comment on a a recent article of mine here (which was inappropriate to that article, but I include the relevant part of it here:

labnut’s comment:

“Having discovered your blog (very interesting), I thought we might continue the conversation about your objections to my Mind-Soul hypothesis. It will help if you list them so that I can reply to them individually. You might even make a new posting about the subject.”

So; I have given the general historical argument. Remember here that we are discussing secular philosophy. That includes atheists, but it also includes many thinkers who simply have no interest in religion, or interest in religion only as a social phenomenon. These latter thinkers may even be religious in their private lives, but not when they engage in their philosophical practice.

The problem, to simplify, is that modern philosophy has to account for the sciences; and the sciences have found no reason to presume the possible existence of either god or the soul. So contemporary philosophy has simply let go of either notion, because otherwise its reasoning would be hampered by having to explain possible phenomena that the sciences cannot articulate, let alone investigate. It would be like asking a statistician doing a study on, say, successful sales techniques, to account for the possibility of rain on a sunny day. (The analogy is loose, but conveys the idea.)

Again, we are discussing secular philosophy. What theology could make of labnut’s god/soul hypotheses, I cannot say. Frankly, my guess is that some theologians somewhere – and they are not stupid people, despite what some atheists think of them – are probably working out similar theories, to accommodate recent trends in AI and the neurosciences.

Now some specifics – specifics concerning the theory, but also concerning myself.

First, any regular reader of this blog should know by now that I am highly skeptical of projections of computer theory into human ontology. So, first, I don’t buy the whole principle of reducing the mind to information to begin with; so, even setting aside my atheist bias, I would have a hard time buying this theory. Human consciousness is a wonderful, magical, mysterious what-ness about the universe (or the most profound catastrophe nature has ever realized, depending on one’s perspective), but it is simply irreducible to information – it is too much of a mess. Imagine a garbage dump with a jewel atop it. We see the jewel and say ‘consciousness;’ unfortunately, it can’t exist without the garbage supporting it.

All right let’s set history and personal perspective aside. Let’s discuss theology for a moment.

I was raised a Catholic. I don’t have the historical information at hand, but I do seem to recall that at one point, the theology of Thomas Aquinas was established as the philosophy of the Catholic faith. And in my post-graduate studies, I actually did read the Summa Theologiae. It’s a masterful text (although once you lose your faith, it becomes lighter than air). Aquinas produced a grand synthesis of neo-Platonic metaphysics and Aristotelianism – the natural science available to his day. But Aquinas was a theologian – any claim the natural sciences made had to be judged through theological dictates (quite the converse of what we know to day). And Aquinas makes it very clear what the intellective soul is and what its function and teleology are, theologically determined. The soul is a learning spirit, destined for community with like souls – it cannot be reduced to information, because its purpose is to acquire information, concerning all the variety of possible material experience – shifted through the morality of divine governance – in preparation for peace with, and eternal subsistence with, the divine. It is agency through and through.

Some thinkers today believe that destruction of any basis for belief in ‘free will’ is a body blow to theism. That is not true, because there are quite non-theistic ways to conceive of choice events, and theisms without a faith in free will. But there is no doubt that the Thomistic conception of the soul not only depends on the idea of free will, but underscores it. (Of course ‘free will’ in Thomas’s theory of psychology is actually trickier than we understand it today – but for brevity’s sake we won’t get into it.)

But information states – data sets – are agency neutral; information just ‘is.’ In a sense, information isn’t ‘shared’ and doesn’t prepare – it ‘shares’ itself (it’s there whether one likes it or not), and it is only preparation for those who choose to use it – for whatever purposes. That also makes it value-neutral. I suppose there might be a god I cannot conceive, but I certainly cannot conceive of a god who might be interested in that.

At any rate, even as an atheist, I can’t accept labnut’s theory on historical-theological grounds.

