MONISM AND DUALISM - A case for the existence of Spirit
 
 

Preamble

In general, believers in God or spirit donít feel the need for unequivocal proof of their beliefs. It is a matter of faith. Indeed, many would be sorry if there were such a proof because it would take away the relevance of faith, and perhaps of devotion. Nevertheless, with all beliefs, secular as well as sacred, it is comforting to know that they are supported by plausible grounds, particularly in the face of opposing beliefs. I donít think there is unequivocal proof of the existence of spirit - nor of its non-existence - but the following discussion suggests a plausible case for belief in it. The discussion will consist of the following:-

Definitions

These are my personal definitions, and are open to argument.

Monism There exists only one type of entity, which for the sake of argument I will call Material.

The material world is said to consist of matter, energy and free space. (Here the term matter might seem to imply something hard and lumpy, in contrast to spirit, which is perceived to be ethereal. But the modern concept that matter and energy are convertible to each other would tend to undermine this type distinction.)

The material world is characterised as being consistent in all its processes. That is, things always happen according to the same principles - which become codified as laws of science whenever they are discovered and confirmed.

A few Monists would claim that the world consists entirely of something that is not material. This usually implies that the primary entity is consciousness, of which our subjectivity is a component. If such a world is consistent in all its processes it would seem to be the material world viewed from a different perspective.

Philosophers do not agree on whether a material world actually exists.

Dualism In addition to the material entity there is another, independent, world, which is the Spirit. This coexists with and acts in conjunction with the material world;

but,

the actions of the spirit do not change the way the material world operates (they donít make the material world appear to be inconsistent with the laws of science). However, they might produce things that the material world, by itself, is not capable of.

Spirit is thus distinguished as a different and separate entity from matter. Although acting in conjunction with the material world, it is unable to be detected by physical means. This explains how Atheists can deny the existence of spirit and Agnostics can say it is not possible to know anything about it. "How then", they ask, "do you know itís there?" If it were possible to provide a scientific proof that it exists, I think spirit would then be reduced to being an aspect of material.

I think these definitions provide for some of the things religious people attribute to spirit - and to God. They donít include any "human" or "emotional" characteristics, but donít necessarily rule them out.

Some people claim that spirit breaks the laws of the material world by performing miracles. I think the case for miracles is too circumstantial for material explanations to be discounted. There are also claims of matter influencing spirit, as in the use of ritualistic practices claimed to drive out evil spirits.

Later I will discuss some things spirit might do to achieve what, arguably, cannot be achieved by material alone.

(There is another use of the terms monism and dualism. Within the philosophy of theism, monism means that God is one and only one, incorporating all that might be construed as evil as well as good. Dualism then means that in addition to the good God there is another, the embodiment of evil.)
 
 

Well-established arguments for monism and dualism

Subjective Religious Experience

Religions world-wide and throughout history are based on belief in spirit. The belief is based, and fortified, on subjective experience. It is justified on the premise that inner feelings are no less reliable than perceptions derived through the senses.

Sometimes spirit comes to the person, who either just "senses its presence", or receives a revelation. Sometimes the believer seeks out spirit through religious practices.

So why, ask the doubters, do religions disagree so greatly on the nature of god and spirit? One answer is that religious institutions overlay additional interpretations of spirit for their own purposes. Another is that spirit reveals itself in a form appropriate to the culture. Neither answer seems convincing, particularly in open, pluralistic societies of an inquiring bent. However, that is not a proper refutation of them.

Evidence

Many people believe there is good evidence for the existence of some kind of spiritual entity. The evidence is in the form of sightings, miracles, prophesy, speaking in tongues, and demon possession and exorcism.

There are two types of sighting: visions and "catching spirits or angels in the corner of the eye before they disappear". The most well-known types of visions are appearances of the Virgin Mary or Jesus, such as at Lourdes, and near-death experiences. Many people believe that these are indeed evidence, but many other people believe that they are illusions that have been given meanings that derive from the beliefs of those experiencing them. There is no way of verifying that any of these are non-material, except perhaps by associating them with miracles. Some sightings are of cloud formations, shadows or other patterns that are said to be depictions of some holy person. Whether it is ever a true likeness is always a matter of dispute. Numinous and mystical experiences are sometimes believed to be spiritual in origin.

