Thursday, December 21, 2006

Short Dialogue with Atheists on Souls, Bodily Resurrection, and Heaven (vs. Steve Conifer and Sue Strandberg)

Is there such a thing as a soul, or a resurrected body?

[By Dave Armstrong: from Internet list discussion: 28 April and 8 June 2001. Steve's words will be in blue, Sue's in red:]

A brave soul you are, venturing into this subject matter and spirited discussion . . . but to get to the heart and soul of the question: The sole notion of importance is the spirit of the thing . . . :-) Okay, okay . . . couldn't resist . . .
How can one possibly conceptualize a nonspatial (or transcendent), atemporal entity?
By thinking at all, just as you did right then (and as you are, reading this).
There's no substance to imagine, no points of reference (in space or time), just no imagery whatever.
One doesn't need "imagery" (there is no image to a "spirit" in the first place, by definition). One merely needs thought and consciousness, or self-awareness. What "imagery" does a person blind from birth see? Does that mean, then, that they can't imagine or conceptualize anything? Stevie Wonder, e.g., has said that when he thinks of colors, he imagines them to be analogous to how the sun's rays feel on his skin. Very interesting . . .
I suspect that what YOU take to be (what you believe is an accurate mental representation of) a "soul" (or "spirit") is something largely akin to a ghost on TV.
No; that's what I conceptualize as most pop psychic nonsense and charlatanism (or horror movie imagery) - akin to the "devil in a red suit [with the obligatory zipper in back] and horns, with a pitchfork" sort of silly and stupid cultural "mush religion" which attempts to pass for a description of serious Christianity (and to caricature or distort it, on other levels of deliberate slander and construction of straw men).
But that's really just a guy with a sheet over his head, Dave, and no matter how hard you try, I assure you that you will NOT succeed in conceptualizing a nonspatial, atemporal entity.
As I said, it is no different from having a thought, or a dream, an imagination, an intuition, an inspiration, an appreciation of beauty, romantic love, reflection upon poetry, or any number of things along those lines.
Why? Because it's downright impossible.
I should think that any philosophically-minded person would be a lot more reluctant to throw around a word such as "impossible." It is impossible for you because you have chosen to think in categories (themselves axiomatic and unprovable) that disallow belief in spirits and souls in the first place. That is not rational argument per se; it is arbitrary selectivity and hypothesis-espousal as to what one chooses to believe: defining some things as "out" from the outset.
Now, does this prove that no such entity exists? Yes, since it shows the proposition that there exists such an entity to be unthinkable and therefore conceptually (a priori) false.
Why, and how, then, did a great many philosophers manage to believe in such a thing? You tell me. Were they all simpletons or bound to dogmatic religious assumptions which even they couldn't shake due to cultural mores or groundless sentimentalities or psychological needs? Einstein, e.g. (as one example among hundreds of revered intellects) is in disagreement with you on this "spirit" / "atemporal entity" business. How can that be, if this is so obviously "impossible" to imagine? You clearly consider him intelligent and rational, else you wouldn't have tried so hard (failing, I believe) to establish that he is more properly to be classified in your camp than in mine (given that rigid double choice).
And how is that even atheists can be dualists, as I am currently being informed, yet have the greatest difficulty comprehending a mind (or soul) which doesn't have a body or brain to accompany it? What is so difficult about that?! I don't get it. One simply imagines thinking or mind without a brain to be necessarily associated with it. The relevant question at hand is the relationship between minds and bodies. Far greater minds than yours and mine have struggled with that complex question for centuries. The very struggle itself leads me to believe that, therefore, the question is not so cut-and-dried, black-and-white, and simply resolved as you make it out to be, by slinging around words such as "impossible." You don't seem to show much respect for the history of philosophy when you talk like this.

. . . it should be noted that virtually no theist (or believer in an afterlife of some kind) takes either God or the afterlife to be physical in character. Indeed, some (if not most) of them take both to be immaterial and atemporal, i.e., outside spacetime altogether.

This is quite uninformed. All orthodox Christians (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and non-classified trinitarians) believe in the general resurrection. That means that we will eventually have bodies in heaven. If we have bodies, presumably there will be ground to walk on, food to eat, chairs, and all the usual accompaniments of physical life. I'm hoping there will still be baseball, roller coasters and hang gliders, so I can float on a cloud, but it will be with both a body and a hang glider. :-)

In orthodox Christianity God the Father is a spirit, as is the Holy Spirit (obviously). God the Son took on flesh and a human nature in the Incarnation, and retains His body eternally.

I think you are making a much too hasty generalization here. I seem to recall that both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons believe that the afterlife will be physical, a bodily resurrection into a world (or worlds) much like the Garden of Eden was before the Fall.

As do orthodox Christians (which these two groups are not - they deny the Trinity). JW's (I studied their doctrine in some depth in the early 80s, as a cult researcher) believe that God the Father has a body. I'm not sure about the Mormons.

What you guys are describing are the Platonists and the heretical Gnostics who followed them insofar as regarding matter as evil (so that resurrection would be quite undesirable; indeed virtually unthinkable). This is gross heresy and a foul error in the eyes of the Apostles and the three branches of orthodox Christianity.

The other day I was curious and went into a Christian chatroom to ask them what they believed about heaven. They were either very vague or very specific. One woman wistfully said "oh, I hope I get a cottage by a lake" and nobody at all seemed to think this odd. They seem to see "spiritual reality" as virtually identical to this one, only somehow lighter or more purified.

Yes, that's good theology. This life is a preparation for the next, which will not be so different as to be completely unfamiliar to us. That's why we will have our own bodies, but in a resurrected, glorified form. It's only our wonderful "cultural mush religion" which perpetuates all the silly, stupid stereotypes about floating on a cloud playing a harp, St. Peter at the Gate, and all the rest of the juvenile, inane tripe which our secular culture seeks to pass off as representative of serious Christian theology (so as to be able to ridicule and dismiss it - very ingenious!).

And even Christians pick up some of this drivel from the culture, unfortunately. We don't seem to be able to escape the influence of secularization, pervasive anti-Christian bias or ignorance, and theological watering-down. It's hard to be different and independent-minded. One has to work much harder and be all the more educated, to go against the grain of society and actually understand Christianity as it is and has been all through the centuries.

I am also thinking of the book/movie What Dreams May Come, a New Age version of heaven that is also very similar to our experiences in this life, only stranger in content.

Unless the New Agers give me rational reasons to believe in their brand of reality, I don't care about their speculations of heaven. I used to be into all the "life after life" near-death experiences (and von Daniken and Uri Geller and UFO's and so forth) during my occultic-leaning period. But I have a far more skeptical and rational criterion of truth and falsehood since becoming a Christian.

The sophisticated heaven of the theologians and transcendental mystics seems to be very different than what the majority of people expect.

One would expect people who have actually studied the subject to know far more (just as in philosophy or science or any other field of knowledge), even despite the assurances we have heard here that any atheist can readily understand biblical exegesis and theology as well as your average Christian (not very compellingly demonstrated in practice here, however, I hasten to add). To read a bit more sophisticated orthodox Catholic descriptions of heaven, see the articles in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) on Heaven and General Resurrection. If you don't trust the Catholic version, the Protestant beliefs on these things are pretty much the same as ours, as far as I know.

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