Sunday, October 04, 2009

Stewart Goetz on Mind-Body Dualism

An answer given for Craig's Reasonable Faith site.

26 comments:

Joshua said...

Interesting question, but it's a little bit odd to see a Christian arguing that the soul is separable form the body. That's one of the oldest gnostic heresies. We preach bodily resurrection because we know that soul and body are inseparable.

Gordon Knight said...

if soul and body were inseperable, then it would have to be the same body that is ressurected.

One needs to distinguish between (1) soul needs a body to function and (2) soul needs this particular body to function.

And we also need to distinguish between the phenomenological body (the "lived" body, which you can have in the matrix world or in a dream) and a real metaphysical absolute.


What is a bodily experience? is it just seeming to see, hear etc. Would any analog of these count as bodily? what about intellectual insight?

Joshua said...

@Gordon - while it may be fun to speculate about "matrix world" or "dreams", I was making a very simple statement about orthodox Christian doctrine as it has stood for 2,000 years.

Christian doctrine has never allowed for the possibility that our souls will be resurrected in someone else's body, or in a different body. *Our* bodies will be made as new -- they will still be our bodies.

Gordon Knight said...

Joshua,

but then, given that the atoms in my body were also in many other people, the ressurection would be a very weird place.

But also in scipture. Paul does say that we will have bodies in the resurection, but the implication is that they will be new, spiritual bodies. For one thing, the bodies in heaven will not be corruptible.

I don't know what you mean by Christian Doctine, but since Paul seems to allow the possibility of new bodies, and so did the Greek Fathers, as well as Augustine and Thomas...

Thomas links the soul most closely to the body, holding that the soul needs a body to be "activated" But he never thought you needed the numerically identical body you had on earth

Blue Devil Knight said...

Joshua, very interesting I would be curious if there are discussions of this for laymen.

Blue Devil Knight said...

As is characteristic of the dualist genre, some of the Goetz suffers from overconfidence:

"[N]euroscience provides no evidence whatsoever that the mind is identical with its brain."

I'll agree that there isn't enough evidence to conclusively establish mind-brain identity and that dualism is wrong. But no evidence whatsoever for the neural basis of mind? That's a bit much.

As a gloss of some evidence, I could take out a chunk of your brain stem and you will no longer be conscious. Hence, neuronal bits are necessary for consciousness. Sleep research reveals the neuronal control of our traversal through different levels of consciousness, neuropsychology shows dozens of quite specific disorders of consciousness and how they are related to brain states, and split-brain studies suggest the mind isn't as unified as many dualists would like. Neuroscientists can predict your decisions and conscious intentions based on observing your brain states (Goetz makes a big deal out of freedom). That is, before you are conscious of your intention to do X, we can predict you will do X based on observing your neuronal states. This goes back to the research of Libet.

Mind-brain dependence is a perfectly good inference to the best explanation that continues to find support in the data. While not providing a knock-down argument that mental states are brain states, the strength of the inference at this point is as strong as biologists would accept about any other phenotype, e.g., the hypothesis that photosynthesis occurs in chloroplasts. Hence, the biologist needs good reasons to preferentially abandon her tried and true methods. Goetz (and other dualists) don't provide such reasons. The creationist parlor game of mentioning dualistic neuroscientists or neurosurgeons such as Penfield (an eminent surgeon) isn't really an argument in favor of dualism unless their reasons are good.

Goetz then goes on:
"I am convinced that those who believe that [neuroscience] does provide such evidence [for mind-brain identity] bring their naturalist convictions to the evidence. In other words, they are already naturalists (materialists) before they do their neuroscience."

This is sort of funny, frankly, as it seems pretty clear that it is the opposite of what is happening. If given a choice of which phrase is more reasonable, A: 'Neuro provides no evidence for dualism,' or B: 'Neuro provides no evidence for mind-brain dependence,' my guess is that people not committed to either would go with choice A.

