Wednesday, June 27, 2007

If It's In The Times It Must Be So

The NYT has made it official. There is no human soul. Let's fisk this, shall we?

In 1950, in a letter to bishops, Pope Pius XII took up the issue of evolution. The Roman Catholic Church does not necessarily object to the study of evolution as far as it relates to physical traits, he wrote in the encyclical, Humani Generis. But he added, “Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.”

Pope John Paul II made much the same point in 1996, in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an advisory group to the Vatican. Although he noted that in the intervening years evolution had become “more than a hypothesis,” he added that considering the mind as emerging merely from physical phenomena was “incompatible with the truth about man.”

But as evolutionary biologists and cognitive neuroscientists peer ever deeper into the brain, they are discovering more and more genes, brain structures and other physical correlates to feelings like empathy, disgust and joy [in other words, the Roman Catholic Church is full of crap!!]. That is, they are discovering physical bases for the feelings from which moral sense emerges — not just in people but in other animals as well [and obviously, just as physical correlates for things like vision, hearing, and other sense perceptions disprove the existence of actual physical objects that can be sensed, so does the discovery of these other correlates disprove religion].

The result is perhaps the strongest challenge yet to the worldview summed up by Descartes, the 17th-century philosopher who divided the creatures of the world between humanity and everything else. As biologists turn up evidence that animals can exhibit emotions and patterns of cognition once thought of as strictly human, Descartes’s dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” loses its force [It's self-evident. I can't think of any pertinent differences between the cognition of humans and animals. Can you? But then I'm not a scientist].

For many scientists, the evidence that moral reasoning is a result of physical traits that evolve along with everything else is just more evidence against the existence of the soul, or of a God to imbue humans with souls [so it is established. The existence of a soul is a question that science can answer. Also, by this criterion *any* form of reasoning is a result of physical traits that evolve along with everything else. Including science's own pet theories, which by that criterion are just as suspect]. For many believers, particularly in the United States, the findings show the error, even wickedness, of viewing the world in strictly material terms. And they provide for theologians a growing impetus to reconcile the existence of the soul with the growing evidence that humans are not, physically or even mentally, in a class by themselves [except for those wicked Catholics].

The idea that human minds are the product of evolution is “unassailable fact,” the journal Nature said this month in an editorial on new findings on the physical basis of moral thought. A headline on the editorial drove the point home: “With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.” [Yup. So much for Gould's "non overlapping magisteria". A particular ideological camp of scientists is getting pretty bold in showing its true colors, here.]

Or as V. S. Ramachandran, a brain scientist at the University of California, San Diego, put it in an interview, there may be soul in the sense of “the universal spirit of the cosmos,” but the soul as it is usually spoken of, “an immaterial spirit that occupies individual brains and that only evolved in humans — all that is complete nonsense.” Belief in that kind of soul “is basically superstition,” he said [what is this "he said?" don't you mean "such are the the sounds emitted by the temporary aggregation of matter known as V. S. Ramachandran?"]

For people like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, talk of the soul is of a piece with the rest of the palaver of religious faith, which he has likened to a disease [Is this supposed to be a semi-factual science column, or some sort of bigoted diatribe? Even in an opinion column, would I expect to read something along the lines of "Holocaust denier so and so maintains that the filthy jews made the whole thing up, and they can be likened to a verminous infestation?" without it being a direct quote? The author of this piece was not directly quoting and got to choose these words]. And among evolutionary psychologists, religious faith is nothing but an evolutionary artifact, a predilection that evolved because shared belief increased group solidarity and other traits that contribute to survival and reproduction [science also contributes to survival and reproduction. So I guess it is false].

Nevertheless, the idea of a divinely inspired soul will not be put aside [because religious people are SUCH FREAKIN' MORONS!!]. To cite just one example, when 10 Republican [Boo! Hisss!!] presidential candidates were asked at a debate last month if there was anyone among them who did not believe in evolution, 3 raised their hands. One of them, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, explained later in an op-ed article in this newspaper that he did not reject all evolutionary theory. But he added, “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order.” [THAT REPUBLICAN SON OF A BITCH!!!!]

That is the nub of the issue, according to Nancey Murphy, a philosopher at Fuller Theological Seminary who has written widely on science, religion and the soul. Challenges to the uniqueness of humanity in creation are just as alarming as the Copernican assertion that Earth is not the center of the universe, she writes in her book “Bodies and Souls or Spirited Bodies?” (Cambridge, 2006). Just as Copernicus knocked Earth off its celestial pedestal [the medievals thought of the earth as being more of the sump tank of the cosmos, subject to corruption unlike the celestial sphere, rather than as some exalted place, but whatever], she said, the new findings on cognition have displaced people from their “strategic location” in creation.

