Stewart Goetz and Scientific Methodology

Instead of appealing to discovered correlations between what is mental and what goes on in the brain, some argue that the methodology of science makes belief in the soul unreasonable because it makes impossible any explanation of the movements of a human body in terms of a soul’s purposeful action. For example, i an article entitled “Soul Talk,” Stephen T. Asma writes: “Science seems entirely justified in its soul skepticism. [. . .] Modern medicine is a testament to the genius of methodological materialism and a mechanical [non-purposeful] approach to the human being” (Asma 2010, B6, B8). If Asma is correct, the methodology of science makes belief in the soul unreasonable because it makes impossible any appeal to the causal interaction between a soul and its physical body.

By way of giving a prolegomenon to setting forth this argument from scientific methodology, it behooves us to have a reasonably clear and concise picture of how souls are assumed by many to be actually related to their physical on occasions when those souls make what we will assume are essentially undetermined choices. [ … ] This picture is as follows: on certain occasions, we have reasons for performing incompatible actions. Because we cannot perform both actions, we must make a choice to do one or the other (or neither), and, whichever choice we make, we make that choice for a reason or purpose, where that reason provides an ultimate and irreducible teleological explanation of that choice (thus undetermined choices are not inexplicable choices). The making of a choice is a mental event that occurs in a soul, and either it or some other mental event associated with it (e.g. an intention to act) directly causally produces an effect event in that soul’s physical body.

Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, A Brief History of the Soul (Wiley-Blackwell: 2011) pp. 156-7

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