What we have is two worldviews, and not enough data to kill either. Which worldview provides the best fit with the data? Each perspective needs to deal with the data. The asymmetry is that the neurocentric perspective is clearly a predictively fedund and expanding research program, constantly generating new data. In contrast, it isn't clear that the dualistic worldview has any legs. While Eccles (an eminent neuroscientist) was a dualist, how much research has been done within his dualistic framework? What predictions have been tested? How many neuroscientists have taken up his gauntlet?

Time will tell which general framework provides the best fit to the exponentially growing body of evidence from neuroscience and psychology. A priori arguments won't settle this. I know that the philosophers wish they could stay on the armchair and decide things for the Quixotic scientists, but that isn't how the world works.

The author's strange pronouncement that neuroscience provides "no evidence whatsoever" reveals an odd epistemic stance toward the issue. Perhaps he doesn't have an anachronistic deductive or Cartesian (rather than probabilistic and fallibilist) view of the relationship between theories and evidence, but it is sure hard to tell from the article.

Joshua said...

@Blue Devil -- the excellent book, "The Spirit of Early Christian Thought" has a chapter dedicated to the Church's history on this topic.

@Gordon -- it should be pretty obvious that the resurrection professed in the apostle's creed is not talking about contrived notions of "body" like you describe. The Church fathers used a common-sense conception of body, rather than "the atoms that compose my body at this moment", or "the contents of my stomach today".

Again, I agree that it's fun stuff to muse about. You could have a great time annoying your doctor when he asks you "How does your body feel?", and you answer "Which body? The atoms that were in me just 10 seconds ago, or now? How about now?" Depending on how far you want to go with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, you could have infinite "bodies" by that definition. Certainly useful for entertaining yourself or annoying people, but pretty much useless otherwise.

The Church says that our bodies will be made new. But that's *not* the same as saying that our bodies will be *different* bodies. The soul doesn't hop hosts like some parasite. The most common explanation is that the body is a sort of corporeal manifestation of the soul; and since the soul has a distinct identity, so would the body. Just as we don't say that your body is a *different* body, simply because you exfoliated and then grew new skin cells, we wouldn't say that the resurrected body is some "other" body, simply because it was renewed.

Joshua said...

BTW, it's in the apostle's creed because it's absolutely definitive. Christianity falls down without the doctrine:

1 Corinthians 15:13-14 "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith"

Christ's body at resurrection was "renewed", but it was still *his* body. There was no empty shell where his "other" body lay.

Gordon Knight said...

Joshua,

Well what you call the Christian tradition is explicitly denies by loads of historically important Christian philosophers and theologians. Even Thomas, who as I mentioned makes soul and body very closely linked, believed that the soul does hop from body to body (it just cannot function without a body).

I did assume that whatever would make my body the same would be some sort of causal continuity. If a body "matching" my soul is sufficient for samneness of body, then that is fine, but its a different use of the word (it would be a different criteria than the one we use for the continuation of an organism here).

Anyway, it hardly makes a difference. Suppose you find yourself in heaven, and God takes you to side and says, "Hi Joshua, glad you are here, by the way that view of the ressurection that you defended, its wrong.."

Peter Van Inwaggen is famous for proposing a possibl way that we could continue on, assuming materialism and bodily personal identity (both of which he accepts). God takes the body away soon after death, replaces with a duplicate and puts the old body in a storage facility ready to be reactivated at the ressurection!

Its logically possible, but kind of weird. Van Inwaggen does not say he thinks this story is true, but it does illustrate the length one needs to go if one wants immortality and materialistic conception of a person

Blue Devil Knight said...

From my looking up various bits online, such as that book 'Spirit of Early Christian Thought', it seems the soul and body were considered inseparable, but not the same. That is, a soul without a body is not a person, but that doesn't mean a soul is dependent on the body.

