Evidence for God’s Existence – The Argument for Intangible Soul

As we wrap up the series of arguments, we get to my own argument. I haven’t really heard this one posited anywhere else, and so I tentatively step out on my own here. I am honest enough with myself to admit that there may be holes in this argument that could come to light. If any of the four arguments bears attack, this one is probably it.

Now that I’ve tipped off any skeptics to lick their chops, let me explain the main point of the argument, give the hypothetical syllogism for the logic of the argument, then give the supporting evidence.

The main point of the argument is this: intangible concepts, such as ideas, words, emotions, moral characteristics, etc. cannot be reasonably shown to have material origins. The intangible soul, described plainly by theists and more specifically Christian theists, is the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts.

The logical argument is this:

1) If intangible concepts exist, then the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.
2) Intangible concepts exist.
3) Therefore, the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.

Now the only objections to the second condition in the argument might come from the New Age movement, where some believe that our entire existence is illusory. I can’t really respond to that objection without going into all of the fundamental flaws with an illusory existence, so I’m going to put that possible objection aside and focus on the biggest potential problem with the argument: that the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts is the soul.

For our purposes, I’m only going to take the argument far enough as to suppose the inference to the best explanation of soul. I think the logic would follow that the best explanation for the existence of soul is that it is created by God and instilled in us from birth, but that is not the goal of this post. If there is an objection at this level, perhaps we will address it in the comments. But I tend to believe that the greater number of possible objections will come in the initial step, rather than this second level. So let’s stick to the top level and reason it out first, then work our way down if necessary.

Now, the basis for the argument is rooted in taxonomy and genetics, with the simple scientific belief that something that originates from something else must contain the markers of its predecessors. A baby deer, for instance, will gather its genetic code from its parents. And deer are classified with other animals that have similar features into one family or genus, or phylum, etc., so the taxonomy tree is completed.

Now if we apply the same scientific method to intangible concepts, they must be similar to the thing from which they originate, right? So when we look for where intangible concepts come from, ought not that thing also be intangible? For where else in science or nature do we see something tangible produce something intangible? There is no evidence of this anywhere in science, so if we apply the same scientific method used to explain taxonomy and genetics, which point to the furthering of species, it makes sense that the origin of intangible concepts is itself intangible.

Now this raises a dilemma for the materialist. The materialist would say that such things as soul do not exist, and that things like emotions, words, ideas, come from the brain. But how do you explain the origin of such concepts in the brain using the scientific basis we’ve already discussed? The second issue with the brain being responsible for these is that the brain is not a creating entity, but rather a processing entity.

From the National Institute of Health: “The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. It is the major information-processing center of the body. The spinal cord conducts sensory information (information from the body) from the peripheral nervous system to the brain. After processing its many sensory inputs, the brain initiates motor outputs (coordinated mechanical responses) that are appropriate to the sensory input it receives. The spinal cord then carries this motor information from the brain through the PNS to various locations in the body (such as muscles and glands).” (emphasis mine) So the only initiation done by the brain is in response to a sensory input; it does not create anything by itself. Think about it this way–the eye processes light and sends information to the brain to tell you what you are looking at. But the eye did not create the light, it merely processed and necessitated a response. The brain is the same way.

Now the materialist would say, “Well words evolved just like other natural things. Similar grunts were processed by the brain and became associated with things, and over time they developed into words and that’s how we got language.” While that is entirely possible, this explanation does nothing for other intangible things like morality and emotions. The evidence for this is fairly rational–think of an emotion like love. Say your kid wanders into traffic. As a parent, you rescue them and can either hug them tightly or give them a swat on the rear for doing that. Both things are done out of love, but it is expressed different ways. The brain shouldn’t by nature process two opposite reactions to the same instance and arrive at the same conclusion, because the output must be appropriate to the input (i.e. my parent is inflicting pain, therefore she does not love me, versus my parent holds me tight and kisses me, therefore she loves me).

So for these intangible concepts, we need an entity that creates and generates them, rather than a responsive entity like the brain. Based on the taxonomy and genetics explanation above, it makes most sense that this entity also be intangible. So what is an intangible creative entity? Well, supernaturalism (and more specifically theism) has long posited the existence of such an entity called soul, by which things are created innately in us and our brain initiates motor outputs in response to express these things. Existence of soul would also mean that things like language, morality and emotions have been ingrained in us since the beginning of time, and while they have adapted due to different natural environments, they have always been present in one form or another.

Again, this poses a huge problem for the materialist, and more specifically for the evolutionist, because it would then make evolution the least plausible explanation for the existence of life. If language has existed from the outset, then humanity has existed from the outset, and did not evolve from some other life form.

So I feel like there’s a compelling case here that the existence of soul is the best explanation for intangible concepts. To make a reasonable objection, one must first tear down all of the arguments I’ve made here and provide positive evidence for the best alternative. I welcome your questions and objections.

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28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ron on May 1, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    The strongest objection to your case is presented within the very article you cite:

    8.2 Injuries to the nervous system

    Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

    “The story of Phineas Gage illustrates a dramatic instance of personality change.19 Gage was the foreman of a railway construction team in the mid-19th century. On Sept. 13, 1848, an accidental explosion blew a 20-pound metal rod all the way through Gage’s head, from below his left cheekbone to just behind his right temple (Figure 13). Amazingly, Gage never lost consciousness. However, the injuries he sustained resulted in a complete reversal of his personality. Before the accident, his calm, collected demeanor and level-headedness made him one of the best foremen on his team. After the accident, his demeanor was characterized by rage, impatience, and gross profanity. Though physically capable of work after a few months’ of recovery, he was not the same man mentally. He never worked as a foreman again. He spent his remaining days as a farmhand until he died while having a seizure in 1921. Gage’s case was the first to draw attention to the effect of brain injuries on personality, and it remains one of the most dramatic cases of personality change due to TBI.”

