Comments on Beliefs
Michael D. Berger
31 March 1999
Copyright © 1999, 2008 Michael D Berger
Last modified: 09 Dec 2010, 11:05-0500
Last significant modification: 31 Mar 1999, 08:45-0500.

For some beliefs as of 2007, see Comments on "Eating Ethically". The main difference is that in many places in the present document, "physical" might be replaced with "natural". This is because the dicipline of "physics" may not turn out to be able to completely describe the natural world.

1 Introduction
2 Basic Belief
     2.1 Related Definitions
     2.2 Basic Statement of Belief
3 Attributes of God
     3.1 God Created the Universe
     3.2 God is Immortal
     3.3 God is Conscious
     3.4 God Relates to Humanity
4 God and Other Entities
     4.1 Related Definitions
     4.2 A Possible Scenario
         4.2.1 Limitations
         4.2.2 Memes
         4.2.3 Dissociative Identity Disorder
         4.2.4 The Seat of God
5 Transcendence
     5.1 Related Definitions
     5.2 v.t. -- verb transitive
     5.3 Unitarian Universalist Transcendentalism
         5.3.1 Imagination, Sensibility, Ecstasy
         5.3.2 Intuitive Experience of the Universal
     Intuition and Logic
     Intuitive Experience
     The Universal
         5.3.3 Rapport with Nature
         5.3.4 The Organic Living Universe

1 Introduction

I am an atheist. When I say this, I mean it in the sense that I think most people would understand it. This includes most people who identify themselves as religious liberals, and therefore define God in non-standard ways. However, after some discussion, I have been told that I am not an atheist, but an agnostic. I contend, however, that this is incorrect, and that I am an atheist. This essay is intended to clarify this matter.

2 Basic Belief

In the discussion of religious beliefs, I have found that people tend to adjust their de facto definitions of terms to suit their beliefs. In part, this is so that they can appear to "fit in", while maintaining beliefs that might not "fit in". However, if the intention is to be clear about what one's beliefs are, it is best to define one's terms. It is also best, whenever possible, to use terms in the sense understood by most people. When it is necessary to redefine terms because the available usages do not express the intended meaning, special care must be taken to clarify their meaning.

2.1 Related Definitions

I had an elementary school teacher who often said that there are only two books you really need to know: the Bible, and the Dictionary. She was an excellent teacher. (She also made the boys wear ties, a matter which probably irritated my mother more than me. I carried a clip-on bow tie in my pocket, which I clipped onto the collar of my t-shirt.) I have since learned that sources other than these two books may be of value, but in understanding the meaning of statements, the dictionary is often a good starting point. According to the dictionary(1):

A person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings. ... An atheist denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings.
1. a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as a god or God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable.
1. a god or goddess. 2. divine character or nature; divinity. ...
1. of, like, or from a god, esp. the Supreme Being. 2. addressed or devoted to God or a god; religious; sacred....
Supreme Being:
1. the creator and ruler of the universe; Supreme Being. 2. (l.c.) a. one of several immortal powers, esp. one with male attributes, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs; deity. ...
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usu. involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code for the conduct of human affairs. 2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects. ...
1. to have confidence in the truth existence, reliability, or value of something. 2. to have religious faith.
... 3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion. ...

2.2 Basic Statement of Belief

After studying these definitions, I conclude that the statement "I am an atheist" is equivalent to the statement "I believe that God does not exist". Now here I admit that later I may hedge on the existence of God and admit that something with some of the characteristics of God may exist. However, My God-like thing is missing some of the essential characteristics of God, and therefore the statement "I am an atheist" remains true.

I am a scientist (2) with a little understanding of the philosophy of science. As such, I readily admit any of my beliefs may be false. This, however, does not deny that I have these beliefs. Thus, for example, when I assert that the earth revolves around the sun, I may be wrong (3). Likewise, my belief that both me and my wife exist may be wrong -- this may all be one of God's dreams. Solipsism and related doctrines are rarely useful in human discourse. Now my statement that I am an atheist is made with the same level of certitude as my statement that the earth revolves around the sun. I assert that as most people understand it, my scientific or philosophic uncertainty regarding anything I believe does not relieve me of the label "atheist", and that to claim otherwise is an abuse of language that obscures communication.

