September 16, 2019

Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science- Part 3, The Language of Biology, Chapters 9 Redeemable Ant-Man By Andy Walsh

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science

Part 3, The Language of Biology, Chapter 9 Redeemable Ant-Man

By Andy Walsh

We are blogging through the book, “Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science” by Andy Walsh.  Today is Chapter 9: Redeemable Ant-man and Walsh goes into a detailed regale of ant colony lore.  Which is not uninteresting.  If you’ve ever seen pictures of the results of pouring molten aluminum into an ant hill; you know that it shows the proportionate equivalent to a city with a complex network of interconnected tunnels and chambers.

Molten Aluminum Poured into Ant Hill

Ants are farmers; they cultivate fungus that has actually become domesticated to the ant colony.  Ants keep livestock such as aphids and “milk” them for their secretions.  They even defend the “herd” from other predators like shepherds protecting their sheep.  Some ant species engage in warfare with other ant colonies in territorial disputes.  How are all of these complex tasks organized?  Where are the blueprints for the colony’s nest?  Where is the knowledge of farming techniques maintained?  You could argue it is encoded in their genes, but that can only be true in the most abstract sense.  Does it make sense to perhaps talk about the ant colony as a collective unit having some notion of a will that directs nest building, fungus farming, aphid herding, warfare, and so forth?  Is it plausible that such a will could be constructed from the bottom up, out of the individual contributions of the ants?  And if that’s the case, are the ants free in any sense or do they blindly serve the will of the colony.  Is all this information suggestive of a scenario where an individual can operate individually, and yet also realize some form of collective will?  Walsh says:

Even though we are used to thinking of ourselves as indivisible wholes, we are a confederation of trillions of cells, many, but not all, of whom share a genome, who have gathered together to be “me” for a while…  Some organizing principle I identify as myself persists and holds them all together, yet without an obvious hierarchy.  There is no “me” cell that can claim superiority, or even a first among equal status…  All of the cells are dependent on the others in some way.  All cells send signals, and all cells respond to signals sent by other cells.  Where do “I” live?  We intuit that we reside inside our heads, looking out through our eyes, but something about that picture doesn’t fully resonate with modern biology…

… One can easily tumble down a rabbit hole reflecting on matters of mind.  You start to think about how you think, then you realize you are thinking about thinking, and before long you’ve got yourself tied up in knots wondering who watches the watcher-watching watchers.  Just “who” is doing all this thinking, and is that the same person also thinking about my thinking, and so on and so forth…

And so Walsh takes on the question of consciousness and the nature of the ‘soul”.  Is it just physicality and neurological impulses?  We have no empirical evidence of consciousness without a physical living brain.  The Bible makes many references to one’s soul, and similar ideas can be found in a variety of other cultural and religious contexts.  It is expressly not a scientific concept, since science, by definition, deals exclusively with the physical.

The model of identity that makes the most sense to Walsh is the idea that our mind or consciousness is an emergent level of organization of (at least) our brains.  Or to put it another way, our mind is fully mediated by our brains, but not strictly reducible to the brain.  He brings up the writings of Douglas Hofstadter and his book, I am a Strange Loop.  Walsh says the analogy behind that title is that our mind is a form of strange attractor, like he discussed in Chapter 3.

I’d like to bring up some points we discussed in our review of Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods by Malcom Jeeves.  Malcolm mentions the InterVarsity Press book, “In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem”.  and says this:

Personally, I find the most convincing approach in this volume, in the sense of doing most justice both to the science and to Scripture, to be the one written by Nancey Murphy.  She labels her view “Nonreductive Physicalism”.  If we must have labels put on us, I prefer to call my view dual-aspect monism, as I’ve mentioned before.  By this I mean that there is only one reality to be understood and explained – this is what I would call the “mind-brain unity”, hence the word monism.  By saying “dual-aspect”, I am affirming that in order to do full justice to the nature of this reality we need to give at least two accounts of it an account in terms of its physical makeup and an account in terms of our mental or cognitive abilities.  You cannot reduce the one to the other.  This may seem like a linguistic quibble, but my concern is that the term physicalism as Nancey Murphy uses it, could be taken by some as giving precedence to the physical aspect of our makeup over the mental.  I think that would be to ignore that, as I said earlier, we can only know and talk about the mind-body problem by using language and the mental categories it employs.  So in this sense at least, not selecting out either the mental or the physical would avoid giving precedence to either.  If pressed, I would say that referring only to the physical, as in Nonreductive Physicalism, runs the risk of seeming to endorse a materialistic view which, in turn, implies that the mind is “nothing but” the chattering of the cells of the brain.