    If humans possessed ‘souls’ then it stands to reason that the intangible traits — emotions, moral characteristics, etc. — which you claim as being “without material origins” should remain unaffected by brain injuries.

    Reply

    • Hi Ron,

      Thanks for your reply and sorry for the delayed response (I’m currently on vacation). While I understand your point, the rebuttal you are making doesn’t really attack the argument I made, but a tangential piece. In actuality, your rebuttal actually more affirms my point than counters it.

      What you are talking about is an alteration of how the brain processes such information. But if morality, emotions, etc. were created in the brain, than a brain injury would more likely eliminate these responses than alter them. Think about when that happens to other areas of your body. If someone were to stab you through the leg, odds are not that your leg would respond in any different way, but instead you would more likely lose the function of your leg altogether or have limited functionality.

      So the fact that his moral behavior changed instead of dissipated actually shows the brain’s function as a processing entity, rather than a creative one. As such, your rebuttal doesn’t really touch on my argument at all, because it neglects to either knock down the idea of the brain as unable to create or show an example to the alternative. Furthermore, it doesn’t even address the taxonomy/genetics issue about how something tangible can create intangible. So I think the argument still stands, although I welcome the input and find it very useful. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

  2. SH:

    I think there are two main problems with the argument as it stands. The first is a tacit assumption of realism. Namely, the idea that “concepts” like morality actually exist. I’m not saying that someone who disagrees with you would argue that there is no morality. I’m saying that when you say things like

    “Now this raises a dilemma for the materialist. The materialist would say that such things as soul do not exist, and that things like emotions, words, ideas, come from the brain. But how do you explain the origin of such concepts in the brain using the scientific basis we’ve already discussed? The second issue with the brain being responsible for these is that the brain is not a creating entity, but rather a processing entity.”

    It seems to make the assumption that these concepts “exist” in a fairly concrete sense. One could simply take an anti-realist stance about ideas/abstract objects/etc. (such as fictionalism, and hold that these things are merely “useful fictions”) and then argue from that point on to say that there are no “intangible” objects.

    The other point is tied to the first. Namely, materialists could deny premise 2 simply by being a fictionalist or otherwise.

    Great post, and interesting argument. I think it could work, you just need to make an argument for realism.

    Reply

    • I agree, J.W. I sort of referenced that in the post, that objections at that level would be rather unique and would beg the question of an illusory existence. But to me that seems to be the only objection worth any salt, would you agree? What would you say is the best way to make the argument for realism?

      Reply

      • I must confess that this is the second time I have been confronted with a question about realism recently which I cannot answer. I am a realist because to me it makes the most sense, given the existence of God, to say that propositions and the like exist “really” because they exist as ideas in the mind of God. But without God to ground them–were I a materialist–I would almost certainly be a fictionalist.

        I think William Alston wrote on this a bit, and justified realism without appeal to theism, but I personally haven’t researched enough to tell you what I think the best argument for realism would be. I think it would be to hold that God exists.

  3. I guess my problem with the argument is as follows: It is not at all clear that the brain is only responsive. Your quote from the National Institutes of Health (it is plural, BTW) is incomplete. It further says, “Our brain devotes MOST of its considerable volume, energy, and computational power to processing various sensory inputs from the body in order to determine and initiate appropriate, coordinated motor output to the body. (emphasis mine)” That word is important, because there is unaccounted for brain activity that cannot be pinned down to stimulus response. In addition, there are brain activities such as dreaming that are probably not the result of the brain responding to stimulus. Thus, to posit that the brain is only responsive is probably not correct.

    Now I am not a neuroscientist by any means, so I could be way off base here.

    Reply

    • Jay,

      Thanks so much for your help! This is definitely a potential area of objection, and I am also not a neuroscientist, so it’s important to make distinctions as much as we can with our know-how.

      My first inclination upon reading it was that this objection is an issue of language semantics. To say “most” does mean that “some” is used elsewhere, you are correct. But it seems that the sentence implies that the “some” is initiating the appropriate motor output in response to the input. So the brain processes and responds, and that’s how it goes. Dreaming would also fall in this category, because there is an initial input (previous exposure to some stimuli about whatever is in the dream, real or imaginary) that prompts the motor output of dreams. I’m guessing that if there was some evidence that the brain spontaneously generates things without an initial input, it would be readily available. Perhaps I need to do even more research, but I haven’t found it yet. Everything I’ve seen speaks to the brain as a processing entity, rather than a creative entity. So to me it seems like I’ve posited something completely falsifiable, yet there is no evidence to falsify it.

      What do you think? Is that a reasonable rebuttal to such an objection?

      Reply

      • I wouldn’t consider it a reasonable rebuttal, because there is brain activity that cannot be assigned to stimulus/response. Also, I don’t think that your explanation for dreams works, either. First, if the brain is ONLY stimulus/response, then brain activity must always start with stimulus. While you are sleeping, there is little stimulus. However, there is a large amount of activity. Even if that activity is some delayed response to stimulus (which is not at all clear), that in an of itself damages your case, because it indicates that the brain is processing the stimulus over a long amount of time. That sounds like the brain is “pondering” the stimulus, which is pretty close to original thought!

        Once again, however, I am not a neuroscientist. If nothing else, I think you need to consult with someone who knows more about that area of science.

  4. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 2, 2011 at 7:13 AM

    You mention a few supposedly ‘intangible concepts’ in your argument, none of them are really intangible and have perfectly good explanations that do not require God, or the soul.

    1. Language
    Firstly language is not entirely unique to humans, chimpanzee’s can be taught sign language [1] does this mean that they have a soul too? This raises the question, at what level does language become intangible? Is a warning signal given off by a primate when a snake is spotted intangible? Is a chimpanzee signalling that it wants a banana intangible? If not then when does language become intangible?