I am not an agnostic. According to the definition above, in order to be an agnostic, I would have to assert that the ultimate cause of things is both unknown and unknowable. I agree that the ultimate cause is unknown, but I do not know whether it is unknowable. I think that some people would drop the "unknowable" part of the definition. For those, I am both an atheist and an agnostic.

3 Attributes of God

These are the attributes all of which God must have to be God:

    1.   God created the universe.
    2.   God is immortal. A fortiori, God exists independently of human existence. If the earth and all of its inhabitants were to be destroyed (perhaps by the explosion of the sun before colonization of space), God would still exist.
    3.   God is conscious(4), although this consciousness and may be far removed from consciousness as we know it.
    4.   In some non-trivial sense, God is related to or interacts with humanity.

In the following sections I will discuss these attributes in relation to my beliefs.

3.1 God Created the Universe

I believe that God does not exist (and never existed), and therefore did not create the universe. I do not claim to know what did create the universe. It may have been some "force" or "energy" however defined (usually not conforming to the meaning of these terms in physics). It may have arisen out of nothing. There is a "beer bubble" theory of the universe which asserts that the universe is a bubble in an extremely dense fluid (5). Sounds good to me. But what ever created it fails on attributes 3 and 4. While some will argue that neither 3 nor 4 are required, I assert that such modification of the term "God" confounds clear communication. If such modification of the definition of "God" is insisted upon, then my comment is "Ok but who cares?". The assertion that God created the universe would have no more importance to me than the assertion that it was created by some force or as some beer bubble. If the assertion that God created the universe normally has some purpose: to give a basis for a moral code; to give solace in the face of death; to give a feeling of belonging. In the absence of 3 and 4 in the definition of God, all of this is absent, and the statement is therefore useless.

3.2 God is Immortal

Indeed God's immortality is our only hope. Death, true tragedy, spawns the concept of immortality. If God fails in this regard, then there is nothing left, and our all is ultimately nothing. I believe that this is in fact the case. Our obligation is only to ourselves and for the present, which is at most for the duration of the life of the universe, which may be finite. If so, in the face of the infinite, it is precious little. (6)

3.3 God is Conscious

In other words, God is a person, in some sense. God does things and thinks about them, as opposed to just existing. (4) Some people say that God is a "force" or "creative energy" which "must have existed" or "must exist" to account for the existence of the universe. In this sense God does not have to be conscious, just be there. This can go so far that if I agree that the universe did not exist in the infinite past, then I am agreeing that God exists. I do not agree with this. As mentioned above, the word "God" has other implications that I do not accept. I have no opinion concerning what created the universe. If, for the purpose of conversation, I need a word for "force", I will use "force" and imply nothing other than an inanimate physical concept. Again, use of God in this sense only confuses communication

3.4 God Relates to Humanity

It is sometimes said that all things in the universe interact with one another. In support of this, the inverse square law is sometimes cited. As applied to gravity, it says that gravitational effects fall off as the square of distance. The effect is asymptotic with zero, and therefore never is zero. For example, if I pound on the table, beings on a planet around Alpha Centauri will be affected. I am therefore to feel that we are related, and feel good about it. I do not feel good (or anything else) about it. As we say in the field of technical development: "It is in the noise." Such effects are swamped out by myriad random and non-random events. There is no information transmitted and received in such an event. It is trivial, and not useful in forming any judgement about anything. God's relationship with me would have to be better than that, and attribute 4 is not satisfied by this.

What ever created the universe had to make some rather precise decisions in order to create a universe in which I would exist (7). It might have been otherwise (8). I do not believe, however, that the choice was made with me in mind. The fact that the "creative force" created a universe suitable for me is a trivial accident and does not satisfy the requirements of attribute 4.

4 God and Other Entities

4.1 Related Definitions

Before proceeding further, I will need a few more definitions. The first two definitions do not come from the dictionary because the dictionary I used does not clearly make the distinctions I need.

Belief in the existence of spirits or souls that exist independently of any physical body.
Emotional and intellectual involvement with and concern for thoughts and feelings related to immediate and ultimate causes, the purpose of human existence, human value, the place of humankind in the universe, and the relationship of these things to events societal, personal, historical, and cosmological. In this definition, spirituality does not depend upon anything non-physical, such as disembodied spirits, etc.