Some people have continuing feelings that they have just missed seeing some non-material entity before it disappears. While they may put an interpretation to this experience, it is not hard evidence for anything specific.

Miracles are phenomena that defy all attempts at a natural explanation and also are capable of being given a spiritual association. They mostly take the forms of recovery from afflictions that have been deemed incurable, appearance of stigmata, that is inexplicable significant marks on the body (typically appearance of wounds like the results of crucifixion) or holy statues weeping tears or blood. The Catholic church holds examinations into all cases of alleged miracles affecting its members, and dismisses most. However, even those that are accepted officially are questioned by some members of the clergy and laity.

Prophesies believed to show the existence of spirit are either writings in (ancient) sacred texts, or statement by recent people. Those in sacred text need to be interpreted to reveal their "true" meaning before they can be claimed to refer to actual current events. The interpretation is always tenuous and ambiguous. The same texts have usually already been claimed to refer to earlier events. And, given the number of different forecasts, usually specific and unambiguous, that are made daily about all manner of events, it would be astounding if none matched what subsequently happened.

Speaking in tongues is when a person, believed to be inspired by a spirit, speaks volubly in a language unknown to the speaker or the listeners. Neither the speaker nor the listeners know what the utterance means. Utterances recorded and analysed by linguists have never identified any known human language, and all their sounds and sound patterns are of languages known to the speaker. This strongly suggests that the utterances are of no significance in themselves, although they may impress the listeners.

Demon possession is a condition in which a personís behaviour is said to be caused by one or more evil spirits "possessing" the personís mind. By use of a process of exorcism the spirits may be "driven out" so that the possessed person behaves in an acceptable manner. Exorcism consists of commanding the spirits to depart while invoking the name of Jesus and/or God, and pointing a crucifix and/or a bible at the possessed person. The person may actually have been suffering from some mental disorder or affected by some personal situation, and the exorcism may or may not have improved the situation

While each of these kinds of evidence convince many people of the existence of spirit, I do not regard any as conclusive.

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Greek Philosophy

The ancient Greeks developed a mode of philosophy based on observation and adversarial logic. They considered such troubling concepts as mind, existence and perfection, and did the spade work towards resolving the same questions that we are still pondering today.

Starting from differing interpretations of the world around them, they came up with different cosmologies, monistic, dualistic and agnostic. The dualistic arguments boil down to:-

These arguments, to my mind, do not prove that "something else" exists.

Developing an abstract concept, like perfection, or a theory about it, doesnít mean that something corresponding to it must exist. Nor does this mean that there must exist an entity separate from the material world. Similarly, having a feeling of admiration of something, or of astonishment at it doesnít mean that there must exist an entity separate from the material world.. These are arguments based merely on the characteristics of human beings.

Further, there is no reason to conclude that, because there is one entity, such as a material one, that there must be another, or two others, or an infinite number. Perhaps there could be more than one, but why? This raises the old question that if God made the world, then who made God. Two answers might be:

1. God is beyond time and space and process, and didnít need to be made.

This is an unanswerable statement, there being no way of demonstrating whether it is true or false. It is not necessarily a satisfactory answer, but it may satisfy some people.

2. There is an infinite series of "Gods", each one created by the previous one.

This is often held to be an absurd proposition. But, looking backwards, from the present towards some "infinitely small" beginning, such a series could be a bit like a descending geometric series (such as 1, ½, ¼, etc). In chaos theory, a simple-looking equation can produce a very complex-looking form, and this might be a good analogy. But such a series would seem to be of the same essence as the world we know, rather than spiritual.

The series might not be descending, and be interpreted as showing the infinite nature of God. What that means would be very difficult to explain, and it might be claimed that such a proposition is ridiculous and therefore God could not exist. But reductio ad absurdum is not a valid argument: it is subjective and conditional on personal beliefs.

