Readers speak: The soul as identity — another theory

Marble bust of Aristotle (public domain)

Editor’s note: I recently posted a couple of theories on the origins of the soul, in light of evolution, and invited readers to offer their thoughts. Several did, and one, William Stropnicky, granted me permission to share the response he emailed me, which I wanted to do because I found it interesting. I hope you do as well. Bold emphases are mine, italics are his.

Dear Tyler Francke,

Based on Aristotle’s definition of the soul (which reconciles with science, not only evolution but neuroscience, in ways the homunculus can’t; after all, it’s identity, not mind or emotion), I would argue that it’s a moot point to ask when our fossilized ancestors “obtained” a soul, as though the soul were something other than our identity (ourselves) that had to be implanted.

Soul is identity (not mind, as popular belief has it) and, at least in some sense, soul/identity is a direct creation of God. Actually, accepting that the soul is a direct creation (as the Holy Church teaches) requires us to abandon the popular belief of associating the soul with the cognitive mind. Unlike the Holy Church’s clear teachings on the soul, the cognitive mind is derived from chemistry, rather than a direct creation of God without reference to matter.

Consequently, the soul can not be associated with any degree of intelligence.

The homunculus being a false concept, another definition of the soul is needed. Luckily, Aristotle gave us one: identity, or “that in virtue of which a living thing is alive in the first place.” He also elaborated on different types and degrees of souls.

While this does carry the logical consequence of all life having souls rather than exclusively humans, that does not change the mission of the Holy Church. After all, moral awareness is still cognitive, and without it one can not sin. (This would mean that nonhuman souls, still receiving God’s love but incapable of sin, can not go to hell.) So, as long as only humans can go to hell, which is the case, the mission of the Holy Church and purpose of Christ’s Paschal sacrifice should be obvious: reuniting with God those souls whose bodies gave them enough cognitive ability to reject God wholeheartedly in the way that going to hell would require.

By the way, the very ability to go to hell and consequent need for salvation is what makes human life so ultimately precious. As for the “image of God,” that is a positive side of a negative coin. It is a bad thing to abandon God so as to count yourself a lesser god in your own right, but the ability to do so makes us images of God. We are not God, but we are imperfect pictures of him who can pretend to be just like him in our arrogance.

As for asking when our fossilized ancestors “obtained” a soul, that is a moot point. The soul is not something other than our identity that had to be added (“Like adding gin to tonic,” as former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and at least one Roman Catholic Cardinal both said in criticizing the homunculus concept), so the very question, “When did our ancestors ‘obtain’ a soul?” is simply misleading. One obtains one’s identity when one begins to exist, and, according to not just church teachings but also the science of genetics, that would be conception.

So, consider this narrative:

1. Humans are derived most recently from other primates but ultimately from the last universal common ancestor, like any other species in this regard.

2. At some unknown point, or perhaps not a single point but yet another slow transition, prehistoric humans not only evolved enough intelligence for moral awareness, but, even more importantly, acted against their moral awareness once they had it.

3. Closing paradise to us by our aware and willfully unfair/unethical actions, we separated ourselves both from God himself and from the rest of his creation.

4. God loved all his creatures too much to allow even one species to separate itself so completely.

5. God reunited us with himself and the rest of his creation, reopening paradise to us.

I think you already know how God went about No. 5, but I’ll say it anyway: He did so by the passion, death, and resurrection of his very own incarnation, Jesus Christ.

As for humans who died after we evolved moral awareness but before the resurrection, there are a few competing ideas. In the “Inferno” of the “Divine Comedy,” Dante places them in a lesser circle of hell, not to be tortured in the fullness of perdition. The Vatican has a more optimistic take, with which I actually agree: That they were initially sent not to heaven or hell but to a third state of being called the limbo of the fathers. When Jesus rose from the grave, they were freed from limbo and finally sent to heaven.

