Hey all, this is kind of my foundation of atheism so I thought i'd post it as my introduction. First post! I've mostly been an agnostic throughout my life but I came to find that I don't even believe in the soul. There is just as little evidence in a soul as there is in evidence of a god. That is what made start calling myself an atheist. In fact I find it hard to understand how an atheist could believe in souls and if one does i'd like to know their reasoning behind it. Anyway, this is my take on it...
I believe consciousness is an emergent property of our incredibly complex biology. This belief does not make me any less in awe of life.
I believe the soul is something humans invented to ease man's natural fear of death. A fear shared by all life. The idea of the soul came before their respective religions. Tribes of early man wanted to understand this thing called death and wanted to give hope and understanding to those mourning lost loved ones. So they implanted the idea that when one dies they are merely shifting onto another plain of existence. They could again see their loved ones. They would again be able to experience life in another form.
This idea then needed to evolve with man. It needed a "backstory" or mythology, if you will an explanation or religion. So man, governments, those in power began inventing them. Most incarnations of these mythologies (religions) if you think about it are nothing more than explanations for where your soul goes when you die. But noone stops to think about WHY they actually believe they have a soul to begin with.
I believe when we die we will once again experience that which we experienced before we were born. Nothingness. Remember that time? Before you were born. There was nothing. That is what we will be returned to in death. Can this not be beautiful?
I don't believe in a soul that lives on after people die.
In computer terms I'd describe that our brain is the hardware & our mind or consciousness is the software.
In artificial intelligence one of the problems is that we don't have a machine that can replicate what the human brain does and that, some people believe, is why we won't be able to make a human or near human AI.
When I gave the computer analogy, I meant that the way the brain behaves could be considered hardware & the individual thought patterns could be considered the software. Not a very clear analogy, but in my head its much clearer.
I believe that if we could somehow map out the brain of a person, his/her thought patterns etc & build machine that can replicate what the brain does, then we can make a digital copy of that person. Include a memory transfer & technically a person could be digitized.
Very far fetched, I know. But given enough research & time, it might be possible.
PS - Instead of software, a more apt term would be evolving firmware.
I don't believe in a 'soul' and I think the concept comes very naturally, stemming from our innate theory of mind. As far as I can tell, religion is just an extension of this, and early religions show a lot of attributes that I think supports this. Monotheism is purely a political tool. In one of the early comments on that blog, Nelson pointed to two books, Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained and Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust, that he says delve more deeply into the subject.
I might not mind if a soul existed though, but then again who knows what sorts of horrors might await us if it did.
Nelson, Why was the idea of a soul attractive? I'm not sure but it doesn't stop me from guessing and forming opinions based on archetypical human behaviors. I think the idea of the soul could have arose when we were somewhat less evolved mentally. Shaman, wise elders could have come up with the idea and passed it down. Have you seen the movie "The Invention of Lying"? What i'm speaking of is actually illustrated in this movie. I had to have a little laugh to myself when I saw it. Ricky Gervais' mother is on her death bed and he wants her to be happy about what is going to happen so he invents this idea of her living on after death, going to heaven. I'm not saying this is what happened in a literal sense exactly. I'm just using it as a median example as a way of illustrating how it could have come about.
So you wouldn't agree that the story of god is meaningless without the idea of a soul? Native religions and the spirit world? Religions that center around reincarnation?
I have to disagree with you that the egg came before the chicken in this sense. Religion came before the idea of the soul. I don't think many religious stories have any leg to stand on without the idea of a soul or spirit world or reincarnation. You have this mythology of the soul (which I agree would have arose in many different cultures) and then you have this mythology of RELIGION which basically explains what is going to happen to your soul depending on how amicable you are in your lifetime.
"it seems clear that even if the existence of a soul was invented to offset a fear of death, it hardly would have been very comforting as then the issue becomes fear of hell and the guilt associated with attempts to attain the salvific reward."
But this is kind of my point. When the idea of the soul was first used to comfort, explain, give strength. There was no fear of hell yet as what i'm saying is that would have came later.
"you can't argue that people just up and invented a soul and then built religion around the idea of the soul without first explaining where the soul came from with something a bit more substantive than "fear of death, therefore soul." KWIM?"
Actually I can argue that. There are MANY people even today who believe they have a soul but have no mythology to explain it. They don't know how or why but they just believe it. In my opinion they simply believe it because it is just the better thing to believe! The easier thing to believe!
To be clear I suppose when I use the all encompassing word "SOUL" i'm thinking of more of BOTH christian souls, spirit worlds, reincarnation, animism and anything of the like where your sense of self may live on without your body.
I'm sure he has a broad range of knowledge. He won't shut up about it. He doesn't seem to want to share any of it though either :)
I will check out your link.. I Instapapered it :D
Nelson is cool - he just pushes people to think and maybe read up on the subject themselves rather than hammering down a wad of already distilled facts. He pointed me to a couple good books on theory of mind stuff and I'm just getting started on one now. It's always fun to just use our imagination as well, but sometimes a little futile when experimentation to investigate several imaginative postulations has already proven them to be false.
I picked up something when he pointed out 'religion' and 'religious thought' that I hadn't really formed into words yet. I think I have tended to call 'religious thought' a 'god-concept', but religious thought is a lot better phrase. The idea that aspects of the world might conform to behaviors that model a consciousness stems from us seeing things that aren't really there, so in that sense we could have 'religious thought' before ever stepping forward to a 'god concept'. I tend to jump into thinking of it at the 'god concept' level, which sort of ignores the evolutionary roots of religious thought and just trundles off into how the idea evolved AFTER is occurred. The difference between evolution an abiogenesis, if you will.
Could we perhaps say that the soul is to psychology what alchemy is to chemistry? Pseudoscience that had its roots in something real?
I guess my belief in a soul stops where it stops equating with psychology. And I "believe" (more accurately: trust) in psychology.