Second Millennium Western Europeans, imbued with Christianity

The thirteenth century theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas turned five Aristolelian examinations of physics into "proofs" of the existence of God. These were not to provide an alternative to faith, but a complement. Two of the proofs are:

Proof according to motion

In the world I see motion. Everything in motion has been put in this condition by the motion of something else. So there must have been some original cause of motion. I call this original cause God.

Proof according to design

Everywhere in the world there is order. Order is the result of design. Design requires a designer. I call this designer God.

But these could be monistic arguments, and they contain assumptions and non sequiturs.

Dualist philosophers often started by assuming a transcendent God, and then produced arguments for the existence of that God, but the 17th century French mathematician Rene Descartes set out to produce a rationale for dualism that started from first principles.

His argument was to show that he himself existed, even if he were nothing more than the mind that was aware of its own existence. He then arrived at the existence of God by assuming that he couldnít have come up with the idea of "I think therefore I exist" by himself, so the idea must have come from God. To me this is a series of unjustifiable assumptions. His cogito ergo sum does not consider the nature of the (implied) "I" that thinks or exists, or what it means to think or to exist - issues that still elude philosophers and others.

Descartes also used the Greek argument that being able to have an idea of perfection means there must be such a thing as perfection, hence God. He argued, as Plato did, that mind is separate from matter. A human being, he said, is a product of both matter and God. The body is the product of the parentsí bodies: the mind, which is able to visualise perfection, is a product of God. Descartes dismissed the philosophical difficulty, raised by some of his contemporaries, about the nature of the interaction between mind and body by attributing it to the "goodness" of God.. I have tried to avoid this kind of difficulty in my definition of spirit. But my definition would not have satisfied Descartes because it does not exclude a de-personalised spiritual entity, nor his critic Spinoza, who denied that anything capable of interacting with the world could be separate from it.

In the 18th century, Catherine the Great of Russia wanted to rid her court of the aggressively republican French philosopher Denis Diderot, who happened to be an Atheist. So she summoned the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler, who happened to be a Calvinist Christian, to confront and shame him. Euler accosted Diderot with the statement:-

" (a + bn ) ¸ n = x therefore God exists. Respond! " The non-mathematical Diderot had no idea what Euler was talking about, or that it was pure gobbledegook. He fled in confusion.

But the existence of a shonky argument in favour of a particular case doesnít, of course, mean that that case is false. There are shonky arguments for monism also.

A simple unsound argument for monism is to describe the supernatural as being, by definition, outside the natural world, and then to claim that it therefore doesnít exist. I think my definition dualism forestalls this argument.

A more sophisticated version of this argument was used in reaction against Descartes by his contemporary, the Dutch Jew Baruch Spinoza. To him, any principle that might be called God or spirit was immanent in the natural world, rather than transcendent. There was, he said, only one "substance", because all things that can interact together must be of the same kind. To Spinoza, all of nature, irrespective of whether it contained God or spirit, obeyed the one set of laws. As mentioned earlier, this would rule out my definition of dualism, but only on the grounds of faith - that is, faith in the assumption that things of essentially different nature could not possibly interact. This might challenge me to say how they could. But until it is demonstrated that they cannot interact, the possibility of spirit, as defined by me, remains.

All the philosophies discussed so far are rationalist, ie, they take some aspect of the material world, and by a process of reasoning, try to reach a necessary conclusion about the spiritual world. I think they are all doomed to failure. An opposing school, the Empiricists, arose in the late 17th century arguing that everything that human beings can know must come from experience, which is the interpretation by the brain of what is delivered through the senses. This left little room for God or spirit.

But an empiricist, Bishop Berkeley, wishing to defend the notion of God, concluded that though everything that we know exists only in our minds, our minds are really parts of God. This was a monistic view, the single entity being spirit not material.

From a human perspective, in what way would such a monistic world of mind/spirit be different from one that is material? Mind is subject to misunderstandings, failures of memory, illusions, delusions, fantasies and hallucinations. So this world could contain untold phantasms as well as everyday things. Nevertheless, I cannot see how a world consisting only of spirit would need to be different from one consisting only of material.

