There is no ‘Soul’ . . .
An extract from Chapter 7 on the neuroscience of faith:
Note: Early sections of Chapter 7 describe how religious belief is simply a ‘by product’ of innate human ‘adoptions’ and how organised religion learned to feed off these basic social and survival mechanisms. Here we discuss the fallacy of a human ‘soul’, and the chapter concludes with the ‘Born Again’ phenomenon.
Death is something humans have struggled with since the dawn of time, and it’s a primary reason for our early ancestors developing concepts of religion and an afterlife. What would be the point of creating supernatural gods if it all ended at death?
They wanted a part of themselves to be eternal, so at some point in distant history our mortal consciousness was believed to become an immortal ‘soul’. Earlier in the chapter we mentioned how children are natural dualists and why they are able to have imaginary friends. We saw how this is made possible – and why it is absolutely necessary to have that ability – when we discussed the Medial Frontal Cortex and the issue of decoupled cognition.
It also explains why it is so easy to imagine that humans have a ‘soul’ that lives on after death. And this all sits so perfectly with the Christian story of ‘original sin, the death and resurrection of Christ, and the redemption of the faithful in heaven.’
Conveniently, the promise of hell for non-believers – and the millions of poor sods who worshipped the wrong god – is all part of the whole fear-based ‘carrot and stick’ doctrine of Christianity. ‘Follow Jesus or you will go to hell’. So it’s critical for Christians to believe in an imaginary ‘soul’.
But this natural brain function of decoupled cognition – that can give the illusion of a soul – creates a serious problem for Christianity. If only Homo sapiens can have a soul, at what point in our early evolution did an alleged God bestow this gift?
There is no single generation that marked our transformation from ape-man to man-ape, and through the various hominid lines to become Homo sapiens – modern humans. The Bible, too, is conflicted about the concept of everlasting souls, and where they actually reside.
Dr Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and co-founder of Project Reason,31 and we referred earlier to his MRI studies of both religious and non-religious subjects, with respect to their brain chemistry and personal beliefs. On the question of a human soul, Dr Harris asks how this aspect of human consciousness – the alleged ‘soul’ – can somehow disassociate itself from the brain at death.
He refers to all the damage that a brain can suffer – dementia, stroke, severe mental illness. Does this mean the brain miraculously recovers and heals itself after death, to be transported to heaven as a whole and healthy ‘soul’? Dr Harris says;32
“There are very good reasons to think this is not true. We know this from 150 years of neurology. If you damage the brain, and faculties are lost, is it then true that the soul is still perfectly intact? . . . (imagine that) everything about your mind is severely damaged. What we’re being asked to consider is that you can damage one part of the brain and the mind, and its subjectivity is lost. You damage another part and more cognitive function is lost – and yet if you damage the whole thing at death, we can rise up off the brain with all our faculties intact, recognising grandma (in heaven), and speaking perfect English.”
Christians who claim that it’s our ‘soul’ that goes to heaven (or hell) are essentially ‘substance dualists’. They claim our brains have two ‘substances’ – a physical substance (the brain itself ), and a non-physical substance, supposedly the soul.
Sam Harris explains above, in simple terms, why that cannot be so. But for those who are interested in a far more detailed explanation there are two excellent videos (one 33 and two 34 — both 10-minutes) by a well-known and highly credible psychologist who dismantles the Christian claim of a soul by using science and logic.
Religious experiences can be caused by a variety of common human factors, in addition to the varying degrees of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) that we discussed earlier. Dr Lyndall Wemm cites a list of these factors she identifies as conducive to paranormal belief.
These causes include; fatigue, prolonged hunger, thirst, pain, sleeplessness, sensory deprivation, pulsating light, intense sound, loud music, chanting, dancing, stomping, clapping, rhythmic movement, shock, emotional exhilaration, life-threatening danger, oxygen deprivation and CO2 poisoning. She also refers to religious practices that induce ecstasy, glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and fainting attacks. She states; 35
“This raises questions of the legitimacy of the religious visions and events reported in various holy books: bushes which burn but are not consumed, divine commands to murders one’s child, visions of angels, stones inscribed by an invisible hand, temptations spoken by the devil, and so on.
. . . The conversion of Saul of Tarsus to St. Paul of the Gentiles was effected on the road to Damascus, when Saul/Paul saw a bright light followed by a speaking vision of Jesus, the man whose followers he was persecuting. He then fell down on the ground and lost his sight for several days. The account is highly suggestive of a TLE-related seizure.”
In an earlier part of the chapter we discussed the ‘God Helmet’ experiments:
Temporal Lobe Epilepsy can also be induced in laboratory experiments. The ‘God Helmet’ is a simple and painless procedure that demonstrates just how easily religious experiences can be artificially created – purely by stimulating the Right Temporal Lobe with very low frequency electromagnetic waves.
Dr Michael Presinger has been conducting these studies for many years – originally dubbed the God Helmet – to reproduce religious and other paranormal experiences in a broad cross section of volunteers. Dr Presinger conducts his research at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada, which has been covered in more than 200 peer-reviewed journals.
He has published several books on the subject, including Neuropsychological Bases of God Belief. A short video 30 profiling his experiments provides clear evidence that religious interpretation is purely brain-based.
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