The immortal soul and the conflict hypothesis

I would like to reject the conflict hypothesis, but do not see how to do so in good conscience. The problem is the immortal soul, which I see as an essential tenet of Christianity, aswell as Judaism and Islam. Unless the immortal soul is possessed by all eukaryotes, or unless there is a continuum, which I cannot imagine, between having one and not having one, there has to be some arbitrary point in evolution when it first appeared. But I see no way to justify such a discontinuity on a matter of such importance. For atheists, Hindus, and Buddhists, however, there is no such problem.


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Quick clarification, what do you mean by conflict hypothesis?

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Seconding the request. I googled “conflict hypothesis genome” but I’m not getting the connection?

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Where is the conflict? As far as I know, science is silent on the question of an immortal soul.

If the immortal soul is a problem, then shouldn’t the infinite (from mathematics) also be a problem?

Sorry; conflict thesis, the view that there is an unavoidable conflict between religion and current scientific thinking. To quote Wikipedia, " The conflict thesis is a historiographical approach in the history of science that originated in the 19th century with John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. It maintains that there is an intrinsic intellectual conflict between religion and science, and that it inevitably leads to hostility"


If I have an immortal soul, as Christianity requires, did my last common ancestor with a monkey have a soul? Or my last common ancestor with a mushroom, or with all eukaryotes? It seems strange to say yes, but even stranger (since you can’t have half a soul) to say it was inserted at some point in my evolution, which I see as an effectively continuous process. That’s my problem

I still don’t see it as a conflict. Science does not say anything about souls.

Most scientists doubt that they exist. But that’s not an established scientific position. And some people (vitalists) probably do think that mushrooms have souls.

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You are assuming Marxism is a rational look at the world. Its not. its a partisan hate filled look at Christianity and the world through a mind bent wrong. The world is not in conflict in a general sense. People need to live. that is the basis for work and survival. Class warfare and parsing out why it is people do what they do, why they stand on someone elses neck is more about Depravity which Christianity contemplates. Marxism is just delusional way at looking at politics and human interaction. His supposed insights are wrong headed. Christianity generally is not about Economics but morality and choosing to have God at the head of your family and your life.
Marxists dont like it when there is a social group like a family or a church that excludes them from having all the say over your life. Its chaos to them.
Science is the study of everything, some people in science may have conflicts with every view.

An interesting notion, to me at least. It’s always seemed to me that the best reason not to believe in the existence of the spirit world, in any of its variously-envisioned forms, is that we have the proximate end of that world right here: the individual soul. And yet when we go looking, what we find is that what we subjectively regard as a kind of ghost-in-the-machine is actually just the machine, sans ghost.

But it does seem to me that the notion of this being a point of irreconcilable conflict between science and religion is wrong, simply because one can assert that the soul is not empirically detectable and that things avec ghost look exactly as they would look sans ghost. Now, to me statements like that are utterly useless: I want to know what’s actually so, and if the answer is always, when push comes to shove, that nobody can know that, then to me it is all, as Huxley put it, questions of lunar politics.

But when religion dodges the empirical in that way, one can’t show that such a dodge is wrong or that the underlying claim is false. Rather, all one can say is that such claims can never be evaluated for their truth or falsity, and so are of no use to anyone. So long as religion dwells in the realm of the fact-free, what can it conflict with?


here is a thought.
DNA is huge… HUGE! and everyone is saying it.
Yet, likely you could fit one copy of each persons DNA of 7 billion people in, im guessing a table spoon. Literally with a bit of tech, you could have a algorithm that recorded changes between parents and children such that the root DNA would be basic for all life any you only would have to record the differences.

I am not sure we are in the position to say what is possible or not possible. We used to use Vinyl records then 8 Track… then blue ray… USB etc. our level of grasp of these things is cave man level. yet first try we can touch our finger to our nose with our eyes closed. We can feel a breeze and know where its coming from and what temperature it is and feel it in that location even though our brain is 4 ft away.

When our life ends. And lets say God kept a copy of our DNA for a kingdom a billion miles away would we know? would we remember. What really is a soul. Maybe its simply a CD of the greatest hits of our lives recorded between the cracks of the DNA we have in the flux of an atom. preserved for all time. At our current intelligence most with a current copy of their DNA wouldn’t know if it was a copy of them or the potted plant beside them.

