Dualism


disembodiedSome atheists claim that God cannot exist because unembodied minds are impossible; i.e. that persons must be physical beings.  I spoke to this in a 2008 post.  Prayson Daniel recently blogged on the subject as well.  I would encourage you to read his post.  I commented on his post, and wanted to share some points I made that supplement the points I made in my previous post. 

This argument begs the question in favor of materialism and atheism. It merely assumes that minds/persons are reducible to brains; that we have no immaterial mind that is capable of existing apart from our bodies. No reason is given for thinking that a mind/person needs a body other than the fact that we are not familiar with it. That’s a very poor reason.  It confuses common properties of persons with essential properties of persons. 

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At about 33:45 into his dialogue with Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins made a remarkable statement regarding consciousness:

The thing that really baffles me about consciousness is that I can kind of see that one could program a computer to behave exactly as though it were conscious, to pass the Turing Test, and actually fool people into thinking that it was conscious, but I still have trouble believing it actually would be.  And yet I think I have to be committed to the view that it would be.

He recognizes that his worldview requires him to believe that such a computer would be conscious, and yet deep down he knows that can’t be right.  He recognizes that the computer’s experience would not be the same as our experience.  And what would that difference be?  We have a first-person awareness of ourselves while a computer would not, even if both could perform identical functions.  Dawkins realizes that consciousness cannot be reduced to function and physics, and yet his worldview requires him to maintain the otherwise ridiculous claim that a super computer should be thought to have consciousness just like us.

I like the way the agnostic moderator, Anthony Kenny, responded to Dawkins’ admission: “I think it’s rather sad that you are committed to that view.  Computers are human tools.  They can’t even add two and two together.”  Exactly.  It is rather sad that someone would confess such intellectual absurdities because they are so committed to naturalism.

Those who reject dualism (the view that man is made up of two kinds of substances: physical and immaterial) often cite the “interaction problem” as an argument against the view.  Stated simplistically, the interaction problem is to explain how an immaterial entity such as a mind/soul could causally interact with material entities.  One envisions the Hollywood movies in which a ghost is desperately trying to pick up a beverage or kiss someone to no avail.  Try as he might, he cannot connect his immaterial self to the material world to affect it in any way (unless you are Patrick Swayze!).  Many monists think the interaction problem alone is sufficient to dismiss dualism as a possibility.

Such an approach to the question seems wrongheaded, however.  One should not look at the queerness of mind-body interaction and immediately conclude that the mind cannot exist independent of the brain.  One must first evaluate the evidence for the existence of such an entity.  If there are good, independent reasons to think the mind is not an immaterial entity—but can be reduced to the brain or arise from material processes—then the interaction problem could serve as further confirmation that there is no soul.  But if there are good reasons to think the mind is an immaterial entity separate from the brain, then the interaction problem—while difficult or even impossible to explain—is insufficient to overturn the evidence that the mind is immaterial.  While we may not know how the mind interacts with the material world, we know the two entities do exist, and do interact with each other.  One need not explain how something occurs to know that it occurs.  We may forever be ignorant of how the mind and body relate to each other, but we have direct awareness and experience of the fact that they do.

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