Now, particulars:

“The predictions of the Modern God Hypothesis:
P1. The universe is not a causally closed, complete in itself, wholly explainable in itself, entity.
P2. There will be conscious, free willing agents in the universe.
P3. The conscious, free willing agents will have a soul.
There is a fourth prediction, that is as yet unfalsifiable:
P4. There will be a multiverse.”

The objection here is that none of these predictions, if proved true (and we are here talking about verifiability, not falsifiability – which, unlike falsifiability, has a necessary empirical requirement at initiation, rather than later through testing), would say anything at all about the possible existence of god. The universe could be open and unexplainable, free willing agents could be marching across its galaxies, these could all have something – or be something – we could call a soul, and they could be found in a multitude of universes –

– and yet we need never know that any of this originated from a divine mind or by a divine ordering of existence. A ‘god hypothesis,’ to offer predictions in any way testable, needs to posit a prediction that the origin of any of this is to be found in a divine mind or will or action. There is no getting around this, and the Medieval theologians understood that perfectly well.

“Now to describe my soul hypothesis.

S1. God has an infinite memory. What this means is that once information is created it never ceases to exist.
S2. The mind, at any instant, can be characterized as the information state of the brain.
S3. God is instantaneously aware of the information state of the brain (mind) at all times.
S4. Once the person dies the mind (information state of the brain) is preserved in God’s memory.”

Objections:

S1: God doesn’t remember anything – he knows. According to Augustine, he sees all past and future in a flash. Once we assume god exists outside of time, one can never invoke any temporal arguments concerning him.

S2: As noted previously, I argue that the soul cannot be reduced to information, per Aquinas. In more contemporary terms, I would argue that the brain – consciousness, I assume – also cannot be reduced to information due to its dependency on physiology and various bodily imperatives (like desire, fear, rage, etc.).

S3: I cannot object on theological grounds, but I can on naturalistic grounds – that ‘the brain state’ is a biological derivative, responding of course to environmental stimuli, seems to me beyond question at this point. There is also a problem noted by Phenomenologists and Pragmatists, that the brain state is actually in continual flux, so the only brain ‘state’ that could concern god ( as judge) is that existing at the death of the person.

(The implication of Phenomenological and Pragmatist theories of consciousness is that the whole notion of ‘brain states’ is possibly misconceived – but that of course is a much larger discussion than we can have here. *)

S4: God has no need of this. Were one to mount a ‘Civitas Dei’ argument ala Aquinas (souls sharing information among souls), one would be on firmer ground theologically. However, the problem still remains (which Aquinas never fully answers): why would an omniscient divinity be interested in all this information, anyway?

So the principle objections are four-fold: On theological grounds, it is unsound; on scientific grounds it can not be researched; on secular-philosophical grounds it is unnecessary; to a non-believer it counters no argument.

Again, I have no problem with anybody believing in this theology. But I don’t see it getting received well in contemporary sciences or secular philosophy.

Aquinas was a wonderful thinker, and I am awed even when I think of him. But the world has changed since then.

—–
* Suggested reading: Owen Flanagan, Consciousness Reconsidered, Bradford Books, 1993 (http://www.amazon.com/Consciousness-Reconsidered-Bradford-Books-Flanagan/dp/0262560771).
—–

Since I am an essayist with limited readership, rather concerned (admittedly narcissistically) with clarifying my own thoughts, I rarely get involved in commentary discussions on this blog. I welcome commentary here, but ask that commenters show respect. I disagree with labnut, but he is nobody’s fool, and his beliefs provide him with adequate grounding to his life and writings.

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25 thoughts on “Can information theory save ‘the soul’?

  1. Hi EJ,
    thanks for putting that up. I will split my reply into parts.

    First I will start with where I agree with you. You said:
    Aquinas was a wonderful thinker, and I am awed even when I think of him. But the world has changed since then.

    I agree with you, on both counts, but especially when you said “But the world has changed since then“, especially in the light of scientific knowledge. Remember there was no science then. And for this reason we need to reconsider and re-interpret some of the Augustinian-Thomist(A-T) teachings.

