Reader Jeff ‘Hyphenman’ Hess takes one for the team and reads the neoconservative rag National Review so we don’t have to, and flags my attention to a recent article that deviates from their usual warmongering to present arguments for the existence of god and a soul. They start by saying that science is what gives evidence for the existence of souls, so you know right off the bat that this is going to be a doozy, and it does not disappoint.
The first ‘argument’ is to state, simply by fiat, that it is impossible for inanimate objects like electrons, atoms, and the like to create consciousness and a sense of self. Why is it impossible? Because they just cannot conceive of how it might happen. This ‘god/soul of the gaps’ theme persists right through the article
But then its gets even better, because the authors invoke that old favorite, Godel’s theorem, saying “His incompleteness theorem demonstrates that human intelligence exceeds anything that can be expressed in a formal, axiomatic system.” Godel’s theorem says nothing of the sort. What it does say is that a sufficiently rich axiomatic system can be neither consistent nor complete. What the lack of completeness implies is that there will be some theorems of the system that cannot be proven within the system. Religious apologists have taken that as a license to insert anything they want to believe that they cannot prove, god or soul or whatever, as one of those true statements that cannot be proven. This is simply false. The unprovable theorems are dependent on the axiomatic system. Theorems that are unprovable in one may be provable in another.
For example, Euclid initially used just the first four of his five postulates, thinking that the fifth one would be provable from the others. Using those four, he was able to prove up to 28 theorems but could not prove the fifth postulate and further theorems. He had to add on the fifth postulate as an axiom to prove the 29th theorem and beyond. The fifth postulate, known as the parallel postulate, was long thought to be an obviously true statement about the nature of space. It was proved much later that the fifth postulate could not be obtained from the other four but had to be added on as an axiom. It was later also found to not be universally true of physical space but a feature of only one class of geometries and that other classes, what we now refer to as non-Euclidean geometries, play important roles in understanding the large-scale structure of the universe.
The authors then present near-death experiences as an argument for the existence of souls.
Studies of near-death experiences indicate that large numbers of clinically dead people who were subsequently revived experienced perceptions beyond the capability of the inactive states of their brain. They see, hear, and learn things that they could only know if they possessed a conscious awareness independent of their bodies. This includes interactions with dead people in a supernatural realm. Remarkably, there have even been instances of people blind from birth, with no concept of sight, accurately describing what they saw during their clinical death.
This points to the existence of a supernatural being, one with the extraordinary intelligence and power needed to confer souls on humans and ensure the souls’ continued existence even after the body stops functioning.
But as I said in a previous post, careful analyses of such experiences finds no evidence that near-death experiences produced anything like the claims that have been made for them that suggest knowledge that could not have been obtained by the usual means.
The authors then tackle the big problem of suffering and argue that suffering must exist because to eliminate suffering would be to deny humanity of a greater good.
Somehow, suffering must not be quite as bad as it seems. It must be made right for each individual in the end, and it must be the case that preventing the suffering would impede something more important. Under the Judeo-Christian worldview, the thing that would be impeded is our free choice to want to become holy, to be reconciled to God.
That kind of thing, telling the huge numbers of people who are suffering and living lives of misery that they must suck it up for the greater good and it will all be right for them after they die is the big con that has been perpetrated by religion on suffering people throughout history. It is an exercise in self-indulgence on a massive scale by those who have no idea of the suffering that others go through. They also say that the desire to be reconciled with god that makes humans exceptional and not like other living things.
This article is really quite pathetic. The only thing that I can say in favor of it is that is reduces the space in the magazine that might have been used for promoting wars.