I find this an interesting argument. I am only familiar with Nancey Murphy, who believes the mental supervenes on the neural, but is also a Christian. I will have to take another look at her book 'Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?' to see how she does her theology.

My hunch is you could say the main aspect of consciousness, the sensory awareness during perception (of say a sunset or whatever) is done by the brain, and that this is different from the soul. The soul which survives death won't perceive or be aware in anything like the way we are aware/conscious when we are embodied.

On the other hand, what are we to make of the Thomist view that body and soul make a person, that persons don't exist without a body?

Blue Devil Knight said...

If anyone has good papers that I can find online that talk about these issues, in particular examples of Christians that advocate a neuronal theory of earthly consciousness (i.e., qualia or experience), but still maintain a unique soul that persists after death, I would be very interested in reading it.

Joshua said...

@Gordon -- I am well aware of the fact that "soul hopping" has been theorized by people claiming to be Christians for at least 2,000 years. Steiner had some interesting things to say about this, and I've read many, many more.

I am not even trying to debate about whether or not there is a kernel of truth in what these philosophers say. You seem to be confusing me with someone who wants to debate the issue. As I have said repeatedly, it's an area of interesting speculation, which is why I've read so extensively on the topic. However, the word "speculation" means that it cannot be conclusively determined by the normal means, so it's kind of fruitless to debate it.

My simple point was that Christian orthodoxy has always held that the bodily resurrection of the dead will be just like Christ's resurrection -- our own bodies resurrected.

Rather than debate that point and show how much smarter we are than all of the Church fathers (and I'm not denying the possibility), we can look at that doctrine and realize how unique it was, and how nicely it aligns with modern science. If nothing else, it's an interesting coincidence that the Church fathers hung so tightly to this doctrine.

Joshua said...

@Blue Devil -- my three favorite recent books on the topic were written by non-Christians. I would start with Marco Iacobini's "Mirroring People", about his empirical research in mirror neurons. He gets unnecessarily speculative at the end, but the meat in the book is absolutely excellent. Next would be "De La Mettrie's Ghost", which gives a very brief survey of the neuronal theories of consciousness, and then proceeds to give a theory which I find the most convincing of all of them I have read yet. Finally, read "Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment and other Biological Components of Fiction".

I read about 50 books a year, and tons about these topics, but these 3 stood out as the best. If you read all three of these non-Christian books, and don't come away more convinced than ever that the Bible is the word of God, and that Christ was God incarnate, I would be shocked.

If you want a quick but delightful read in a related topic, find a copy of Owen Barfield's essay, "Philology and the Incarnation". I find it somewhat speculative, but it's a beautiful piece of rhetoric and just plain fun. And maybe even right?

Joshua said...

@Blue Devil - and as Gordon says, Thomas has some things to say about this. Actually, I'm not sure if he is talking about the same "Thomas", but I assume he's referencing the Gnostic "Gospel of Thomas".

http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html

It was considered apocryphal and excluded from the canon, but is mostly in line with orthodox Christianity. Two relevant verses, which I think are perfectly orthodox, are:

(29) Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty."

(7) Jesus said, "Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man."

In fact, I've seen the latter verse cited by Hindus as a way of arguing support for Hindu doctrine of reincarnation -- I think they completely missed the point.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Joshua: I am familiar with the neuroscience, so I am more interested in learning about the Christian theologians who take mind-brain dependence seriously.

What properties is the soul supposed to have, in Christian thought? My hunch is that 'qualia' would be low on the list, and not essential. So, for those like me that think experience is a neuronal process, something that could be done by the mud part of Adam, I could still think there is a soul. The question is, once I've given qualia over to the brain, what is left for the soul to do? There must be an answer from the theologians.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Joshua: I was referring to Thomas Aquinas, and I assume Gordon was too.

Blue Devil Knight said...

This is an interesting bit on Aquinas. I guess for him the soul has the ability to engage in 'intellection' which makes it different from the body.

