Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Six reasons why you should believe in non-physical souls

(Podcast uploaded, with permission, by ReligioPolitical Talk)

This podcast is a must-listen. Please take the time to download this podcast and listen to it. I guarantee that you will love this podcast. I even recommended it to my Dad and I almost never do that.

Details:

In this podcast, J. Warner examines the evidence for the existence of the mind (and inferentially, the soul) as he looks at six classic philosophical arguments. Jim also briefly discusses Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos and discusses the limitations of physicalism.

The MP3 file is here. (67 MB, 72 minutes)

Topics:

  • Atheist Thomas Nagel’s latest book “Mind and Cosmos” makes the case that materialism cannot account for the evidence of mental phenomena
  • Nagel writes in this recent New York Times article that materialism cannot account for the reality of consciousness, meaning, intention and purpose
  • Quote from the Nagel article:

Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative. Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.

  • When looking at this question, it’s important to not have our conclusions pre-determined by presupposing materialism or atheism
  • If your mind/soul doesn’t exist and you are a purely physical being then that is a defeater for Christianity, so we need to respond
  • Traditionally, Christians have been committed to a view of human nature called “dualism” – human beings are souls who have bodies
  • The best way* to argue for the existence of the soul is using philosophical arguments

The case:

  • The law of identity says that if A = B’ if A and B have the exact same properties
  • If A = the mind and B = the brain, then is A identical to B?
  • Wallace will present 6 arguments to show that A is not identical to B because they have different properties

Not everyone of the arguments below might make sense to you, but you will probably find one or two that strike you as correct. Some of the points are more illustrative than persuasive, like #2. However, I do find #3, #5 and #6 persuasive.

1) First-person access to mental properties

  • Thought experiment: Imagine your dream car, and picture it clearly in your mind
  • If we invited an artist to come and sketch out your dream car, then we could see your dream car’s shape on paper
  • This concept of your dream car is not something that people can see by looking at your brain structure
  • Physical properties can be physically accessed, but the properties of your dream care and privately accessed

2) Our experience of consciousness implies that we are not our bodies

  • Common sense notion of personhood is that we own our bodies, but we are not our bodies

3) Persistent self-identity through time

  • Thought experiment: replacing a new car with an old car one piece at a time
  • When you change even the smallest part of a physical object, it changes the identity of that object
  • Similarly, your body is undergoing changes constantly over time
  • Every cell in your body is different from the body you had 10 years ago
  • Even your brain cells undergo changes (see this from New Scientist – WK)
  • If you are the same person you were 10 years ago, then you are not your physical body

4) Mental properties cannot be measured like physical objects

  • Physical objects can be measured (e.g. – use physical measurements to measure weight, size, etc.)
  • Mental properties cannot be measured

5) Intentionality or About-ness

  • Mental entities can refer to realities that are physical, something outside of themselves
  • A tree is not about anything, it just is a physical object
  • But you can have thoughts about the tree out there in the garden that needs water

6) Free will and personal responsibility

  • If humans are purely physical, then all our actions are determined by sensory inputs and genetic programming
  • Biological determinism is not compatible with free will, and free will is required for personal responsibility
  • Our experience of moral choices and moral responsibility requires free will, and free will requires minds/souls

He spends the last 10 minutes of the podcast responding to naturalistic objections to the mind/soul hypothesis.

*Now in the podcast, Wallace does say that scientific evidence is not the best kind of evidence to use when discussing this issue of body/soul and mind/brain. But I did blog yesterday about two pieces of evidence that I think are relevant to this discussion: corroborated near-death experiences and mental effort.

You might remember that Dr. Craig brought up the issue of substance dualism, and the argument from intentionality (“aboutness”), in his debate with the naturalist philosopher Alex Rosenberg, so this argument about dualism is battle-ready. You can add it to your list of arguments for Christian theism along with all the other arguments like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, stellar habitability, galactic habitability, irreducible complexity, molecular machines, the Cambrian explosion, the moral argument, the resurrection, biological convergence, and so on.

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Two famous near-death experiences: Pam Reynolds and Maria’s tennis shoe

Dr. Mario Beuregard writes about out of body experiences and near death experiences in the leftist Salon.com, of all places.