"Hard Line" Agnostics

Various "hard line Agnostics", including the empiricist Hume, the empiricist-rationalist Kant and some ancient Greeks, have concluded that we can know nothing about God or spirit, including whether there could be such an entity as spirit.

It has been said that it is paradoxical to claim to know that nothing can be known about something. This points to a need to be more precise about what is meant by "nothing can be known about spirit". This apparent paradox doesnít, in itself, refute the claim, which is not about God or spirit but only about human limitations, resting on an assumption about how we obtain knowledge.

Opponents of hard line agnosticism point out that some fairly precise ideas are quite independent of the senses. Examples can be found in mathematics, for example. The senses are not much help in knowing about things like the square root of minus one, or of various kinds of infinity. And many religious believers would claim that spirit can be known without recourse to the senses or to the physical world. However, in both cases, mathematics and spirit, some criteria are needed if we are to decide whether such ideas are true. And, as Aristotle said, there is no agreement about criteria.

Modern Science and Philosophy

Modern science is sometimes called on to justify both monism and dualism. Science is a self-consistent body of explanations about everything. It continually seeks to collect more evidence about the material world, and to test all evidence and all explanations against each other. Because it is continually being adjusted to fit together so completely with itself and with the world as experienced, it can be a very persuasive substitute for absolute truth.

Some earlier scientific findings, such as those of the cosmologists and evolutionists, challenged a few religious claims about history and nature. But until recently science did not seem to concern itself with the actual existence of God or spirit.

Then over the past century, the physical and biological sciences and postmodernist philosophy raised questions about existence, and about God, and the grounds for considering such issues. The common-sense view of the world was altered by the conclusions of relativity and quantum theory. It was shown, by Gödel and Turing, that all strong systems of logic must be incomplete, and by Wittgenstein that much abstract reasoning is unreliable. To say "I think therefore I exist" is met with "what exactly is the I and what are the processes of thinking and existing".

The ancient and fundamental question, "How is it that there is there something and not nothing?" has been restated as "How did the basic physical entities and their values become what they are and not something else?" But the closer we get to this question the more mysterious it becomes.

Some people claim to discern the hand of God in this apparent fog, some see pure material processes, and others just see fog.
 
 

My case for the existence of a spiritual world, as defined above, and counter arguments.

It seems to me that if there is to be a case for the existence of spirit we might find it in places where the materialist explanation has to rely on faith. Three cases of this are the creation of life, the nature of consciousness and the origin of matter.

Living Organisms and Inanimate Matter

Any discussion about life arising from matter assumes that matter is normally and mainly inanimate. I accept that assumption, although a Materialist might say that life is an emergent aspect of matter.

Although there is plenty of evidence for the processes by which the various forms of life forms continue to differentiate, there is none for an evolutionary jump from inanimate matter to an ancestor of any present form of life. This might be explained by claiming that life on Earth originated from outer space, and that it was actual living organisms that arrived, not just organic molecules.

But that would take us no closer to explaining the process of life arising out of inanimate matter. As far as I know, no realistic and complete sequence of events has yet been postulated as a possible actual evolutionary process, even though notional stages from matter to organism have been suggested.

Possible pre-cursors to RNA and many other components of living matter had probably been naturally available during the early period of the earthís history, and evidence of them has been found elsewhere in the universe. Also, we know of self-replicating organic molecules. But it is still only guesswork as to whether the primaeval process could have started through carbon-based chemicals or something else, such as forms of clay.

Further, it is generally held, on fairly strong evidence, that all life forms on Earth have a common ancestor, or group of similar original ancestors. This could imply that there was only one progression from inanimate matter to life in the entire history of Earthís biota; a single accident perhaps, never to be repeated. Or else, it was a single creation by spirit. But maybe scientists will find evidence of separate cases of life having arisen spontaneously from matter. They may even produce it.