    That is the whole point of my Modern God Hypothesis(MGH)(which I have not described, except for the main outcomes), the need to reformulate our understanding of God in modern terms that takes into consideration scientific knowledge.

    You say:
    we are here talking about verifiability, not falsifiability

    No, regrettably we are not. One of the conclusions of MGH is that God is necessarily hidden, consequently verifiability does not hold. But the MGH does have certain consequences that touch our existence. And these consequences are capable of disproof, making the MGH falsifiable.

    For example, should science show conclusively we lack free will, the MGH will have been shown to be false. Similarly, if it can be shown that the universe is a causally complete, closed system, wholly explainable in itself, the MGH will have been falsified. In the same way, if P4(the existence of a multiverse), is shown to be false, it will falsify the MGH. It is rather more difficult to falsify P3, the existence of a soul, but still many claim to have done it. My Mind-Soul hypothesis is a reply, intended to show that they have not falsified P3.

    Other than that, a hidden God, outside of space and time, is unobservable and cannot be verified. God’s existence can only be falsified by looking for the predicted consequences and showing that they do not hold.

    More to come(later).

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  2. HI EJ,
    a little off topic. You said
    Anyone who has read more than a few articles here knows that I am an atheist, and rather a stern one at that. I also briefly thought of myself as something of a ‘New Atheist;’

    In more thoughtful circles New Atheism is being superseded by so-called ‘soft atheism’. See this lengthy review of the book ‘Life After Faith’ by Philip Kitcher (http://www.publicbooks.org/nonfiction/soft-atheism). I think he rather misses the mark, but that could be an interesting discussion for another time.

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  3. Very eloquently put. Religion is outdated, but the spiritual, call it the divine, that, that touches the soul is very much alive. I may be able to describe it, but can’t prove it or show it to you, just like I can try to describe the taste of cheese in over a million words with equations to elaborate on how the molecules create taste, but you will never know what it’s like to tasted it.

    Now, the “Soul” is just a word, it’s meaning should evolve with our knowledge, after all Democritus is remembered for his formulation “an atomic theory of the universe, founded in philosophical and theological reasoning rather than evidence and experimentation”, and coined the word “Atom” which means indivisible. Now we know that the atom can actually be divided, but it has become scientific word.

    Not to clutter the response to your post I have continued under the following link:

    http://swarmverdict.com/2015/02/26/the-soul-is-just-a-word/

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  4. Hi EJ,
    to continue. You said
    The trouble is, (your hypothesis doesn’t) explain anything about consciousness or about the empirical realities in which we live. In fact, the only phenomena (it) explains at all is your own beliefs in the soul.

    there’s simply no phenomenon of consciousness or of life that requires assumption of a soul.

    I think your reply miscasts the role of religion and science. Science should explain consciousness and the empirical realities of life. Religion is not an attempt to explain consciousness or empirical realities. Even a cursory reading of the Four Gospels of the New Testament (Christianity’s founding documents) will confirm this.

    The claim we have a soul is not intended as an explanation of attributes such as consciousness, intentionality, free will, etc. It is instead a claim that we have an existence that transcends this lifetime.

    Quite simply, religion is not a science explanation. It is a spiritual explanation. Science explains material matters and religion explains spiritual matters. Religion deals with purpose, meaning, morality, hope, transcendence, continuation of life and resilience, placing them in a larger context, that of God.

    Once again, the claim we have a soul is entirely about the claim we have an existence that transcends this lifetime and it is not a claim to explain consciousness, intentionality, etc.

    Why then all this talk about a soul?

    1. It sustains belief in an afterlife, something that is key to Christian belief.
    2. Atheists sense that this is the one point that religious belief in God can be falsified. This is their motivation for producing arguments that we do not have a soul.

    But have they produced arguments that we do not have a soul?
    I maintain that all they have done is produce arguments against a strawman definition of the soul.

