Friday, July 17, 2009

The Christian Left - Part 1

Ok, as promised, it's time to start my series on the Christian left. So lets start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!), and it's not with Jesus, or faith or all that jazz, but, over two parts, with God. Why does someone like me, someone with a science background, that reads the Guardian et al, believe in something I can't see or touch or prove the existence of?

Well to start with I guess we can't get away from the whole cultural side of things. I was brought up in a moderately religious household. My Mum is what you would call Christian with a small c and my Dad is one of those who believes there is a God but hasn't settled on any particular religion. We were semi regular at church, maybe 8 times a year (plus weddings and funerals) and it was fairly standard CofE. No guitars and tambourines for the Akela household!. You could very easily point at me and say if I had been brought up in Iran I would have been Muslim, or in Thailand I would have been Buddhist. And there is a good chance that you would be right.

It wasn't though something I thought about hard until later in life when I did a philosophy subsid at uni along side Biochemistry. And it was then that I firmly concluded that there must be something more to this world than just the material world that we see around us.

Consider this, consider what it is like to be blind. Not like shutting your eyes but no sense of sight at all. Scary isn't it? Now strip away your hearing as well, and all your other senses. What part of you is still there? Is there anything? You may think no, but it seems to me that there is something. It is that sense of being self aware. That sense of a passing of time.

Consciousness, that is what I am talking about.

Now consider the universe and what it is made up of. It's made of matter, which is interchangeable with energy, as per relativity. It's pretty freaky stuff and a lot is not yet understood about it. Yet if I am just made of matter/energy, how has it come to be aware of its own existence? I can understand how it can form complex organisms, how my body can be formed, how plants and animals can all be formed (yes I am very happy with the concept of the big bang and evolution) but for those to be self aware?

It is my feeling that there must be something else there, something else that makes me conscious. Yup, I am a dualist.

Now this is the point where someone normally pipes up with something about the Turing Box experiment. Now if you don't know much about it the google it, I can't be arsed explaining it here. Now many people will say that Alan Turing proved that you could create a robot that is fully conscious, and those people have completely misunderstood. What Turing actually proved was that theoretically at least you could create something so life like that you couldn't tell the difference between it and a conscious entity. And that is a different kettle of fish all together.

Of course dualism opens up many many more questions about sleep, death, brains, how it fits with our bodies etc etc. I don't pretend to have all these answers at all, but that doesn't mean I wont keep looking for them.

So anyway, that briefly, is why I have concluded that we have souls and in the next part it's how this leads on to God!


Alaric Snell-Pym said...

This is a perfectly valid argument, but it uses a step of probable deduction rather than definite deduction: you state, as I read it, that the existence of self-awareness implies the existence of a non-material soul because you can't think of a better explanation.

So I think it's correct to conclude from this that people *might* or *probably* have souls, but not to conclude that they *definitely* do :-)

Personally, I'm looking forward to reaching a level of technology where we can attempt to duplicate the state of a neural network into a computer simulation. If we try that on a person, and the result lives, then have we disproved the existence of a soul, or just *duplicated* a soul? If we try it and it fails, have we just proved the existence of a soul, or just missed some aspect of our neural model that we did not realise was significant until we tried it? Either way, it'll open the path to further interesting experiments :-)

Anonymous said...

Neuroscience has pretty much wiped out dualism.

It's strange that you say that you have a science background yet you believe in the existence of a soul, of which there is no evidence, because you have a "feeling" that there's something else.

Science would be very much in trouble if it theorized by "feelings". You need evidence, not emotion.

Don said...

I hope your posting about your personal religious beliefs doesn't attract too many trolls Akela, it would be a shame if your posting on self-examination becomes endless self-defence. I'm always interested to learn about the intellectual/emotional journeys people make to get where they are.

In answer to Alaric's interesting point, whilst there is much that is mechanical about human behaviour, how would you model a brain so say, appreciate art or a particular song? These are the things we as humans struggle to reason or articulate, and yet probably key to our understanding of what a 'soul' is.