As far as I am aware, even the simplest of live organisms has yet to be synthesised. Claims have been made that new living species could be created by assembling DNA. In fact, the DNA sequence of viruses has been assembled, and inserted into host species, with the result that the virus proliferates in the host. But this is an assembly-line process of manufacturing an entity that does not grow, has no metabolism and cannot reproduce. It, like all viruses, can only have its reproductive pattern inserted into a live cell that then assembles copies according to the pattern.

If a true organism were produced by merely an extension of genetic engineering of living tissue, I could not regard that as producing life from inanimate matter. I would want to see all the parts synthesised and assembled in vitro to comprise or develop into the new living organism before I accepted it as life produced out of non-living matter. I am not saying that it is impossible - just that the present incapability is more circumstantial evidence for the existence of spirit.

If matter were ever assembled into a life form, what might be the difference between it and a live organism? Would it be automatically alive? Perhaps spirit would be waiting there to breathe life into it - like starting the motor of a car, or resuscitating an unconscious accident victim with CPR. But since, by definition, we canít detect spirit, we would never know.

We do know that the history of science is one of continually showing the physical causes of phenomena previously attributed to gods or spirits. So why invoke spirit here, and not some as-yet undiscovered physical principle? One (not very good) answer could be that if there were such a physical principle it would already have been detected.

There is also the question of what spirit would have to do to produce the progression from matter to life. It might be something associated with the great persistence and ingenuity that life forms seem to possess. Whether we are thinking of microorganisms, insects, plants or animals, they so often manage to keep on surviving and reproducing, under adverse conditions and attempts at extermination. (But we should also remember that fire, once started, can display a remarkable persistence, and we do not regard fire as living, except metaphorically.) Perhaps the spirit - the "life force" as it has been called - might act in appropriate cases where there is a chance of spontaneous organisation and replication in the material world. And perhaps it is this that starts off evolution, and keeps it going.

Or it might be something unimaginably different.

Humanity may, or may not, ever find an evolutionary path from matter to organism, or be able to synthesise actual life forms. It requires faith to believe that something inexplicable or seemingly impossible will or can be resolved by science or achieved by technology. So why quibble if it requires faith to attribute the creation of life to God or spirit?

Mind and Consciousness

It is commonly said that the mind is merely an aspect of the operation of brain and body, just as digestion is the operation of the alimentary system. Is this a poor analogy? Digestion is nothing but a set of processes, complex though they may be. Mind, the processes of calculating, remembering, reasoning, and even emoting, may well be ultimately a material process. But consciousness is the subjective core of our being.

Despite extensive demonstration of the workings of neurons, hormones and neurotransmitters, and of detailing the functions of the various parts of the brain, and the development of computers and neural networks, there has yet been no widely accepted theory of consciousness or of free will. Robots have been built that behave as if they have a motivation to perform simple tasks, and an interest in the environment and other matters that could be relevant to that task. But while it is possible to demonstrate material processes accompanying certain of our own mental processes, and machines that can appear to have intentions and emotions, nothing so far satisfactorily explains the awareness of self.

Some people claim that consciousness is merely an illusion. That seems to me to be the kind of paradox that no amount of careful definition can resolve: to what entity is consciousness an illusion?. It may be that consciousness is inherently incapable of explaining itself, but that is no more than a plausible guess. Attempts to account for consciousness, and particularly self-consciousness, such as Daniel Dennettís evolutionary approach (eg as in Kinds of Minds), are very persuasive, but also purely speculative. Another factor is the effect of mind over body. This is exemplified in such things as blushing from embarrassment or the physiological responses to sexually-related thoughts, and also in the placebo effect. Both types of phenomenon show some influence over the material body by an aspect of consciousness. Although the neuro-physiological processes behind these effects can be explained, there is, as far as I know, no way of connecting the subjective feelings to the corresponding neuronal activities. Also, it has been said that the brain is the machine that interprets the material world, via the senses, to the spirit.

