Dinesh D Souza, The Greatness of Christianity: Table of Contents
Cf. Dinesh D’souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, at Amazon
“This idea of immaterial souls… has outlived its credibility thanks to the advance of the natural sciences.” —Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves
IT IS POSSIBLE TO ASSERT A STRONG OBJECTION to our discussion of con- science, morality, and the traditional notions of right and wrong. We might think we experience the call of conscience, but how do we know that this is not an illusion? Religion tells us that these transactions of good and evil take place in the “soul,” but where can this soul be located? There is a powerful strain of atheism that teaches that human beings are nothing more than matter. In this materialistic view, the soul is a fiction, a “ghost in the machine” that has been invented by religion for its own purposes. After all, we never encounter this ghost within the material frame of human beings. What we do encounter is brains, arteries, blood, and organs. These are all made up of the same atoms and molecules as trees and stones, and are assembled by a process of evolution and natural selection into this intricate machine we call Homo sapiens. From this perspective, man is a kind of intelligent robot, a carbon-based computer. Consequently, man should be understood in the same material terms in which we understand software programs.
“If we do indeed possess an immaterial soul,” physicist Victor Stenger writes in God: The Failed Hypothesis, “then we should expect to find some evidence for it.” But science has found none, which leads Stenger to conclude that the soul is a myth. Philosopher Daniel Dennett writes, “Our brains are made of neurons, and nothing else. Nerve cells are very complicated mechanical systems. You take enough of those, and you put them together, and you get a soul.” Dennett is not suggesting that the soul is itself a material object. Rather, he is implying that the soul is simply the name for the brain’sability to do certain kinds of mechanical processing.
Physicist Jerome Elbert writes that souls cannot exist, because “if souls exist and are essential for thinking and decision making, our mental processes involve frequent communications from the brain to the soul and from the soul to the brain.” As a scientist, Elbert confesses, “I find the idea of such interactions very disturbing.” The reason he is troubled is that he cannot possibly see how an immaterial entity like the soul can move or influence a material object like the brain. He also raises a deeper issue. “If such interactions exist, the human brain is an interface to another, nonphysical world. Such inter- actions suggest that the rules of science apply to all of the universe— except for human beings…. This picture gives humans a unique position in the universe. This anthropocentric picture seems very unacceptable to the scientific worldview.” For Elbert, the existence of the soul jeopardizes the very nature of modern science.
Yet there are equally profound consequences to insisting that man is nothing more than matter operating according to physical laws. If that is so, then we live in a deterministic universe and free will is an illusion. Some, like Francis Crick and E. 0. Wilson, unhesitatingly assert that human beings do not have free will. “It seems free to you,” Crick says, “but it’s the result of things you are not aware of.” Wilson writes that “the hidden preparation of mental activity gives the illusion of free will.”
But Richard Dawkins argues that although we are the product of our selfish genes, “we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” Thus, if we “understand what our own selfish genes are up to … we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs.” If this is true, then by Dawkins’s own admission we humans occupy a unique position in the universe, because our minds can control our biological destiny. But how is it possible for us to rebel against our genes? How are we different from computers, who cannot rebel against their programming, or cheetahs, who unquestioningly obey the mandate to hunt and survive, or meteors, which travel in placid obedience to the laws of force and gravity? Dawkins has no explanation for this and doesn’t seem to think he needs one.