NDE number one:

Pam was brought into the operating room at 7:15 a.m., she was given general anesthesia, and she quickly lost conscious awareness. At this point, Spetzler and his team of more than 20 physicians, nurses, and technicians went to work. They lubricated Pam’s eyes to prevent drying, and taped them shut. They attached EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of her cerebral cortex. They inserted small, molded speakers into her ears and secured them with gauze and tape. The speakers would emit repeated 100-decibel clicks—approximately the noise produced by a speeding express train—eliminating outside sounds and measuring the activity of her brainstem.

At 8:40 a.m., the tray of surgical instruments was uncovered, and Robert Spetzler began cutting through Pam’s skull with a special surgical saw that produced a noise similar to a dental drill. At this moment, Pam later said, she felt herself “pop” out of her body and hover above it, watching as doctors worked on her body.

Although she no longer had use of her eyes and ears, she described her observations in terms of her senses and perceptions. “I thought the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar,” she said. “I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not.” She also described the Midas Rex bone saw (“The saw thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it … ”) and the dental-drill sound it made with considerable accuracy.

Meanwhile, Spetzler was removing the outermost membrane of Pamela’s brain, cutting it open with scissors. At about the same time, a female cardiac surgeon was attempting to locate the femoral artery in Pam’s right groin. Remarkably, Pam later claimed to remember a female voice saying, “We have a problem. Her arteries are too small.” And then a male voice: “Try the other side.” Medical records confirm this conversation, yet Pam could not have heard them.

I like the second one even better than the first.

NDE number two:

Maria was a migrant worker who had a severe heart attack while visiting friends in Seattle. She was rushed to Harborview Hospital and placed in the coronary care unit. A few days later, she had a cardiac arrest but was rapidly resuscitated. The following day, Clark visited her. Maria told Clark that during her cardiac arrest she was able to look down from the ceiling and watch the medical team at work on her body. At one point in this experience, said Maria, she found herself outside the hospital and spotted a tennis shoe on the ledge of the north side of the third floor of the building. She was able to provide several details regarding its appearance, including the observations that one of its laces was stuck underneath the heel and that the little toe area was worn. Maria wanted to know for sure whether she had “really” seen that shoe, and she begged Clark to try to locate it.

Quite skeptical, Clark went to the location described by Maria—and found the tennis shoe. From the window of her hospital room, the details that Maria had recounted could not be discerned. But upon retrieval of the shoe, Clark confirmed Maria’s observations. “The only way she could have had such a perspective,” said Clark, “was if she had been floating right outside and at very close range to the tennis shoe. I retrieved the shoe and brought it back to Maria; it was very concrete evidence for me.”

This case is particularly impressive given that during cardiac arrest, the flow of blood to the brain is interrupted. When this happens, the brain’s electrical activity (as measured with EEG) disappears after 10 to 20 seconds. In this state, a patient is deeply comatose. Because the brain structures mediating higher mental functions are severely impaired, such patients are expected to have no clear and lucid mental experiences that will be remembered. Nonetheless, studies conducted in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States have revealed that approximately 15 percent of cardiac arrest survivors do report some recollection from the time when they were clinically dead. These studies indicate that consciousness, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings can be experienced during a period when the brain shows no measurable activity.

Here’s the author bio:

Mario Beauregard is associate research professor at the Departments of Psychology and Radiology and the Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Montreal. He is the coauthor of “The Spiritual Brain” and more than one hundred publications in neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry.

It’s a helpful article, and one you might want to share or tweet to get a discussion started.

In previous posts, I have listed six arguments for non-physical minds, and also blogged about peer-reviewed scientific evidence on how consciousness changes brain chemistry through mental effort.

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What happens when we die?

Pastor Matt has been reading again. This time it’s a book on theology by Australian New Testament historian Michael Bird. In this recent blog post, Pastor Matt explains what people can expect to find after they die.

Excerpt:

Luke 23:39-43 records the following:

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Is “Paradise” heaven? Michael Bird points out in his new book Evangelical Theology (Zondervan 2013),  that while the Greek word translated as “Paradise” is used to describe heaven in 2 Cor. 12:4 and Rev. 2:7 it cannot mean heaven here. Why? According to John 20:17, which records Jesus’ resurrection encounter with Mary Magdalene, He had not yet “ascended to the Father”.

So where is “Paradise”?  Most likely it is an intermediate state for the dead known by ancients as Hades (see also Acts 2:27, 31 and 1 Peter 3:19-21).  So, during the three days that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb, He joined the dead in Hades.  But after his resurrection and ascension, He goes to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (see Acts 7:55; Eph. 1:20-23, etc.).