I know that post was long, but I hope you enjoyed reading it. If you really want biblical support for this whole rant, you can always check Romans 8:19-22 and John 3:16, but I tend to focus on how this reconciles the theology of the soul with not only evolution but also neuroscience. (Neuroscience is a thorn in many other attempts to reconcile the soul with evolution.)

This, which would be a third, even more orthodox view had you included it in your post, does not reference the soul to matter, as is inevitably implied by associating it with mind or even emotion as per popular belief. Instead, note that it maintains the soul (identity, not mind or emotion) as a direct creation of God without reference to matter, as the Holy Church teaches.

In Christ,
William Stropnicky

William Stropnicky has a bachelor’s degree in biology and is applying to graduate schools to study environmental biology. He is also a member of the national biological honors society Beta Beta Beta.

  • If we omit the theology, then I agree with William, that “soul” is about the same as identity. That’s why it works in a title such as The Soul of a New Machine.

    • Will

      The theology being that the soul is a direct creation…There is no need to omit the theology to accept this. You can argue identity as direct creation, but not so mind or emotion.

      In particular, identity being re-manifested to some other medium at physical death can only be an act of God’s mercy.

      Mind and emotion, however, have a physical/chemical mechanism.

      Nevertheless, I looked up The Soul of a New Machine, and it sounds like a fairly interesting book.

  • ngotts

    One obtains one’s identity when one begins to exist, and,
    according to not just church teachings but also the science of genetics,
    that would be conception.

    So identical twins have to make do with half a soul, while lucky human chimeras get to have two! This is the sort of nonsense that invariably results when you try to squeeze modern science into the mould of iron age myths.

    • Will

      No, they wouldn’t. The original soul/identity would enter Paradise while 2 new ones are created, at the moment the embryo splits. Half an identity is simply a contradiction.

      The mechanism for identical twins is basically a multicellular version of binary fission. It’s like how bacteria reproduce, except it’s a fission of an embryo with several eukaryotic cells rather than that of a single prokaryotic cell.

      Genetic chimeras (Human or nonhuman) are problematic for many reasons having nothing to do with the metaphysics of the soul. No, however, they would not have 2 souls. Splicing a single foreign gene into an organism (as a zygote) does not change the axiom that 1 individual is 1 identity.

      • Nick Gotts

        The original soul/identity would enter Paradise while 2 new ones are created, at the moment the embryo splits.

        I can’t tell if you’re being serious here, but whether you are or not, it’s hilarious! So, if we could find a way of forcing zygotes to undergo multiple rounds of twinning, we could populate paradise with an exponentially increasing number of souls! To the laboratory!!!

        Your second paragraph seems to imply that human chimeras are only a potential product of biotechnology. As my link above describes, they are an existing natural phenomenon, not even particularly rare: sometimes cells from two genetically quite distinct zygotes (which may even be of different sexes) merge to form a single individual. This may not suit your theology, but it happens to be a fact. Chimeras are nothing at all to do with “splicing a single foreign gene into an organism”.

        • Will

          Many genetic chimeras are, but yes, zygotes can sometimes merge as well. Here, 1 new soul/identity would be created while 2 enter Paradise.

          As for “populating Paradise,” Paradise is a state of being, not a geographic location in some other dimension. So, it has no “space” or “limit” to speak of, and a potentially infinite “population” (of all life, not just humans as explained) is not an issue at all.

          • Nick Gotts

            Good grief, you are being serious! I’m afraid I can’t take such absurd flapdoodle seriously myself. What sense could it make to say that a zygote, which cannot experience anything, is “in Paradise”? My suggestion of multiple forced rounds of twinning wasn’t intended to cast doubt on the spatial capacity of “Paradise”, but to draw attention to the fact that if being “in Paradise” is a desirable state, creating trillions of blastulas and then sending them there would be a highly meritorious act – as, of course, would abortion, if fetuses also get a free ticket.

            of all life, not just humans as explained

            So, when you take an antibiotic, or for that matter empty your bowels, are you sending millions of bacteria to “Paradise”? What do carrots do in “Paradise”? How about sperm and pollen? I assure you, gametes are alive – being haploid doesn’t change that. Will I be introduced to all the sperm I ever produced, if and when I reach “Paradise”? How about viruses? Retrotransposons? Prions?