    We know that human language is linked to specific brain areas from studying patients with brain damage. Broca’s aphasia is a condition in which after suffering damage to the Broca’s area, of the brain the patient then struggles with grammar, and their speech becomes laboured and difficult [2]. Metaphor blindness is a condition in which after suffering damage to a small part of their cortex a patient will no longer be able to understand metaphors such as ‘all that glitters is not gold’ [3]. Wernike’s aphasia is almost a mirror image of Broca’s aphasia, a condition in which the patient suffers damage to Wernike’s area, and can form grammatically correct sentences, but they are full of meaningless gibberish [4]. All these conditions point to the conclusion that rather than being intangible language is a very tangible function of the brain.

    There is no reason to assume anything intangible about language, your argument does not account for the fact that damage to certain regions of the brain severely disrupts our linguistic abilities. If language is something intangible, to do with the soul – why is it that when you suffer damage to real tangible parts of your brain, your ability to use language is affected? If anything this would indicate that language is a very tangible phenomena. Your assertion that it isn’t doesn’t change that.

    When you look at the following image, can you tell me which shape is bouba, and which shape is kiki? http://www.santiagoiniguez.com/112407_1846_TheBoubaKik1_7.png – most people will say that the sharp angular shape is kiki, and the smooth rounded shape is bouba. This is known as the ‘Bouba/kiki effect’ [5] and indicates a cross-modal linking between the auditory and the visual parts of our brain, and could provide a hint as to how language developed.

    “The anthropologist Brent Berlin has pointed out that the Huambisa tribe of northern Peru have over thirty different names for thirty bird species in their jungle and an equal number of names for different Amazonian fishes. If you were to jumble up these sixty names and give them to someone from a completely different sociolinguistic background – say, a Chinese peasant – and ask him to classify the names into two groups, one for birds, one for fish, you would find that, astonishingly, he succeeds in this task well above chance level.” [6]

    This would indicate that perhaps language evolved from an expression of this cross-modal linkage between auditory and visual parts of the brain. Some words might have began because they sound like what they are describing.

    There are many different theories about the evolution of language, and it is a hotly disputed subject, and there is far too much detail to go into here, however, there are no linguists, anthropologists, or biologists who conclude that human language is intangible and could not have evolved from the more primitive language found in primates. What is your argument? You’ve asserted that language is intangible, but I have shown that it is directly linked to the brain – a tangible object, and that there are many plausible theories about the origin and evolution of human language. What is it that makes language intangible? Have you any evidence for this?

    2. Emotions
    Again you assert something as intangible, when you don’t even bother to argue what it is about emotion that is intangible. Emotions are again linked to that very tangible object – the brain. Emotions can basically be described as our brain’s response to external stimuli. As with language, we find that by studying patients with brain damage, we can learn something about how our emotions work. Capgras syndrome is a condition in which a patient will suffer delusions that their parents or loved ones are actually impostors [7] this is caused by a disruption in the pathway between the fusiform gyrus (where objects and faces etc are recognised) and the amygdala (which generates the emotional response to the object or face etc). When this pathway is disrupted, the person will see a face that they recognise as looking a lot like their mother, but because they pathway to the amygdala is damaged they will feel no emotional response – and therefore will tell themselves that it cannot be their mother, because they feel no emotion when looking at their face. The result is a delusion that the person is an impostor. The fact that our emotional response to our environment can be effected in such a way, by brain damage would indicate that emotion is, rather than being something intangible, a product of our brain – that very real, tangible thing between our ears.

    The Limbic system (which includes the amygdala) has been isolated as the part of the brain that deals with emotion [8], and as you would expect, damage to parts of this system results in an effect upon our emotions. This is evidence that emotion is a tangible thing that is related to the function of our brains, and can be effected by external damage. Your asserting that it is intangible does not change that one bit.

    Again, if emotions are supposedly intangible, why does affecting something tangible like areas of the brain have an effect on emotion? Your argument does not explain this.

    3. Morality
    Whilst we are on the subject of brains, I thought I’d mention mirror neurons. If I was to stand in front of you and do a dance, a certain set of neurons would fire as I do so, what is more interesting is that as you watch me dance, a subset of those same neurons would fire as you watch me, as though you are mirroring my movements without actually moving yourself [9]. What this means is that when I watch someone who is in pain and suffering, my brain actually mirrors what I am seeing as though I am actually experiencing it – this would provide a very tangible explanation for empathy. It is the result of our mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are present in apes, but there has been a great increase in the amount of them in humans, explaining why we are more capable of empathy than chimpanzees.

    Autistic children have trouble with empathy, and this could well be linked with a mirror neuron deficiency [10] – providing more support to my argument that empathy has a basis in mirror neurons and is thus a tangible thing.

    Also moving away from a neurological argument, towards a more evolutionary argument. Morality has a very obvious evolutionary explanation. Populations of animals that work together, and do not kill each other off etc are much more successful – therefore there is actually selection for cooperation and morality. Our genes would program us not to kill our immediate social group because it is not advantageous to do so.

    Empathy is what dictates the finer points of our morality and can be explained through mirror neurons, and morality in its broader sense can be explained because it is advantageous to survival. These things simply aren’t intangible.

    Intangible means ‘Unable to be touched or grasped; not having physical presence’ – so if these things were intangible how come brain damage/disorders can effect all of these things? Why do people with Broca’s/Wernicke’s aphasia have trouble with language? Why do people with damage to their Limbic system have trouble with their emotions? Why do autistic children, who suffer from a mirror neuron deficiency have trouble with empathy? If these things are intangible, i.e: not having a physical presence, then how come damage to something that undeniably has a physical presence; the brain, effects these things?

    In conclusion these things you talk about are not intangible, so your argument fails.