And again from the dictionary(1):

New Age:
1. of or pertaining to a movement espousing a broad range of philosophies and practices viewed as occult, metaphysical, and paranormal. [I include extra-sensory perception in this.]
4. beyond the physical; incorporeal or supernatural. [for the present discussion, I am excluding other definitions, esp. those relating to a branch of philosophy.]
2. (in Jungian psychology) an inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
collective unconscious:
(in Jungian psychology) inborn unconscious psychic material, common to human kind, accumulated by the experience of all preceding generations.

4.2 A Possible Scenario

4.2.1 Limitations

With these definitions in hand, I assert that I reject New Age ideas and spiritualism without reservation. Furthermore, I usually, but not always(9), avoid discussions on these matters. Such discussions are rarely productive. However, I do consider spirituality (as defined above) an important part of my life. I therefore consider myself religious, although this is only barely supported by the dictionary definition of "religion" given in section 2.1. However, the term "religious" is used this way by Religious Humanists(10), and probably by many Unitarian Universalists.

In rejecting New Age philosophies, I assert that people communicate only via the five senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch). I call this "physical communication". I believe, however, that there is plenty of physical communication, and that much of this has substantial unconscious effect on the human mind. I believe that the brain has large capacity to do many things simultaneously, many of which are unconscious. All of this is physically based (11).

4.2.2 Memes

In his well-known book "The Selfish Gene" (12), the biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" to denote a "unit of cultural transmission". The role of the meme in human culture is analogous to the role of the gene in biology. According to Dawkins, both memes and genes evolve and exist according to the Darwinian principle of natural selection (or survival of the fittest). For each, natural selection occurs in its appropriate environment: the biosphere for genes; and human culture for memes. Memes are essentially ideas that persist in culture because of they have attributes render them fit within their context. Dawkins writes:

Consider the idea of God. We do not know how it arose in the meme pool. Probably it originated many times by independent `mutation'. In any case, it is very old indeed. How does it replicate itself? By the spoken and written word, aided by great music and great art. Why does it have such high survival value? Remember that `survival value' here does not mean value for a gene in a gene pool, but value for a meme in a meme pool. The question really means: What is it about the idea of a god that gives it its stability and penetrance in the cultural environment? The survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. It provides a superficially plausible answer to deep and troubling questions about existence. It suggests that injustices in this world may be rectified in the next. The `everlasting arms' hold out a cushion against our own inadequacies which, like a doctor's placebo, is none the less effective for being imaginary. These are some of the reasons why the idea of God is copied so readily by successive generations of individual brains. God exists, if only in the form of a meme with high survival value, or infective power, in the environment provided by human culture. (13)

4.2.3 Dissociative Identity Disorder

Several persons can reside in one body. In MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder), the body we are talking to at a particular time can be any of several persons:

The alter personalities of MPD patients often differ with respect to name, age (childhood personalities are common) gender, sexual orientation, style of dress, speech mannerisms, posture, motor behavior, personality-specific physical symptoms such as back pain or headache, and other traits. In some cases the differences in facial expression, movement characteristics, and wardrobe are so dramatic that psychiatrists have reported experiences of failing to recognize their own patients.(14)
In most cases, the personality presenting for treatment is unaware of the other personalities. Most patients have some alter personalities that claim to have continuous existence, even when they are not overtly present, and to be aware of the experiences and behaviors of other personalities. Other personalities may be aware only of their own existence, and be amnesiac for the periods when they are not "out". Episodes of amnesia in which some personalities are unaware of the experiences of other personalities occur in 98 percent of MPD patients.(15)
The existence of MPD is controversial. For arguments in favor of its existence see (16), which also has numerous references to those who hold the opposite point of view. I believe it really happens.

Possession by spirits is another situation in which several personalities inhabit one body. This is rare in North America, but not rare in India. In a review of the literature on possession, Richard Castillo writes:

I have considered multiple personality in North America and pathological spirit possession in South Asia. Both of these disorders, although parallel trance-related illnesses, are nevertheless subjectively and consensually constituted by culture-based cognitive categories. American patients have multiple personalities and Indian patients are possessed by ghosts and demons.(17)
Castillo believes that both MPD and possession have the same cause: severe stress, often in childhood.