None of these considerations are compelling. They are answered by the fact that our unconscious mind operates in many ways that we are unaware of. It controls bodily functions. Sometimes it allows us to perform tasks while the conscious mind is preoccupied with other things. The brain has been shown to register external sensory inputs and intentions to act before the mind is aware of them. Also, there are "mind-altering" substances that people use for their characteristic effects. So whether you prefer to attribute consciousness (and also the unconscious mind) to matter or spirit depends on your prior beliefs.

Some people deny the reality of free will, saying it is an illusion, the deterministic product of brains and memes. (This is not a paradox, unlike the paradox that consciousness is an illusion.) Some people affirm the existence of free will, and have tried, I think unconvincingly, to attribute it to quantum and other effects. Others would say that a material body without spirit would be completely deterministic, and only spirit can account for free will.

Creation of the Material World

Many philosophers and scientists have attempted to answer questions about the origin of the world and what happened before that. Questions about origins all depend on acceptance of our concept of time. Answers often depend on some type of denial of the tyranny of time - "the existence of time itself is a consequence of the big bang", or "God is eternal", that is, outside the concept of time. The theory of relativity treats time as an extra dimension, like the three dimensions of space. Different points in time are like different points in space, and the passing of time is a bit like travelling in space. But it is also very different from travelling in space: it is very much a one-way journey. Moreover, we measure our progress through space in terms of time, ie, in kilometres per hour (and not kilometres north per kilometres east), but there is no measure of the "rate" of our passing through time.

So we have not disposed of the concept of time. To ask, "how did the big bang occur?" is to invoke the concept of change. Can change occur without invoking time? And then there are the related philosophical questions about structure and cause. Physicists look at the backward progression from molecules to atoms to protons and electrons to quarks and gluons to ......what? And what determined the "numbers? For example, the weight of a lump of metal depends on the mass of the metal, the mass of the Earth and the value of the universal gravitational constant. The gravitational constant depends on .......what? And if there could be answers to such questions, those answers would immediately need explanations.

Several scientific explanations have been proposed to the question of how the universe came to be as it is. Lee Smolin, for instance, in his book The Life of the Cosmos has suggested a continual process of new, slightly mutated, universes being produced out of black holes in pre-existing universes. One version of string theory supports this idea. But such a sequence, indeed any concept of evolution or sequence, must imply a beginning, so the old question has not gone away - unless, perhaps, we accept the idea of an "infinitely small" beginning, as discussed earlier in relation to ancient Greek philosophy. But even then, we must ask how the process of transition from each form to the next could have come into being. Was it chance? But what is chance?

Perhaps the issue is resolved by proposing that what we call "time" and "process", etc, are properties of the material world, and the material world is like some bubble in the spiritual world. There is no such thing as a beginning or a "how" of an eternal God. If God exists, then God just is (which is the meaning of JHWH, or Jehovah). But if spirit needs no beginning, why does material?

The issue of why the fundamental constants of physics have their particular values raises other questions. In particular, it is said that if any of these constants were even slightly different from their present values our universe would not be formed into galaxies, stars and planets, and so could not produce living organisms. So is there a Multiverse, ie, a great plurality of universes, with ours being the one able to produce us? Or was the Universe produced by some entity for the specific purpose of creating life? But why life, and not just galaxies, or suns, or what any other sort of universe might contain?

In this latter suggestion we seem to have come back to the ancient Greek argument that because the world exists, something else must have created it. However, I think it is different because of the paradoxical position of modern science. Many scientists now point to the enormous power and deep insights of modern science, and confidently say either that here is God, or that this is how the world created itself. On the other hand the scientific concept of the cosmos becomes more and more mysterious. We have seen a succession of "true scientific" cosmologies: the Ptolemaic Earth-centred world gave way to the mechanical but absolute Newtonian Universe; which was replaced by the relativist Universe that had to accommodate a probabilistic, quirky quantum partner. Modern science has learnt a great deal about the material world, but three great issues suggest that something is seriously wrong.

The first is that our two fundamental theories, relativity and quantum theory, which in every way have proved to be more exact and comprehensive than anything previous, are fundamentally incompatible. Theorists are confident of a resolution, but all suggested solution have so far failed.