    I have replied to this by producing a rational explanation of the soul(Mind-Soul hypothesis) which is immune to their counter arguments. So far, no-one has replied to my actual arguments. It is especially notable that Massimo Pigliucci and Steven Asma failed to reply to my Mind-Soul hypothesis. Atheists have always thought their soul objections were a killer argument against religion but my Mind-Soul hypothesis has rendered their objections null and void.

    In fact the only replies were:
    1. to mock it(PHoffman). That is an admission of inability to answer it.
    2. to argue that it fails to explains consciousness, etc, which is a strawman argument.
    3. to argue that we don’t need the concept of a soul. That is a bit of a circular argument because it is only another way of stating that one is an atheist. I am quite prepared to accept that atheists have no soul but I steadfastly maintain that I have one 🙂

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    • labnut,
      Well, this is why theist/atheist philosophical arguments are moribund. As I said, I personally have nothing against you having such beliefs, if they aid you in some way. The atheist position is, at base, simply, “I do not believe.’ And ‘I do not believe’ is not an argument against any one else believing. But I also think that many theists have a problem even with this, and that causes much of the problem, as do the attempts by some atheists to convert believers. As Whitman wrote, ‘logic and reason never convince.’

      Within professional philosophy, much of the debates concerning notions of ‘soul,’ ‘god,’ other supernatural or mystical phenomena, really have to do with the issue, in that community, ‘do we really need to talk about such things?’ Over the years, it has become fairly clear that, for professional philosophers (albeit with certain high-profile hold outs), the answers is: no. Generally, philosophers then go one to talk about something else. I think one of the things you didn’t quite grasp about the discussion by Asram et. al., is that they are actually at the point of talking about something else. They were not arguing against belief in the soul, they were saying, ‘ok, now let’s talk about people talking about the soul.’ I think a lot of people misread that, and I think a lot of people in general have a difficult time with ‘talk about talk’ in philosophy – although, strangely, they have no problem with sociologists doing much the same thing from a different perspective.

      As a non-professional trying to keep up, and still trying to clarify and advance my own thinking and the positions it leads me to, I am more willing than professionals to engage the lively debates and back-and-forth of the theist/atheist public discussions. But understand that my main purposes are to clarify my own thinking, and to refuse offers to re-convert to beliefs I no longer maintain. I am not of the kind to feel it necessary to convert anyone.

      (Or if I did, it would be to attempt converting others to Buddhism – which admittedly holds notions like ‘god’ and ‘soul’ pretty much moot – or as the Buddha put it “questions not tending to edification.” However, Buddhism influences best as an offering, it’s not for everyone. And I can live with that.)

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  5. Hi EJ,
    I have dealt with the contextual objections, now it time to turn to the substantive objections.

    S1:
    God doesn’t remember anything – he knows
    That is exactly the same thing. The information is still preserved in God’s mind.
    In any case I consider that time is a fundamental dimension of existence and reject A-T arguments in this respect. In other words, I don’t believe God knows the future in certain respects. By that I mean God does not know the future outcome of free will decisions.

    S2:
    I would argue that the brain – consciousness, I assume – also cannot be reduced to information due to its dependency on physiology
    That is exactly the same as arguing that my program cannot be reduced to information because of its dependency on computer chip architecture.

    Dependence on the architecture does not mean it is not information.

    S3:
    that the brain state is actually in continual flux, so the only brain ‘state’ that could concern god ( as judge) is that existing at the death of the person.
    That hardly seems to be an objection. But in any case all brain states will be recorded in God’s memory, up until the time of death.

    S4:
    God has no need of this
    Why not?

    why would an omniscient divinity be interested in all this information, anyway?
    Because God wishes our continuing life. This information allows our mind to be re-instantiated in a new brain and body. This is the Catholic doctrine of the resurrection of the body, see second to last line of the Apostle’s Creed.

    to a non-believer it counters no argument.
    Hmm? It counters the argument that there cannot be a soul. Quite decisively in fact.