These pathological phenomena are of interest to me because they provide an "existence argument". It is sometimes the case that pathology is the exaggerated manifestation of normally occurring phenomena, and I propose that this is the case for dissociative syndromes. In particular, I propose that alternate personalities, of which we are usually unaware, exist in all of us, and influence our normal thoughts, emotions and activities. I further propose that comparable alternate personalities exist in different people and that these communicate with one another as hidden aspects of normal physical communication. Let us be reasonable. I am not proposing that one of my alters decides to have a conversation with one of yours and, unknown to us, uses our voices for the transaction in a way comparable to making a telephone call. I am suggesting that as part of our normal communication, information "regarding" or "of interest to" our alters is passed among and influences our alters.

4.2.4 The Seat of God

Through physical communication, the attributes of concepts and personalities are shared among people. In some cases, a set of concepts and a personality can form a stable entity in a population. This can happen because concepts and personalities contained in each person are continuously adjusted under the influence of information received, and then transmitted information generates appropriate adjustments in others. If a set of concepts and personality have the appropriate characteristics, then the changes engendered through this intercommunication result in convergence toward an entity that is stable, and thereafter changes only slowly over time. Of course there are degrees of stability. Some such entities can last as long or longer than the lifetime of a culture, and can contribute substantially to its defining characteristics. The similarity of these ideas to Jung's archetypes and collective unconscious is unmistakable. However, the role of biological inheritance diminished, and any implications of non-physical phenomena are entirely removed.

Therein sits God -- a stable shared entity consisting of concepts and personality that resides in the minds of many people and is stabilized by complex physical communication. This interpretation to some extent relieves me of discomfort when God is referred to in church, provided there is not too much of it (18). This God, however, fails on attributes 1 and 2, and I therefore retain the title "atheist". Other entities are there also. Some are well known, such as Satan, Jesus, and Elvis. Others are not as well known, and hard to name. It is these things that are confused with fully defined God, as well as other gods. Via the "instinct for explanation" (9), these things are confused with external entities, and external properties, such as "creator of the universe", are attributed to them.

5 Transcendence

I recently was asked whether transcendence fits into my beliefs. At the time, I did not have a good enough understanding of the meaning of the word "transcendence" to deal with the question. In this section I consider this matter.

5.1 Related Definitions

From the dictionary(1):

--v.t. 1. to rise above or go beyond ordinary limits of; overpass; exceed. 2. to outdo or exceed in excellence, extent, degree, etc.; surpass; excel. 3. to be independent of or prior to (the universe, time, etc.). --v.i. 4. to be transcendent or superior; excel.
1. going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding. 2. superior or supreme. 3. (of the Deity) transcending the universe, time, etc. ... 4. a. (in Kantian philosophy) transcending experience; not realizable in human experience. b. (in modern realism) referred to, but beyond direct apprehension; outside consciousness.
2. the faculty of understanding or perceiving.
the quality or state of being transcendent.
2. Also called transcendental philosophy. any philosophy based upon the doctrine that the principles of reality are to be discovered by the study of the processes of thought, or a philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical; in the U.S., associated with Emerson.
2. pertaining to, characteristic of, or derived from living organisms. 7. characterized by the systematic arrangement of parts; organized; systematic. 9. developing in a manner of living organisms: a view of history as organic
1. any individual life form considered as an entity; ... 2. any complex, organized body or system analogous to a living being, esp. one composed of mutually interdependent parts acting together.
1. the general condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, a means of reproduction, and internal regulation in response to the environment. 2. a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived as belonging to the soul; ...
1. the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical. 2. the spiritual part of humans regarded in its moral aspect, or believed to survive death and subject to happiness or misery in a life to come. 3. the disembodied spirit of a deceased person.
1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ...
adj. 1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of the whole. ... 5. present or existing everywhere. ... 7. of or pertaining to the universe, all nature, or all existing things. ... n. 10 a cultural pattern or trait found in every known society or common to all members of a particular culture. ... 12. Philos. a. a general term or concept or the generic nature that such a term signifies; a Platonic idea or Aristotelian form. b. an entity that remains unchanged in character in a series of changes or changing relations. ...