I made the following analogy: flowing water, in a river or channel may exhibit subcritical or supercritical flow. Subcritical occurs when the actual water depth is greater than critical depth. Subcritical flow is dominated by gravitational forces and behaves in a slow or stable way. It is defined as having a Froude number less than one (The Froude number is a ratio of inertial and gravitational forces. · Gravity (numerator) – moves water downhill. · Inertia (denominator) – reflects its willingness to do so). Supercritical flow is dominated by inertial forces and behaves as rapid, turbulent, or unstable flow. Subcritical flow is laminar and is defined by relatively simple mathematical formulas. The relation between subcritical and supercritical flow is not a continuum. When the Froude number reaches 1, a nick point occurs where the flow jumps to supercritical. The flow is now chaotic and indeterminate.

My theory is that there is a Brain-Froude number of 1.  Our evolutionary brain development reached a “nick point” with regard to reason, self-awareness, ability to think about the past and the future, conceive of God, and so on. It’s not that our fellow animal kin have no ability to do these things, but that their development is of a rudimentary kind that is below the “Brain-Froude” number of 1 i.e. sub-critical. As commenter Robert F said during that discussion: “…a large enough magnitude of material cause-and-effect cascades into a qualitative change.”  Our mind/brain reached supercritical flow; we are now “in the image of God”.  We can perceive and experience Him and reflect His reality.  We can understand His communication to us and we can respond—in short we can be in a relationship with Him, as He intended.

What is it of us that survives death?  The empiricist would say nothing, and I have no empirical data to dispute that.  All I have is, like Paul, a trust in Christ, that where He is there I will be until the end when I am given the resurrection body.   The classic passage on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:

35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:

37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:

38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.

39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.

48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

So I agree with Malcolm Jeeves here, a soul is something we are, not an immaterial something we have.  We are embodied beings.  That is why the New Testament emphasis was on resurrection of the body, not dying and going to fluffy white cloud heaven as a disembodied “soul”.  As Chaplain Mike said in a previous post:

We look for the redemption of the body, not release from it. Our hope is not in the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. Our hope, our home is not in heaven “up there” or “out there.” We look for all creation to be set free from its bondage so that we may all share together in the freedom of a new heavens and earth.

Sounds like something to hope for.

 

 

Comments

  1. “We look for the redemption of the body, not release from it. Our hope is not in the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body”

    I’ve always loved this prophetic verse from Job (Ch. 19), which I think is one of the most resoundingly triumphant verses in all the Bible:

    “For I know that my Redeemer liveth,
    and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
    And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
    yet in my flesh shall I see God:
    Whom I shall see for myself,
    and mine eyes shall behold, and not another . . . “

  2. Susan Dumbrell says

    Handel’s Oratorio, ‘The Messiah’
    ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7aXEvCeXY

    I used to be able to sing this.
    It is my statement of faith.

    May we all see the resurrection .
    What more can we pray for.
    The ultimate time in eternity.

    Until then, may we all be blessed.

    Susan

  3. So I agree with Malcolm Jeeves here, a soul is something we are, not an immaterial something we have. We are embodied beings.

    What becomes of the idea, held by a large segment of catholic Christianity and present in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, some parts of Anglicanism, that the deceased yet still unresurrected Saints in heaven can be appealed to in prayer, that they are dynamically alive, conscious and involved in this material world’s affairs though they themselves have no bodies?

    • I think those traditions are mostly speculation, but there are indirect hints in the NT about continued conscious existence after death, so I don’t fully buy the “soul=body” argument either.

