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.
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.