          • Will

            Sperm/Pollen are part of the organism that produced them, not separate organisms as such. Retrotransposons and prions aren’t alive in their own right, just as viruses aren’t. They have no chemotaxis/sensory (do NOT confuse sensory with cognitive or any type of mind) mechanism, as with viruses.

            Anyway, the lack of cognitive mechanisms is a physical limitation, a limitation of this life. What can not think or remember in this life may overcome those inabilities in Paradise if God wills it.

          • Nick Gotts

            Sperm/Pollen are part of the organism that produced them, not separate organisms as such.

            Utter nonsense. They are physically separate from the producing organism, genetically distinct (have you not heard of meiosis?), and in the case of sperm, have their own physiological systems and chemotaxis. Each one is a unique biological individual. What have you got against haploids?

            Retrotransposons and prions aren’t alive in their own right, just as viruses aren’t.

            I notice you don’t comment on bacteria or carrots, which most certainly are “alive in their own right”. What would it mean for these to be “in Paradise”?

            Anyway, the lack of cognitive mechanisms is a physical limitation, a limitation of this life. What can not think or remember in this life may overcome those inabilities in Paradise if God wills it.

            So is viruses not having chemotaxis or sensory mechanisms “a physical limitation, a limitation of this life”. So, for that matter, is not being alive at all, like my metal filing cabinet. If God can will a zygote to be able to think or remember, it can presumably do the same for a virus or a filing cabinet. Come on, you’re just making this stuff up: not only does it have zero scientific justification, it has zero Biblical justification either.

          • Will

            Yes, of course I’m aware of meiosis. However, gametes are generally regarded as reproductive cells OF an organism, rather than organisms proper, DESPITE being physically and genetically distinct. That being said, I have nothing “against” haploids. If the argument renders unconceived/unfertilized gametes into Paradise as well, so be it.

            You specifically asked about retrotransposons, prions, and viruses. I don’t comment on bacteria and plants because they DO have chemotaxis/sensory mechanisms, the fundament by which they’re alive (by some definitions, anyway, accepted by many workers and myself). So, there is no issue with them entering Paradise.

            While not being alive at all is also physical, it differs from life in the following way (Note that both intelligent and non-intelligent life depart from non-life on this key aspect): Non-living matter reaches its stable ground state as quickly as possible. Life delays its stable state as long as possible, preferably to the point of reproducing and thus continuing the reaction in another vessel when the original does reach stable state. That which delays its stable state, even without a cognitive mind in this life, thereby makes sense that an all-loving God (all-loving, no exceptions) would re-manifest its identity. It is counterintuitive, sure, but formally logical when arguing from a “3 O” God and the lack of any homunculus.

            I need no Biblical evidence for this particular subtopic. The Bible authors assumed that humans had a homunculus, and this theory of mind has been shown to be untenable many times over since then. No matter how superior to bacteria we are, we are still just as chemically explainable shall we say.

            Here’s how I’m not simply making stuff up: The source of the argument is a “3 O” and therefore all-loving God (just as the various metaphysical arguments for God’s existence conclude; those arguments are the subject of myriad volumes of materials outside of this page). God being INFINITELY intelligent, he is just as superior to the finite human mind as he is to the non-cognitive sensation of bacteria (despite the lack of a brain, the various chemotaxis pathways give them what could be described as a single-celled sense of smell; I studied this in Micro. in great detail).

            The thing that is special about humans, then, is not a homunculus as formerly thought, but rather, our advanced awareness of ethics and the resulting ability to go to Hell by rejecting God wholeheartedly.

          • Nick Gotts

            Yes, you are just making stuff up.

