Dec 18th 2014

Soul Search: Why Pope Francis Is Barking Up the Wrong Tree

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

Pope Francis has opened the Pearly Gates to Blue Heelers. The Pope said that "all creatures...will be vested with the joy and love of God, without limits." He quoted Pope Paul VI saying that "Paradise is open to all creatures." However, little Rover should not yet get too excited about a supply of perpetual dog treats and slow postal workers in shorts. There seems to be some papal problems with this pronouncement, some disagreements among the papal powers. Previous church leaders, like Pope Benedict, formally denied animal entry to heaven with the pronouncement that, "For other creatures, who are not called to eternity, death just means the end of existence on Earth." Benedict forever condemned his beloved cats to something less than eternal bliss. But Pope Paul VI before him implied otherwise, claiming that "one day we will see our animals in the eternity of Christ." God is sending a mixed signal to his primary spokesmen.

The Menagerie

In spite of the confusion from above, let us assume for the moment that the pro-animal contingent of the papacy is right. Who among life's menagerie will be admitted to heaven? I suspect the Pope did not think this through. For example, what exactly is meant by "all creatures" and "our animals"? Those two descriptors mean very different things; "creatures" is all inclusive, while "animals" excludes the other major life forms of plants, fungi, archaebacterial and bacteria. But even if we restrict ourselves to the animal kingdom, we cut a wide swatch through life. Are we restricting ourselves to mammals? If so, are we including naked mole rates? Are Rhinos going to heaven? And by what rationale would we even restrict ourselves to mammals since they are only a small subset of animals? We should not forget alligators or birds. Why stop there; what about insects and spiders, which of course are animals. Tarantulas are pretty smart. We certainly have no reason to exclude sponges, which are defined as sessile animals. And why just animals; how about bacteria and viruses? How heavenly is heaven going to be if you have to worry about catching Ebola? Each and every one of these beings is one of "god's creatures." I can see no reason to send a German Shepherd off to the angels but deny that same ride to a platypus or groundhog. Even within primate there exists a huge variety of behaviors and intelligence: does the diminutive lemur get a raw deal while the great apes get a coupon to heaven?

Pope Francis is trying to weasel out of a problem that cannot be solved using sleight of hand and questionable biology. However clever Francis may want to be about this, nothing is mentioned in the bible about Fido having a soul that ascends to heaven. His religious teachings as traditionally interpreted do not accommodate the obvious -- that creatures other than humans are sentient beings. Which brings up the self-evident question why would only humans go to heaven? No matter what the answer or how it is justified, religious doctrine is clear: only humans are made in god's image, only humans can know god.

Soul Search

The sense we have that a dog might qualify for heaven but a jumping spider might not mainly comes down to the difference we assign to their brain power. Delving a little deeper, we would have greater expectations and hopes for eternal bliss for animals that are intelligent enough to be self-conscience and self-aware. So in order to begin addressing the question of soul, we need to be more precise in our thinking about intelligence, self-consciousness and self-awareness. Without this distinction we would soon be talking about plants going to that great garden in the sky. Face it; we all know that viruses, bacteria, plants and some animals like sponges are not going to heaven. And we know that because of our instinct for what it means to be intelligent, self-conscience and self-aware. But because those concepts are so critical to understanding what animals make the cut, let's define them more formally. A rough hierarchy exits among these concepts, so we'll take them in order.

Intelligence

One must be intelligent to be self-conscious, and in turn, one must be self-conscious to be self-aware. Finally, self-awareness must be present to feel empathy. So we begin with intelligence, which can be thought of as the ability to learn from experience (acquire and retain new knowledge), and to subsequently apply that new knowledge with flexibility to manipulate or adapt to a changing environment. Or we can view intelligence as the ability to create abstract thought, beyond instinct or responses to sensory input.

We need to recognize that smarts are situationally dependent. You would be severely challenged to teach a porpoise to climb a tree. You may well be able to solve math problems, but your dog will learn more quickly and more effectively than you ever could to sniff out the drugs in your colleague's suitcase, and to notify you of the contraband. An animal's intelligence, or more precisely, its ability to manifest its intelligence, is tightly correlated with its natural environment, and its evolutionary adaptations. That reality complicates our soul search.

