In Part I & Part II I alleged that significant biblical oversights compromise the integrity of the arguments contained in A Ghost In The Machine (AGITM), unfortunately rendering the piece little more than an extremely well-written and well-researched strawman / either-or fallacy.
Now I’d like to address a few more of the author’s statements, aiming to show that even when facts themselves are completely authoritative, interpretations are surely not always so. Although I don’t expect to convince any skeptics of the ‘soul’ or ‘spirit,’ if any skeptic will concede that my tripartite interpretation is at least internally consistent, or at least that the following paragraph contains genuine difficulties, I would consider such a success.
The author begins the second section of AGITM with:
“The evidence shows that (aspects of consciousness) are completely determined by the physical configuration of the brain, and that a change to this configuration can alter or eliminate any of them. In short, I will show that, as the materialist position predicts, every part of the mind is entirely dependent on and controlled by the brain.” (paren. and ital. mine)
In Part I we discussed the first pivotal misunderstanding of religion I claim compromises the validity of the main thesis in the rather well-written A Ghost In The Machine (AGITM). The second implicit misunderstanding we ought to discuss relates to misinterpretations of salvation, the peculiarly culturally-resilient notion that,
“If the person has been virtuous, the soul is admitted to Heaven for an eternity of reward; if the person has been wicked or sinful, their soul descends to Hell for an eternity of punishment.”
Although the author did not explicitly assert this to be the Bible’s position, this is not a biblical teaching, and it is unclear from the essay whether the author understands the biblical perspective, although many of the questions asked in the case studies raise legitimate concern. The above is nevertheless an erroneous interpretation of scripture frequently straw-manned by critics of all stripe in the general public and academia alike, not surprisingly with little or no counter from theism. I say “not surprisingly” because as the author of AGITM is apt to notice, many pious do not know the Bible with the same degree of expertise they expect of its critics.
As with yesterday’s discussion, this apparent misunderstanding of salvation potentially undermines AGITM’s overall argument and even further lessens its relevance to theism. Although less relevant to AGITM’s main thesis (the argument against spirit / soul), this point of contention is relevant to many of the sub-arguments and questions of whether salvation would be granted under the unfortunate conditions experienced by those in the fourteen case studies. Many and possibly all of the sub-dilemmas raised fall apart when salvation is delineated in a manner compatible with scripture. For it is only in the misunderstood context of the biblical ‘soul’ and the rewards-and-punishments system that such questions as these arise at all:
“One must ask whether these people’s disabilities will affect their eternal fate. Would a Christian, Jew or Muslim who lost their automatic speech be held accountable by God for failing to say the prayers he has demanded of them, through no fault of their own? What about a deeply religious individual who loses the ability to speak except in profanities?”
…or the following from the discussion of frontotemporal dementia (FTD):
“..will God damn people for their genes?”
Ebonmuse has on his site another much-talked-about essay titled A Ghost In The Machine which is a valiant argument against Cartesian duality, or the generally-theist idea that humans have a soul substance that can survive or somehow transcend the death of the physical body. While leaving a comment in the thread of On Expertise I noticed another comment by Heliobates which read,
“…if you want to read what I consider to be THE SLAM DUNK argument against theism, check out our host’s A Ghost In The Machine. Without Cartesian dualism, religion is dead in the water.”
To this I responded,
“IMO the error… is in assuming all religion dependent upon the Cartesian paradigm. Yes, I can and will offer a detailed counter-explanation, but it is far beyond the scope of the thread..”
So here we are. I said I would offer a detailed counter-explanation, and now I’ve got to stick to my word.