So do people still go to Hades? Christians don’t.  The Apostle Paul writes that when we die we go to be with Jesus who is in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 1:20-24, etc.) but we will not stay there forever.  Jesus will return to create a “new heavens and new earth” (Rev. 21) where we will dwell in eternal physical bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body that cannot decay or die (see 1 Cor. 15 and 1 John 3:2).  The idea that we sit on a cloud for eternity while playing a harp and wearing a diaper is from Tom & Jerry cartoons, not the Bible.

What about non-Christians? The Book of Revelation still speaks of the existence of Hades (20:14) and that it will one day be thrown into hell.  Thus, it is implies that non-Christians do not go directly to hell but to Hades until the final judgment of all humankind.

The rest of the post has a helpful breakdown that summarizes what the Bible teaches about life after death. Recommended.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

What is the meaning and purpose of life, the universe and everything?

Here’s the lecture:

(37 minutes)

Topic:

Does life have a purpose? If naturalism is true, what is the purpose of life? If Christianity is true, what is the purpose of life?

Dr. Shenvi’s web site is here. Lots of great articles there on every conceivable topic.

Summary:

  • Dr. Shenvi’s brief testimony and background
  • There is no purpose to the universe and us on naturalism
  • The answer to every why-question on naturalism is chance and necessity (laws)
  • Nothing in the universe has intrinsic / objective value
  • There is no hope on naturalism because of the heat death of the universe: everything dies
  • Nothing that humans do, on naturalism, matters in the long run
  • Given sufficient time, the universe will not even know we were here
  • Famous atheists like Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins agree on this

Purpose on naturalism:

  • Purpose response: we can invent our own arbitrary made-up purposes
  • The monopoly in a prison illustration

Meaning on naturalism:

  • Meaning response: we can invent our own arbitrary made-up meaning
  • The scrabble vs Shakespeare illustration

Value on naturalism:

  • Value response: we can invent our own arbitrary made-up values
  • The subjective opinion vs objective truth illustration

Hope on naturalism:

  • Hope response: we can invent our own arbitrary made-up hopes
  • The heat death of the universe ensures that all hopes fail on naturalism

If Christianity is true:

  • The universe and human beings have an objective purpose
  • There is a meaning to life that is objective
  • Human beings have intrinsic value, because God made them and values them
  • There is hope because there is an life after death that extends eternally

Conclusion:

  • This lecture does not argue that Christianity is true because it gives us goodies
  • People should become Christians because Christianity is true
  • Christianity is actually quite difficult because it requires self-denial and self-sacrifice
  • What God has done to help us overcome with our rebellion?

Note that these are not arguments for God’s existence, because he covered that in a previous lecture. And this lecture is not about arguing for Christianity, because he covered that in a previous lecture.

Dr. Shenvi is a research scientist in theoretical chemistry. However, this lecture is not only passionate, but snarky and humorous.

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New study: NHS patients are 45 percent more likely to die than US health care patients

Wes sent me this article from the UK Telegraph.

Excerpt:

Patients are 45% more likely to die in NHS hospitals than in US ones, according to figures revealing how badly England’s health service compares with those of other countries.

Previously unpublished data collated by Professor Sir Brian Jarman over more than 10 years found NHS mortality rates were among the worst of those in seven developed countries.

A patient in England was five times as likely to die of pneumonia and twice as likely to die of septicaemia compared to similar patients in the US, the leading country in the study, the data suggested.

The elderly were found to be particularly at risk in English hospitals compared with those in the other countries.

The figures showed that the situation had improved since 2004, when the death rate in English hospitals was 58% higher than that in the best performing country.

But NHS institutions still lagged behind in the most recent data, from 2012, despite reforms of the health service and increased funding.

Of the other six countries studied, only the US was named because of the sensitivity of the data.

Prof Sir Brian, who adjusted the data to take account of differences in the countries’ health services, did not initially release his figures because he was so shocked by them he at first assumed there must be a flaw in his methodology.

There was, however, “no means of denying the results,” he said.

“I expected us to do well and was very surprised when we didn’t,” the Imperial College London medic told Channel 4 News.

“If you go to the States, doctors can talk about problems, nurses can raise problems and listen to patient complaints.

“We have a system whereby for written hospital complaints only one in 375 is actually formally investigated. That is absolutely appalling.”

Previously, I had posted a summary of a book by Scott Atlas, a medical doctor at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. In that article, he laid out the reasons why the U.S. healthcare system was the best in the world.

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