    I don’t see it getting received well in contemporary sciences or secular philosophy.
    Of course atheists will continue to look for ways to show there is no soul. But my arguments are immune to their standard objections.

    Well, I think that is that. I have answered your objections to my Mind-Soul hypothesis. It stands and it renders null and void standard atheist objections to the existence of the soul.

    My whole point was to show that belief in a soul is possible in the light of present knowledge and is not at all unreasonable. I believe I have achieved that objective.

    But I will be interested to hear your counter-arguments.

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    • labnut,
      Well, as a lapsed Catholic, having been raised before Vatican II fully took hold, I must say that I find your interpretations of Catholic theology a little quirky – which is fine, but be aware that one of the reasons I started discussing theology when I first said I wouldn’t, was because I realized that that your hypotheses has weaknesses even on theological terms, as I understand them.

      Let’s clarify an important point: Per Augustine, foreknowledge is *not* the same as predetermination. As god is outside of time, he sees all time, and hence does indeed *know* what we will do before we do it – but that doesn’t man he has determined we should do it.

      Also, being outside of time, no temporal terms would apply to him – and ‘memory’ is a temporal term. He knows everything he knows all at once. (If there seems to be some problems here, that’s because the whole ‘a-temporal theory’ has some hidden inconsistencies; but that’s an entirely different discussion.)

      As to your other objections, I feel we must simply agree to disagree.

      To clarify some of my own position: My understanding of the development of consciousness, is that it emerges as organizing principle from the body – to put it in Buddhist terms, it arises through a process of dependent origination – that is, it is a product of the body and its material existence. Hence its ultimate reduction would not be to information but to dust – which happens to be inevitable. However, what it experiences while alive is a flow of events, feelings, thought, social intercourse, bodily functions. Some of these can be experienced digitally, so to speak, and hence reduce to information; much of it can only be experienced in wave-form, and so cannot be reduced but only lived. If you have a different belief, that’s ok; but I assume you will allow me the same option.

      Finally:
      ““to a non-believer it counters no argument.”
      Hmm? It counters the argument that there cannot be a soul. Quite decisively in fact.”

      Non-believers – at least those not wishing to make the mistake of getting caught up in metaphysical speculations – generally do not ague that there is no soul . As I said, their bottom line is, ‘I don’t believe in it.’ Now, they do have arguments to explain why they don’t believe, or how they came to the conclusion that they could not believe. And those arguments, your hypothesis is not designed to address. But, as I said, “‘I do not believe’ is not an argument against any one else believing.” So, again, I am content to have discussions on these issues with no hope of conversion in either direction.

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  6. Hi EJ,
    The atheist position is, at base, simply, “I do not believe.’ And ‘I do not believe’ is not an argument against any one else believing.

    Yes, that is true for all the atheists that I personally know. I approve of that stance. They respect my beliefs and I respect their beliefs. It is equally true for the many theists that I personally know. As theists we are far more concerned with fulfilling Christ’s directive : ‘whomsoever does this for the least of these also does this for me.

    Regrettably the New Atheism does not have a tolerant policy of live and let live. They do their best to deride, mock and scorn religious belief. That deserves a reply.

    But understand that my main purposes are to clarify my own thinking
    That is a statement I can strongly relate to.

    I think one of the things you didn’t quite grasp about the discussion by Asram et. al., is that they are actually at the point of talking about something else
    He said that arguments for the soul were moribund.
    Remember that the whole point of arguing for a soul is that one is arguing for an afterlife, a central tenet of most religions.

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  7. Hi EJ,
    do we really need to talk about such things?’ Over the years, it has become fairly clear that, for professional philosophers (albeit with certain high-profile hold outs), the answers is: no

    Remember that one of the most outstanding philosophers of the 20th century, Alisdair MacIntyre, converted to Catholicism. And I can give you more names. Wittgenstein famously recommended the ‘Gospel In Brief’, Tolstoy’s re-writing of the Gospels.

    do we really need to talk about such things?
    New Atheism seems convinced of that need as they intensify their onslaught on religion. Naturally theists should be allowed to defend themselves.