            However, gametes are generally regarded as reproductive cells OF an
            organism, rather than organisms proper, DESPITE being physically and
            genetically distinct. That being said, I have nothing “against”
            haploids. If the argument renders unconceived/unfertilized gametes into Paradise as well, so be it.

            So you admit you’ve no grounds for excluding them other than a linguistic convention. So, let’s say they’re in, along with the bacteria and plants. What are they going to be doing there? Are they going to be exercising their physiological functions? If so, how? Is God going to will them minds and memories?

            Non-living matter reaches its stable ground state as quickly as
            possible. Life delays its stable state as long as possible, preferably
            to the point of reproducing and thus continuing the reaction in another
            vessel when the original does reach stable state.

            I’ve no idea what this is supposed to mean, and I don’t think you have either. Most life has no awareness, and hence no preferences. If you just mean living things are adapted to preserve their own existence and reproduce, so are viruses, retrotransposons and prions, and for that matter, computer viruses.

            That which delays its stable state, even without a cognitive mind in
            this life, thereby makes sense that an all-loving God (all-loving, no
            exceptions) would re-manifest its identity.

            No, it doesn’t. Asserting that it “makes sense” is not an argument. If God is “all-loving, no exceptions” then it loves viruses, prions, computer viruses and filing cabinets too.

            No matter how superior to bacteria we are, we are still just as chemically explainable shall we say.

            And life is just as chemically (and thermodynamically) explainable as non-life.

            The source of the argument is a “3 O” and therefore all-loving God (just
            as the various metaphysical arguments for God’s existence conclude;
            those arguments are the subject of myriad volumes of materials outside
            of this page).

            And they’re all unsound. A “3 O” god wouldn’t have created this universe in the first place*. All the attempts to elude this conclusion seem to involve falling back on the notion that we finite beings can’t fathom God’s purposes, and yet you think you can do so to the extent that you can specify the criteria for admission to “Paradise”. Well, since there’s no reason to believe it’s more than a figment of your imagination, I suppose you can, just as J.K. Rowling can specify the rules of quidditch.

            *And the god of the bible certainly doesn’t seem to be “all-loving, no exceptions”.

          • Will

            Fine, so gametes are in, not really an issue. What any identity does in Paradise is up to it and God once it gets there, but in any case the identity is re-manifested to another medium upon physical death. It can very well stem from God’s mercy to grant capabilities not available in this life, too.

            I know exactly what I mean about stable state avoidance. A non-living chemical reaction reaches its stable/ground state (set of inert product molecules such that a reaction no longer exists) in as little time and as few reaction steps as basic laws of chemistry allow. Living things drag their chemistry out, behaving opposite non-living matter when it comes to how quickly something reaches its ground state. This is not a matter of any kind of abstraction/awareness, but rather different lengths of mechanistic pathways that the laws of chemistry allow. (Maintenance of ion gradients is but one of many examples.)

            While most life does not have “awareness” in any abstract sense, non-cognitive sensation (which includes chemotaxis, detection of magnetic fields in some microbes, as well as angles of light [but not solid images since those require a neuronet] in others) is a fundament of life. As I’ve said, viruses (well, most of them with rare exceptions) have no chemotaxis (sensation), whereas even bacteria do.

            As for computer viruses, computers can be argued to be artificial life (again despite linguistic conventions against it). Can be argued, that is. We can stick them in the “Maybe” column. (On this note, ask God for sure, not me.)

            Actually, the Heaven Theodicy (making up for finite ills with infinite goods in Paradise) and the 2nd Order Goods Theodicy (blessings in disguise and good coming from the bad in the end) are both within our understanding as finite beings. They are more than simply a “We don’t understand his purposes” cop-out.