Self-consciousness

The definition of self-consciousness can be distilled to: understanding that you as an individual are distinct from the external environment, and at the same time recognizing that others are similarly aware of you as an individual. I can only recognize Ralph as a unique person if I first understand that I too am an individual.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness is a further refinement of the concept of self-consciousness in that you not only recognize yourself as an individual relative to others and the physical environment, but you are aware of your own mental state, including your own internal thoughts independent of the external world. Your thoughts are unavailable to anybody but you until you decide to expose them to the external world either through behavior or some type of communication. Self-awareness depends on no other creature but you. You would be self-aware even if you were the last person on earth, with no other sentient being to recognize your presence. Self-awareness is your brain acknowledging its own existence.

Dualism and the Center of the Universe

We have now in our hand the minimum requirements for heaven; but being smart is not enough. In publishing his seminal work, the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, in 1670, Baruch Spinoza established himself as the first modern philosopher, and therefore an early target of Christian wrath. The Church quickly denounced Tractatus as "the most vile and sacrilegious book the world has ever seen." His biggest crime? Spinoza believed the bible to be nothing but a tale told by man, and that the soul dies with the body; that there is no afterlife. This has implications for all other Church teachings. So enjoined the battle that rages today. (For this full story and references, see Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World, see link to Amazon below). But unlike in years past, science now has something to say about this matter.

Until recently, most scientists treated any study of intelligence or self-awareness as the third rail of academics -- touch it and die. That attitude has changed over the past decade, however. Neuroscience (the field in which I have my Ph.D.) is moving beyond the old and false dualist arguments that posit that the mental and physical are different in kind, or that understanding the brain will not lead to an understanding of the mind. Dualism (separating mind and brain) arises from the deep human need to offer an explanation for what is not yet understood. We have difficulty just saying, "we don't yet know" while searching for the answer. From the ancients trying to explain the rising and setting sun to modern efforts to understand the beginning of the universe, humans simply make up comforting explanations when nothing more is available, with little regard to objective truth. What could be more comforting than knowing that the earth is the center of the universe, around which everything revolves? This geocentric ("earth-centric") view was taught as an absolute truth for almost 1500 years until Copernicus and Galileo proved instead that the earth revolves around the sun. We don't yet know the neural mechanisms underlying consciousness, so we make up the notion that it is somehow a mysterious entity separate from the brain. Dualism is nothing more than the neurobiological equivalent of geocentrism -- a false doctrine created out of a deep need to understand something that is not yet understood. Instead of admitting we don't know we make up a comforting but answer false answer that the mind is separate from the brain.

And now we come to the crux of the matter. Dualism also contributes to the persistent idea that humans have souls, something beyond the body, just as the mind is something beyond the brain. By rejecting dualism, the notion of a soul becomes equally insupportable. So the question of who goes to heaven is mute. We no longer have to go through the tortuous exercise of counting the number of angels on a pin head.

Why Humans?

For the sake of continued argument, let's say that the concept of soul is valid. In spite of what Francis said the Catholic Church, and in fact most of Christianity, still teaches today that only humans have souls. In 1990 Pope John Paul II was perhaps the first church leader to concede that "animals possess a soul" and are the "fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect." While these are kind words, they are but a few in the face of 2000 years of contrary history; and the idea was contradicted by subsequent popes. Moreover, his words conflict directly with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states:

Of all visible creatures only man is "able to know and love his creator." He is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake," and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity. (CCC #356)

Would a chimpanzee sharing 97 percent of our genome not have a soul? Does this mean that the soul, and the entirety of our human dignity, resides in the differential 3 percent? Would a chimpanzee have a soul, but not an elephant because their genome is less human?

