bookmark_borderOne Buddhist Worldview?

I’m getting a lot of pushback on my view that there is only ONE Christian worldview. It seems fairly obvious to me that there is just one Christian worldview, so I suspect some bias or prejudice is at work here, although I cannot put my finger on what that bias or prejudice might be. Perhaps we are all just a bit too close to the subject to maintain objectivity.
One way around bias about Christianity is to change the focus to some other religion or ideology, and see whether the same general logic or view makes sense in that context.  In other words, if my logic and point of view makes sense in terms of Buddhism, then that should make my logic and point of view about Christianity more plausible and less objectionable.
So, I will now make a very brief attempt to show that there is just ONE Buddhist worldview:
1. There are three main branches of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. (Religious Literacy, by Stephen Prothero, p.165)
THEREFORE:
2. IF Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism all share the same worldview, THEN there is just ONE Buddhist worldview.
3. Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism all share the same worldview.
THEREFORE:
4. There is just ONE Buddhist worldview.
The main sticking point, in analogy with a similar argument about Christianity, is premise (3).  I believe (3) is true, and would argue for it like this:
5. The Four Noble Truths constitute a worldview.
6. Theravada Buddhism includes and accepts The Four Noble Truths.
7. Mahayana Buddhism includes and accepts The Four Noble Truths.
8. Vajrayana Buddhism includes and accepts The Four Noble Truths.
THEREFORE:
3. Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism all share the same worldview.
This seems like a perfectly good argument to me.
Does anyone deny that The Four Noble Truths constitute a worldview?  I believe that they are a PARADIGM CASE of a worldview, so I don’t see any problem with (5).  So far as I know, all three branches of Buddhism include and accept The Four Noble Truths.  Does anybody think otherwise?  If you reject my view that there is just ONE Buddhist worldview, then please explain to me where the above argument goes astray.
In speaking of a “worldview”, I have in mind a point of view that provides answers to basic worldview-structuring questions:
1. What are the most basic and imporant goals of a human life?
2. What are the most basic and important problems that prevent humans from acheiving those goals?
3. What are the most basic and important resolutions or mitigations of those problems?
4. What are the best ways to implement or utilize those resolutions or mitigations?
Although some people have questioned whether Buddhism is a religion, it seems to me that Buddhism presents a paradigm case of a worldview, namely, The Four Noble Truths:
Buddha’s approach to the problem of life in the Four Noble Truths was essentially that of a therapist. He begins by observing carefully the symptoms which provoke concern. If everything were going smoothly, so smoothly that we noticed ourselves as little as we notice our digestion when it is normal, there would be nothing to worry about and we would have to attend no further to our way of life. But this is not the case. There is less creativeness, more conflict, and more pain than we feel is right. These symptoms Buddha summarizes in his First Noble Truth with the declaration that life is dukkha or out of joint. The next step is diagnosis. Throwing faith and myth and cult to the winds he asks, practically, what is causing these abnormal symptoms? Where is the seat of the infection? What is always present when suffering is present and absent when suffering is absent? The answer is given in the Second Noble Truth; the cause of life’s dislocation is tanha or the drive for private fulfillment. What, then, of prognosis? The Third Noble Truth announces hope; the disease can be cured by overcoming the egoistic drive for separate existence. This brings us to prescription. How is this overcoming to be accomplished? The Fourth Noble Truth provides the answer; the way to the overcoming of self-seeking is through the Eightfold path.
(The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith, p.102-103)
Damien Keown, a scholar of Buddhism, nicely summarizes the logic of The Four Noble Truths:
… the Buddha is likened to a physician who has found a cure for life’s ills.  First he diagnoses the disease, second explains its cause, third determines that a cure exists, and fourth sets out the treatment.
(Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, p.50)
All worldviews have a similar nature and logical structure. There is at least one Christian worldview, and it has the same sort of logical structure.

bookmark_borderOne Christian Worldview?

I believe that there is only ONE Christian worldview, even though there are many different versions of Christianity.
There are tens of thousands of different Christian denominations around the world, so conclusively proving my hypothesis would require a lifetime of study.  So, to make it more possible to investigate my hypothesis, I will limit my claim geographically to the United States:
(OCW) There is only ONE Christian worldview in the USA.
There are only about 1,200 Christian denominations in the USA, so that narrows down the scope of the work considerably. Narrowing the scope of the question to the USA, however, does not get around the great historical divisions of the Christian religion. There are three main branches of Christianity, and all three are represented in the USA:

