Fergus is Secondary Deputy Principal at Torrens Valley Christian School in Adelaide. He has combined a career in secondary education with occasional conference presentations and journal articles, usually in the areas of science and philosophy, with a bit of theology and education thrown in. He presented at COSAC 2013 on “Richard Dawkins, Science and the Meaning of Life”.
Description: The great paradox of twenty first century life is that we live each moment as if we were a living soul – a living, breathing, acting, intentional agent, full of ambitions, hopes and dreams – but at the same time most of us are convinced that the soul itself is really an illusion, a figment of the imagination of a material brain, controlled by its own biochemistry, at the mercy of genes and environment.
It’s the ultimate alienation, really, the ultimate zombie apocalypse. For what else is a zombie – that once terrifying figure of traditional religion and myth, now almost cute and cuddly stereotype of popular culture – than a body without a soul, a mindless automaton controlled by some evil, external force? The soul has either flown the coop, or been suppressed and rendered ineffectual by some nefarious, magic spell, or even, in contemporary versions, by some sort of virus.
Scientific materialism is the dominant ideology of the moment, and it is this ideology which, acting as a sort of intellectual virus, is mainly responsible for banishing the idea of the human soul to the nether regions of pseudo-science and superstition. Usually we worry about materialism’s denial of God, but in fact, in my view, its denial of the existence of the human soul is far more serious, far more outrageous.
In this presentation I will attempt to demonstrate that scientific materialism only comes about because of a mistaken understanding of the nature of science and how it relates to the world. We’ll see that the core of the problem is that the human soul sits squarely in science’s blindspot – science can’t see it, therefore science can’t believe it. A zombie apocalypse in which we’re all consigned to a soulless, material existence is the inevitable consequence. The challenge then is to get the soul out of the blindspot and back into the light of the day. Along these lines, we’ll finish by exploring the idea of soul as self-conscious agency, a conception which I hope will help us to begin to paint a far more appealing and hopeful picture of human nature than that of the zombie.