Why not physicalism? (2)

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question:  Thank you for your rent response. (Click here to see this recent response). Please note for future reference that I do not personally subscribe to physicalism… but my question stands: is there any evidence for the soul?

Again, we both agree that we humans are conscious, and this can manifest in memories, dreams, emotions, etc. But you said that you do not believe that the brain causes this... and I respect your opinion. But your non-belief in physicalism is not objective evidence for a soul.

Consciousness is controlled by the brain, so when the brain is injured, consciousness ceases to exist. The concept of the soul came way before any neurological discoveries of how the brain works. Ancient people saw that we humans could talk where the other animals did not… but that all that ceased after death. I can see where they’d come up with an invisible organ that would fly up to the stars. But isn't physicalism a more rational explanation?

If the brain controls consciousness, how could consciousness continue after it dies? My question remains. In light of all the tests that show that the brain controls consciousness, what purpose would the soul serve? But specifically, is there any evidence that such an organ exists?

Answer: Hello again friend. First, let me apologize for implying that you believe the case for physicalism to be true. I understand that people sometimes present cases that are opposed to their personal stands on issues as part of the process of finding the truth… and this is an honorable way to proceed.

That being said, a thing is either true or it is not. So, what I believe about the existence of the soul has no bearing on whether one exists. And for the same reason, the history of what our pre-scientific fellow humans believed about the soul also has no bearing… because the progress of human knowledge about biology has no impact on what is true about non-physical entities.

Let me be clear, though: I cannot give you what you want because there is no objective evidence for the existence of the soul… not if by “objective” you mean physically empirical evidence. The soul is a non-physical entity by definition; it has no physical components to observe. So, the question of its existence belongs to fields like theology or philosophy, not to the physical sciences like biology.

Now, a robust knowledge of our biology is helpful. But science — and quite by science’s insistence, by the way — will not even consider issues that are not empirically verifiable. So, it’s not that every individual scientist does not believe in the existence of the human soul… many do. But they are all methodologically constrained from explaining our apparent consciousness (our self-awareness) in terms of something that they cannot measure.

As such,  the soul’s existence will neither be proven or disproven by the analysis of physical systems. All we can do is present our cumulative cases either way… and you received my full case in the first response. I will just remind you how the law of identity impacts this issue: since many things are true of the mind (the soul) that are not true of the brain, that they cannot be identical… no matter how dependent the two seem to be on each other under physical testing.

Your argument asserts that consciousness stops when the body dies. But this is an assumption based on physicalism being true… so I refute that. The reasoning is circular. I’ll agree that this is true of the manifestations of consciousness that relate only to the body. After all, the body represents 100% of our input/output systems. But the same non-physical soul that cooperates with the body while it’s alive transcends the body… and let me say this again: it does so by definition… so we are not talking about anything that even purports to be scientifically verifiable.

Christians affirm that the soul does not die with the body… and no amount of physiological data can prove that a non-material entity ceases to exist even when the physical component which seems to “contain it” dies. The relationship between body and soul is not one of containment; it is one of coexistence. When they are together, they coexist intimately… and one can affect the other. But ontologically, they are discrete and separately viable.

Many body/soul dualists assert that we are bodies that have souls. But this is backward. We are souls that have bodies. The non-corporeal part of us is the essential self. Our bodies are our non-essential selves, and we shed them when we die. So, their cessation does nothing to our soul’s consciousness. But because the body is the preeminent input/output system of this current phase of our existence, this is not a felt truth for those who haven’t thought about this philosophically.

Now, before you write back again, please understand that there cannot be any physical evidence for the existence of the soul because it is non-physical. What science can test in the here and now has no bearing on transcendent personhood. Those questions are answered in theology and philosophy.

Science only has a handle on what it defines as consciousness. But it is methodologically constrained from postulating anything about a soul. Therefore, no amount of earthly testing on science’s part can disprove a soul’s existence. But that door swings both ways. Body/soul dualists cannot prove to science that the soul exists.

This big point here is that science does not even purport to be working on the issue of whether a soul exists. Since its assumption is that only physical realms exist, non-physical ideas are truncated… that is, they are categorically blocked from consideration. Science does not say of itself that it uses scientific methodology to examine the soul and finds that no such entity exists. Science never even looks at it… and Christians should understand that this is an appropriate methodological constraint that implies no conclusion.

Now, many scientists do weigh in on body/soul dualism… and it is their right to do so as individuals. But there is a difference between what scientists say and what science does… although the popular media makes a fortune ignoring this.

When credentialed scientists comment on the existence of the soul, they are making philosophical assertions and not scientific ones. So, unless they also have PhDs in philosophy, they are no more qualified than any layman to comment on whether or not something non-measurable exists.

It was nice talking to you again.

(Click here to see this question which drove this one.)

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