  • Catholic
  • Orthodox
  • Protestant

If there is only ONE Christian worldview held by Catholics, and only ONE Christian worldview held by Orthodox Christians, and only ONE Christian worldview held by Protestants, then we could compare the three Christian worldviews, and determine whether they are the same, or have a few minor differences, or are significantly different from each other.
But the following three claims are controversial too:
1.There is only ONE Christian worldview in Catholic Christianity in the USA.
2. There is only ONE Christian worldview in Orthodox Christianity in the USA.
3. There is only ONE Christian worldview in Protestant Christianity in the USA.
I believe that claims (1) and (2) are true and easy to establish, and that claim (3) will take a good deal of effort to investigate and confirm (or disconfirm).
One important objection to (1) is that there are as many different conceptions of God and Jesus and salvation as there are Catholics, and that some of the theological disagreements between Catholics are about very basic religious issues.  Let me grant that the factual claim here is true, or true for the most part.  There are many different and conflicting religious views held by different Catholic believers, and the disagreements are sometimes about very basic issues.  Nevertheless, the content of a Catholic Christian worldview should NOT be determined by polling Catholic believers.
The problem is that Catholics are, in general, very ignorant about matters of religion, even about their own Catholic faith.  Only about one in three Catholics knows that Easter is a Holy day in the Christian faith which celebrates the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus.  That means that only about one in three Catholics have even a tiny clue about the content of their own Chrisitan faith.
I would expect a Hindu who was raised as a Hindu in India, and who had only recently relocated in the US in the past five to ten years to be aware that Easter was the primary Holy day of the Christian faith and that Easter was a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  So, knowing what Easter is about doesn’t mean that one has any significant knowledge about the Christian faith.  Therefore, a large portion of the one-in-three Catholics who know the meaning of Easter probably don’t know much else about their Christian faith.  I would be surprised if one-in-three of those Catholics could provide a well-informed explanation of their Christian faith.  So, at most, about one in nine Catholics has at least moderate knowledge about the content of the Christian faith.  Polling such religiously ignorant people would be a waste of time, at least if one is interested in determining the content of the Catholic Christian faith.
There is a much simpler and easier way to determine the content of the Catholic Christian faith in the USA: study the creeds of the Catholic Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Catholics in the pews may not bother to study these official statements of the Catholic Church, or the content of these statements might go in one ear and out the other (because there is only air occupying the space between the two), but there is no better way to determine the content of the Catholic faith.  If these official statements are consistent with each other, especially in terms of the very basic questions that form the structure of a worldview, then we can derive ONE Christian worldview from those statements, and that will constitute proof of claim (1) above.
I’m not sure if Orthodox Christians are as ignorant about matters of religion as Catholics are, but the Eastern Orthodox church does have creeds and other official statements of belief, so we can use the same simple and easy approach to determining whether there is just ONE Eastern Orthodox Christian worldview, and the content of that worldview.
Protestants are a whole different ball game.  Protestants are not quite as ignorant as Catholics about matters of religion, but they are still generally ignorant on such matters: only about half of protestants know that Easter is a Christian Holy day that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.  So, polling protestants about their religious beliefs would also be a waste of time.  We should adopt a similar strategy as with Catholics, and look at creeds, Catechisms, and official statements of faith to determine the Christian worldview(s) of protestants.  But there are over a thousand different protestant denominations in the USA!  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life studying a thousand different catechisms and statements of faith.
Protestantism in the USA can be divided into three main “traditions” and into about a dozen major “families”.  So, if we look at the largest denominations from these various traditions and families, we can get a good idea of the variety of religious beliefs that are the official beliefs of different protestant churches.  Just as we can divide Christianity into three main branches, we can divide protestants into three main traditions:

  • Evangelical Protestant Tradition
  • Mainline Protestant Tradition
  • Historically Black Protestant Tradition 

These three traditions cut across the dozen or so families of protestant denominations.  Click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart:
Protestant Families and Traditions
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I will make three more claims, which will require a good deal of investigation to test and confirm (or disconfirm):
4. There is only ONE Evangelical Protestant Christain worldview.
5. There is only ONE Mainline Protestant Christian worldview.
6. There is only ONE Historically Black Protestant Christian worldview.
If I can establish that each of these traditions has ONE Christian worldview and establish the content of each worldview, then we can compare those worldview to see if they are the same, or have a few minor differences, or are significantly different.  If they are the same then that would give us the content of the ONE protestant Christian worldview, which could then be compared to the Catholic Christian worldview, and to the Eastern Orthodox Christian worldview.
Here are the major protestant denominations I plan to look into:
Major Protestant Denominations

bookmark_borderIs Pure Consciousness Possible?

