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Suppose we have a soul
Summary
Other questions
Why brains?
Resurrection
Afterword

The concept of an immortal soul is logically unsupportable

This page shows that the idea of a soul or spirit that goes on after the body dies does not stand up to rational examination. If there is no immortal soul then Christianity and Islam disappear in a puff of smoke and reincarnation becomes a joke. If religion was to go there would be far less mistrust and conflict in the world.

Created as a separate page 2009/07/06, modified 2016/07/24
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
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Introduction

 

What would replace religious standards?

People pick and choose standards and rules to live by from their religions. Whether or not we dispense with religion the standards that some people take from their religions could, and should, be replaced by ethical standards.

Ethical standards are much better than standards from old religions in any case; they are rational and consistent.

Is the trashing of the immortal soul concept even worse for religion than was the Theory of Evolution?

Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution has been the great bugbear of those who claim that the Earth was created 6000 years ago and who choose to believe that man was somehow fundamentally different from the other animals.

Could the scientific proof that an immortal soul is a meaningless, senseless, useless, ridiculous concept be even worse for religion?

It is possible to prove that a human soul is a meaningless concept; that an immortal and immaterial soul could not carry our memories, our personalities, our emotions, our senses, our characters, it could not be aware of its surroundings, it could not think. The arguments on this page, I believe, show that an immortal soul is a meaningless concept and that the soul as used in religions, is an absurdity and an impossibility.

First; is there any reason that we should believe that people have a soul? What evidence is there for a soul that goes on after death? Absolutely none! No-one has ever scientifically demonstrated that there is such a thing. No-one has ever even provided any solid evidence suggesting that there might be such a thing.

Some parts of the Bible suggest that there is an afterlife. Much of the Old Testament regards the relation between God and Man on earth; the concept of an afterlife seems foreign to the early part of the Old Testament. The immortal soul concept seems to have been invented after the writing of the early parts of the Old Testament. But, in any case, the imaginings of the writers of the Bible have absolutely no evidentiary value.

If, as an exercise, one assumes that we have a soul and examines what properties that soul could have one reaches the absurd conclusion that it could have no properties; it would be a non-entity. Therefore one proves the impossibility of an immortal soul by reductio ad absurdum: reduction to absurdity.






Suppose we have a soul

 

On similar subjects

Bible
Christian virtues
Ethics
God's Word
Is God real?
Islam's threat
Militant Islam
Religion is a false belief
For the sake of examining the consequences of the idea, suppose for the present that we do have an immortal soul. Once it leaves the body, what would it be capable of?

The senses

Science has explained in great detail how our ears work in concert with our brains to allow us to perceive and interpret sounds. But our disembodied soul would have neither ears nor brain; it could not hear.

In the case of our eyes, science has demonstrated how light is focussed by the cornea and lens to form an image on the retina, and how the cone and rod cells of the retina detect the light, convert it into nerve impulses and transmit them to the brain. The brain then interprets the innumerable nerve impulses, uses our experiences to decipher the areas of differing light intensity in the images, examines the differences between the images coming from each eye, and produces 'a picture in our heads' that is meaningful in terms of objects, movement, textures; things with which we are familiar. A soul of course, having neither eyes nor brain, could not see.

Very similar arguments can be made regarding the other senses: smell, taste, feel.

Obviously the soul would have no mouth, tongue, vocal cords or lungs; so it would be incapable of speech. It would have no hands, so would be incapable of sign language.

Therefore the soul could have no senses and would be incapable of receiving any information about its surroundings; it would also be incapable of communicating.

Memory

Scientists, partly from studying victims of stroke and brain injuries, and by other studies, have thoroughly demonstrated that memory is a function of our brain. More than that, they have shown that our ability to remember everyday experiences depends on a slender belt of brain tissue called the hippocampus. Memories can be lost due to brain damage, they can be invoked by electrical stimulation of selected areas of the brain.

A disembodied soul, having no brain, could remember nothing. When you die, all your memories die with you.

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Personality, character

Similarly, studies of victims of brain injuries have shown that damage to particular regions can have profound effects on personality and character. A person can become unrecognisable from his or her behaviour, following serious brain damage, even when capable of otherwise living a normal life. A classic case of a completely changed personality following brain injury is that of Phineas Gage who had a large iron rod completely driven through his head. Amazingly he survived the accident, but his personality and behaviour were completely changed.

Personality and character are therefore functions of our brains.

A disembodied soul would not have character or personality. When you die your personality and character die with your body.

 

Our brains

New research has defined 97 new (in addition to 83 already reported) functional areas in the human brain.

If an immortal soul existed, it would be without a brain, so it would be incapable of any of these 180 specific mental functions.