    [1] http://www.psych.yorku.ca/gigi/documents/Gardner_Gardner_1969.pdf
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expressive_aphasia
    [3] Ramachandran V.S – The Tell Tale Brain, page 7
    [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receptive_aphasia
    [5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouba/kiki_effect
    [6] Ramachandran V.S – The Tell Tale Brain, page 172
    [7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capgras_delusion
    [8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system
    [9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron
    [10] Ramachandran V.S – The Tell Tale Brain, page 140

    Reply

    • Perhaps “intangible” is the wrong word (though your definition seems to make it suitable here). I’m speaking about it in the sense of immateriality. Language is immaterial because it possesses no physical characteristics. You can’t stub your toe on language (or emotions or morality, for that matter). There is no materiality to them, or tangibility as I’m using it. So when you say “these things you talk about are not intangible, so your argument fails,” you are mis-representing my position, which makes you either ignorant (mis-understanding my position) or a jerk (purposely mis-construing my position). I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and call it ignorance.

      How can they be affected by the brain then? Because the brain is a processing entity, like I’ve said before. The brain can interpret things to produce results, but it cannot create them. Language is not created in the brain; it is merely processed by it. If you can prove this otherwise I would ask you to do so, because I’ve given accepted scientific evidence to the contrary. So damage to the brain can affect how the brain interprets the data it is receiving, but it cannot create the data. That is why something like the soul is necessary. Based on the first half of the argument about taxonomy, something that produces an immaterial thing must itself be immaterial (like begets like). If you can show me an example in any other part of science where something material created something immaterial, I’d love to see it. Otherwise we have to believe, based on the accepted sciences of taxonomy and genetics, that the creative entity for these immaterial things is itself immaterial, and the soul is the best explanation for such an entity.

      In short, your argument doesn’t really attack my position at all, because you mis-represent what the nature of intangibility is as I’m referring to it. Damage to the brain doesn’t provide a good counter-argument (as I’ve said here and before, if you had taken the time to read other rebuttals), because it affects the interpretation of the data, not the creation of it. I applaud your effort and your use of many words, but in the end it all adds up to zilch.

      Reply

  5. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 2, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    I demonstrated the parts of the brain responsible for language, these are tangible and material things, if I was to damage or remove those parts of your brain you would no longer be able to speak or use language effectively. Its like you’re arguing that the concept of the motion of a car is intangible, and distinct from the material components that make it up, you don’t walk into the abstract concept of the motion of a car, so there must be something eternal and immaterial to the car, however if you remove the engine the car stops working, so there is really nothing intangible to the motion of a car its just a function of its material components – the idea that there is something intangible and immaterial to it is illusory and unnecessary in explaining it. Similarly your argument that there is something intangible to language is unnecessary I’ve shown that it is a product of the human brain and there doesn’t need to be anything more to it than that – your notion of an immaterial aspect of language is superfluous and unnecessary as an explanation.

    Now I know the old argument that abstract immaterial entities such as the concept of love or justice (or in the case of this argument, language, emotion and morality), and that because our minds can conceive of these things it must mean our minds are abstract immaterial entities too. But this argument is flawed, even if we grant that something like the concept of justice is an abstract immaterial thing – it doesn’t take something abstract and immaterial to know such a thing. ‘It takes one to know one’ is the gist of this argument, but that isn’t true, you don’t have to be a cat to know about cats, you don’t have to be a star to study astronomy. So even if I were to grant that these abstract immaterial things do exist – it does not imply the existence of a soul.

    This kind of philosophical masturbation is meaningless. Bird song doesn’t exist anywhere materially therefore birds must have souls. The concept of cheese exists independently therefore cheese is eternal. You don’t ever stub your toe on the concept of melons therefore melons have an immaterial source. This is all senseless and the reasoning is not any more valid when it is applied to serious things like language and emotion…

    The thing is language is not immaterial, it did not exist before there were brains able to comprehend it. If all of humanity was wiped out language would die with it, it would not continue to exist somewhere. No where could you find the abstract concept of language and dig it up again once mankind had died out, our language would be gone forever. It exists as long as we exist to utilize it, it would not carry on existing once we’re gone.

    Reply

    • I demonstrated the parts of the brain responsible for language…

      You have not demonstrated their responsibility for creation, only for processing.

      ‘It takes one to know one’ is the gist of this argument, but that isn’t true, you don’t have to be a cat to know about cats, you don’t have to be a star to study astronomy. So even if I were to grant that these abstract immaterial things do exist – it does not imply the existence of a soul.

      But my argument isn’t about knowledge or awareness, it’s about creation and origin of such things. And again, taxonomy shows that “like begets like,” that the product has markers of its predecessors. So what immaterial part of the brain marks the production of something like mathematics? The brain is material; the concept is immaterial. The brain can process such things, but it can’t create them. Science agrees with me; read the article I linked.

      The concept of cheese exists independently therefore cheese is eternal. You don’t ever stub your toe on the concept of melons therefore melons have an immaterial source.

      You’re making an inference about one thing (the concept) to arrive at the conclusion of something else (the material source). That’s faulty logic. That’s not how it works. If you can’t stub your toe on the concept of melons, then it means the concept of melons has an immaterial source. It says nothing about the actual melon.

      The thing is language is not immaterial, it did not exist before there were brains able to comprehend it.

      I’d love to see a proof of this.

      Reply

  6. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 8, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    The article you linked is talking specifically about the Central Nervous system – the means by which your body experiences sensations of the outside world. As a part of this system the brain does do the processing. Seeing as the article is talking about the operation of the central nervous system, it is correct in saying that as a part of this system the brain is a processing unit – but that doesn’t mean the sole role of the brain is as a processing unit – it does a lot of processing in order to give you an approximation of what’s going on in your surrounding environment, but that is not the limit of it’s function. We are all capable, at least in principle, of coming up with a new concept – the brain is capable of doing so, it’s what creative people do all the time.