Some practitioners of meditative disciplines or people who have had mystical experiences claim to attain a state of “pure consciousness” (PC). PC is supposed to be a state where one is conscious, but is not conscious of anything. That is, it is completely objectless, or if it has any object at all, the object is nothing but consciousness itself.
I see two problems with the idea of PC. The first is that I have doubts that such a thing is possible, and the second is that if it were possible, it would be useless.
picture in picture in picture
Is PC possible?
(1) Degrees of consciousness. Affirmation of PC appears to treat consciousness as all or nothing. But we have very good reasons to reject this characterization. Consciousness appears to be something that can fade in and out. It is possible to occupy the boundary of consciousness, as one emerges from or drifts into sleep, or as anesthetic takes effect or wears off.
Suppose a meditator enters a state of PC and is then given an anesthetic. What would happen? Would one gradually become less and less purely conscious until one would reach a point where one would not be conscious at all? What would degrees of PC be like? What would be the fact that would distinguish a state of PC from a state without any consciousness at all?
(2) Some descriptions of PC locate it on a continuum with states of consciousness containing objects. The objects within consciousness fade away leaving only the PC. But why should there be such a fading away? Why isn’t there simply an instantaneous transition to and from PC? After all, if PC is possible, then there must come some point during the fading in and out process where objects don’t continue to fade in or out, but appear or disappear altogether. There must be some binary point of transition. Why and how would a gradual attenuation of object-consciousness culminate in an object-less consciousness rather than in an absence of consciousness?
(3) One of the main theories of consciousness in the philosophy of mind is the Higher-Order Thought (HOT) theory. According to the HOT theory, consciousness by its very nature involves a relation between a lower-order and a higher-order thought. But it seems that such a thing is not possible in pure-consciousness, unless it is somehow possible for the higher-order and lower-order thought to be identical (that is, PC would consist in a conscious thought C where the lower-order thought that C is about is C, itself). In fact, it seems to me this would have to be what PC would be if it were possible. The alternative would be that one would be conscious without even being conscious of being conscious, which seems to me to be incoherent.  Certainly one could not know that one was or had been conscious unless one could say what that was like, and this would be impossible if consciousness was completely objectless. A problem here is that if C is the sole object of C, then if one were to stop thinking about C, it seems one would thereby either necessarily either have to be conscious of some thought other than C, or lose consciousness altogether. Yet it seems that those who defend the possibility of PC never claim that the latter happens. Loss of focus in PC does not result in unconsciousness, but rather in falling back into object-consciousness.
It is premature to claim that the HOT theory is certainly correct, of course. But it does appear to have some favoring empirical evidence: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21737339
(4) There seems to be no way to verify any claim to have experienced PC. Suppose I claim to have experienced PC. Couldn’t I be mistaken? We have all had the experience of driving somewhere and then being struck by having no memory of the trip. But this is clearly not a basis for claiming an absence of all conscious experiences en route. So if I can arrive at the end of a highway exit ramp without any memory of having been conscious at the beginning of the exit ramp, it seems I could also find myself at the end of a meditation session without any memory of having been conscious during the meditation session.
What good is PC?
Suppose that PC is possible. The bigger problem with PC, as I see it, it that even if it turns out to be possible, no useful conclusions about consciousness can be drawn apart from the fact that it is possible to be objectlessly-conscious, or conscious of consciousness alone as an object.
(5) No conclusions can be drawn about whether consciousness has a material or immaterial basis, whether or not it is possible or impossible to be conscious without a brain, whether God exists or doesn’t exist, or whether aardvarks are smarter than armadillos. Since there is no object in PC, nothing can be learned about anything by means of it.
(6) It is beyond controversy that much of human thought is unconscious. So even if someone is in a state of PC, it is entirely possible – in fact, certain – that there is still unconscious thinking going on. If there were no unconscious thought or perception occurring during PC, it would be impossible to rouse anyone from it by poking or talking to them. It may be that any thought that can be held consciously can also be held unconsciously. I initially thought that PC would have to be an exception, but on further reflection, it now seems to be that if it is possible to think consciously of nothing but consciousness, then it is also possible to think unconsciously of nothing but consciousness.
I conclude that pure consciousness is either impossible, or useless.

bookmark_borderThe Jesus Argument

There have been many comments on my previous post God is a Person (Thank you all for your thoughts and contributions). I would like to narrow the focus of the discussion to deal with one argument at a time, so this post will only cover the first of my five arguments for the conclusion “God is a Person”.  Fewer people may be interested in this argument, but that is OK with me.  I will get around to the other arguments in future posts.
I. The Jesus Argument