Emotions

Fear is a function of the part of our brains called the amygdala, and greed is handled by an area called the nucleus accumbens. Even the irrational share-trading behaviour that was closely tied to the economic collapse of 2008/09 has been traced to a part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Both the nucleus accumbens and the hypothalamus are involved in sex drive. (See In the Mind of the Market for some of the background science.)

A disembodied soul would have no emotions.

Thought

Quoting from md-health.com:
"The frontal lobe [of the brain] is one of four lobes in the cerebral hemisphere. This lobe controls several elements including creative thought, problem solving, intellect, judgment, behavior, attention, abstract thinking, physical reactions, muscle movements, coordinated movements, smell and personality."

Brain damage from stroke, disease, or trauma can leave people incapable of problem solving, of considering the rational implications of arguments, of understanding what their senses are telling them; in short, of thought.

As a single example, it has been shown that brain researchers can detect who we are thinking about by scanning our brains.

I believe that there is a small area of the brain named for Einstein, where higher mathematical thought processes take place.

Without a brain, a disembodied soul would be incapable of thought.

In summary

If there was an immortal soul it could have no sensory input, no memories, and could not think; it could have no personality or character, no emotions; it could not do anything that we would recognise as definitively human and could not carry anything recognisable from the human in which it originally resided. How then, given what science has shown us, could my soul carry the essential me?

In science and philosophy one way of proving that a proposition is false is by following its logical consequences and showing that they lead to an absurd outcome. For example, if an arithmetical hypothesis leads to the conclusion that one equals two, it can be said to be proven on the principle of 'reductio ad absurdum' (reduction to absurdity), that the hypothesis is false.

The above arguments prove, I believe, reductio ad absurdum, that the concept of a soul is meaningless and achieves nothing; it leads to the absurd outcome of a thing that has no properties and that could do nothing.

Also, the long-used scientific principle of Ockham's Razor tells us that when we are faced with several explanations for something the simpler is almost always preferable. Either we have immortal souls or we do not. If I have a soul it would not be capable of carrying any meaningful 'me' into an afterlife or into a new incarnation unless we ascribe some sort of quite unprovable 'magical' properties to it; it is an unnecessary and unproductive theory that goes nowhere. Surely the alternative of there being no immortal soul is the preferable theory? It is simple and fits observed reality.

If the soul concept goes, there too goes most or all of the world's religions.

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Other questions

Extracted from Wrested Scriptures, absurdities relating to the 'immortality of the soul'.
"If all men have immortal souls, then it begs the question, when exactly did these immortal souls come into existence? Does an unborn baby have an immortal soul? Does a foetus have an immortal soul? Does a fertilised egg at conception have an immortal soul? If so, what do these immortal souls look like if the unborn baby dies in the womb? Does the soul of a stillborn baby instantly gain full adulthood in appearance when they reach heaven (or hell)? Do the souls of these dead babies have fully developed brains when they reach heaven (or hell)? Where will they have gained the knowledge to speak and the powers of memory and reason?"
You would also have to ask when the soul evolved, unless you suppose that God decided at some point to add a soul to our ancestors' make-up. Science shows that we have evolved from simpler organisms, do we need to add another layer of complexity to the science of evolution to account for the development of a soul that is quite indemonstrable and serves no possible purpose?

The more rational thought one gives the concept of the soul the more unlikely it seems.

Why did God give us brains?

If we do have souls and our souls carry the essentials of each of us, why did God also put the essentials of each of us in our brains?

Putting it another way: if I have a soul and that soul carries 'the real me', my memories, my personality, my character, my reasoning abilities, etc., then why are those same properties built into the functionality of my brain? Surely this is unnecessary duplication? If I have a copy of my memories in my brain and another copy in my soul, which copy has precedence? Is one 'backed-up' to the other periodically, like we back up our computers?

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Resurrection

Some theologians hold that the idea of an immortal soul comes not from the Bible but from the ancient Egyptians and Plato; and there seems good evidence for this. See Life Hope and Truth.

Of course the New Testament has much about resurrection. But if there is no continuation after the death of the body, in something like a soul, how can a resurrected body be, in any meaninful sense, the same person as the one who died?

The idea is logically supportable – in some sense – if we suppose that at resurrection God makes a new person, identical to the old in everything, including memories. But then there is the question of, an identical copy of the person at what stage of life? At the point of death; old and decrepit? Or in youth and vigour, but then would it be without the memories that came later in life? Or in youth and vigour, but with the memories of later life somehow added on? (Minus the confusion, and perhaps delusions, of decrepitude?)

Of course there is no evidence for any of this; it is no more than a fanciful exercise in theology.

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Afterword

When my body dies, my memories die, my thought processes die, all of me dies. All that remains, apart from my dead physical body, are my works and the memories that other people have of me.

Death is a very natural thing, the end of life. An atheist has no reason to fear death.




Index

On this page...
Afterword
Introduction
Other questions
Resurrection
Summary
Suppose we have a soul
Why did God give us brains?
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