A Concise Essay that Refutes Physicalism (Based on a lecture by J.P. Moreland’)

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Christianity teaches that the soul and the body are not the same. This is supported in Old Testament2 as well as in New Testament3 scriptures. The soul continues after death to exist without the body until the resurrection4. Paul also talked about the soul that left the body5.  Many Christian scholars, however, do not believe this any longer and do not hold that the soul and the body are different entities. Under pressure of modern neurophysiology, they believe the soul is a behavior of the brain and that the resurrected body will be recreated out of nothing.  Some hold that evolution makes the existence of an immaterial soul highly unlikely. Further more, if Darwinism is true, then there is no god, and the mind and the brain are the same thing. But the question is; can the mind be pure matter and how did it come to be?  Did it evolve from matter and is nothing but matter? Or are there persuasive arguments to contradict this notion?

To argue that the soul and the brain are not the same, we have to define certain terminologies.  It is important to distinguish between property and substance. Property is a characteristic or attribute possessed by something, it belongs to something, e.g. brown, square, humanity – these all belong to ‘something’ but is not the ‘something’. Physical properties are used in hard science; in chemistry and physics, like mass, being in motion or electric charge to describe and study these disciplines. Substance has properties but nothing has it. Substance can gain or lose properties, though the substance stays the same. For example, an electron can gain or lose charge but stays an electron. Even so myself. I can gain or lose properties, yet my substance would not change.

The mind-body problem raises the question; are humans one kind of thing with the mind equal to the body, just material? Or two kinds of things namely body and mind, that is, material and something more?

The Strict Physicalist holds that humans are one kind of thing. Just physical. We are a physical substance, brain only, with physical properties. Yet, holding this view, the existence of consciousness is a problem.

Dualism asserts that humans are two kinds of things namely physical and immaterial. There are, however, two dualist views. a. The property duelist. Humans are one physical substance but with two kinds of properties namely with physical properties and with immaterial mental properties (mind/consciousness). b. The substance dualist. Humans are two kinds of properties. Each has its own possessor or substance: a material object, the brain (the substance), that has physical properties plus an immaterial thing (substance) that has mental properties, that is the ‘I’ or the soul.

We have to consider the nature of identity and look at the law of indiscernible identicals – ‘Leibniz’s Law 6; for any or all of X, and any or all of Y, if X is identical to Y, then for all properties P, P will be true of X only if P is true of Y (X with all properties P = Y with all properties P). Thus X=Y is identical and the same thing. But if all P is not in X but in Y, then X and Y are not identical.

Science cannot help with the question of mind and body.  We have to ask; are there things that we know about the mental properties P, say of X, that are not true of the physical properties P, say of Y. And vice versa. If so, then X does not equal Y.

Science can show that stimulation of the brain causes a reaction; a thought or an emotion of pain. Or with damage, loss of function can be demonstrated. But if X is shown to functionally interact with Y, it does not follow that X equals Y. Now we can ask; are there things we know are true of mental properties that are not true of physical properties and vice versa? Are there mental properties that are not the same as physical properties? As an example, stimulating the brain can cause a physical reaction but the person can also see his mother in a green dress. This image is not physical but mental and therefore not the same for each.

Arguments for At Least Property Dualism (mental properties not identical to physical properties)

Mental states are sensations of two kinds. 1. Perceptual Sensation. These are states of sentience or an awareness of conscience produced by the five sense organs. E.g., awareness of color or sound. This awareness is present in the person. 2. Non-perceptional Sensation. This is the same but not produced by the senses e.g., a. the feeling of pain, b. the sensation of fear, love, anger, c. thoughts, that exist while occurrent, can be expressed in sentences and can be true or false, d. beliefs, mental content, e. beliefs that are not thoughts. I can have beliefs that I am not thinking of and they can be true or false, f. acts of free will, g. desires. These mental states or properties do not have physical properties like size, mass, electric charge. Thought activities can be seen on a scan but not what they are or if they are true or false.

Therefore, there are things true of perceptual and non-perceptual sensation that are not true of physical properties. And vice versa. They are not identical to the physical properties of the brain and the physical properties of the brain are not identical to these mental properties. The mental state or mental properties do not have shape, size, and not are not spatially located. Physical states cannot be true or false, but thoughts can. Some sensations are pleasurable but physical properties can never be. There are things true of perceptual and non-perceptual sensations but not true of physical properties which have shape and weight, etc, and vice versa. These are not the same kind of properties.

The first argument for At Least Property Dualism: The comprehensive knowledge of matter through science does not exhaust all knowledge that there is. For example, a scientist may have more knowledge about my brain than what I have but he cannot have more knowledge of my thoughts, emotions, etc. I only have this first-person private awareness.