1. Jesus is God.
2. Jesus is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

As I noted previously, this is an ad hominem argument; it is based on a premise that I do not accept, but that is widely accepted by Christians (i.e. “Jesus is God”).
This might not be a sound argument, even from a Christian point of view, but I think it is one that is worth thinking about.
If the argument fails, it will be useful, I think, to have a clear understanding of why it fails.  If it does turn out to be a sound argument from a Christian point of view, then it shows that the conclusion “God is a person” should be viewed as a basic Christian belief, and that rejection of this conclusion (for example, by Joe Hinman) would put one outside of traditional Christian belief.
Some Initial Reflections
I don’t think it will work to challenge premise (2).  The doctrine of the Trinity asserts that God is just one being who consists (somehow) of three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is “the Son”, so the docrtine of the Trinity asserts that Jesus is a person.
Another problem is that Christians traditionally believe that Jesus is fully human as well as being fully divine.  But if Jesus is fully human, then Jesus must be a person.  Something that is NOT a person could not possibly be fully human.
So, my view is that premise (2) must be accepted, at least from a traditional Christian point of view.
That leaves only premise (1) and the logic of the argument open to criticism.  An obvious objection, one already made in the comments on the initial post, is that the claim “Jesus is God” does not assert the IDENTITY of Jesus and God.
A problem with this objection is that the word “God” is a proper noun, so the claim “Jesus is God” is grammatically the same as the claim “Clark Kent is Superman”.  When you put two names together with the word “IS” between them, that indicates that you are using the “IS” of identity.  Note that Christians also sometimes say “Jesus is Jehovah”.
But, I suppose, one could interpret premise (1) in a non-literal fashion, like the claim “James Comey is the FBI”.  The FBI is a federal organization, but James Comey is NOT a federal organization.  James Comey is a person, but the FBI is NOT a person.  If we do take the sentence “Jesus is God” to have a non-literal meaning, then it would be helpful to clarify and spell out precisely what this means.

bookmark_borderGod is a Person

INTRODUCTION
Joe Hinman wants to debate the existence of God with me, but before we can have an intelligent debate on this issue, we need to come to some sort of mutual understanding about the meaning of the word “God”.
In my view God is a person.  In Hinman’s view God is NOT a person.  He can, I suppose, stipulate a definition of “God” that asserts or implies that God is NOT a person, but then I might not have any interst in debating the existence of such a being (we will see how that goes).
But before we resort to such a stipulated definition, I would like to discuss this very basic issue about the meaning of the word “God”.  My view is that God is a person who has certain unique characteristics, known as divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, perfect goodness, etc.).  In this post I will briefly put forward five arguments for my understanding of the meaning of the word “God”.
Hinman and anyone else interested in this subject are welcome to ask questions about and raise objections against any of those five arguments.
AN INITIAL CLARIFICATION

(s) Superman has x-ray vision.

Someone might object to claim (s) this way:

There is no such thing as “Superman”, and NOBODY has x-ray vision, so claim (s) is false.

But this objection seems beside the point.  No sane adult believes that Superman exists.  So, if we follow the principle of charity, we will NOT interpret (s) as implying that Superman actually exists.  Rather, we will interpret (s) as making this claim:

Anyone who is Superman is someone who has x-ray vision.

The following claim, can also be given a similar interpretation:

(g) God is an all-powerful being.

Someone might object to (g) this way:

There is no such being as “God”, and NOTHING is an all-powerful being, so (g) is false.

Because the existence of God is controversial, we need not take (g) as implying that God actually exists.  Rather, it is reasonable to interpret (g) as making this claim:

Any being that is God, is an all-powerful being.

In other words, claim (s) and claim (g) can be taken as CONCEPTUAL claims rather than as FACTUAL claims.  The concept of “Superman” implies the concept of “has x-ray vision”.  The concept of “God” implies the concept “is an all-poweful being”.
I intend the following claim to be understood in a similar way:

(p) God is a person.

Claim (p) is not intended to assert or imply that God actually exists; rather, it is intended as a CONCEPTUAL claim, and can be understood as asserting this claim:

(p1) Any being that is God is a person.

FIVE ARGUMENTS FOR THE VIEW THAT “GOD IS A PERSON”
I. The Jesus Argument

1. Jesus is God.
2. Jesus is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

II. The Spirit Argument

4. God is a spirit.
5. A spirit is a person who has no body.

Therefore:

6. God is a person who has no body.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

 
III. The Prayer Argument

7. God answers prayers.
8. Any being that answers prayers, is a being that can understand and respond to complex abstract verbal requests.
9. Any being that can understand and respond to complex abstract verbal requests is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

IV. The Omniscience Argument

10. God is omniscient.
11. Any being that is omniscient, is a being that knows that “2 + 2 = 4” and that “Grass is green” and that “McDonald’s sells cheeseburgers” and that “Donald Trump is the president of the United States” and that “A standard deck of playing cards contains 52 cards”.
12. Any being that knows that “2 + 2 = 4” and that “Grass is green” and that “McDonald’s sells cheeseburgers” and that “Donald Trump is the president of the United States” and that “A standard deck of playing cards contains 52 cards” is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

V. The Love-and-Understanding Argument

13. God knows, loves, and understands each and every human being.
14. If God knows, loves, and understands each and every human being, then God knows, loves, and understands me.
15. If God knows, loves, and understands me, then God is a person.

