Re: [asa] Sense and nonsense

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Tue Jun 26 2007 - 12:02:40 EDT

>can someone please point me towards
> specific research studies that *mechanistically* show
> how non-sentient electrical impulses and atoms can
> give rise to sentience?

There's also a bit of ambiguity in the question. Functionally, this
is what happens in how our brains work-specific atoms, electrical
impulses, etc. do things that produce our sentience (or at least the
physical manifestations thereof). However, this does not prove that
sufficient calculating complexity is all that's needed to produce
sentience (much less the mere accumulation of a threshold level of
information, as claimed in the first Star Trek movie-I know of no
library that has achieved sentience).

The way in which physical trauma to the brain, chemical imbalances,
etc. can affect personality or other aspects that seem related to
sentience suggests that our physical structure and our spirituality
are closely linked, as does the biblical emphasis on bodily
resurrection. To the extent that our spiritual natures can be
separated from our physical natures, there must be some means for
interaction. Thus, experiments that find that stimulating certain
nerves in a certain way produce, e.g., sensations associated with
religious experience don't tell us anything significant about the
nature of the spiritual (quite apart from problems in defining
"sensations asscoiated with religious experience").

> Likewise, on a theological level, I posed the question
> earlier (which none but David Buller ventured an
> answer)--if we ascribe all the "intangible" qualities
> of humanity to physical causes, do we also ascribe
> God's "intangible" qualities (God is love, God is the
> great I AM, etc.) to this process? If not, on what
> basis do we presume that our intangible qualities stem
> from a physical, tangible body/brain structure, but
> God's do not?

The tangible manifestations of our intangible qualities are certainly
shaped by physical causes. Likewise, our ability to experience
intangible qualities at least in part is an emergent property of our
minds, which have been shaped by numerous physical processes over the
course of evolution. Such factors do not apply to God, so His
characters cannot be attributed to such causes. Ultimately all
physical causes are under God's guidance, sustenance, etc., so
theologically it is appropriate to ascribe all qualities of humanity
to God's design and action.
This does not resolve the question of whether God made human
spirituality as something that would emerge (perhaps gradually or in
steps) once the physical process of evolution reached an appropriate
point, or whether He planned evolution to make a suitable physical
frame for the insertion of spirituality. Under either scenario one
would expect to see, e.g., that similar neural circuits are in use in
other primates for more or less similar categories of activity. I
can't think of any test that would distinguish between the options,
except possibly the artificial intelligence scenario (even then, an
evidently non-spiritual robot might simply be missing an overlooked
but key physical ingredient, or an apparently spiritual robot could
reflect God deciding to implant spirituality into it).

Views on monism versus dualism, on how each new child receives
spirituality, on the general pattern of more or less
intervention-style actions by God, etc. would tie in to this as well,
but again I'm not sure what evidence would let you firmly decide among

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Tue Jun 26 12:03:12 2007

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