5.2 v.t. -- verb transitive

In most of the definitions quoted in section 5.1, "transcend" is a transitive verb. In definitions 1 and 2, there is nothing about the nature of the object. There are such suggestions for definition 3, but definition 3 and its suggested objects is only of interest to me in the context of cosmology, a branch of physics. Except in this sense, nothing is "independent of or prior to" the universe or time. Definitions 1 and 2 do have possible religious significance for me. However, the nature of the object is crucial. In my view, nothing transcends physical reality, and I reject statements which suggest this. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with statements concerning experiences that transcend the usual way in which we experience physical reality. Our experience of physical reality is limited to a subset of its possibilities, and those occasions on which these limits are challenged are worthy of note, and sometimes reverence.

5.3 Unitarian Universalist Transcendentalism

Since the context is Unitarian Universalism, the following is relevant:

But the emphasis of reason against emotion [by Unitarianism] led to another protest -- transcendentalism. This loosely bound group of ideas attached less importance to the traditional conception of generic man than to the unique individual. The emphasis was also on each individual's capacity for imagination, sensibility, ecstasy, on an ability spontaneously and intuitively to experience the universal in the concrete, to achieve through self culture and rapport with nature the higher self -- to become one with the organic living universe, with supreme reality, with absolute truth.(19)
In the following sections, various aspects of this statement will be discussed. The conclusion is that while I embrace certain aspects of transcendentalism, I reject all parts that claim the existence of anything other than the physical universe. However, my view of the physical universe is that it has considerably more capability than most people give it credit for. There are limits, however, and I consider some of transcendentalism well beyond those limits.

5.3.1 Imagination, Sensibility, Ecstasy

These are spices of life. I have no quarrel here.

5.3.2 Intuitive Experience of the Universal

There are numerous possible interpretations of this. It is my suspicion that as it was probably meant by the transcendentalists of the nineteenth century, I would reject some, but not all of it. I don't know enough of the history to make a definitive statement. I also suspect that I would reject the many of the meanings ascribed to it by many modern-day Unitarian Universalists. The following sections elaborate. Intuition and Logic

Intuition and logic are often seen in opposition. This is in large part because many people see only one side of it. Each person wants to believe that what he knows best is adequate and appropriate to success in the culture. Those who lack training and experience with logic feel threatened and distrustful of those who are good with logic. Those who have little sophistication in aesthetics and in forming judgements in the apparent absence of explicit detailed knowledge are distrustful of intuition. The human mind functions best when intuition and logic work together.

Intuition is the perception of truth without the apparent gathering of information, without the apparent use of reasoning, or without either. The truth just appears. I assert that good judgements cannot be made in the absence of the necessary information, or in the absence of logical processing of this information. Much gathering of information and processing is done unconsciously. Furthermore, much processing is done by mechanisms that are foreign to conscious human experience. These mechanisms are, however, based in logic. Furthermore, intuitive conclusions are much more reliable when they are preceded by as much conscious information gathering and logical consideration as possible.

Logical analysis is the following of rules of logic to arrive at conclusions based on the available information. There is a prodigious number of ways to logically combine the information we have, and the number of possible true conclusions is also prodigious. Intuition is needed to guide the gathering of information and the selection of paths of logic to follow.

The take-home message is this: both logic and intuition are valid; it is best when they work together; there is nothing magic about either. Intuitive Experience

I "experience the universal in the concrete" easily and frequently. There have been several times in the recent past when I said to my self: "God is in this room." I have also noticed Satan in a few places. I understand these as representing my feelings and fantasies interpreted in the light of the actions of the entities described section 4.2.

When logical reasoning is suspect, it is usually possible to check by listing assumptions and definitions, and checking it against well known principles. On the other hand, when an intuitive conclusion is suspect, there is no easy way to check it. In mundane matters, this is not usually a serious problem. If my intuition says that a particular investment is good, one way or the other, the moment of truth will soon arrive. On the other hand, in more ethereal matters, there is often no way to check an intuitive declaration. If your intuition says God exists, and mine says God does not exist, we have a problem. There is no reliable way to distinguish a correct from an incorrect conclusion, and in this case, one of us is incorrect(20). The Universal

Various definitions of "universal" are shown in section 5.1. Definition 7 is the easiest to deal with. No one experiences, intuitively or otherwise, "the universe, all nature, or all existing things". I suspect that some with transcendentalist beliefs think they do. I consider this pure fantasy. Definitions 1 and 5 refer to "the whole" and "everywhere". If these are taken to be the same as definition 7, the same comments apply.