Therefore:

3. God is a person.

NOTE ON AD HOMINEM ARGUMENTS
Arguments I, III, and V are ad hominem arguments.  By that I do NOT mean that those arguments commit the fallacy of ad hominem.  What I mean is that those arguments are based on Christian beliefs that I do not myself accept.  So, they are arguments that attempt to use a belief that is widely accepted by Christians, and use that belief as the basis for an argument to the conclusion that God is a person.
Arguments II and IV are NOT ad hominem arguments, because they are based on CONCEPTUAL claims, claims having to do with the meaning of the word “God”.  I take it that the word “God” in a Western or Christian context logically implies “an omniscient being” and “a being that is a spirit”, just like I take it that the word “Superman” logically implies “a person who has x-ray vision”.

bookmark_borderPodcast 3: What is Christianity?

I have published my third podcast in the series “Thinking Critically About: Is Christianity True?”
http://thinkingcriticallyabout.podbean.com/e/podcast-3-what-is-christianity/
Podcast 3: What is Christianity?
March 17, 2017
In this podcast the host examines five key claims about Christianity in order to clarify the meaning of the word “Christianity” in this context.
==========================
The two previous podcasts in this series are still available…
http://thinkingcriticallyabout.podbean.com/
Podcast 2: Objections to Thinking Critically about: Is Christianity True?
February 21, 2017
In this podcast the host critically examines and replies to ten objections against thinking critically about whether Christianity is true or false.
Podcast 1: Why Should Anyone Care Whether Christianity is True?
February 21, 2017
In this podcast the host introduces the main question at issue, and gives ten reasons why we should care whether Christianity is true or false.