We have this conundrum of who has a soul and who goes to heaven because the basic premise on the question is rather absurd. The concept of a soul is fatally flawed, just as is the idea of dualism. We avoid this silly debate entirely by admitting that nobody has a soul and nobody is going to heaven. But Francis can't have it both ways: if all creatures can go to heaven, it trivializes the very idea of a soul (really, bacteria have a soul?); if Benedict is right, then we can't allow an exception for dogs or other animals we deem worthy based on squishy logic. In the world of biology, intelligence, self-consciousness and self-awareness are on a continuum; and our ability to assess these characteristics is limited by an animal's ability to manifest them in the right environment. There simply is no way pick and choose who goes and who stays other than to admit the choices are completely arbitrary, hardly worthy of god's work.

Pope Benedict almost got it right when he said, "For other creatures, who are not called to eternity, death just means the end of existence on Earth." He just needed to include one more species, humans, and he would be absolutely correct.



Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a marine biologist, consultant and internationally recognized authority in ethics, conservation and development. He is the author of five books including Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction (July 2011), and A New Moral Code (2010). Dr. Schweitzer has spoken at numerous international conferences in Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States.Dr. Schweitzer's work is based on his desire to introduce a stronger set of ethics into American efforts to improve the human condition worldwide. He has been instrumental in designing programs that demonstrate how third world development and protecting our resources are compatible goals. His vision is to inspire a framework that ensures that humans can grow and prosper indefinitely in a healthy environment.Formerly, Dr. Schweitzer served as an Assistant Director for International Affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy under former President Clinton. Prior to that, Dr. Schweitzer served as the Chief Environmental Officer at the State Department's Agency for International Development. In that role, he founded the multi-agency International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a U.S. Government that promoted conservation through rational economic use of natural resources.Dr. Schweitzer began his scientific career in the field of marine biology. He earned his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He expanded his research at the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. While at U.C. Irvine he was awarded the Science, Engineering and Diplomacy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Dr. Schweitzer is a pilot and he founded and edited the Malibu Mirage, an aviation magazine dedicated to pilots flying these single-engine airplanes. He and his wife Sally are avid SCUBA divers and they travel widely to see new wildlife, never far from their roots as marine scientists..To learn more about Dr Schweitzer, visit his website at http://www.JeffSchweitzer.com.



Click here for ways to follow what's new on Facts & Arts.




     

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message. The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains. ---- The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will pay US$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed. ---- So what is going on here, and what does it tell us about art and money?"
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Ellison was an abstract expressionist painter, who, having come to New York City from West Texas in 1962, was as he said “unable to find traction” as a painter. At the same time, he began collecting ceramic objects and educating himself about this field of art as he went along. In 2009 he bestowed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art over 300 extraordinary examples of American ceramics, spanning the years 1876 through 1956. Since then, Ellison has gifted to the Museum over 600 works – including a significant collection of European art pottery in 2013, and most recently over 125 modern and contemporary clay vessels and objects – making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Art Pottery in the world. ---- The current exhibition presents nearly 80 pieces drawn from Ellison’s latest donation, and it is a thoroughly captivating show; even where (or perhaps especially where) the works are outlandish, bizarre, sometimes almost monstrous, but nonetheless enthralling."
Jul 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the course of England’s journey to the Euro 2020 final, one of the most fascinating plays has been happening just off the pitch. Whenever the TV camera cuts to the team’s manager Gareth Southgate, he is occasionally seen standing alone on the edge of the field, urging his team on. ---- But most of the time he is deep in conversation with his assistant Steve Holland. ---- A recent study of English football culture points to a shift away from what the authors term “Beckhamisation”, after the former England captain and Manchester United star player David Beckham – a popular and instantly recognisable symbol of that period of football history (though, it is not suggested the culture was his creation). ---- During the 1990s, the study claims, this “Beckhamisation” saw high octane management practices imported from the corporate world into football. ---- In recent years, this has been replaced by “Southgatism”, a leadership style which that study describes as “modest, self-deprecating, down to earth, diverse and progressive”. "
Jun 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "New York’s Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting an exhibition devoted to an in-depth review of Paul Cézanne’s drawings. If there is any criticism to be made of this extraordinary show, it is that it is frankly overwhelming: with roughly 280 pencil, ink and gouache drawings and watercolors (and even a handful of oil paintings), there is so much to take in that two or three visits to the exhibition may be required to do it justice."
Jun 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it." .... "Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions." .... "The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility."
Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."