Definition 10 is another matter. "a cultural pattern or trait found in every known society or common to all members of a particular culture" can be experienced intuitively by several means within the limitations mentioned in section 4.2.1. There is no question that continuous exposure of information regarding the culture in which one lives is ample to support intuitive experiences which are similar among individuals. Another means, somewhat overlapping this, is to become to some degree aware of the activities of the entities described in section 4.2. Yet another is to become aware of traits that are biological characteristics of the human species.

Intuitive experiences of the universal can be very important to a person. However, this importance should not obscure the fact that knowledge of the origin of such experiences is usually not available to the person having the experience. These experiences are often interpreted in terms of the myths of the time, be they that such experiences emanate from the trees, gods, God, or the universe. This obscurity of origin should not detract from the reality, importance, and usefulness of such experiences. However, if we are talking about reality, some statements regarding the origin of such experiences are correct, and some are not.

5.3.3 Rapport with Nature

I enjoy, and feel spiritually uplifted in natural settings. Furthermore, I believe that natural balance is an important to our planet, and therefore important to us. Not only do I believe the Theory of Evolution, I believe that it has important implications regarding the way we should live. In this regard, I sometimes say that the ideal human population of the earth is about 100,000,000.

As defined in section 4.1, spirituality is an important part of my life. In case it is not already clear, this spirituality depends on what is going on in my mind, as well as physical communication with others. Neither I, nor anyone else communes with trees, except in fantasy. I sometimes enjoy such fantasies, but I recognize them as such.

5.3.4 The Organic Living Universe

I think that most people now think that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. It is generally conceived of as "on our scale". Alien intelligent beings are not bigger than a planet -- they live on one. They are not microscopic from our point of view. Their thoughts take about as long as ours to formulate. Perhaps they have different chemistry, but they have chemistry.

What about life on different scales of time or size? In one science fiction novel I read, a certain race was charged with the responsibility of identifying all life in the universe(21). It could be hard to recognize. Intelligence could exist in complexes of rock crystals where, from our point if view, it would take thousands of years to form a single thought. On the surface of neutron stars, civilizations might rise and fall in, from our point of view, seconds. Is our galaxy alive? How about the universe? Life

As a professional in information technology, I am well acquainted with the characteristics of highly organized complex systems. The complexity of such systems motivates comparison with living organisms. Indeed, this comparison is valid with regard to direction -- complexity is an essential characteristic of life. However, the comparison is not valid with regard to degree. While our technological systems are much more complex then things we normally perceive directly, they are ultimate simplicity itself when compared with the complexity of even the simplest living organism.

It is sometimes said that life is an emergent property of complexity, once complexity passes a certain degree(22). With regard to life, complexity itself does not satisfy definition 1 above. For example, complexity does not necessary entail reproductive capability. However, some flexibility may be necessary. If the universe were to be considered a living thing, reproductive capability might be waived.

What definition of "life" would include the universe still eludes me. If it has a soul (section which I doubt, that would do it. Absent that, I suspect that the word "life" is best left to its more mundane meaning, lest there be confusion. I respect and aesthetically appreciate complex things, the universe included. At our present level of understanding, saying that it is alive does not alter this.(23) Soul

I reject the idea of a soul as usually defined. I completely reject the idea of any existence apart from the physical. This does not mean the soul cannot be talked about. The second part of definition 1 of "soul" given above can be carefully applied: "the spiritual part of humans [and universes] as distinct from the physical". If we both:

    a.   Use "spiritual" in the sense of my personal definition of "spirituality" in section 4.1, and
    b.   Require that in the definition of "soul" "distinct" means "conceptually distinct" and not "distinct in reality",
then "soul" is a potentially useful abstraction. It is not necessary to consider physics or physiology when discussing spirituality -- indeed, this would usually be an unproductive distraction. This said, I have no knowledge of whether the universe has a soul, although I doubt that it does(24). If it does have a soul, then I believe that that soul has no communication with me or my soul. Its only possible importance to me is that if the universe needs a soul to exist, then I am glad that it has one. By the way, I no more associate God with the soul of the universe than I associate God with the soul of my parrot. My acceptance of the possibility that the universe could conceivably have a soul does not compromise my atheism. This "God" would fail on at least attributes 1 and 4 described in section 3.