    My brain could come up with an idea for a sci-fi book, the settings and characters have no place in reality, yet my brain is perfectly capable of creating them. The brain is perfectly capable of creating concepts that are not material. Han Solo does not really exist anywhere, he is something that appeared in the brain of George Lucas. Does that mean Han Solo exists somewhere immaterially? No, it just shows that our brains are creative entities, as well as processors.Does it mean that we have to have an immaterial soul to understand the concept of Han Solo? Of course not.

    Our brains can create immaterial things. All of the characters in all of the fiction books ever written attest to this fact.

    Reply

    • The article actually talks about both the CNS and PNS, but I can understand why that would be confusing to you.

      However, you seem to make a claim that the brain can come up with ideas. Do you have any proof that the brain is responsible for the creation of these ideas as opposed to some other entity? I’d love to see it. And neurons firing does not constitute proof of creation, by the way, because neurons fire when information is processed too. Otherwise, you’re making a baseless claim.

      Reply

      • Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 9, 2011 at 1:53 AM

        I don’t need to prove it. You have the burden of proof. The brain is proven to exist, it is proven to be the organ that gives us a concious representation of reality. I could no doubt scan people’s brains and ask them to imagine characters, and I can guarantee areas of their brain will light up. I do not have the burden of proof because I am not asserting something immaterial involved in the process of creativity. Occam’s razor would make this the simplest explanation (it does not require the involvement of an unobservable entity).

        So don’t act as though the burden of proof is on me, I’m saying it’s the brain, I can show you that the brain exists and what it does. Can you show me proof that the soul exists?

        If I had the money and equipment I could give you a brain scan as you are coming up with ideas for characters, and my argument would be proved. How would you prove yours?

      • No, I don’t have the burden of proof. What garbage. You said the brain is responsible for certain things like ideas, so you must back up that statement with some evidence. You must prove that it is responsible not only for the processing of ideas, but also their creation. Otherwise it is either a baseless claim or a non-counter to my argument. If my argument for soul is false, you must rebut it and put something better in its place. Brain scans are not evidence of creation of anything, merely of processing. That is not good evidence.

        Yes the burden of proof is on you. The brain exists, great! You have not shown it as a creative entity, and you have not shown any other scenario in nature where something immaterial is produced by something material. Like begets like. You have not provided sufficient evidence on either account.

        Again, BRAIN SCANS ARE NOT SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE. I’ve shown from taxonomy and genetics that the product bears the markers of its predecessors, and I’ve shown the brain to be a processing, and not creative entity. These two pieces of evidence provide a comprehensive case for an immaterial entity responsible for immaterial things. That’s much better evidence than, “No! It’s the brain!”

  7. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 9, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    No, I don’t have the burden of proof. What garbage. You said the brain is responsible for certain things like ideas, so you must back up that statement with some evidence. You must prove that it is responsible not only for the processing of ideas, but also their creation. Otherwise it is either a baseless claim or a non-counter to my argument. If my argument for soul is false, you must rebut it and put something better in its place. Brain scans are not evidence of creation of anything, merely of processing. That is not good evidence.

    I can 100% guarantee that if I asked somebody to sit in a brain scan and imagine a character, or place that doesn’t really exist, i.e using the brain to create a concept of something that doesn’t exist materially, there would be areas of the brain lighting up as they do so. That is all the proof I need because I’m saying that the brain is involved in creating ideas, and that would can conclusively be proven, I’m not stating that some thing immaterial is involved in that process. You are the one who says the brain needs some kind of immaterial counterpart – you prove that. I am not making such claims, all I would need to do to prove my point is show you that the brain is active when people are coming up with an idea – you need to prove that something else is involved in the process.

    There is no reason to assume that there is anything else to it. The brain exists, it is responsible for generating thought, and ideas – this does not require the existence of an immaterial soul to explain it. You’re the one asserting that there is more to it than that, you prove it.

    If I said that there is nothing more to the heart than a muscle that pumps blood around the body, I don’t need to prove anything, we can see that. If you came along and said ‘actually there is some kind of intangible force that keeps the heart beating on time’ you would have the burden of proof to show me what that force is and how it works.

    Furthermore, my explanation of the heart is superior to the explanation of the mysterious force guiding each beat, because my explanation accounts for everything without such unnecessary assumptions. Just as my explanation that ideas and concepts are a product of the brain and nothing more accounts for everything without unnecessary assumptions i.e: the existence of an immaterial soul.

    The burden of proof is on you. You’re the one positing something immaterial into the equation, so go ahead and demonstrate it. It’s superfluous, creating ideas can be explained with out it.

    It’s like me saying ‘Gravity is actually caused by tiny fairies’ and when challenged to prove it, replying ‘YOU PROVE ME WRONG’ – that’s not how it works. You’re the one positing an immaterial soul, as an unnecessary part in the process of generating ideas, you demonstrate it and stop trying to shift the burden.

    Reply

    • That is all the proof I need because I’m saying that the brain is involved in creating ideas, and that would can conclusively be proven, I’m not stating that some thing immaterial is involved in that process.

      Neurons firing show that the brain is processing something, like I’ve said before. The brain is involved in externalizing an idea, yes, but there is an additional burden of proof that shows that it has responsibility for creating it. That flies in the face of taxonomy, and you have yet to address that issue.

      There is no reason to assume that there is anything else to it. The brain exists, it is responsible for generating thought, and ideas – this does not require the existence of an immaterial soul to explain it. If I said that there is nothing more to the heart than a muscle that pumps blood around the body, I don’t need to prove anything, we can see that. If you came along and said ‘actually there is some kind of intangible force that keeps the heart beating on time’ you would have the burden of proof to show me what that force is and how it works.