            In addition, having taken entire courses in Philosophy and Metaphysics, the arguments for God cease to be unsound when you look at the real arguments and not the straw men. For example, the most popular formulation (the one most people unfortunately tend to think of) of the 1st Cause Argument is the Bertrand Russell Cosmological Argument, a straw man invented by an Atheist which no (Theist) philosopher EVER used before or since Russell’s time. (It is free of qualifiers such as “Every *temporal* thing” or what have you, and without such qualifiers it begs for God to have a cause. Again, though, it’s a straw man.)

            The New Atheists, as my Agnostic instructor from Philosophy of Religion once pointed out to me, are rather sloppy. They frequently miss the difference between real arguments and straw men (including real 1st Cause formulations versus the Russell straw man, among many other examples).

            So, God does indeed love everything and is in everything. This is the basic doctrine of Omnipresence, and at least in some circles it is considered an argument for Animism or Panpsychism, but let’s not worry about that latter topic here. As God is Omnipotent, he can do anything not self-contradictory. So in terms of granting an afterlife, the only delimiter is the fundamental definition of *having been* alive at some point.

            Again, 2nd Order Goods and other things can make this Universe and Universes much like it somehow “better” (and hence more Benevolent in Omnibenevolent) than what one would conceive as “perfect” Universes (a “perfect” Universe might somehow not be quite as perfect if its inhabitants inevitably take it for granted and don’t fully appreciate their nice-to-live-with lack of evil, for example). So, that covers that bullet point.

            As for the * at the very bottom: I don’t believe in the vengeful “God” of the Old Testament and neither do most Philosophers of Religion. (Indeed, Jesus came in part to correct those notions about God. Just ask the religious hierarchy of his day.)

          • Nick Gotts

            What any identity does in Paradise is up to it and God once it gets
            there, but in any case the identity is re-manifested to another medium
            upon physical death. It can very well stem from God’s mercy to grant
            capabilities not available in this life, too.

            You can bring out drivel like this, and still convince yourself you’re not just making things up? You have said absolutely nothing with any discernable content here.

            A non-living chemical reaction reaches its stable/ground state (set of
            inert product molecules such that a reaction no longer exists) in as
            little time and as few reaction steps as basic laws of chemistry allow.
            Living things drag their chemistry out, behaving opposite non-living
            matter when it comes to how quickly something reaches its ground state.
            This is not a matter of any kind of abstraction/awareness, but rather
            different lengths of mechanistic pathways that the laws of chemistry
            allow.

            Any system follows the laws of physics in exactly the same way. Has the sun, or Jupiter, reached a stable ground state? They have lasted longer than anything living. Conversely, any single chemical reaction in a living thing follows the basic laws of chemistry in exactly the same way as it would do in any other physically equivalent context. It just won’t do to contrast a single “non-living chemical reaction” with a system involving multiple interacting reactions such as an organism.

            Actually, the Heaven Theodicy (making up for finite ills with infinite
            goods in Paradise) and the 2nd Order Goods Theodicy (blessings in
            disguise and good coming from the bad in the end) are both within our
            understanding as finite beings. They are more than simply a “We don’t
            understand his purposes” cop-out.

            No, they are not. An omnipotent being could achieve the goods without the ills, unless you can show that this is logically impossible. But since you believe in a “Paradise” where there are only goods and no ills, clearly you can’t consistently claim that this is so.

            In addition, having taken entire courses in Philosophy and Metaphysics,
            the arguments for God cease to be unsound when you look at the real
            arguments and not the straw men.

            No, they don’t. I’ve looked at them as formulated by believers, and they all rely on premises that smuggle in the conclusion, in one way or another. If you dispute this, select a specific proof you believe to be sound; don’t just wave your hands vaguely and try to divert attention by slagging off atheists.

            a “perfect” Universe might somehow not be quite as perfect if its
            inhabitants inevitably take it for granted and don’t fully appreciate
            their nice-to-live-with lack of evil, for example

            Oh come on. Is this really the best you can do? An omnipotent being could create them with that appreciation.

            Jesus came in part to correct those notions about God.