      • Mike the Geologist says

        Based on Genesis 2:7, I would say it is not soul=body, it is body+spirit=soul. The final state of resurrected bodies, that is body and spirit re-united, does not rule out an intermediate state.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And postulating an Intermediate State does solve a major problem.

          Does anyone remember the knock-down-drag-outs on how the Star Trek Transporter works? As in…

          Does it actually teleport YOU to another location or does it replicate an exact copy while destroying the original? If the latter, YOU are dead and an Exact Copy with Your Memory Trace has been created anew; there is NO direct continuity.

          Aside: both Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses teach “Soul-Sleep” between death and resurrection, without an Intermediate State. However, in SDA soul-sleep the individual is just unconscious (Transporter as teleport), in JW soul-sleep the individual ceases to exist at death and is created anew at resurrection (Transporter as Replicator which destroys the original).

          This has been a source of much SF horror fiction (the best known of them is “Think Like a Dinosaur”, where a malfunction leaves the original ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_Like_a_Dinosaur , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_Like_a_Dinosaur_(The_Outer_Limits) ). In his “Riverworld” series of constantly-resurrecting people ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverworld ), author Philp Jose Farmer (one weird dude) had to include a recording/personality/consciousness separate from the body to ensure continuity.

          And in My Little Pony fanfic, the concept has been used humorously in “Dying to Get There” https://www.fimfiction.net/story/273539/dying-to-get-there .

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Though during my time in-country, the Fundagelical Party Line was body+soul+spirit = human. I do not know how they divided soul & spirit, but this tripartite idea was treated as Inerrant Divine Revelation.

        • Iain Lovejoy says

          Here is David Bentley Hart on the meaning of “spirit”, “soul” and “body” in the NT:
          http://churchlife.nd.edu/2018/07/26/the-spiritual-was-more-substantial-than-the-fleshly-for-the-ancients/

        • If an intermediate state is not ruled out, then to some degree human individuality and consciousness can exist without material form, without a body.

          Other than the glorified body of Christ, of course.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            Christ harrowed Hell while His body was in the tomb.
            We aren’t going anywhere He didn’t go first.
            PS I think time is different outside the body. It is certainly different in my dreams.

            • But your dreams always exist in the before-and-after of time. You go to bed in the ordinary flow of time, have your time-dilating dreams, then wake up in ordinary time having had your dreams from that night (and the one prior) in the past. Your dreams are eddies in the one-directional thrust of time; they feel different, and may even be different in their relationship to time as they happen, but they are embedded in the ordinary inertia of waking time.

      • @Eeyore, from the Protestant perspective those traditions may be speculation, but to the main body of catholic Christianity down through the ages until the time of the Reformation they were an intrinsic part of the faith, and are still held to be so in some of the main branches of Christianity.

        • And I’m still enough of a Protestant to subject any and all church traditions to rigorous historical and biblical interrogation before accepting them. 😉

  4. The really interesting thing to think about is: is an ant-hill is a collection of individuals that also have some sort of emergent “personality” and “consciousness” as a single entity, could it be that the same thing is true of human communities? Walter Wink has an interesting theological perspective that when the Bible talks about “principalities and powers” it could be talking about these emergent social entities.

    In other words, a community can have a certain character – welcoming or unwelcoming, class-structured or not, segregated or multi-ethnic, etc. – and that community retains those characteristics even as individuals come and go. The community will also fight any effort to change its “personality”; even if many individual members want it to change it will always tend to revert to the same patterns. The larger demonic forces at work in our society as a whole – white supremacy, for example, or misogyny – can be understood in the same way: not always the results of conscious planning, but rather an emergent and self-perpetuating social entity.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > could it be that the same thing is true of human communities?

      Absolutely.

      > “principalities and powers” it could be talking about these emergent social entities.

      As humans we do go the extra step of making these emergent entities corporeal with flags, buildings, museums, libraries, courts, etc…

      > The community will also fight any effort to change its “personality”

      Yes, at least typically. Sometimes communities do embrace change.