The second is that the measured value of the fine structure constant (a fundamental entity in quantum theory) is different from the calculated value. The error is not just a few percent, or a factor of ten, or a million or billion, but very, very much greater.

The third is that either the part of the universe that we know about and theorise about is only about five percent of the total, or else what we think about gravity, and perhaps other phenomena, is seriously incomplete. (But some theories claim to dispense with the need for the missing "dark energy" and "dark matter" in accounting for observed phenomena.)

So the inability of science to approach some fundamentals of existence, in contrast to its very extensive and detailed explanatory power, now re-opens a gap through which spirit might be visible.

All this may be an argument for the existence of spirit, but some objections are that:

In defence of spirit, Occamís razor is a useful principle, but science has to ignore it whenever some new entity, such as dark energy, seems to be responsible for otherwise unexplainable observations. The definition of spirit given earlier allows for processes that we might never become aware of. Until it can be tested, the case for spirit must rest on the claim that no other explanation can be tested yet either. Some people claim to be aware of spirit, and this might allow some kind of test to be proposed. The third objection is itself speculative.

Conclusion

All traditional arguments seem inconclusive to me, although both the Monists and the Dualists think they have won - and the Agnostics think neither have, nor can.

The Monists think that it is enough that spirit cannot be scientifically demonstrated or is unnecessary in their scientific or philosophical view of existence. In the meantime, they talk, condescendingly, about "the God of the gaps". That means, if there isnít yet a sound scientific explanation for something, you might concede, temporarily, that it could be due to some kind of spirit. But every new explanation results in fewer gaps. It is the expectation, or the belief, of Atheists that eventually all the gaps will be closed up, leaving no room for spirit.

However, since the already closed gaps refer to such things as the causes of lightning or illness, the location of heaven, the formation of planet earth and the differentiation of species, closing them did not dispose of spirit, even though it did affect certain claims of various religions.

Miracles, prophesies and supernatural occurrences may be used as an argument for spirit. But they are gaps that seem to have been closed.

Instead of proofs or hard evidence, I have suggested something that might stand up as a credible alternative to the strongest arguments of materialist Monists - a few gaps that might never be closed:-

While an entity that enables inert matter to be alive, and/or accounts for the existence of consciousness, and/or was responsible for the existence of the material Universe, may seem very grand, some people who believe in spirit would hope for more. In addition to an implied freedom from the constraints of space, time and causality that the material Universe is subject to, they would like it to have such familiar characteristics as intelligence, intention and emotion. Intelligence and intention have already be shown to be reproducible in inanimate machines, although still at a fairly primitive level. Emotion seems to be the subjective reaction to physiological processes, including intelligence. So I see no scientific gap that would justify a case for such characteristics. However, what I consider to be unjustifiable cases can be made by selections from experience.

Humanity can never expect to be able to explain everything, even in a purely material world. This might be because:

Going beyond the material world could be even more difficult.

But some Dualists believe that even if there were a scientific explanation of everything that we experience, it would not necessarily disprove the existence of spirit. They may be unconvinced by even a complete material explanation of inner feelings and convictions, which, Dualists believe, are empirical evidence of the presence of spirit and of its difference from material.

The anti-spirit assumption that science will provide a materialist answer to all outstanding mysteries is persuasive but not conclusive. It is merely a hopeful extrapolation of previous advances in science, backed up by Occamís razor. The pro-spirit arguments, based on subjectivity and the dilemma concerning beginnings, each seem unanswerable without being conclusive or showing how spirit would provide a better answer than material. But the definition of spirit given earlier leaves open all sorts of possibilities, including those unimaginable to us.

Where does all this leave me? If a few particular scientific breakthroughs closed my remaining gaps, would that refute the existence of spirit for me? Well, I trust science on most matters, but not absolutely. It would incline me further towards monism, but I still donít think it would clinch the argument. The philosophical dilemmas would remain.
 
 

(This is an adapted version of a talk given to the Atheist Society in Melbourne in October 2000.)


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