            Oh really? Then why all the foaming at the mouth – from Jesus himself, as reported in the gospels – about how cities that rejected his disciples will have it worse than Sodom on the day of judgement? Why all the stress – again, from Jesus himself, as reported in the gospels – on eternal fire, and the gnashing of teeth?

          • Will

            A Paradise, after having experienced a world with ills alongside goods, is better than simply being created in Paradise.

            I have seen many 1st Cause and Modal Arguments with valid qualifiers, and I’ve looked at them at least as closely as you. In particular, even the random potential to give rise to something else is an affirmative property. An affirmative property such as this, even without a manifold, is by definition not “nothing” in the strictest metaphysical sense. The various arguments to stem from there cover hundreds of volumes of full-length books, not single blog comments. Indeed, there exists an argument (which I myself don’t fully understand, but I’ve encountered it and can find those who do get it) to derive a “3 O” from another ultimate necessity, the series of natural integers.

            All that aside, I’ll cut the fluff and end the debate on this note: Expanding the argument for all life having an afterlife to argue for non-living things to have an after-non-life to coin a word does NOT negate the original argument. Instead, it simply forms an argument for Animism on the same (or at least basically the same) premises. So, congrats on arguing for Animism whether you realized you were doing so or not.

            Also, arguments “formulated by believers” on the street are not necessarily the reference forms shown by professional philosophers of religion.

            I think this has gone on long enough, but yes, one can also argue for Animism as above-explained.

          • Nick Gotts

            A Paradise, after having experienced a world with ills alongside goods, is better than simply being created in Paradise.

            No, it isn’t. Try telling that garbage to a parent who’s watched their child being tortured.

            I have seen many 1st Cause and Modal Arguments with valid qualifiers, and I’ve looked at them at least as closely as you.

            Translation: No, I can’t point you to a sound proof.

            All that aside, I’ll cut the fluff and end the debate on this note: Expanding the argument for all life having an afterlife to argue for
            non-living things to have an after-non-life to coin a word does NOT
            negate the original argument.

            You haven’t made an argument; you’ve just been making stuff up.

          • Will

            Again, this debate has gone on long enough.

            As soon as you speak of “morally rotten garbage” you are making an emotional argument. (Try telling a Martyr in the Church Triumphant that (s)he doesn’t appreciate Paradise all the more for having been through something quite different. It’s also not so much God’s “idea of a good time” as that God chooses not to micromanage his creation.) Believe what you want, as they say, but I did NOT make up the concept of multirealizability or the lack of a homunculus (both initial premises).

            Coherent explanation of the Trinity: The 3 distinct Persons in the Trinity are more or less based on different roles God plays, but although distinct they are of 1 Divine Substance.

            You would also have a better idea where I’m coming from, if you were more familiar with the metaphysical shortcomings of materialism, which you don’t seem to be.

            Once again, THIS HAS GONE ON LONG ENOUGH! I need to move on and do research for a re-enactment movie in which I happen to be playing George Zimmerman, so I’d appreciate no further responses at this point, please.

          • Nick Gotts

            You can stop responding any time you like.

            Try telling a Martyr in the Church Triumphant that (s)he doesn’t
            appreciate Paradise all the more for having been through something quite
            different.

            Empty words. If you can put me in touch with one, I will. But of course you can’t, because Paradise is a figment of the imagination.

            The 3 distinct Persons in the Trinity are more or less based on
            different roles God plays, but although distinct they are of 1 Divine
            Substance.

            Empty words. What “divine substance”?* Do you have a sample? What are its properties? How does it enable a single being to also be three distinct persons?

            the metaphysical shortcomings of materialism

            Empty words. What shortcomings?

            *Sorry, “Divine Substance”. I guess the upper-case letters make all the difference.

          • Will

            FINAL RESPONSE

            Actually, there have been apparitions from those in Paradise, speaking of being in touch (hence, not a figment). Saint Mary alone has been in touch with people through dozens of apparitions between Gaudelupe and Fatima. Other Saints have appeared in other places, too.