Another theologian who has written widely on the issue, John F. Haught of Georgetown University, said in an interview that “for many Americans the only way to preserve the discontinuity that’s implied in the notion of a soul, a distinct soul, is to deny evolution,” which he said was “unfortunate.” [if Haught means the denial that evolution took place, then I agree. If he means the denial of Darwin's woefully deficient mechanism, then I disagree. The helpful author of this column doesn't make the distinction]

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth [ooohkayyy].

For Dr. Murphy and Dr. Haught, though, people make a mistake when they assume that people can be “ensouled” only if other creatures are soulless.

“Evolutionary biology shows the transition from animal to human to be too gradual to make sense of the idea that we humans have souls while animals do not,” wrote Dr. Murphy, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. “All the human capacities once attributed to the mind or soul are now being fruitfully studied as brain processes — or, more accurately, I should say, processes involving the brain, the rest of the nervous system and other bodily systems, all interacting with the socio-cultural world.” [So science, then, is not a human capacity attributable to the mind. Some monkeys like to do science, some monkeys like to do religion. May the monkeys that reproduce the most win!]

Therefore, she writes, it is “faulty” reasoning to want to distinguish people from the rest of creation. She and Dr. Haught cite the ideas of Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century philosopher and theologian who, Dr. Haught said, “spoke of a vegetative and animal soul along with the human soul.” [Murphy and Haught. Aquinas is a dim bulb next to their shining brilliance]

Dr. Haught, who testified for the American Civil Liberties Union when it successfully challenged the teaching of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism [and this is a fact, FACT, FACT!!], in the science classrooms of Dover, Pa., said, “The way I look at it, instead of eliminating the notion of a human soul in order to make us humans fit seamlessly into the rest of nature, it’s wiser to recognize that there is something analogous to soul in all living beings.” [So it's cool to have pantheistic religious beliefs, but not other kinds. Science has spoken]

Does this mean, say, that Australopithecus afarensis, the proto-human famously exemplified by the fossil skeleton known as Lucy, had a soul? He paused and then said: “I think so, yes. I think all of our hominid ancestors were ensouled in some way, but that does not rule out the possibility that as evolution continues, the shape of the soul can vary just as it does from individual to individual.”

Will this idea catch on? “It’s not something you hear in the suburban pulpit,” said Dr. Haught, a Roman Catholic [in open denial of the teachings of his church] whose book “God After Darwin” (Westview Press, 2000) is being reissued this year. “This is out of vogue in the modern world because the philosopher Descartes made such a distinction between mind and matter. He placed the whole animal world on the side of matter, which is essentially mindless."

Dr. Haught said it could be difficult to discuss the soul and evolution because it was one of many issues in which philosophical thinking was not keeping up with fast-moving science. “The theology itself is still in process,” he said. [The real problem is the exact opposite. Scientists are untrained in philosophy. It is their thinking which is not keeping up with slow-moving philosophy]

For scientists who are people of faith, like Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, asking about the science of the soul is pointless, in a way, because it is not a subject science can address. “It is not physical and investigateable in the world of science,” he said. [BUT WAIT A MINUTE, THIS WHOLE SCREED UP TO THIS POINT WAS SAYING THAT IT IS]

“Everything we know about the biological sciences says that life is a phenomenon of physics and chemistry, and therefore the notion of some sort of spirit to animate it and give the flesh a life really doesn’t fit with modern science,” said Dr. Miller, a Roman Catholic [in open denial of the teachings of his Church] whose book, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999) explains his reconciliation of the theory of evolution with religious faith. “However, if you regard the soul as something else, as you might, say, the spiritual reflection of your individuality as a human being [what the hell does that mean?!?], then the theology of the soul it seems to me is on firm ground.” [Let me rephrase: "If you regard the soul as something non-spiritual, like the spiritual reflection of your individuality as a human being, then the theology of the soul it seems to me is on firm ground." Firm ground? Well, if Jesus could walk on water, why not Dr. Miller?]

Dr. Miller, who also testified in the Dover case, said he spoke often at college campuses and elsewhere and was regularly asked, “What do you say as a scientist about the soul?” His answer, he said, is always the same: “As a scientist, I have nothing to say about the soul. It’s not a scientific idea.” [And so our nice little science column ends on a self-negating note. How fitting]

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