This may seem in tension with his hylomorphism (or the view that body/soul stand in a matter/form relation). As mentioned at the site:
"On the one hand he believes that the human soul is the form of the body, the principle by which the body lives, and the principle in virtue of which bodily activities, i.e. sensation, take place. And such activities, being the direct experience of man, implies that man is composed of body and soul. Nevertheless, man also has activities which do NOT involve the body, i.e. intellection. (See Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 56) Thus, he believes that the soul exists of itself, separate from the body. It is difficult to reconcile these two positions (the soul is the form of a body, the soul exists of itself without need of the body), since every other soul that is the form of a body CANNOT exist without that body, e.g. the souls of animals. (S.T. Ia, 75, 3) Some charge that this tension is so great as to render Aquinas' account of the soul incoherent."

At any rate, it seems pretty clear that Aquinas didn't think that intellection (whatever that is) was a bodily process, to the extent we can even use terms from present philosophy of mind to discuss Aquinas.

Joshua said...

So, for those like me that think experience is a neuronal process, something that could be done by the mud part of Adam

OK, I see what you're getting at. Do you mean "experience", as in "sensory experience" and qualia only? Or are you talking about more general consciousness? Are you just trying to figure out at which point theologians tend to draw the line?

Christian philosophers are kind of all over the map on this one. Some hypercalvinists can sound a lot like Dennett. Lewis, on the other hand, speculated that perhaps even animals could have souls. As I'm sure you're aware, people from Aquinas to Kant have made attempts to answer this. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever been able to cleanly draw the line, and attempts to do so tend to end up looking slightly embarrassing and dated over time.

The attempts to draw line between mind and soul tend to be semantic exercises intended to prop up particular logical systems. While useful and interesting, they are not at all essential to theology. As I have repeatedly pointed out, it is the inseparability of body and soul that is the essential theological doctrine. Indeed, all of Christianity rests on this doctrine.

On the other hand, there are some very clear lines drawn by Christian theologians. For example, the phrasing "could be done by the mud part of Adam" carries some presuppositional baggage. The belief that mud can do anything on its own is typically considered to be the greatest possible sin. Of course, it is the standard belief in materialistic reductionist science, but I don't think you'll find many "Christian" philosophers who entertain the notion. This is exactly the point being addressed by the first Thomas quote I gave you.

Christianity maintains that the mud was inspired by God-breath, not the other way around. It's pretty much the most important doctrine and is the most important of the ten commandments. You may disagree with the belief, but you cannot say that Christianity hasn't been consistent and determined about this belief.

So in summary, when someone says "mind, body, and soul are impossible to cleanly separate", the Christian says, "Duh! That took you 2,000 years to figure out?". But when someone says, "Soul and mind emerged from the physical", the Christian will explain that you couldn't be more wrong.

FWIW, the three books I mentioned actually *do* address this issue pretty directly, and make persuasive cases. These are not introductory neurobiology books -- they assume that you already have a good grasp of neurobiology, evolutionary biology, and consciousness theories.

One important point raised in the Goetz post is that this isn't a new issue. I reject the idea that neuroscience somehow "enlightened" us to the fact that body and soul are interdependent. As I pointed out, this fact is not only ancient, it is codified in the Apostle's creed.

So if you are looking specifically for Christian philosophers who are philosophizing about the soul-body relationship under the premise that this is a new topic enabled by discoveries in neurobiology, I'm afraid I cannot help you. I wouldn't be interested in those people, just as I'm not interested in fundamentalists whose only commentary on Darwin is, "if evolution is true, why don't women have monkeys for babies?" Christians who attempt to "advance" theology with materialistic science are almost as pathetic as Christians who attempt to debunk science.

Gordon Knight said...

yet St Thomas Aquinas. I should have said "Aquinas" or St. Thomas.

Blue Devil Knight said...