            As for “shortcomings,” any metaphysics that reconciles with quantum mechanics must dispense with materialism. (Representative realism can be incorporated into such a metaphysics, but not materialism.) Paul Davies, John Gribbin, and many others have written about that.

            For another thing, strict materialism fails to reconcile with Bang theory. Attempting to reconcile them yields nothingness (in the strict metaphysical sense, not simply lack of space-time and energy) as the source of existence. This is in fact a self-contradiction, since causal power (including any random potential of giving rise to something else) is an affirmative property.

            Although this paper hails from the field of physical cosmology, there are many good reasons why Theistic philosophers often cite it in modern formulations of the 1st Cause Argument. Link: http://arxiv.org/abs/grqc/0110012.

            So, in these 2 places at the very least, even reconciling metaphysics with natural science spells doom for strict materialism. In recent years, philosophers are drifting more and more away from materialism rather than towards it, and that’s not a coincidence.

            It is actually your words that prove empty when you admit you’re not familiar (“What shortcomings?”) with the MANY metaphysical shortcomings of materialism.

            END OF DEBATE

            The thread is closed. Any further response to this last comment will be flagged. One last question of yours to answer: No, of course the simplified few paragraphs in any blog comment aren’t the full measure of my understanding of anything.

          • Nick Gotts

            Of course I’m aware that materialism of the 19th century billiard-ball variety is not tenable, and that current physics is far from final – specifically, that general relativity and quantum mechanics cannot be reconciled in their current forms. My “What shortcomings?” was simply an attempt – successful as it turns out – to get you to specify what you meant by “materialism”, and I agree that what you are now calling “strict materialism” and I’ve called “billiard-ball materialism” is untenable. But this has nothing to do with the issue of whether it’s necessary to posit an intelligent creator – you had your chance to link to a proof of that you consider sound, and didn’t – or whether the notion of an immaterial intelligence is even coherent.

            As for apparitions – pfft. There have been apparitions of multiple gods, demons, ghosts, fairies, aliens… They tell us about human psychology and social processes, but nothing more, without some good evidence that they really are what they appear to be to those who see them. Of which there is none.

            You can flag what you like. It’ll be no skin off my nose if I get banned from the site. But we’ll both know that you’re the one who chose to unilaterally end the debate, while trying to insist on having the last word.

          • Will

            Equating “strict materialism” with “billiard-ball materialism” is another misunderstanding. Materialism is ANY notion that the physical realm fully explains itself, with or without 19th Century billiard-ball particle physics. Advances in physics increasingly show that notion (a fully self-explanatory physical realm) to be untenable even without the billiard-ball constraint. (As was brought to my attention this past summer.)

            I apologize (to Tyler as well as all readers) for sounding so rushed a couple months ago. I was hard-at-work on another (unrelated) project at the time, and that project is only temporarily on hold.

          • Nick Gotts

            Your definition of materialism here does not agree with that in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, nor that in wikipedia, nor for that matter, the one you yourself use below:

            “Metaphysical materialism (which is precisely the idea that nonphysical realms are “hooey” and “[people] making stuff up”)”

            I’ve no idea whether the “the physical realm fully explains itself”, because I don’t know what this is supposed to mean. I know of no reason to suppose that reality as a whole is “self-explanatory”. The wikipedia definition of materialism:

            In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance, and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter.

            is close enough to what I mean by saying I’m a materialist (as is the definition of “physicalism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia), with the caveat that “thing” excludes abstract entities such as numbers. These “exist” in the limited sense that there are true and false claims that can be made about them, but they are not made of any substance, and do not have spatio-temporal locations or causal powers.

          • Will

            You might as well just go to be at this point, Nick. When you insist on the metaphysical arguments for God being “unsound” most likely because the versions of them you’re familiar with are mere straw men, all that proves is that you have a rather oversimplified (and skewed) understanding of philosophy of religion.