      What I would need to show is the evidence that I have that there is more to it than that. I’ve done that quite conclusively here, using only accepted science. You have yet to tear down my argument. All you have done is said, “No! No! It’s the brain! Look at the scans!” That is not the equivalent of a proper rebuttal. The easiest way for you to give a proper rebuttal is to show me peer-reviewed scientific literature that points out to a certainty that the brain does more than process and respond. Until then, the argument stands.

      The burden of proof is on you. You’re the one positing something immaterial into the equation, so go ahead and demonstrate it.

      That’s the whole blog post, man. I’m not attempting proof, otherwise the title of the blog post would be “Proof of God’s Existence.” I’m providing evidence for the best explanation, as the hypothetical syllogism makes clear.

      Reply

  8. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 9, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Reality as we perceive it is a mental construct. Our brain is not like a little room with a guy sitting in it, watching a projector screen and listening to a speaker. Our brain actually creates our perception of reality through the inputs it receives from the outside world. The world we experience is a creation of our brain, in this sense the brain is a highly creative entity.

    The photons that hit our retinas do exist, but the picture we see is created by our brain – the experience of seeing is a construct of our brain. They literally create our experience of reality from sensory input. When something goes wrong with the brain it affects it’s ability to create an accurate representation of the world.

    Our vision has two pathways to the brain – one referred to as the ‘old pathway’ and another referred to as the ‘new pathway’. The old pathway relays information to an ancient midbrain structure called the superior colliculus which is then transmitted via the pulvinar to the parietal lobes. The new pathway transmits information to the visual cortex.

    Some people who suffer severe damage to their visual cortex develop the curious condition known as blindsight. A person is not able to consciously see, but they can still reach out and touch a point of light, the patient will even protest that it is pointless to try because they can’t see, yet they can do it accurately. This seems paradoxical, hence the name ‘blindsight’ – but it’s explanation is well known. The new pathway is damaged, but the old pathway remains intact – information travels smoothly to the parietal lobes and the person can detect a point of light. What this tells us is that the old pathway is not linked to conciousness, and it is the new pathway that allows us to consciously see.

    From the visual cortex the information is divided into two streams, which Ramachadran dubs the ‘what’ stream and the ‘how’ stream. The ‘what’ stream projects from the V1 area in the visual cortex to the fusiform gyrus and from there to other parts of the temporal lobes. The fusiform area is what classifies the objects that we see (without assigning any significance to them) – this is an example of the brain creating something. When the photons hit your retina, there is nothing to distinguish photons from your cat, your mother or the sofa – your brain creates those distinctions. This is then projected to the temporal lobes, where the significance of the object is distinguished, it’s name and associated memories and facts about it. That John has two dogs, and his favourite colour is red and so forth. Again our brain creates the significance of the object, there is nothing in the photons that tells you if something is emotionally significant. This is then relayed to the amygdala which evokes the emotional significance of the object. Again this is created by our brain, photons do not tell you whether they come from something emotionally significant or not.

    The fact that our brains create these distinctions is attested by the fact that people who have damage to those regions also have trouble experiencing those distinctions. I already mentioned Capgras syndrome, where the pathway to the amygdala is damaged and the patient does not feel emotional responses to their parents etc – emotional response to visual information is demonstrably created by the brain. People who suffer strokes can sometimes loose their ability to recognise faces, distinguish between different kinds of plants and animals etc – this is clear demonstration of another aspect of the brain creating distinctions between objects. You damage this region and the brain stops creating the distinctions.

    Your assertion that the brain does not create, rather simply processes things is patently false, the brain creates our whole concious experience. It creates distinctions between objects, it creates emotional responses to objects. These are not distinctions that exist independent of the brain, and they are created by the brain. The unfortunate patients who suffer damage to their visual pathways demonstrate that our brain is solely responsible for creating such distinctions that do not exist in the external world it does it all the time.

    Your copy/pasting from a science article is not going to change that.

    Reply

    • You’ve used a lot of showy language to demonstrate, once again, that the brain processes and doesn’t create. Consider this sentence, for instance: “The fact that our brains create these distinctions is attested by the fact that people who have damage to those regions also have trouble experiencing those distinctions.” Or this one: “The world we experience is a creation of our brain, in this sense the brain is a highly creative entity.” Do you realize that you are equating creation with experience? That means that in the experience of going to see a baseball game, you’re saying the brain creates the baseball game! You cannot equate the two; rather, the experience is a by-product of what our brain processes–note that I addressed this when discussing that that the brain initiates outputs in response to the inputs it receives. That is experience, but the brain is not creating the experience; it is processing the experience into understandable pieces of data for us.

      So your assertion that the brain creates is what is patently false on this objection alone. Add that to that the notion that you continuously refuse to address the taxonomy issue, and I think my position is on much firmer ground than yours.

      Your multiple paragraphs of “intelli-speak” is not going to change that.

      Reply

  9. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 12, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    Yes, if you like the brain processes the information from the baseball game into the experience we have. However, in this process the brain necessarily has to create. For example the photons themselves do not hold the information that they come from your favourite player, that is derived from the fusiform gyrus which initially separates the players from the field and the stadium behind them etc, which is then projected to temporal lobes where the significance of the player is derived from memories and past experiences telling you that it’s Joe Smith who plays for such and such a team, and he has scored so many home runs this season, this is then projected to the amygdala where the emotional response is formed, that reaction you get when you see him step up to hit the ball. There is nothing in the photons that say Joe Smith is your favourite player, that is an abstraction created from various memories and associations.

    One thing that our brains can do is create an abstraction of that person, we can imagine having a conversation with them, what they might say, how they might act and so on. This obviously is not the real Joe Smith, as you haven’t actually ever spoken to him in real life, but from watching his interviews on TV and seeing him play baseball our brains can create an abstract Joe Smith and imagine having a conversation with him. You can do it now, imagine having a conversation with your mother, what she might say in response to you and so on.

