In Part I & Part II I alleged that significant biblical oversights compromise the integrity of the arguments contained in A Ghost In The Machine (AGITM), unfortunately rendering the piece little more than an extremely well-written and well-researched strawman / either-or fallacy.
Now I’d like to address a few more of the author’s statements, aiming to show that even when facts themselves are completely authoritative, interpretations are surely not always so. Although I don’t expect to convince any skeptics of the ‘soul’ or ‘spirit,’ if any skeptic will concede that my tripartite interpretation is at least internally consistent, or at least that the following paragraph contains genuine difficulties, I would consider such a success.
The author begins the second section of AGITM with:
“The evidence shows that (aspects of consciousness) are completely determined by the physical configuration of the brain, and that a change to this configuration can alter or eliminate any of them. In short, I will show that, as the materialist position predicts, every part of the mind is entirely dependent on and controlled by the brain.” (paren. and ital. mine)
Sorry, but I’m claiming fallacies, notably every-and-all, and exaggeration to boot. I’m skeptical of the out-of-scope quantifiers such as completely, every or entirely, especially when making the unfalsifiable claim that aspects of consciousness are completely determined by the physical configuration of the brain, and that every part of the mind is entirely dependent on and controlled by the brain. It is entirely reasonable that the human apparatus might in fact resemble something like an interface for a variety of intermingling energies or realities. Furthermore, logically cogent, real-world counterexamples are readily available.
Continuing with the analogy of a lightbulb, I’ll again reason that light (soul) is a product of a physical scaffolding (body) and electricity (spirit). Now, let’s continue with Ebonmuse’s analogy. Is every aspect of light entirely dependent on and completely determined by the bulb? Of course not; however, if you break the bulb, indeed the light will cease to shine. Couldn’t we also extinguish the light by turning off the switch? That light can be put out by breaking the bulb does not entail that light is entirely dependent upon and completely controlled by the bulb. This argument is tantamount to, “Because the light stops when I break the bulb, the light must be caused by the bulb.”
Admittedly, an apparent weakness in the lightbulb analogy is that we don’t plug ourselves into the wall to exist. A critic could reasonably posit a counterstatement that human beings are self-contained energy processing units, and within such units we find both the impetus and the scaffolding, so when the brain is destroyed, we essentially destroy everything. But are there any givens in this counterstatement? I believe there are. Aside from being a circular argument, the claim that human beings are self-contained energy processing units is unfalsifiable. How could we state empirically, for example, that our bodies don’t engage in some process not unlike being plugged into an energy source?
That a phenomenon ceases to exist by destroying the material through which it manifests does not entail that the phenomenon is entirely dependent upon and completely controlled by the material through which it manifests. Overwhelming evidence that you need a brain to function is not overwhelming evidence that you only need a brain to function. A more accurate statement would have been,
“The evidence shows that (aspects of consciousness) are predictably affected by the physical configuration of the brain, and that a change to this configuration can alter or eliminate any of them…” (paren. & ital. mine)
This modified statement, which is accurate, poses zero threat to faith of any kind, and is actually implied by the author later:
“The evidence is undeniable that our identity, our personality, and our behavior are unified with the brain, and can be dramatically influenced by causes beyond our control which affect the brain.”
This is a different claim entirely, with which I more or less agree verbatim, and nothing in this statement is even remotely construable as evidence against the tripartite interpretation of body, spirit, and soul. Also, I don’t particularly care for some of the author’s premature conclusions that are better described as subjective opinions.
“…a disappointing result for theists has emerged. Some mental functions are localized, while others are more diffuse, but there is no aspect of the mind that does not correspond to any area of the brain.” (emph. mine)
This result is not disappointing to theists or theism. It is only disappointing to theists when their position on spirit and soul has been misunderstood. Of course some mental functions are localized! Of course aspects of the mind correspond to areas of the brain! Nothing in a reasonable exegesis of the Bible or any other scripture I’m aware of implies otherwise. As altering the lightbulb alters the light, surely the brain’s disorganization will similarly alter the flow of energy and data causing all sorts of abnormalities. Theism has never argued that our mental faculties don’t correspond to our physical brains, and if this is not a strawman, we’re certainly in the cornfield.
Also, and this is tangential, but the out-of-scope quantifier and unfalsifiability alarms are sounding again. On what grounds might this author state empirically that there is no aspect of the mind that does not correspond to any area of the brain? To make such a statement accurately, one would have to possess sufficient knowledge of all aspects of the mind and brain, and I think that’s a pretty lofty appeal for even our best neuroscientists.
“..compassion arises from the brain and can be destroyed by altering the brain.”
You’ll get no argument from me if your claim is that damages to the brain are accompanied by predictable changes in behavior, but I disagree that compassion arises from the brain. This and the claim that compassion can be destroyed are both unfalsifiable claims.
“All the evidence we currently possess suggests that there is nothing inside our skulls that does not obey the ordinary laws of physics.”
This is not technically a premature conclusion or opinion, but another strawman. What exactly about the idea of spirit or soul is proffered to disobey the laws of physics?
Getting to it, one of my main complaints with atheism is surprisingly similar to many atheist complaints directed at believers; that a particular interpretation of a particular phenomenon is the best or only logical interpretation of said phenomenon. Plainly, when the propositions in question are not falsifiable, all evidence is circumstantial, and to return to Sherlock Holmes,
“Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing… It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different… There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
This explains why a believer and an atheist can look at the exact same set of case studies and walk away with completely different (though not necessarily mutually exclusive) deductions.