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Go materialism!

The NY Times has an article about science and the existence of the soul. There’s not really any substance to it, just discussions of what it could mean for science to show that the soul probably doesn’t exist. Of course, science can’t really do that; at best it could say that it’s unnecessary, which is essentially the conclusion the article is discussing. I was interested in one paragraph with a quote by Ken Miller:

“Everything we know about the biological sciences says that life is a phenomenon of physics and chemistry, and therefore the notion of some sort of spirit to animate it and give the flesh a life really doesn’t fit with modern science,” said Dr. Miller, a Roman Catholic whose book, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999) explains his reconciliation of the theory of evolution with religious faith. “However, if you regard the soul as something else, as you might, say, the spiritual reflection of your individuality as a human being, then the theology of the soul it seems to me is on firm ground.”

I don’t understand this ability to completely redefine words that religion has. A soul has traditionally meant the immaterial essence of a person, as described by Miller in the first sentence. Yes, if we redefine it as some sort of reflection of who you are it’s not in conflict with science. But so what? It’s like saying murder isn’t so bad if you define it as riding a bike.

Categories: Religion, Science
  1. colby natale
    June 28, 2007 at 6:32 am | #1

    Common Jeff, you have to do better than this. Comparing the definition of murder to a soul is intellectually dishonest; we are fully aware of what murder is. The same is not true for souls in any way whatsoever, so it is very hard to even have a definition for them. Murder is a very concrete thing; we see it all the time. “Soul” is a very abstract word for a vague idea of an eternal essence, however we choose to look at it. Don’t just pick on this guy and his decision since it is related to a realm you find laughable.

  2. June 28, 2007 at 5:58 pm | #2

    So most people believe in a soul, but we’re not really aware of what it is? That sounds like intellectual dishonesty.

    In any case, it’s vague, but it’s not that vague. The Catholic encyclopedia doesn’t seem to express much doubt about what the soul is. That NY Times article wouldn’t make sense to most people if the definitions of soul could be as different from its usage of the word (which is the same as how I defined it) as you imply. If that definition wasn’t common and important to a lot of people, the article wouldn’t have been written.

    I’m not picking on Miller. That’s a far more credible belief than what the article is discussing. I’m just saying it’s not the definition of soul that most people would recognize. It would be more defensible to call his belief a belief in personality. You only get away with using a word that means something that’s barely even related when the concept isn’t required to have any link to the natural world.

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