          • Nick Gotts

            No, if there were any sound ones, they would be presumably be widely agreed to be so, at least among believers. If your “arguments” here are a measure of your depth of understanding, I’ll back mine against yours any day.

          • Will

            You might as well just go to bed at this point, Nick. When you insist on
            the metaphysical arguments for God being “unsound” most likely because
            the versions of them you’re familiar with are mere straw men, all that
            proves is that you have a rather oversimplified (and skewed)
            understanding of philosophy of religion.

  • Will

    In case anyone is wondering metaphysically how individuals (humans and all other living things as explained in the letter) can have an afterlife without a homunculus/”ghost in the machine,” as that is a topic the original letter/article on this page does not cover, it is as follows.

    Consider wealth, which can be realized (manifested) both through cash (paper money) and also gold bars. For another analogy, consider a song which you deleted from your laptop after downloading it to your IPod, or vice versa. The same goes for the metaphysical identity of an individual, which is initially derived from the physical body and manifested through it, but by God’s mercy can be copied to some other medium (stored on some other “device” which only God can observe). It is in this sense that the soul is a direct creation of God: He created the whole Universe anyway, and only he can copy/transfer our identities from a physical device to a nonphysical one.

    The identity/soul is not necessarily a nonphysical thing, but rather it can be realized in both physical and nonphysical manifestations (that is to say “run” on both physical and nonphysical “devices”).

    • Nick Gotts

      Yeah, yeah. Just keep making stuff up, Will. When someone demonstrates a “nonphysical device” it’ll be time to take your hooey seriously.

      • Will

        Metaphysical materialism (which is precisely the idea that nonphysical realms are “hooey” and “[people] making stuff up”) fails on more than one score. Johanan Raatz has done much more extensive study than I have on the failings of metaphysical materialism (I’m familiar, but he’s done even more reading on the subject), so I send further debate with you to him.

        Furthermore I did not invent either 1st Cause or multiple realizability, nor were these concepts “invented” from thin air rather than properly deduced. A poor understanding of metaphysics (and of how certain metaphysical schemes reconcile with what we know observably) does not make anything nonsense.

        Anyway, I yield all further debate with you to Johanan Raatz, who already said he was interested.

        • Nick Gotts

          Your response is devoid of any useful content: as with so many of your comments, it’s simply an evidence-free assertion that you’re right and I’m wrong. It was specifically the notion of a nonphysical device I called hooey: the only devices anyone has ever encountered are physical, so you are indeed, just making stuff up. Indeed, the very word denotes something that has parts that fit together and interact over time, so anything at all describable as a device is going to have a lot of physical traits. As for your claim that a first cause has been “properly deduced”, you’ve already funked my challenge to specify an argument for it that you consider sound.

          • Will

            No, I specified the classical 1st Cause Argument that we can both look up in myriad formulations. The assertion that it isn’t sound is based on the Russell straw man.

            Also, being metaphysical rather than physical doesn’t mean not having parts which fit together. The parts, however, would likewise be of a metaphysical nature in this case.

            The assertion “making stuff up” means inventing something. Which one of these do you (incorrectly) think I invented? 1. 1st Cause Argument. 2. Divine Omnibenevolence. 3. Multiple Realizability. Correct answer: None, these are all the parts of the argument, and I did not invent a single one of them.

            Again, I hand over all further debate to Johanan Raatz. He has many videos and essays on why the physical realm is insufficient to explain its own existence. I already handed further discussion to him, so please respect that until he has time to post here.

          • Nick Gotts

            I asked you to specify a particular formulation of the proof you consider sound. You funked that challenge, and you are still doing so.

            The reference to “making stuff up” is to all the ridiculous hooey about the original zygote that gives rise to twins entering paradise, and “nonphysical devices”. If you’ve handed over all further debate to Johanan Raatz, then all you need to do is stop commenting.