    • Michael Z, the Borg come to mind as I read your comment.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        If you have attended many community meetings you’d know the Borg have already arrived, assimilated our technology and culture, and were thus reduced to a race of beings who spend most of their time having temper tantrums about being required to pay to use parking spaces.

        The poor Borg, its sad, they were once a mighty community bent on galactic domination.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The larger demonic forces at work in our society as a whole – white supremacy, for example, or misogyny – can be understood in the same way: not always the results of conscious planning, but rather an emergent and self-perpetuating social entity.

      Kind of like a Collective Tulpa?

      Like the idea some have (such as “pagan theologian” Isaac Bonewitz) that gods come into existence and are empowered by the collective expectations of their worshippers? The more worshippers, the more expectations, the more empowerment?

      • I can see this being the case for the gods of the pagan world – and some of the not specifically “divine” powers to which people sell themselves.

        Dana

      • Kinda like Chaos in the Warhammer universes…

    • I’ve read some of Wink; his ideas are interesting, and not completely foreign to some of the early Christian writers. However, most of them thought that list that includes “principalities, thrones, dominions” etc. referred to the angelic orders. Must pick up my Dionysius again….

      Dana

  5. Fascinating read today, especially about the ants. Your flowing water, Froude number analogy seems to make sense, too.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    My theory is that there is a Brain-Froude number of 1. Our evolutionary brain development reached a “nick point” with regard to reason, self-awareness, ability to think about the past and the future, conceive of God, and so on. It’s not that our fellow animal kin have no ability to do these things, but that their development is of a rudimentary kind that is below the “Brain-Froude” number of 1 i.e. sub-critical.

    With two decades in Furry Fandom and five years in Bronydom, I have both come across and speculated myself on “What is the Difference between Animals and People?” (The subjects of both fandoms beg that question.)

    Adam & Eve eating the fruit from “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” can be interpreted as a poetic way of stating this; “knowledge of Good and Evil” expresses the critical transition point from sub-critical sentience to full sapience.

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Exactly!

      • So, when God warned Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, He was essentially asking them not to achieve full sentience?

        Not sure I buy that…

        • Mike the Geologist says

          No, I think the idea was that God would mature them in a way that did not involve disobeying him. This follows from Ireneaus that A&E were childish and God intended them to come into full sapience “the right way”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > “knowledge of Good and Evil” expresses the critical transition point from sub-critical sentience to full sapience

      I tend to agree.

      However… then ask people to define “Good” and “Evil”….

      So I feel some pause and humility in that agreement.

      • Hello Adam,

        I guess when human-kind was evolved enough to arrive at ‘the critical transition point from sub-critical sentience to full sapience’ then our kind became awakened enough to respond to ‘choice’ . . . . between good and evil, and to understand the consequences of our choices in the eyes of our Creator, even if we could not foresee the damage we were doing that could unfold from taking the wrong road consciously. . . . .

        WOW, HEADLESS UNICORN GUY, you have honed in on what is at the core of our shared ‘genetic memory’ in that, at some point, our kind ‘woke up’ to who we are and to KNOWING the difference between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ which God placed within our beings so that we could ‘choose’, as that CONSCIENCE did help to urge us on to do what is good and avoid what is evil. . . . .

        quite a turning-point in human development . . . . but looking around, I wonder if the process is not still unfolding and if there is some shared or connected human consciousness that is at its best in the collegiality of the gatherings of men and women of good will? I think it may be still happening, Goodness knows, I hope so.
        And when this consciousness is fully awakened, the second Advent will have come.

        some unstructured thoughts, not even full opinions 🙂

  7. Norma Cenva says

    Why anyone would want to pour molten aluminum down an anthill is hard to fathom.
    How utterly thoughtless.

    • I would never pour molten aluminum into an ant hill. Fire ant killer is another matter. I try to treat every mound that pops up in my yard.

    • I was wondering about those ants. I will say this though: I live in Texas and we have a friendly little brand called Fire Ants. Even the mildest of encounters with them might have you calling for a flame thrower. Especially if you seen a little child bitten or a new born farm animal killed. Again, having said that, I was wondering about those ants.