    When people try to show that the soul does not exist they create the conversation and that creates the right of reply. Otherwise you are subjecting theists to double jeopardy.

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  8. Hi EJ,
    I am not of the kind to feel it necessary to convert anyone.
    I completely agree with this statement. In fact it is true for most people that I know.

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  9. I have reread the post and first you will allow me to nitpick. I think you would make this post flow smoothly had the earlier conversations been italicized.
    My first issue with labnut is his claim that atheists have a faith commitment that rules out souls. If atheism rules out souls, it is simply because the soul is tied to there being a god- a personal god.
    On his modern god hypothesis[ which is the old one? I am really interested], the first premise isn’t demonstrated. We do not know whether the universe is an open or a closed system, with or without a cause.
    We can’t make that inference of P2 based on our existence.
    Free will is still an open debate. To claim these beings will have a soul is to beg the question. The theist ought to demonstrate what soul is and that beings A, B and C poses it. Making an assertion isn’t enough.
    P4 hasn’t been demonstrated either. I am aware there are mathematical models that make the occurrence of multiverses more likely.
    On his soul hypothesis, I am lost. Does he mean to say the soul is information for he seems to me to equate mind and soul?
    I think your comment about god’s memory is valid. If we take god to refer to the all knowing god, talk of information being uploaded to it is moot. We would assume that it already had all this information. So what would be the use of uploading it afresh?
    If the mind is resurrected in a new body, is this still the same person who it was before it died? How is this possible?
    One other thing, theists stack decks in their favour in these religious debates. It is assumed that what a god is is known to all, from their follows all their arguments. God this, god that, without first considering what and whether there is need for a such being, whether to posit it explains anything or multiplies problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the critique on the style of the posting – my resources are actually limited, unless I in-put the HTML code myself, and I’m a bit lazy.

      As to the rest, i am letting labnut make his own case – although, as you know, I largely agree with you.

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  10. Hi EJ,
    As god is outside of time, he sees all time, and hence does indeed *know* what we will do before we do it – but that doesn’t mean he has determined we should do it.

    This is is not relevant to my argument. Call it what you will, my point remains, that the information state of the brain is preserved in God’s mind.

    and ‘memory’ is a temporal term. He knows everything he knows all at once.

    As above, it does not change my argument.

    I find your interpretations of Catholic theology a little quirky

    Yes, indeed. As I noted before, I am not arguing from standard theology. That is why I called it the Modern God Hypothesis. Modern knowledge requires a revision of A-T thinking. We do this all the time, old ideas are superseded by better ideas. This is why we often put the ‘neo-‘ prefix in front of many terms.

    My understanding of the development of consciousness, is that it emerges as organizing principle from the body

    I agree. But that does not invalidate my argument. However it emerges, it is finally located in the brain as the information state of the synapses. Place that information state in another body and you will have the same consciousness in that body, though the mind will note that this body feels somewhat different. This is the whole basis of the Mind Uploading Hypothesis, ask DM. The difference though is they claim to achieve the same effect by uploading it to a supercomputer. They claim the supercomputer will simulate the body in a way that the uploaded mind cannot tell the difference.

    For quite complicated reasons (the Ross-Kripke argument) I don’t think that can ever work. DM and I simply cannot agree on this point. The mind must be hosted in a new brain, not a computer. This is the resurrection of the body, standard Catholic theology(I do believe in some of it).

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  11. Makagutu,
    If atheism rules out souls, it is simply because the soul is tied to there being a god- a personal god.

    Quite so. You and I agree. I made that point originally.

