Friday, December 6, 2013

The Existence of Souls and Evolution

From guest blogger, Caitlin.

I have a lot of difficulty understanding how souls could exist. I read an excerpt from a book while working on my paper that critiqued a few arguments against the existence of souls and then went on to explain why these arguments don’t work. They eventually claimed that the existence of souls is “logically possible” but they do not believe that they exist. I understand how if you believe in God or some kind of higher being you could believe in souls, but if you don’t I find it incredibly difficult to support the existence of souls. I am using the definition of souls as nonphysical entities that are not locatable, which are capable of consciousness.  If you don’t believe in God or anything along the lines of heaven what happens to your soul when you die? Once you die your soul can’t just leave your body and float away because by definition souls are immaterial and unlocatable. If you believe in a higher power you can escape many problems with souls by saying simply “it just is” or “God just made it that way” and be done with it. But that isn’t good enough for me.    
I’ve been trying to figure out if souls could be a result from natural evolution. Perhaps we evolved to have souls for survival. If this is a possibility then it also could be a possibility that souls are inherited, but I find a lot of problems with this too. If our essence is somehow inscribed in our genes then how could we ever be responsible for our actions? We can’t change our genetics, I can’t will myself to grow a few inches so it doesn’t make sense that I could will my soul to be good if it is bad. This inherently seems wrong. People should be held responsible for their actions, we are capable of reason and figuring out what is morally right and acting accordingly, but if our essence is genetic then we can’t possibly be held responsible for our actions just like how we can’t be blamed for our history of heart disease or freckles.

The more I think about the concept of souls the more I find that I really don’t agree with the claim that souls are “logically possible”, especially when you take a higher power out of the equation.  


Anonymous said...

In regard to whether souls are logically possible, the Steinberg and Steinberg article is intended to show that the concept of a soul is incoherent. It does this by showing that we can't make sense of individuating or differentiating among such presumed entities, and that without such criteria, we don't really understand the concept. This is in contradistinction to claims that the notion makes sense but that there is no suficient evidence to warrent belief that souls exist. Evolution may play a role in why this notion, incoherent as it is, is so prevalent across cultures and religions.

Alexander Laird said...

I don't see why you would think that souls might be a result of natural evolution. Souls are supernatural, whereas evolution deals only with the natural. I don't see any connection between the two. This confusion also seems to extend into your discussion of genes and being able to place responsibility on people. I once again see a confusion between the supernatural nature of souls and the very natural domain of genes.

Zach Wrublewski said...

I share your general confusion about souls, mostly because I don't understand how an immaterial substance can affect a material substance. While interesting, I don't think the idea of an evolved soul escapes this problem.

Generally, I think you're right about belief in God (or reincarnation, or some other religious belief) grounding the idea of a soul. It seems to me that some sort of argument or reason to believe in a specific version of the "afterlife" is the only intelligible grounding for a belief in souls.

On your other discussion (of inherited souls, genes, traits, etc.), I think there are several ways to argue for holding someone responsible for her actions. They could deny that decisions are determined in a way that eliminates free choice. Also, I think someone could argue that "holding someone responsible for her actions" requires the person responsible to have a free choice (they could argue, for example, that the point of "holding someone accountable" is not to uphold some sort of justice, but instead to mold behavior).

Zach Wrublewski said...

In the last sentence of my comment above, I meant to write that someone could argue that "holding some responsible for her actions" doesn't necessarily require the responsible person to have a free choice.