bookmark_borderSoulless

Things have been a bit slow here at SO the past couple of weeks with Jeff and others spending time bashing Donald Trump (an entirely worthwhile enterprise), so I will try to enliven things a bit. Although the notion plays no part in neuroscience, cognitive science, cognitive psychology, or any other of the sciences of the brain and mind—where the regulative assumption has long been that the brain is sufficient for all mental functions—souls still have their defenders. By “soul” I mean a simple, spiritual substance understood in the Cartesian sense, i.e. as the center of consciousness and personality that is the essential self and which, though it interacts with the physical, is not itself part of the physical world. The soul is therefore a supernatural entity that, during a person’s earthly life is closely connected with one particular physical body, but which lives on after physical death.
The postulation of such a soul is (or at one time was) plausible, and the idea continues to offer many advantages. Most obviously, it offers hope in the face of the most basic and primal of human fears, the fear of death. Since it is not part of the physical world, souls are not subject to the physical forces that lead to the decay and ultimate dissolution of the body; rather they are essentially immortal. Equally obviously, the postulation of souls is friendly to a theistic worldview. God, and infinite spirit, would plausibly create many finite spirits, including some that, for whatever reason, are temporarily bound to material bodies. Further, the metaphysically spiritual souls are also spiritual in another sense, namely that the soul is the part of the human person that longs to reunite with God—as is sung so beautifully in Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony. Finally, the idea, which is intuitive for some, that we have a will is an unmoved mover—capable of actions that are determined by nothing except our own intrinsic agency—is supported by the attribution of the power of choice to a nonphysical entity. Such an entity, qua nonphysical, is not subject to the causal laws of the physical cosmos, and so can serve as an uncaused cause. Christian philosophers Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliafero argue for the existence of souls largely in terms of our allegedly intuitive first-person experiences of free choice.
Here I offer three reasons for the non-existence of souls as defined above. First, though, in any such discussion, it is helpful to determine on whom the burden of proof should fall. Is the default presumption to be that there are souls or that matter, suitably organized, is sufficient for mental activity? I claim that the burden of proof falls entirely on those who support the existence of spiritual souls. Why? Well, first, let us consider what, I presume, is known to everyone: We know that certain configurations of matter—those configurations we refer to as “human beings,” for instance—are capable of performing mental functions. They think, feel, perceive, imagine, desire, will, believe, and so forth. If, then, certain configurations of matter can perform mental functions and possess mental properties, the parsimonious, spontaneous, and natural assumption would be that matter, when organized in suitable ways, can perform mental functions and possess mental properties.
It seems perverse to make the opposite assumption, namely that material beings cannot think, and that therefore their mental functions and properties must be due to the operation of something non-physical, a soul perhaps. To make this last assumption would seem to be a bizarre instance of an a priori prejudice. The proper starting point therefore appears to be that material beings are capable of doing whatever we observe them doing, not with the gratuitous and a priori assumption that they cannot. Therefore, the burden of proof should be on those who say that matter is incapable of mental functions or of possessing mental properties, and that these must instead be due to something non-material.
The second reason for putting the burden of proof on the soul-theorist is that, surely, by now, the heuristic assumptions of neuroscience have gained some degree of authority. As I mentioned earlier, a regulative assumption of all the sciences that study mind and brain is that the brain is sufficient for all mental activity. Perhaps, as David Chalmers famously argued, we may never solve the “hard problem,” that is, to understand exactly why some physical events should cause mental events. Still, Chalmers takes for granted that physical events cause mental events, so he accepts the regulative assumption. When a program of inquiry has produced hard, reproducible, and important results, as has neuroscience, then this would warrant prima facie acceptance of the heuristic principles that have guided such research. The burden of proof should therefore fall on those who reject the assumption of the sufficiency of the brain and instead invoke non-physical entities.
Therefore, the burden of proof is on those who claim that souls exist. I now note three problems that anyone advancing a theory of souls must address and say why I think that these problems are intractable:
1) The old problem that will never go away—interaction. Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia was the first to raise the interaction problem in a letter to Descartes. The problem is simply stated, namely, how do we conceive of the interaction between two types of entity as metaphysically disparate as soul and matter? It is good enough for ghost stories to imagine poltergeists upsetting the furniture, but, really, how do we achieve any degree of conceptual clarity? How does a putative entity with purely mental capacities initiate and participate in a series of physical events? By definition, souls have no physical properties, and there seems no clear way to conceive of how something with no physical predicates (not even location in space) can enter into causal relations with physical events.
Descartes famously had no plausible answer for the princess. Today, soul-theorists often just bite the bullet and offer a tu quoque. They concede that, indeed, we do not know how spirit could interact with matter, but, they argue, neither do we know how matter interacts with matter (tu quoque!). That is, at rock bottom everybody postulates brute facts about what does happen, with no deeper understanding of why it happens. Why, for instance, do like electrical charges repel and opposite charges attract? Well, maybe when we get down to that level of explanation all we can say is that that is how things are and that there is no deeper reason why. In that case, the soul-theorist will argue, at rock bottom, and whatever our ontology, we all have to posit basic entities with sets of irreducible and inexplicable powers and liabilities. At the deepest level shit happens, and that is all there is to it. In this case, soul-theory on an even level with physical theory. Both postulate brute facts of interaction that neither can explain at any deeper level, so why the prejudice against souls?
Such a reply is misleading at best. Even if we reach a brutally factual rock bottom in physical theory, where we just have to postulate fundamental entities and forces that turn out not to be further explicable, such brute facts lie at the end of a very long chain of deeply satisfactory explanations. Hume somewhere asserts that we will probably never understand why bread nourishes. Ah, but we do. We have for quite some time understood in very considerable detail how mitochondria break down complex carbohydrates and, via the chemical pathway known as the Krebs cycle, provide energy at the cellular level. Indeed, molecular biology is full of extremely detailed explanations of physiological processes that tell us why they happen just as they do. At a more basic level, nuclear physics can explain in detail why nuclear weapons bang so prodigiously. In innumerable cases, we do not say just that shit happens, but precisely why it happens. Even at the fundamental level of photons and electrons, theories such as Quantum Electrodynamics provide much well-confirmed and definite information about how and why things happen.