So if you are looking specifically for Christian philosophers who are philosophizing about the soul-body relationship under the premise that this is a new topic enabled by discoveries in neurobiology

I wouldn't think they'd consider it a new topic at an abstract level, but there is new evidence that puts a finer point on things, for instance all the lines of evidence I listed above in my response to Goetz (the kind of things Nancey Murphy takes seriously, and anybody studying the brain has to take seriously).

If you read Aquinas he is still theorizing about hearts as if they are the biologically relevant bits (following The Philosopher of course). Those that say "the body" can't support mental properties should know the evidence about the relevant parts of the body. Such evidence is new.

By analogy, clearly philosophers speculated about the nature of space and time before Einstein, but that doesn't mean we should take what they said all that seriously, or that there is nothing new to be said.

Unfortunately for dualists, as I said above, dealing with such data gives the dualists a reactive tone rather than productive and generative tone as you find with science. This puts them at a rhetorical disadvantage.

In terms of my mud comment, clearly it isn't apostasy to think that chemical reactions occur without divine intervention. Similarly, I was wondering whether there was a consensus dividing line among Christian theologians between stuff the brain can do on its own, versus stuff we need the soul to do.

I'm sure it's been discussed a lot in the past, but my question is whether there is a consensus position among present-day Christian theologians. My hunch is that things like the following would be on the list:
1. Thinking
2. Consciousness
3. Intentional states
4. Propositional contents
5. Freedom
6. Goal-directed behavior
7. Logical thought

My hunch is that number five, freedom, would give them the most mileage from the typical rhetorical devices employed by philosophers writing for a popular audience.

My focus has been on number 2, consciousness, by which I mean qualia/experience, nothing sexy like self-consciousness.

Joshua said...

@Blue Devil - I'm pretty familiar with Aquinas. His explanation seems pretty arbitrary, doesn't it? You could also look at Kant, Goethe, and Steiner. Even they seem dated today. The Victorian and enlightenment philosophers were obsessed with making such distinctions, because they wanted to clearly identify the characteristics that made them "above the beasts", or "imago dei". Aquinas was simply trying to show that Christianity and reason need not be incompatible, and his work is a great historical example of apologetics. It was emphatically not an attempt at exegesis, nor have the attempts since been.

All of these attempts to draw the line may be quite useful (I guess?), but they are all extraneous to Christian doctrine.

If you are really interested, you could look at past attempts to define "imago dei". You could also look at the historical debate between Pharisees and Sadducees, and look at how the soul/body dichotomy has been hashed out in Judaism over the past 2,000 years. The book "Judaism in the Time of Christianity" (IIRC) has some cool history of how the concept of immortality of soul changed from about 500 BC to 70 AD. The doctrine was apparently somewhat fluid during that time.

Joshua said...

Unfortunately for dualists, as I said above, dealing with such data gives the dualists a reactive tone

Yes, I agree 100%. The reaction is to presuppose dualism, then grasp about for something to stick in the "non-physical" category. It's kind of pathetic and makes people look stupid as time marches on.

my question is whether there is a consensus position among present-day Christian theologians.

Not really. As I mentioned, the topic is mainly a matter of apologetics, and not a matter of theology. You will find the present-day Christian apologists all over the map. I personally know some pre-Vatican II Catholic priests and Baptist preachers who still start with Aquinas, for example. Apologist Stephen Meyer goes to the other extreme and defines the soul as something like "information".

My hunch is that number five, freedom, would give them the most mileage from the typical rhetorical devices employed by philosophers writing for a popular audience.

Yes, this is true. The concept of "free will" has been a staple for apologists and those wanting to explain our superiority to the beasts, for at least a few hundred years. As you mentioned, Goetz tries to take this approach.

IMO, that's guaranteed to look stupid with the passage of time as well. You need not have neurobiology to see why. Every hypnotist, seductress, and shyster knows that "free will" is not exactly what we think. And the Bible has plenty of examples to debunk this delusion.