    Now as I did with my example of Joe Smith, we can create in our minds a person who does not even exist in reality. This is drawn from our combined experience and memories of lots of different people, I can create a person in my head, I can imagine talking to Joe Smith, the imaginary baseball player, yet he does not even exist in reality. What’s more I can imagine that Joe Smith is actually an alien from Alpha Centuri, I can imagine him with purple scales, and giant bug eyes. My brain can create an abstract entity that has absolutely no basis in reality.

    Now is Joe Smith, the bug-eyed purple alien from Alpha Centuri something my brain has processed from the outside world or not? No, it is something created entirely within my brain. It’s safe to say that Joe the alien baseball star did not exist anywhere until I just imagined him – unless by sheer fluke someone else imagined the exact same character before me.

    If our brain only processes input from the outside world, how do you explain imagination? Clearly Joe Smith doesn’t exist anywhere materially, he is an immaterial creation of my brain.

    Okay, so let me ask some more questions. What test could we do to prove that there is something immaterial inside us that gives rise to immaterial, intangible concepts? Formulate a hypothesis for me (‘if…. [your proposition is true] then…[what we’d expect to find]’). In order to have any worth your hypothesis needs to be falsifiable. If there would be no noticeable difference between something intangible inside me creating Joe Smith, and my brain simply doing it then your whole hypothesis is pointless. What’s more is, in that situation the materialist explanation would be far superior, because it does not require the inclusion of some un-testable, unverifiable source of imagination, it simply attributes it to a verifiable source, and thus is a far simpler explanation, void of unnecessary assumptions.

    What experiment could we do to prove that an intangible soul is responsible for creating language rather than the brain?

    Reply

    • Yes, if you like the brain processes the information from the baseball game into the experience we have. However, in this process the brain necessarily has to create.

      This is true. Which is again why I quoted the article in saying that the brain initiates motor outputs in response to the inputs it receives. But it doesn’t create stand-alone experiences. Let’s talk about why.

      Now is Joe Smith, the bug-eyed purple alien from Alpha Centuri something my brain has processed from the outside world or not? No, it is something created entirely within my brain.

      Incorrect. In order for such a character to be completely a product of your brain, the name Joe Smith, the features of the color purple, bug eyes and the name Alpha Centuri would all have to have never been seen or understood by you. Otherwise it is still taking a composite of inputs in order to generate an output. It’s still processing features and characteristics that have been seen before in order to make what you are experiencing in your mind. The brain can process these ideas and generate an output as an appropriate response to them, but the brain did not create the color purple, the bug eye, or the name Joe Smith. So your thinking is flawed.

      If our brain only processes input from the outside world, how do you explain imagination?

      The result of external experiences or immaterial creations via the soul being processed by the brain. I think I’ve made that clear before. See my entire blog post.

      What test could we do to prove that there is something immaterial inside us that gives rise to immaterial, intangible concepts? Formulate a hypothesis for me (‘if…. [your proposition is true] then…[what we’d expect to find]‘).

      For starters, that’s what the hypothetical syllogism listed in my blog post does, as I’m positing only best explanation here. But I’ll humor you. If the immaterial soul exists, then via the falsifiable science of taxonomy, we would expect that the products of such an immaterial creative soul would bear the markers of its predecessor. That is to say, these things would also be immaterial. Consequently, if you wish for the brain to be the answer to the problem, you must do the same. The “no noticeable difference” issue is, unfortunately for you, a probability issue, and as you’ve stated on your blog, you believe probability to be meaningless in this sense. So that logic is flawed. Additionally, you are saying that science attributes these to a verifiable source, but you provide no such basis for doing so. If the brain is the best explanation for immaterial concepts, then why do you refuse to address the taxonomy issue? If the brain is material, then wouldn’t the products of its creation also be material, since taxonomy would necessitate that? Please reconcile that logic for me, or stop making me repeat myself and attack a different piece of my comprehensive argument.

      Reply

  10. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 13, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    1. What do you mean science of taxonomy? The word ‘taxonomy’ comes from the Greek ‘taxis’ meaning “arrangement” and ‘nomia’ meaning “method”. What arrangement method, or ‘taxonomy’ are you referring to? You can use many different methods to arrange things, whether its ‘things that do not have wheels’, ‘purple things’ or ‘animals with backbones’. In what sense do you mean science of taxonomy? The classification of animals is what it is most commonly used to refer to, but thoughts are not animals, so it is irrelevant in that context. As far as I am aware there is no science of taxonomy with regards to thought and language – you could arrange language in a specific way, but it is essentially arbitrary. It could be ‘words that begin with P’, ‘words with 2 vowels’ etc etc… Your definition of taxonomy is not clear.

    2. Where does your ‘like begets like’ come from? This is again ill defined. You seem to imply that things of one classification i.e material things, such as the brain necessarily cannot produce things of a different classification i.e immaterial things, such as language. By this logic objects cannot produce sounds, because only sounds can produce sounds, and objects can only produce objects. Where is your proof of this like begets like concept? How do you explain an object making a sound? Sound is not an object, so how does an object begat anything other than an object?

    Without a coherent definition of what you mean by taxonomy in this context, or proof of this bizarre law you seem to have come up with that like begats like your ‘taxonomy issue’ isn’t really an issue.

    Reply

    • Linnaeus’ classification system is hierarchal. Yes, you group things together based on common characteristics, but they bear common characteristics based on the markers from their predecessors. All bears are grouped together because they descended from bears in the past. In your classification world, you would group immaterial things in the same order, family, or whatever as the brain, but what common characteristics do they share, and from whence do they share them? Or even if you wouldn’t put the brain in there, you would put material objects in with immaterial objects and say they all “descended” from the brain. But on what basis other than your opinion and faith in the brain as a creative entity (when the article that I’ve posted goes against this entirely) do you make such a classification?