Perhaps the first part of definition 2 of "soul" might be useful: "the spiritual part of humans [or universes] regarded in its moral aspect". Following the definition of "moral" above, from a moral point of view, I believe that it is right that the universe exists, but some might say I am biased. If the universe has any opinions regarding right and wrong, it hasn't told me about them.


1. Random House Webster's College Dictionary, Random House, New York, 1991, ISBN: 0-679-40110-5 and ISBN: 0-679-40100-8. I wonder why there are two ISBN numbers.
2. B.A., Physics, University of Rochester, 1962; Ph.D., Physiology and Neurobiology, University of Rochester Medical School, 1973.
3. In fact the statement actually false -- it is only an approximation. It is a better approximation to say the both the earth and sun revolve around their common center of gravity. This detail does not compromise my argument.
4. Formulation of a definition of "consciousness" for mortals is daunting, let alone for God. For mortals, these attributes of consciousness come to mind: awareness of self; awareness of that which is not self; memory of the past; contemplation of the future; ability to direct attention. When applied to God, all of this is problematic. Perhaps God conceives reality as a function of frequency rather than time. God would then directly perceive each particle in the universe as the three-dimensional Fourier transform of the position of the particle as a function of time, for all time. God would then combine this information for all particles in the universe and use the result to derive what we know as moral law. It would probably be necessary to apply another transform before writing the law on tablets. Perhaps you can think of other possibilities.
5. This theory conforms to General Relativity. The theory suggests that there are many such bubbles. Not only is our planet not the only residence of intelligence, but our universe is only one of myriad bubbles. What a downer for our ego and God's ego! Or is there some uncertainty regarding the definition of "universe"? (I will supply the reference as soon as I can find it.)
6. This is upsetting. It is dealt with in an interesting way in the short story "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov, 1956, available in numerous science fiction anthologies, for example: Isaac Asimov, "The Edge of Tomorrow", Tom Doherty Associates, New York, 1986, ISBN: 0-812-53122-1, pp. 437-450, and is available here.
7. According to Penrose, God had to select a hypervolume of one part in 10^(10^123) of the phase space available to him in order to create a universe resembling ours (where ^ is the exponentiation operator). For those not used to dealing with notation like this, take my word for it -- this is a really large number. Roger Penrose, "The Emperor's New Mind", Oxford University Press, New York, 1989, ISBN: 0-19-851973-7, p. 344, and Fig 7.19 on p. 343.
8. There may be many "inhospitable" universes. In those universes, people are not writing articles like this.
9. The human species by nature seeks explanations for what happens to it. I believe that it evolved this way because formulation of such explanations provided an advantage in the competition for survival. However, the vast majority of these explanations are incorrect, i.e., they make false statements about reality. The species benefitted because an important minority of the explanations were close enough to reality to provide the competitive advantage. In modern times, means have been developed to select those explanations which are most likely to be closest to reality. Most people do not understand these means. Furthermore, they cannot distinguish those who know and use the means from those who do not. It is hard to admit this. Unfortunately, the means do not provide explanations for many matters that are important to people. There is substantial social reward for those who provide explanations that conform to reality. Numerous false explanations therefore abound. Those who would like to pursue this further are referred to CSICOP, The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
10. See, for example, Humanist Manifesto I (1933) and Humanist Manifesto II (1973), as well as other information at The American Humanist Association.
11. The physical basis of consciousness is not understood. There is not a clue! There is extensive literature on how the brain (a physical thing) functions and how it processes the information that provides the content of consciousness. However none of this provides even an adequate suggestion regarding how or why the experience of consciousness might arise. The history of physics is full of extensions to account for additional phenomena, and such an extension may be necessary to account for consciousness. However, there will not be anything magical in this, at least not any more magical than the idea that two masses with no apparent connection attract one another according to precise rules. This is not a new idea. For example:
The apparent restriction of the phenomenon of consciousness to the higher forms of life has long served science as an excuse for eliminating it from its models of the universe. A queer exception, an aberrant function, an epiphenomenon -- thought was classed as under one of these heads in order to get rid of it. But what would have happened to modern physics if radium had been classed as an 'abnormal substance' without further ado? Clearly the activity of radium has not been neglected, and could not be neglected, because being measurable, it forced its way into the external web of matter -- whereas consciousness, in order to be integrated into a world-system, necessitates consideration of the existence of a new aspect or dimension of the stuff of the universe. We shrink from the attempt, but which of us does not see identical problems facing research workers, which have to be solved by the same method, namely, to discover the universal hidden beneath the exceptional?
from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, "The Phenomenon of Man", 1955, translated by Bernard Wall, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1959, pp. 55-56, and is available here. This does not and will not vindicate New Age philosophy, despite the fact that Teilhard de Chardin is considered by some to be a pioneer of New Age philosophy.
12. Richard Dawkins, "The Selfish Gene", New Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989, ISBN: 0-19-286092-5(pbk.).
See also a summary and discussion of the meme concept:
"Richard Dawkins, Selfish Genes and Selfish Memes", in Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, "The Mind's I, Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul", Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1981, ISBN: 0-465-04624-X, Chapter 10, pp. 124-146.
13. op. cit. pp. 192-193.
14. Birnbaum, M.H., Thomann, K.T., "Visual Function in Multiple Personality Disorder", Journal of the American Optometric Association, 67(6):327-334, p. 327, June 1996.
15. op.cit. p. 328.
16. Gleaves, D.H., "The Sociocognitive Model of Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Reexamination of the Evidence", Psychological Bulletin:120(1)42-59, 1996.
17. Castillo, C.J., "Spirit Possession in South Asia, Dissociation or Hysteria?, Part 2: Case Histories", Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 18:141-162, pp. 157-158, 1994.
also see:
Castillo, C.J., "Spirit Possession in South Asia, Dissociation or Hysteria?, Part 1: Thoeretical Background", Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 18:1-21, 1994.
18. My wife, Rosalie, says that it does not relieve her of any discomfort.
19. Merle Curti, "Psychological Theories in American Thought", in "Dictionary of the History of Ideas", Philip P Wiener editor in chief, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973, IV:23-24.
20. Some would say that we are both correct since we all have our own personal realities. While this may be true in some sense, it is not true in the sense of this paper. I am referring to objective reality, of which there is only one. It exists independently of us, our needs, opinions, and desires. In each of our statements about it, we are either correct or incorrect, although we may not know which. This paper is not written for those who believe otherwise. Hear ye O Israel: The Lord is Our God; The Lord is One! To claim otherwise is idolatry.
21. Arthur C. Clarke, "Childhood's End", Ballantine Books, New York, 1953.
22. It is also sometimes said that consciousness is an emergent property of complexity once the complexity passes a certain degree. I have difficulty with this idea. Consider, for example, the physical concept of pressure. In thermodynamics, pressure is examined in itself with no consideration of its cause. The theory provides a small number of macroscopic concepts and postulates from which are derived results that agree reasonably well with experiment. The agreement is good enough to be very useful in engineering. Now when statistical mechanics is introduced, pressure is explained as the result of the collision of myriad particles with the solid object experiencing the pressure. Pressure is then a macroscopic emergent property of microscopic activity. However, there is a clear logical relationship between the microscopic and macroscopic. The difference between them has more to do with our means of observation and our conceptualization, than with objective reality. Consciousness is another matter. There appears to be no logical relationship between the characteristics of a complex system and consciousness as I experience it. Since it appears that an information-processing capability is required for such consciousness, I suspect that appropriate complexity is a necessary condition for consciousness as I know it, although it does not seem to be a sufficient condition.
23. It is true, however, that if the universe were shown to be alive and to have a soul, my respect would increase. I imagine that those who really believe that the universe is alive and has a soul respect it more than I do.
24. Referring to the definition of "soul" in section 5.1, I judge that the concept of soul is closely related to the concept of consciousness. I believe that comparable issues of complexity, as discussed in note 22, are involved. I doubt that the universe as an individual thing has complexity of the kind required for this, although clearly some of its constituents do.