Throughout time, humans have had many varied concepts of the "soul." The one I'm most indoctrinated (formerly) into was the idea of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit...and many Christians believe that the holy spirit literally goes inside of you and lives inside of you. In a sense this is your soul, or that part within you that cannot be seen or touched, but can be "felt..." Being that much of the Christian teaching is based on "feeling" this becomes very abstract very quickly, but you get the idea.

In other places, not necessarily always religious, we have the idea of the Mind, Body, and Spirit connection and many seek to find a balance with all three.

Question for the crowd: Do you think we have a "soul?" Does this question matter if you're an atheist? If you DO believe in the soul, what evidence shows us this? If you do not, tell me why? I do not believe we have a soul. I'm just wondering what other people think.

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It is interesting that so many relatively independent cultures worldwide have developed some notion of human soul or spirit.  Some ascribe spirit to other animals or natural things, some just to humans, all consider human soul or spirit special in some way.

So clearly the concept has some descriptive power of something people perceive or feel is useful in terms of framing human interactions.  I think atheists often miss the mark by being too reductionist, reducing everything to questions of physical science.  If we're going to make any connections to science, religion lies far closer to the social sciences - psychology, sociology, economics, governance.  There really isn't much time spent at all in religion or religious texts on physical phenomena.

Now it is interesting as a Catholic that most Catholics have adopted the language and concept of "soul", though it would not quite be truly dogmatic.  Catholicism originated in Judaism, which really didn't have a soul concept until intertestimental times, perhaps from the Greeks or Persians.  So we believe in "resurrection of the body", but not necessarily in a separate soul. 

In any event, the concept seems to have some conceptual power and utility in human consciousness/social thought.  As a scientist, I don't tend to throw away useful ideas until they have been falsified.  When string theory was first proposed I thought it was a lot of whimsical nonsense with no "proof" whatsoever.  However, we don't demand proof of strings before we write or talk about them.   We postulate string theory,  develop a mathematics and set of theories with a range of parameters to describe cosmic strings, and then we go look for evidence of such things and make decisions about the usefulness of the theory.

So the question is not what proof is there that a soul exists (and we refuse to entertain the idea until a soul repeatedly and measurably smacks people over the head with a two by four in front of witnesses).  The question is "is the concept of a soul a useful one for human social interactions, growth, and moral development?"   If the possible answer is "yes", then it's a theory worth entertaining and developing until falsified.

As a scientist, I don't tend to throw away useful ideas until they have been falsified. 

To make sense, philosophy tells us, an idea must imply a way for it to be falsified.

If you think the idea of a soul makes sense, by what test would you see if it's falsifiable? If there is no way to falsify it, it's nonsense.

As a scientist, I don't tend to throw away useful ideas until they have been falsified. 

Okay, so then you believe in leprechauns.

Leprechauns?  Well, there is a little bit of an Irishman in me.

I'm willing to be open-minded with respect to leprechauns.  The question is one of utility; as an American, I don't find leprechaun theory to be very useful.  Maybe if I lived in the Old Country.

The challenge you have, from a social science perspective, is that an enormous number of people find religion (or notions of "soul") to be socially useful.  So unlike leprechauns, there is apparent utility.

'm willing to be open-minded with respect to leprechauns.  The question is one of utility; as an American, I don't find leprechaun theory to be very useful.

Just start believing that leprechauns can absolve you of all your sins and give you eternal life. That shouldn't be too hard.

The challenge you have, from a social science perspective, is that an enormous number of people find religion (or notions of "soul") to be socially useful.  

That's actually a challenge they have, in face of the underwhelming evidence that their existence is on a par with their supposed utility.

I must interject here!!  I agree with Dr. Bob (huh?). Here in the old country we know that Leprechauns do exist. Who else would be able to jockey my best fronkey’s at the national funky fronkey races at each Friday’s festival? They are just too small for regular people. The races are never run when there is a rainbow in the sky as I am unlikely to see my fronkey’s ever again as they chase that elusive gold. The Leprechauns have a very calming nature to restrain the wild temperament of the poor “evolution gone mad” beast.

They are also excellent at working out the wave functions of each brane in m- theory once they are allowed to think outside the box and not be constrained by systems that have not been founded in the light of bounded rationality. We even have a museum for them here in the Emerald Isle. What more proof do you need Unseen? 

You can buy a crock of gold badge there which keeps bad luck at bay. Rather like the way a crucifix keeps vampires at bay. Both Jesus and Leprechauns are REAL. They both have a long established history based upon centuries of oral tradition and scholarly books written in this land of saints and scholars.

PS “Fonks Filly Stein” for the 4:30 tomorrow but keep it hushed.

Janey Mack!

Thanks for the info, Reg. I thought it was a joke when someone told me about "Leprechaun Power." He claimed that there are leprechaun gurus teaching "leprechaunsciousness." Maybe the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow is a metaphor for the leprewisdom to be gained.

I guess I'll have to reconsider my dismissing of the existence of leprechauns.

now that we have such a bundle of objective proof there need be no future miscommunication on the subject. :-)

So clearly the concept has some descriptive power of something people perceive or feel is useful in terms of framing human interactions.  I think atheists often miss the mark by being too reductionist, reducing everything to questions of physical science.

I believe it's not usefully descriptive just for framing human interactions, but also for human-animal and human-environment interactions. The first kind of empathy that animals evolved was empathy with its own family, and species. Sexual behavior is a prime example. A subsequent kind of "empathy" evolved in animals--especially humans--to be able to intuit or feel or sense what kind of "behavior" can be expected from the environment, including seasons, weather, "behavior" that can be expected from inanimate objects when one interacts with them, and so on. I.e., human interaction with other beings or objects always came down to simplifying deductive reasoning processes to something like "if I do this, what will he/she/it do in response". Perhaps sharpening an arrow is adding "spirit" to the arrow so that it can penetrate farther.

The question is "is the concept of a soul a useful one for human social interactions, growth, and moral development?"   If the possible answer is "yes", then it's a theory worth entertaining and developing until falsified.

I think that everything is ultimately explainable in scientific terms, but that should not invalidate anyone's personal emotions or feelings. Many atheist's efforts to deny the necessity of supernatural agency goes too far when they also intentionally neglect emotional aspects of human behavior because they are not yet explainable. This is a kind of God of the Gaps, in reverse, or maybe it's even an overt, denial of the gaps in science. Note that we're now in an age where God Gaps continue to fill in with Science, and hopefully, Science gaps continue to rise in visibility and public discourse. (For newbies, this is what Tyson means by "an ever receding pocket of ignorance". Step one is in reassessing where ignorance lies, as it changes, practically daily.)

So I do feel that concepts of soul/spirit are useful, not just because they've existed for thousands of years, but because they explain a lot of human behavior and idealism. I prefer to think of soul & spirituality as temporarily hijacked by religious idealisms, as supernatural agency has never existed. I.e., I think it's important to explain characteristics of humanity in naturalist, real terms, and not ignore certain characteristics just because religion lays claim to them.

RE: ""is the concept of a soul a useful one for human social interactions, growth, and moral development?"

First, Bob, why don't you be kind enough to give us your definition of a "soul," so we're not discussing apples and kumquats, then please explain in what way the above would be the case?

Zero is a useful concept, but does zero exist? Where?

In the Vatican, wearing white.

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