      Furthermore, in genetics the product of something bears the markers of its predecessors, which is the “like begets like.” A dog isn’t going to give birth to a bird, yet that is a fair comparison to what you’re trying to do with a material object (the brain) and immaterial things (words, language, emotions, etc.). How is that reasonable? Why is your “dog” the only exception to the rule in nature? The issue of sound is a false dilemma, because sound waves already exist as physical properties. So an object producing a sound is altering the effect of the already-present sound waves, and your brain is the processing entity that makes that distinction.

      So I think the arguments I’m making here are perfectly reasonable, and it is you that is asking me to suspend my belief and logic and in these scientific fields to entertain your theory. Which one of us has the more incoherent position, really?

      Reply

      • Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on September 13, 2011 at 12:24 PM

        Well I wouldn’t even go so far as to call things like language immaterial – they can essentially be boiled down to neural activity, which is in essence a material phenomena.

        The article you posted does not deny that language is a product of the brain. It does not provide overwhelming support for your argument at all. You selected a quote at fits your agenda, but really what I would like to see is a peer reviewed scientific paper that actually supports your argument, one that states explicitly, with supporting research that language cannot be created by the brain.

        Taxonomy insofar as it is applied to animals isn’t actually as clear cut as you might seem to think. The classifications of ‘species’ and ‘genus’ prove problematic under certain circumstances. For example when looking at hominid fossils you often get a lot of debate among taxonomists as to whether it should be classified as the genus Australopithecus, or Homo – this is because a lot of specimens demonstrate characteristics from both genuses. The distinctions that we make between the two genuses are essentially arbitrary, what we actually have is a gradual progression from the ancestral genus Australopithecus to our own genus Homo, there are some fossils that simply do not fit our strict classification, and this causes debate among taxonomists who are too hung up on strict definitions.

        It is only in the absence of intermediaries that we are able to classify humans as Homo and chimpanzees as Pan, if all the ancestral species from modern humans to the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees, and all the ancestral species from that common ancestor to modern chimpanzees still existed today our classification would be somewhat difficult. Sorting through which belonged to Pan and which belonged to Homo would be near impossible.

        Another spanner in the words of our hang up for classification comes from a phenomena known as ‘ring species’. The border between species is defined by ability to interbreed (although this classification is problematic because some species can interbreed, but don’t under normal circumstances). Ring species are best illustrated using an image:

        For some reason it won’t let me insert an image in the post. Here it is: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/images/ensatina.gif

        Without going into too much detail, the essential description is thus: the image depicts populations of salamanders spread out over a geographical region,f forming a ring, separated by a land barrier such as a valley or a mountain in the middle. Picta can successfully interbreed with oregonensis and plantensis. Oregonensis can successfully interbreed with xanthopica and xanthopica can successfully interbreed with eschscholtzii. The same applies down the right hand side of the image from plantensis to klauberi. However, when klauberi and eschscholtzii meet they cannot interbreed – thus by our common classification method they are different species, even though they can all interbreed with their neighbours all the way around the ‘ring’. So where do we mark the point of speciation? This proves that our traditional method of classification is flawed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species

        Whilst it can be useful to make such distinctions between species and such, they are arbitrary conventions that do not exist in reality. A dog is not going to give birth to a bird, this is true, but separate an initial population of dogs into two isolated areas (creating a barrier for gene flow) and they will eventually diverge from one another (as has been achieved by selective breeding) given enough time they will form different species. Taxonomical classification is not a cut and dry subject.

        Can you demonstrate your assertion that the brain cannot create immaterial things? The article you provided is not proof of your claim. No where in the entire article does it say that the brain cannot be responsible for creating language.

      • Well I wouldn’t even go so far as to call things like language immaterial – they can essentially be boiled down to neural activity, which is in essence a material phenomena.

        Oh? And where’s the evidence that language and neurons are synonymous? That’s what you need to show me in order for this to be more than a baseless claim.

        The article you posted does not deny that language is a product of the brain. It does not provide overwhelming support for your argument at all. You selected a quote at fits your agenda, but really what I would like to see is a peer reviewed scientific paper that actually supports your argument, one that states explicitly, with supporting research that language cannot be created by the brain.

        For starters, I’m not asserting proof; I’m asserting best explanation. I wish you would understand that. When I’m making an evidentiary argument I only need to provide valid evidence to support my claim. What I posted was an article from the NIH website, which is consistently peer-reviewed and a national institution. Surely you wouldn’t invalidate such an article on the basis of peer review would you? Now to reiterate this with your second such statement.

        Can you demonstrate your assertion that the brain cannot create immaterial things? The article you provided is not proof of your claim. No where in the entire article does it say that the brain cannot be responsible for creating language.

        Again, I’m not asserting proof. What I need to show is that an immaterial creative entity is the best explanation for the existence of immaterial things. I’ve shown using both genetics and a national science organization that the creation (or probability *gasp* if you would prefer) of immaterial things is best explained by an entity that has both creative power (which the article demonstrates the brain does NOT have) and characteristics of what it creates. I’ve satisfied my evidentiary burden. I’m not trying to prove anything; attackers always resort to “prove it” when the evidence is sufficient and reasonable.

        Now again, please show me how the brain is a better explanation given the nationally-verified article that says it is merely a processing entity and the genetic rule of predecessory markers. I have given you sufficient evidence; you have yet to show me why the brain is better.

        P.S. I ignored the bulk of your post because it was a lot of words to say that you don’t buy taxonomy. That’s fine if you don’t; but this is accepted science, so to dis-credit science only harms your worldview.

  11. […] his evidence for the existence of the soul. This was of particular interest to me, because I posted such an argument on my blog last year. I was intrigued to note that my argument was only slightly related to […]

    Reply

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