Thus, the brute facts of physical theory may be there, but they are down very deep. With soul-theory, the incomprehensibility is right up front and on top. Your inquiry immediately hits a wall. “How do I think?” “Your soul does it.” “How does it do it?” “Let me explain: Shut up!” Sorry, but I am not just being flippant here. It matters where you put your brute facts. Mystery-mongers take you right to the occult, “explaining” in terms of astrological influences, or hexes, or psi, or chakras, or qi, or whatever. Honestly, the postulation of souls just seems to be another appeal to the occult. Neuroscience thinks we can go deeper without any such paranormal postulates, and we can.
2) The self is not simple or permanent. Soul-theory holds that your soul is you. That is, from the moment you acquire a soul (this bit is murky), that soul is your essential self, and it remains you throughout your life—and after. The soul is therefore a simple, spiritual essence, an abiding self that remains a unified whole throughout the vagaries of your mental being as you go through all the stages of life. You may think and feel very differently at sixty than you did at twenty, but that thinker will still be you, a permanent, indivisible entity that makes you you.
What, though, is the self? Surely, it is something complex, not simple. Speaking personally, what I call my “self” seems to be, first, a nexus of fleeting thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. The thought that student X seems to be failing my class, a desire for French fries, a pang over a long ago faux pas, and a momentary dread of tomorrow’s faculty meeting, all can pass through my mind then be gone, actors on a Cartesian stage as Daniel Dennett calls it. Then there is my “true” or “real” self, those values, beliefs, and desires that are deep and longstanding and with which I identify, for instance, my deepest philosophical and political convictions. There are also characteristic capacities and incapacities such as my ability to conduct a class on Plato’s Republic, but my inability to appreciate certain types of music or art (I just cannot like Bartok, however patiently his aficionados explain his virtues.). Then there are certain long-term personality traits that you might carry your whole life, including good ones like a sense of humor and bad ones like a quick temper. Then there is the narrative self, the stories I tell about my life and how and why I think it unfolded as it did.
The “self” therefore seems multifaceted and multilayered, a confederation of heterogeneous traits, experiences, virtues, vices, quirks, abilities, stories, and so forth—the million-and-one features that, in their endless variety of combinations, make each of us unique individuals. Further, the self clearly seems to change over time. I sincerely hope that I am not now the lazy, irresponsible, immature person I was at twenty. True, some traits stay with you, but to say “I am not the same person I was thirty years ago” can be literally true. Our basic values, beliefs, and desires can change, sometimes profoundly. It therefore seems arbitrary and dogmatic to insist that, despite the apparent multiplicity and mutability of the self, that it is, all along, just one simple, permanent thing. In the most tragic cases, such as the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the self can be lost entirely. Soul-theorists say that in such cases the true self is still there, but that the illness prevents it from expressing itself. This seems entirely ad hoc to me and no more plausible than saying that an over-the-hill quarterback has just as good an arm as he ever had, but age prevents him from displaying it.
The above considerations point to an even deeper problem. The self is anything but a thing. As noted, the self is defined in complex terms of our experiences, character, propensities, abilities, personalities, narratives, and so forth. In that case, as Ryle observed long ago, it is a category mistake to view the self as a thing, as substantial entity. By analogy, a culture would similarly require a complex definition in terms of traditions, beliefs, myths, artifacts, customs, and practices. A culture is obviously not a thing, and, equally obviously, neither is a self.
3) Who needs souls? Seriously, who does need them? If souls are necessary for mental operations, what about the mental operations of animals? The Cartesians infamously got around this problem by claiming that nonhuman animals were just machines. We now have a considerable body of information about the intellectual and emotional capacities of nonhuman animals. Copious experimental evidence confirms that animals have a diverse set of faculties for reasoning and problem solving. Some animals even display “moral” emotions such as grief and empathy. So, do animals have souls? If we say “no,” then we need to give a principled, i.e. non-arbitrary, answer to the question of just what level of ability or what types of functions require souls and why this is so. If, as Darwin claimed, the differences between human and animal minds are differences of degree rather than kind, where in that continuum of abilities do we say that brains are no longer sufficient and that souls are required for a higher level of aptitude? Any answer would seem to be arbitrary.
Well, then, maybe we should say that nonhuman animals also might have souls. However, this only raises the same problem anew. Animals show a broad range of mental functions from none at all to quite sophisticated competencies. At what point do we say that here, just here is where souls are needed and brains are not enough? With which animals do we say that their mental functions are so sophisticated that they must have souls? Bonobos? Monkeys? Cats? Snakes? Frogs? Oysters? Again, any answer would seem to be arbitrary. Finally, we know that Homo sapiens is the culmination of a long period of evolutionary development. If humans have souls, what about their ancestors? Where in the line of our ancestors did we acquire souls? Did Homo neanderthalensis have souls? What about Homo erectus? Homo habilis? What about Australopithecus afarensis? Will Lucy be in heaven? Once more, any answer would seem to be arbitrary.
The point of the above queries is this: Where do we drive the golden spike indicating that from this point brains are insufficient? How do we give a principled and non-arbitrary answer? If no such principled answer is possible, and I submit that none is, the whole rationale for a soul seems to disappear.
I imagine that soul-theorists would admit that they have no clear answer to where to drive the “golden spike,” but that, while perhaps embarrassing, they are prepared to grin and bear it, recognizing that physicalists have their own embarrassments, q.v. the “hard problem” mentioned earlier. However, the “hard problem,” if it is a legitimate issue, is just as intractable for soul-theorists as for physicalists. It is no clearer how a putative soul generates consciousness than how brains do so. If the reply is that a soul just is consciousness, then “soul” becomes a redundancy; attributing a soul will just be a useless way of saying that some things are conscious.
It is time for souls to go the way of the other useless supernatural baggage—like witches, wizards, familiar spirits, hexes, djinn, banshees, and things that go bump in the night.
 