In fact, I was most disturbed at this point in the Goetz piece, because he was being downright dishonest about the research. I can cite plenty of research that shows that people actually convince themselves that an act was done of their own free will, when it was actually compelled. I believe he was purely engaged in apologetics, and slipping into manipulation as many apologists do.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I guess I'm not used to dealing with a discipline that has an apologetics branch. Very odd, frankly.

I appreciate your comments, Joshua, I sort of am lazy and want a synoptic historical account of this one topic :) Immortality should have been on my list, actually. That certainly can't be explained by brain science. :)

Joshua said...

I guess I'm not used to dealing with a discipline that has an apologetics branch. Very odd, frankly.

Last I checked, Dawkins hasn't done any actual science for years. Nor has E.O Wilson. Both sound a lot like southern Baptist apologists to me :-)

But I agree; apologetics is pretty much intertwined with "religion", and systems of belief that derive their authority from revelation, tradition, etc.

I sort of am lazy and want a synoptic historical account of this one topic :)

Yeah, I'm not aware of a really comprehensive overview. It would be fun to write one.

Immortality should have been on my list, actually. That certainly can't be explained by brain science. :)

Hey, isn't that what Raymond Kurzweil keeps talking about :-)

I just checked, and I think the book I was talking about is Cohen's "Maccabees to Mishnah", rather than Neusner's "Judaism in the time of Christianity" (both are good).

Cohen reports that the doctrines of immortality of the soul first took root in Judaism between 800BC and 300BC. He argues that these doctrines arose as a means of resolving apparent logical contradictions in the system of morals. Materialistic science doesn't concern itself much with morals, which could explain the lack of interest in immortality there. But note that even Kant explored this issue primarily in the context of supporting a system of morals; the "categorical imperative".

Even in Christ's time, the doctrines of immortality of soul and bodily resurrection of the dead were a matter of debate upon which serious Jews could disagree. Christ took a very firm stance, however, and codified a position which Christians feel is consistent with historical Judaism. And it is important to realize that Christians don't regard these doctrines as simply being logical expedients (as Cohen would suggest); to us they are God-revealed truth.

On the topic of immortality of the soul, Islam also takes a hard position. Hinduism of course has believed in transmigration of souls all along, as do many Buddhists. I suppose that modern Rabbinical Jews are unique among major world religions in that they are allowed to speculate still.

Gordon Knight said...

As far as I can tell, nobody has ever been able to cleanly draw the line, and attempts to do so tend to end up looking slightly embarrassing and dated over time.

This is true,except there is nothing embarassing about it. The question of the nature of reality is HARD. of course one cannot easily do it. That does not mean it cannot be done, or that it is not a noble endeavour to try.

I guess I want to be an apologist for philosophy. Reason gets kicked around way too much these days.

I'm not really dualist, by the way, its *material reality* that I question as a metaphysical absolute.

Joshua said...

This is true, except there is nothing embarassing about it. The question of the nature of reality is HARD. of course one cannot easily do it. That does not mean it cannot be done, or that it is not a noble endeavour to try.

Good point. Taken in context, many previous attempts were brilliant, even if we uncharitably perceive them as childish and dated today. But I'm still not too excited about people who make conclusive statements about the nature of reality and use those claims to support and extend religious doctrine. I much prefer the philosophers who show some degree of humility and refrain from building religious castles in the sky.

I guess I want to be an apologist for philosophy. Reason gets kicked around way too much these days.

An admirable goal, but I wonder if reason is really in as much danger as people say? The situation today isn't nearly as bad as it was when Aquinas revived Aristotle, and you could argue that humanity is far more rational now than at any time in history. No paganism, very little idol worship or human sacrifice. Heck, at least two of the most powerful nations on earth today are officially atheist (China and Russia).

I'm not really dualist, by the way, its *material reality* that I question as a metaphysical absolute.

Cool. That sounds really interesting, if I'm correctly guessing where you're going with that. Would love to hear more.