    On his modern god hypothesis[ which is the old one?
    Take your pick. There are many of them.
    New knowledge requires a revised understanding of God. My Modern God Hypothesis was an attempt to supply a modern understanding, compatible with today’s knowledge.

    the first premise isn’t demonstrated.
    None of them are demonstrated for the reason that the discussion is about souls. All I wanted to do is put that discussion in the context of the larger issue.

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    • If the old understandings of god were found inadequate, what grounds do you have of thinking a new hypothesis will fare better? I have read descriptions of god as nebulous as god being ground of being, god being all that is and so on, how does your hypothesis compare with these definitions?

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  12. Hi EJ,
    Now, they do have arguments to explain why they don’t believe, or how they came to the conclusion that they could not believe. And those arguments, your hypothesis is not designed to address.

    I disagree entirely. I maintain my hypothesis invalidates all their arguments. If you disagree I invite you to list their arguments, contra souls, that my hypothesis does not address.

    There are two main arguments against the soul, arguments against dualism and arguments from neuroscience. My hypothesis quite decisively invalidates both arguments(for obvious reasons).

    In fact, the only useful argument against my hypothesis is to argue that God does not exist. Fine, you may do that, but I will smile, because no-one has ever demonstrated that God does not exit.

    Like

    • labnut,
      well, we seem to be talking at cross purposes.The arguments non-believers have that explain their non-belief include the one giving this blog its title – there is no sign of any such thing as soul as far as I can see, hear, touch taste, smell, intuit, or feel in any way whatsoever.

      The second most important explanatory argument, for me, is that I have no need for any such belief. One can live happily, ethically, in close community, creatively, purposively, without belief in any soul or god.

      Without going into the question of the science and philosophy, here, those two arguments are themselves completely unaddressed by your hypothesis. Your hypothesis promises no sign of the soul, nor does it make necessary its presumption.

      Again, you can see the soul in terms of your hypothesis, and believe in it as you wish; it just doesn’t offer any challenges to non-belief.

      I know that there are scientists and philosophers who think that their research should ‘disprove’ the supernatural (just as there are some committed to coming up with argument for the supernatural), but they are wrong-headed. Science and philosophy are simply modes of inquiry into the world as it is. The world as it is no longer seems to offer any signs of the supernatural; but that doesn’t, and won’t, convince believers. They have other resources to support their beliefs, which is fine by me; I just remain indifferent to those resources.

      If you want to persuade me to believe, ‘the burden of proof’ is on you. If I were interested in persuading you not to believe, then it would be on me – but I have no such interest. Loss of a belief is a process that individuals go through for various reasons; if you haven’t gone through such a process, I have no interest in convincing you to do so.

      I also feel we’ve come full circle in this discussion; perhaps there’s a knot here that simply cannot be untied; so again, perhaps here we must simply agree to disagree.

      Like

  13. If I were interested in persuading you not to believe, then it would be on me

    But you were eager to contradict my Mind-Soul hypothesis on Scientia Salon.
    That imposes some burden on you.

    there is no sign of any such thing as soul as far as I can see, hear, touch taste, smell, intuit, or feel in any way whatsoever.

    That is equally true of dark energy, dark matter, the multiverse, the vast Everettian Quantum Mechanics proliferation of mind generated universes, etc, etc. Beyond the reach of present science does not mean that it does not exist, see multiverses for example.

    If you want to persuade me to believe,

    It doesn’t interest me. Your beliefs are your privilege to hold. But when you attack my statement of beliefs, then perhaps I should defend them.

    The larger issue is this. New Atheism has launched a vigorous and unprincipled attack on religion. How should theists like myself respond? We defend our beliefs as we should. We should, because we have rational and well justified beliefs. After careful and long investigation I can confidently support this assertion. I have show the flexibility of mind to recognise the evidence and abandon my atheist convictions.

    But defending my beliefs from attack does not mean I am persuading anybody to believe. They may believe what they may. I can assure you that my Catholic community expresses its faith by working to alleviate suffering in our impoverished areas, as do most of the other Churches. You would be astonished by how much we do.

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