Wednesday, March 7, 2007

I'm not that kind of atheist (Pt. IV and conclusion)

When I look at this fear of self-contradiction, or more accurately finding oneself in conflict, I see also that a superstitious faith in the soul lives on: that a person is first and foremost a unity lives on. It is one of the metaphysical habits of humankind to believe that something must be either one thing or the other when presented with two seemingly mutually exclusive alternatives. In the case of the soul, or as I would prefer being a person: either being a person means being a unity, or it means being a multitude. This sense of personhood as a multitude is captured in the colloquial expression: "part of me would like to do this, but another part..."

This conundrum can also be put in the form of a question: is the unity of personhood more fundamental and essential than the moments of multiplicity and plurality?

Leaving humanity's metaphysical prejudices aside, it is without question that sometimes we experience our personality as plurality, and sometimes as a unity. An empirically-minded project presents itself: when do "I" appear as a unity, and when do "I" appear to be a multitude?

It is worth noting that Christianity throughout most of its history presented personality as a plurality. There was the soul, conscience, and our animal nature. Of course, Christianity also taught that an individual's soul -- which is commonly identified with an individual's consciousness -- is the most essential and real part of a person. The soul is the part that can be redeemed by being washed in the Blood in the Lamb.

I mentioned an empirically-minded project. I hazard a guess that the personality makes the strongest impression of unity when in a social situation: observing and being observed by other people. The personality appears most convincingly as a plurality when in solitude, when the individual is thinking, contemplating, and debating with itself. In the presence and in conversation with other people, a personality presents itself as a unity: any reports of thinking are presented as authored by the speaker.

My suspicion is that many evolutionary psychologists have an inadequate conception of the variety and contradictions of our mental lives. There is too much of a propensity to assume an illusory unity to a persons interests in positing a single self-interest. Or to realize that humans are often intelligent enough that we can often pursue multiple and even contradictory goals.

So what kind of atheist am I? One who has seen to the bottom of Christianity and who believes that humans possess a seemingly unlimited capacity for self-deception and wishful thinking coupled with the incapacity to leave well enough alone. The latter quality is also known as curiosity.

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