The comic depicts a day where science has finally invented a machine to transport objects instantly from one location to the other. Think Star Trek. Of course, everyone hails this great technological feat, but at least one man, the protagonist of the strip, is disturbed. The comic states:
The machines did more than transport people. They also killed them. Since the machines didn't use exactly the same atoms in exactly the same position, what arrived on the other side wasn't the original but only a copy. However, because the copy had the memory of the original's past, it believed it was the same person.The man is disgusted at the wholesale death that people were accepting for the sake of convenience, which he deems immoral. He eventually meets the inventor of the machine and confronts him on such wanton disregard for human life. The inventor counters by answering, "My boy, surely you don't think that 'you' are the individual atoms of your body, do you? One carbon atom is the same as the next! And your body itself flushes out and replaces atoms all the time, yet you say nothing of copies. 'You' are not the atoms in your body but the pattern of the atoms." The man realizes now that every day he awakes his atoms are different. He dies every night as he loses consciousness and a copy wakes in the morning with the memories of the past. The man goes into an existential crisis.
The question of identity that the strip portrays is one that has a long history in philosophy, going back to ancient Greece. Known as Theseus' Paradox, it is usually represented as a ship piloted by Theseus whose weather-worn components are replaced one at a time until eventually there are no original parts. Is this still Theseus' ship? What if one were to take all those original pieces and reassemble them right next to the repaired ship? Which would properly be Theseus' ship now?
What is the Essential Element?Both the transporter machine and Theseus' paradox ask the question of what makes up the essential element of a thing. If we are only a pattern of atoms arranged in a certain way, then can two specific identical patterns of atoms both claim to be the same person? The comic assumes that our material nature is really all there is to us. Our consciousness and our memories are what inevitably come from a specific arrangement of those atoms. That means the mental reduces to the material, and you can recreate a consciousness by duplicating the specific material components.
As the comic shows, if this is true then life can be seen to be meaningless. What one does doesn't matter since a real you doesn't continue through life, but a bunch of copies. When viewed through a materialist lens, there is really no meaning to life at all. However, Christianity offers an answer to this dilemma. The Christian view of humanity teaches that we are not merely the assembly of atoms. Human beings have not only a body but a soul, an immaterial aspect of ourselves that stays the same throughout our existence. The soul is not replaced bit by bit. It is fundamentally the same thing. The soul is our essential self. While humans are made to be both body and soul, it is in our souls where our conscious selves reside. Even when we sleep, our souls continue and we don't cease to be.
Implications of a SoulThe idea that each of us possesses a soul has incredible implications. It not only provides continuity in this life (I am the same person tomorrow when I awake and I am today), but it gives us an understanding that people who are born without things like arms and legs are still fully valuable as human beings because they do not have less of a soul. It helps us understand why unborn human beings are valuable individuals. It also helps us to understand that what we do in this life matters because even if our material elements are destroyed in death, our souls will continue on.
J. P. Moreland has quoted J. Gresham Machen who said, "I think we ought to hold not only that man has a soul, but that it is important that he should know that he has a soul." We can clearly see why it is so important. If we are to take the materialist position, we are entirely consistent to believe there is no meaning to anything at all and there's really nothing to live for. But because we are body and soul, God has given us real meaning for this life as well as for the next.
RE: "The soul is not replaced bit by bit. It is fundamentally the same thing. "ReplyDelete
First, you believe your 'soul' at conception is the same as your 'soul' at the prime of your life, say, 30 years old?
Second, where did your soul come from? Is it a part of God himself? Or did God zap it into existance from nothing in Heaven before you were born?
You may not like the consequences of finding out you don't have a supernatural soul, but your goal should be to seek what's true, not what feels best (delusion).
RE: 'First, you believe your 'soul' at conception is the same as your 'soul' at the prime of your life, say, 30 years old?'Delete
Why shouldn't it be? Is it because I don't remember being unborn? I don't remember being asleep when I was 30 either.
RE: 'Second, where did your soul come from? Is it a part of God himself? Or did God zap it into existance from nothing in Heaven before you were born?'
My soul is created so it certainly isn't part of God who is uncreated by definition. God is the creator of all things material and immaterial.
RE: 'You may not like the consequences of finding out you don't have a supernatural soul, but your goal should be to seek what's true, not what feels best (delusion).'
Are you saying that you agree that the consequences of there being no supernatural soul is that there is no meaning to life? If we have no soul then I'm afraid we are both deluded my friend. What you or I 'feel' matters not a jot. There is no right and there is no wrong and so any search for truth is futile. But I suspect that we both consider that truth exists and that it is worth seeking. I suspect that you don't consider yourself to be deluded, even though your worldview demands that we all must be.
Only the theist is consistent as a truth seeker. The naturalist is forced to borrow from the theistic worldview in order to establish that truth exists and can be known. A consistent naturalist has no basis for either truth or knowledge for in his worldview all experience is delusion.
Tip. Take a break from the philosophy of Dawkins. It's not his field of expertise.
The person above has interesting thoughts and points. I'll be curious to your response. I agree with what you are saying concerning life is meaningless if we are just bodies. I am very open minded and always seeking truth and everything always leads me to God. There are of course unanswered questions that everybody has and that there aren't any answers to. I know people say God is mythical and a lot of other things, but I also believe we have a choice. I choose to believe in God.ReplyDelete
Except you dont, not really. What you're actually sayng is that you WANT to belive in God, so the answers you're looking for leads you there. You stare long enough at the wallpaper, you're going to see a face. The face isnt there, but your mind thinks it is. On the other hand, God might be there, and I'm the one who's not seeing the face that is really there because I assume its not. That doesnt make it a choice though.Delete
I certainly enjoyed both the article and the referenced comic strip. For me, the answer is really quite simple. Either a person maintains his identity; or, no person at all exists, rather than a multiplicity of them.ReplyDelete
The alternative to selves is not only grim, but self-defeating (a pun in this case). The soul, with its power to imagine and to create, and to bring into existence other things like language, art, and science—indeed all of knowledge—is either the most powerful non-existent thing in the entire cosmos; or, a really existing—as wholly distinctive from the material constituents of the body, so constituted—person.
The self indeed causally affects the material components of the bio-mechanical instrument we call the physiological brain. It elicits changes to both neuronal and chemical, even physical components, making decisions as to how I think, speak, and act. This person (soul) I call me is the one thing I am 100% certain of. Everything else may be a delusion; but, I know me.
RE, article said: "However, Christianity offers an answer to this dilemma. The Christian view of humanity teaches that we are not merely the assembly of atoms."ReplyDelete
Wishful thinking isn't a way to determine truth. Just because you don't like the consequences doesn't mean it isn't true. You are facing your mortality, and fighting your survival instinct. Believing in an afterlife might make you feel good, but it is a fantasy (delusion).
Wishful thinking? Delusion? Can you please come up with a better argument than just parroting Dawkins? Wait - let me refute you: Just because you don't believe that there exists such a thing as the soul doesn't mean that it isn't true. Brilliant.Delete
Just because you want something to be true, doesn't mean it isn't.ReplyDelete
...okay, I agree its kind of sad if we are just a collection of atoms that thinks it is a person, but just because its sad doesnt make it go away. You dont really seem to make an argument of why we would have a soul other than that you want us to have one. I dont particularly like the idea of just evaporating like mist when I die, but thats probably whats going to happen, I cant do anything to avoid it. And even if I could, the thought of eternal life has its own unpleasant implications.ReplyDelete