  8. When I was a child and had a question about why animals did things, my mom would tell me that it’s their instinct. I think that’s a useful word, particularly when a lot of what we posit about “lower” animals is guesswork anyhow.

    St Maximos and a few of the other Greek Fathers understood every created thing to have in its make-up a “logos” given to it by The Logos, its Creator, and so in some sense participating in The Logos. This is sortakinda akin to, but not the same as, Plato’s idea of “forms”. I’m not sure I understand all of what St Maximos is talking about, but it makes sense to me that each ant would have an “ant nature” that is connected somehow to its logos as a singular ant and delineated by its Creator. I don’t think this understanding negates any scientific findings; I think it can stand alongside them without conflict, and explain some things that science can’t explain. I find this kind of understanding in EO has a strength and gives a real comfort to curious minds. We don’t simply default to “Mystery – don’t ask any more questions!” Neither do we have to pin everything down with bare linear reasoning. I find I can breathe in this space.

    I take umbrage, sir, I take umbrage at the idea that “our mind or consciousness is an emergent level of organization of (at least) our brains”. Much better: “…our mind is fully (better: somehow) mediated by our brains, but not strictly reducible to the brain.” Does Walsh talk about what accounts for our ability to love, and to appreciate beauty, and such like capacities, that aren’t all about our cognitive abilities? Our brains are helpful, and at the same time I think our soul does not reside there. It’s pretty clear that people with reduced cognitive abilities are still Persons who express their souls through their bodies by means of whatever capacities they have. Fr Stephen has written that people with conditions that affect the brain (e.g. Alzheimer’s) are still “there” – they just have a problem with their brain that inhibits expression of their Personhood. They are still Persons.

    As for consciousness after death, in EO we trust that God holds our souls. The places in the NT where death is described as sleep don’t refer to unconsciousness, but rather the state from which we will someday awaken, get up – arise – with and in our bodies; the referent is about the Resurrection. There are too many instances of people encountering in visions and dreams saints – and others – who have “fallen asleep”, coming to give them a word, or even to bring healing on Christ’s behalf, to suppose that our conscious selves somehow disappear or are inert. Such visitations have happened from Bible times until today. You may say, “No Proof! Subjective!” I say, “Testimony! Plausible!”

    Dana

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Dana: Neither Walsh nor I are materialist reductionists, we are both Christians. Not sure what you are taking umbrage at. Natural processes are no less the acts of God then the miraculous. God brought us into being by natural processes, that still means He created us. An emergent property means that what has emerged is more than just the sum of the parts. Our consciousness has emerged and now we are “us”. Now the materialist would say that the property that emerged will end with the death of the organism. But if God has willed that that soul will persist then that is what will happen. Many think that animals cease their individual personalities at death, even many Christians. I disagree. I believe I will have my pets with me in eternity as a gift of God. Call me a sentimentalist, I don’t care. I believe Jesus’ death and resurrection redeemed all of creation since the begining. And as joint heirs with Christ, we will also inherit it all. Glory to God for All Things.

      • “Many think that animals cease their individual personalities at death, even many Christians. I disagree. I believe I will have my pets with me in eternity as a gift of God. Call me a sentimentalist, I don’t care. I believe Jesus’ death and resurrection redeemed all of creation since the beginning.”

        Yes, this! 🙂

      • I was umbraging at the idea that the brain is the only place where the mind or consciousness “is”. I think the subtleties of the soul are more complicated than that. The definition of an emergent property as “more than the sum of its parts” is what I was getting at.

        Please forgive me for not communicating well. I know you’re not a materialist reductionist, Mike the G. I agree with all you wrote at 7:17.

        Dana

    • “Our brains are helpful, and at the same time I think our soul does not reside there. It’s pretty clear that people with reduced cognitive abilities are still Persons who express their souls through their bodies by means of whatever capacities they have.”

      Amen to this. I have witnessed this to be true.

    • I agree with Dana that the brain in not the seat of consciousness, or the person. It has an intimate and vital relationship with and importance to both, but they ultimately do not depend on it for their existence.