The second argument for At Least Property Dualism. Intentionality is not a physical feature. Intentionality is an ofness, a unity of thought, or aboutness, of my sensations, beliefs, and thoughts. Intentionality points to things like thoughts about objects, about God, beliefs about the holocaust, sensations of the sound of a musical instrument. All conscious mental states have this feature of intentionality, but physical ones have not. I know my thoughts and feelings just by paying attention to them and I can inspect them. A scientist cannot do that, he can only monitor my brain status.

Conclusion. What is it that has these mental properties? Either it is the brain that has two kinds of properties (property dualism) or we have a body and a soul that each possesses its respective kind of properties (substance dualism). Thus that At Least Property Dualism is true.

Arguments for Substance Dualism

  First argument. No amount of information about my body or my consciousness will tell anyone who or where I am. At least, in theory, one can switch from one body to another, but you cannot switch your mind/soul. Then, if I am a brain others should be able to tell, by describing my brain, which person I am, who I am and where I am. Yet, it still is an open question to ask, “Which one is mine, which brain is mine, after I have switched bodies?” I have to be immediately acquainted with my own ego to know the description is true of me. Now consider the ‘split-brain operation’. One-half of person 1’s brain is put into a body (call this person 2), and the other half is put into a different body (call this person 3). Suppose that persons 2 and 3 have all person 1’s memories and personality traits, where is person 1? There could be four options: a. Person 1 was annihilated, and two new people came to exist. b. Person 1 is equal to person 2, and person 3 is just a mental double, but not a new person. c. Like option 2, but here person 2 is the mental double and not a new person, and person 1 is equal to person 3. d. You cannot split persons in half, where person 2 is equal to ½ person 1, and person 3 is equal to ½ person 1. What is the solution? While we know where person 1’s body and brain are, we don’t know where person 1 is. Yet, we would, if person 1 is equal to person 1’s brain (i.e., the physicalist view). We would know where person 1 is if person 1 is equal to all his or her personality traits, memories, and conscious life (on a property dualism view). But, one person cannot be two people, person 2 and 3.  No amount of information in this dilemma can solve the question. We are missing the information about person 1’s ego, so there is more to person 1 than just his or her brain, or his or her personality traits, memories, and conscious life.

  The second argument. I, the soul, the mind, have the property of being possibly disembodied but my body does not have this property. Therefore, I am not identical to my body. Even if life after death is false, it is at least possible that I am the kind of thing that can exist in a disembodied manner. If so, I am not identical to my brain. Near-death experiences involve an immaterial self that can look at one’s body. Where did humans get this idea that one can leave one’s body? From what we experience and how we see ourselves separate from the body/brain. We are aware of being a conscious being and not a brain. Throughout the world and history, people talk about ‘my brain, my foot, my eye’, not meaning that I am a brain, a foot or an eye but that I possess it.

  Thirdly, the argument from the reality of free will. Physical objects behave by natural laws and inputs. If I am just a brain, even if with consciousness, then all my behaviors are fixed by my brain, genes, and environmental inputs. Free choices require that I am more than just my body, more than just physical material, that I am a body and an immaterial mental substance.

The Structure of The Human Soul

  Evolution can explain where the body comes from but not where the mind, the soul or ego, the immaterial comes from. Darwinism is a physical theory. Humans have many capacities (potentialities, abilities) that we do not exercise, that are often not functional. And cannot be physical. For example, when we are sleeping, we can have the capacity to speak English but not speaking English. We also have the capacities to have capacities. I have the capacity to speak English, but not Russian, but I have the capacity to develop that capacity, to speak Russian, too.

  Faculties of the soul are families of resembling capacities Examples are; 1. Capacities of seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing. My eyes don’t see. I see. But my eyes have to function. My soul needs the faculty of sight. 2. The mind is my set of capacities to reason, think and believe. My mind is a faculty of my soul – all my capacities together. 3. Emotions are a set of capacities. 4. The will is a set of powers to choose – the faculty of volitional will. 5. The spirit, a faculty of the human soul. It is a power to be aware of God and be related to Him.

  I am essentially my soul. I, my soul, is attached to my body but I am not my body. I have one and have a mind but am not identical to it.

           1. J.P. Moreland. (B.S., M.A., Ph.D., Th.M.) American philosopher, theologian, and Christian apologist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California

2. Ecclesiastes 12:7 For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

        3. Matthew 10:28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.

      4. Philippians 3:20–21 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will            ………. transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

5. 2 Corinthians 12:3 Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows.

6. The Identity of Indiscernibles First published Wed Jul 31, 1996; substantive revision Sun Aug 15, 2010 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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