bookmark_borderThe Christian Worldview – Part 1: Worldviews

1.Christianity is a religion (NOT a relationship with Jesus).

  • The word “Christianity” is defined in dictionaries as being a religion.
  • Sociologists, Philosophers of Religion, and Religious Studies scholars consider Christianity to be a religion.
  • A religion is something that could be true or that could be false, but a relationship cannot be true and cannot be false.
  • All, or virtually all, Christian apologists claim that “Christianity is true.”

2. Religions have several dimensions.

Ninian Smart is a widely respected expert in comparative religions. He asserts that religions are complex historical phenomena that have several dimensions, particularly the following six dimensions:

1.Doctrinal and Philosophical

2.Mythic and Narrative

3.Ethical or Legal

4.Ritual or Practical

5.Experiential or Emotional

6.Social or Institutional

(Worldviews, 3rd edition, pages: 8-10)

3. The Most basic and important dimension of a religion is the doctrinal and philosphical dimension (i.e. religious beliefs).

  • It is the religious beliefs associated with a religion that makes it possible for a religion to be true or to be false.
  • We can identify a religious experience, or a religious ritual, or a religious story ONLY IF we can identify religious beliefs.
    • We can identify a religious experience only if we can determine that an experience has a religious meaning.
    • We can identify a religious ritual only if we can determine that a ritual has a religious meaning.
    • We can identify a religious narrative (story) only if we can determine that a narrative (story) has a religious meaning.
    • We can determine that an experience, ritual, or story has a religious meaning, only if we can identify religious beliefs.
  • Error Theory: Religious Studies scholars tend to view religious experience as the most basic and important dimension of a religion.  I believe that they have this view because religious experience provides a plausible causal theory of religion.  Smart argues that numinous religious experiences provide an explanation for religious beliefs, such as belief in the existence of God, as understood in Western religions, and that mystical religious experiences provide an explanation for religious beliefs, such as the pantheistic view of some Eastern religions, where it is thought that the ultimate reality is a single being which is impersonal.  Religious Studies is basically historical and anthropological, and in both history and anthropology, causal theories are of great importance.  Even if religious experience does provide the basis for the best causal theories about religions, it does not follow that the concept of religious experiences is logically or conceptually more basic than the concept of religious beliefs.

4. The most basic and important religious beliefs associated with a religion are the religious beliefs that constitute the worldview associated with that religion.

  • A worldview can be thought of as a philosophy of life, which consists of basic beliefs in the following areas of philosophy:
    • ETHICS: How should we live our lives?  What constitutes a good human life?  What are the most basic and important goals of human life?
    • METAPHYSICS:  What kinds of things exist?  What is the basic nature and structure of reality?
    • EPISTEMOLOGY:  What can we know?  How can we know what we know? How can we determine which beliefs are true and rationally justified or warranted?
  • A worldview can also be thought of as a very general problem-solving scheme, which provides answers to these important questions:
    • What are the most basic and important goals for a human life?
    • What are the most basic and important problems that can prevent a person from acheiving those goals?
    • What are the most basic and important opportunities that can help a person to acheive those goals?
    • What are the best ways to resolve or mitigate those basic and important problems?
    • What are the best ways to utilize those basic and important opportunities?
    • What are the best ways to acheive the most  basic and important goals of a human life?

NOTE:  I am using the word “worldview” in a much narrower sense than Ninian Smart.  According to Smart, worldviews involve the six dimensions listed above.  I, however, take it that a “worldview” is the core of the doctrinal/philosophical beliefs of a religion (or of a secular analogue to a religion).
5.  The heart of a worldview (whether religious or secular) is ETHICS.

  • If we think of a worldview as a very general problem-solving scheme, then it is obvious that ETHICS is the heart of a worldview.
  • On the other hand, if we think of a worldview as a philosophy of life, which includes ETHICS, METAPHYSICS, and EPISTEMOLOGY, it still makes sense to see ETHICS as the heart of a worldview.
    • The most pressing and obvious philosophical issues for humans are ethical: How should I live my life?  What constitutes a good life? What are the most basic and important goals of a human life?
    • As soon as someone puts forward an ethical point of view, questions and challenges will arise about whether that view is correct or the best view, and this will lead those who agree with that viewpoint to put forward reasons in support of the correctness or worthiness of that point of view.
    • When one puts forward reasons in support of the correctness or worthiness of an ethical viewpoint, that involves making assertions or assumptions in METAPHYSICS and EPISTEMOLOGY.
    • ETHICS is thus the natural starting point of philosophy, and METAPHYSICS and EPISTEMOLOGY are thus natural developments that arise out of attempts to rationally justify an ethical point of view.

Click on the image below for a clearer view of the diagram:
Religions and Worldviews