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It’s also almost uniformly rejected by historians. @TedDavis

@paulbraterman I get the sense that you are mixing categories here.

But if the status of ensoulment (yes or no) is not something science can address, let alone assess, wouldn’t that mean conflict is negligible? Where would a fundamental conflict come from?

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Imagine if the soul can be crafted like clay, evolve and be different than it was first constructed. if the DNA can to some degree determine personality (nature vs. Nurture.) And there is supposed evolution or some ability for adaptation what if you dosed a bacteria to force it to be resistant… Why couldn’t that be done to the soul and you could change your soul. Feed the Black dog or Feed the white dog. Study morality or sit in a strip club… maybe you turn out different. Is the soul a Duvet or a quilt?

Whilst I can see, at some nebulous level, the conflict (or perhaps intellectual discomfort might be a better term) here, I am not at all sure that it is a conflict between science and Christian theology.

Let us assume, only for the sake of argument (I am an atheist after all), that God and souls exist.

Can we assume that God bestows or allows souls to certain creatures? I will assume so.

Let us assume, as @paulbraterman appears to do at least implicitly, that not all living creatures have souls, but that modern humans do.

This would imply that God has some criteria (possibly relating to the creature having the cognitive apparatus for supporting a soul) for bestowing/allowing souls.

Then all God would have to do is wait for creatures that meet this criteria to evolve before bestowing/allowing souls for them. Not a problem for an omniscient God.

This is a bit messy (and perhaps unsatisfying), and leaves the question of what the criteria is unanswered, but I would not call it a conflict.


And religion which makes a fuss about it tells us absolutely nothing concrete about the existence of an immortal soul or its nature.


Religion makes a very definite claim; that I have soul that will survive me. I can fairly ask someone who hold this point of view, but also accepts me as the product of evolution, whether they think that my ancestors, step by step back to LUCA (or whatever network we replace it with), possessed such a soul. Your comments, with which I generally agree, fail to show how they can resolve such a dilemma.

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Mixing categories? You interest me greatly. Can you enlarge?

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Well, that’s true. I guess I’m just saying that the dilemma, such as it is, is a dilemma of fact: it is one where one is forced to choose a position on an issue of fact. If religion opts out of facts entirely, as it does whenever it claims that certain questions are non-empirical and beyond scrutiny, then it no longer makes claims of “fact” in any sense which is meaningful to people who have real work to do in the world. What can one say about a “claim” which cannot be evaluated, other than that it is wholly irrelevant and useless to everyone?

If I were confronted with that dilemma and relieved of my usual reluctance to count angels on the heads of pins or divine the future from entrails, I would simply say that there is no reason to suppose that every living thing doesn’t have a soul. There’s no reason to suppose that people do have 'em, of course, but once we assume they do, we have no reason to assume that the phenomenon isn’t universal and covers everything from bacteria to fungi to plants to animals. Indeed, since we cannot scrutinize the proposition at all, we may as well also assume that sedimentary rocks have souls but that the igneous rocks have had it cooked out of 'em.

Now, I consider the claim that we have souls that will survive us to be a claim of fact, and I think it’s a claim for which we have no supporting evidence and for which we have excellent reasons to disbelieve: “souls” seem to be awfully malleable when things like physical injury to the components of our neural systems happen, for example, which suggests that our experience of self is physically generated rather than skyhooked in from the realm of ghosts. But what I routinely find is that when one attempts to scrutinize these claims, the claimants withdraw them from scrutiny by hiding them behind some form of inscrutability or other. I think that when they do this, they are being dishonest: often dishonest to themselves, but certainly at least dishonest to others. If we’ve got the proximal end of the spirit realm in each of us, we sure as hell ought to be able to evaluate it.


But what about metamorphic rocks?

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I cannot help but feel that the souls attached to rocks would find their existence thoroughly tedious and superfluous. What moral conundrums would a rock need this ‘spark of the divine’ to help solve? What transcendent art would it feel called on to inspire?

Even an amoeba would seem to find a soul overpowered for its needs.

I’m not a big fan of theism, but cannot help but find panpsychism to be more than a little silly, on an intuitive level.

Addendum: it just occurred to me that what’s being described here may in fact be animism rather than panpsychism.