POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Book Review: The Science of the Soul

Science of the Soul: Scientific Evidence of Human Souls
Kevin T. Favero Edina: Beaver’s Pond Press, 2004

The nature and makeup of human beings has long been the source of questioning wonder and curiosity. Just what are we? What is the nature of consciousness? Are you human beings merely bodies and brains or is their something that our forebears and many today call the soul? The very fact that we do think, ponder and wonder about such things is in itself a truly amazing phenomenon, unique in what we know about the created universe. In this book, The Science of the Soul, Kevin Favero, an electrical engineer by training, tackles a unique question. Is there good scientific evidence for the inference that human beings have supernatural souls as well as physical bodies?

What is at stake in this debate is very important. If there is no soul, no transcendent reality, no god; if matter/energy is all that IS, then what do we lose? A quote from the Center for Naturalism will help demonstrate what is at stake

Naturalism as a guiding philosophy can help create a better world by illuminating more precisely the conditions under which individuals and societies flourish, and by providing a tangible, real basis for connection and community. It holds that doctrines and policies which assume the existence of a freely willing agent, and which therefore ignore the actual causes of behavior, are unfounded and counter-productive. To the extent to which we suppose persons act out of their uncaused free will, to that extent will we be blind to those factors which produce criminality and other social pathologies, or, on the positive side, the factors which make for well-adjusted, productive individuals and societies. By holding that human behavior arises entirely within a causal context, naturalism also affects fundamental attitudes about ourselves and others. Naturalism undercuts retributive, punitive, and fawning attitudes based on the belief that human agents are first causes, as well other responses amplified by the supposition of free will, such as excessive pride, shame, and guilt. Since individuals are not, on a naturalistic understanding, the ultimate originators of their faults and virtues, they are not deserving, in the traditional metaphysical sense, of praise and blame. Although we will continue to feel gratitude and regret for the good and bad consequences of actions, understanding the full causal picture behind behavior shifts the focus of our emotional, reactive responses from the individual to the wider context. This change in attitudes lends support for social policies based on a fully causal view of human behavior.
Center for Naturalism Internet Site, accessed April 10th 2005. Emphasis Added.

In a naturalistic view there is no person who is responsible for their faults or virtures and therefore no one is truly deserving of praise or blame. We then must configure reality, through politics or force, to “make people” the way we want them to be. One ought to question the one who says he has the ability to "control environments” in order to control the behavior of others. This has been envisioned by many who have taken a naturalistic view as utopian scheme after utopian scheme has oppressed people for the last several hundred years.

If naturalism/materialism is true, then many questions arise. How is matter “good”? How does a purposeless universe give rise to purpose? How does non conscious matter give rise to true meaningful human volition? How do we know that the bumping together of matter and energy in our brains arrives at anything that we would call “true”? These questions find no satisfactory answer from within a naturalistic framework and rightly put the worldview in question.

Favero’s effort in this book is to provide an argument that falsifies naturalism; a most worthwhile pursuit. For if there is something that is beyond matter and energy, indeed supernatural (i.e., beyond or outside nature), even our own souls, then truth, free will, and morality become very meaningful. Now we turn to the argument presented in The Science of the Soul and the attempt to infer the existence of souls from science and logical thought.

The Thrust of Favero’s Argument

The thrust of Favero’s argument for the existence of souls is laid out in the introductory chapter. His basic thesis is that if matter/energy is all that exists, then this matter/energy must by necessity interact according to the laws of physics. We know of no matter that has a mind of its own and decides what it will do autonomously. All matter/energy must follow a natural course including that which makes up human beings. All that we are, our brains and central nervous systems, must up operate by predetermined natural laws. It is then a logical implication that human beings do not have free will. Favero argues that if it can be shown that human beings do indeed have free will, then this volition requires an explanation that is not natural, which is not operating according to the laws of nature. In logical short hand his argument is this:

  • If matter/energy is all there is then there is no free will
  • There is Free Will
  • Therefore matter/energy is not all there is
It is a valid Modus Tollens argument
  • If P then Q
  • Not Q
  • Therefore Not P
P = Matter/Energy is all there is and Q = There is No Free Will

With the conclusion being not P = “it is not the case that matter/energy is all there is.”

The bulk of the evidence he then marshals is necessarily in support of the premise that we do indeed have free will. He then argues that the source of the free will we have must come from something other than matter/energy operating according to the laws of Physics. Hence his conclusion, the reality of free will demands a super-natural source, which we call the human Soul.

Support in the Sciences

The middle section of the book is a survey of various scientific fields and their contribution or detraction from the idea that human beings have free will. Each chapter surveys a discipline of science and interacts with the nature of human free will from the perspective of that discipline. The four covered are biology, quantum physics, philosophy and science (soul-brain interface), and mathematics. I will treat each section briefly in turn.

In the chapter on Biology he lays out several views, theistic evolution, special creation, and intelligent design without saying definitively which view he holds. His only contention is that each view does not contradict the existence of supernatural souls and the reality of free will. Only the naturalistic/deterministic evolution of matter + time + chance is incompatible with free will. One of the chapter’s strengths is that all who believe in the soul will find their view fairly represented, yet I did find it a bit contrived that God would at some moment make a pre-Adamic hominid into a “real human” by putting a soul there after the purely natural process of evolution. I think the secularist and some of religious persuasions will find difficulty with such a scenario.

The chapters on Quantum Physics and the Soul-Brain Interface I found to be fascinating and very helpful. Following the work on Sir John Eccles, Favero’s discussion is about how certain quantum phenomena could be the mechanism by which the Soul works out its decisions in the brain. I found this to be a refreshing attempt at explaining in scientific terms what happens as the conscious soul thinks and acts through the brain and the central nervous system. He is very clear that attempts to explain free will by saying quantum reality is the source of such volition are destined for failure. Again, if matter/energy is all there is, then it must follows the rule or laws of physics, even if the probabilistic rules of quantum mechanics. Though quantum fluctuations, and the bundling (or collapsing as some prefer) of the wave function of the electron may be the mechanism of free will, it could never be the source. I find this line of thinking to be a great frontier of study in the science of consciousness.

The final supporting chapter dealt with the discipline of mathematics. The discussion here centered around non-computational aspects of human thinking, namely insight and intuition. This chapter closely follows the work of Roger Penrose in his mathematical study of human thinking. Penrose, though a naturalist himself, stands out against the reduction of human thinking to be analogous to that of a digital computer (see Dennett and Kurzweil). Penrose demonstrates that there are “noncomputational” aspects of our thought that a computer can simply not perform. If one finds halting problems, tiling problems and Gödel’s Theorem of interest (and I must admit I loved this chapter) then the chapter on Math will be a delight.

Weaknesses of the Book

Overall I found the book interesting and a helpful debate on this issue of human anthropology. I did however see a few minor drawbacks. First, the writing style was sometimes a bit redundant with the same thing said in various places. At first this appeared to me a strength, yet I found myself thinking, “you said this already, several times.” Reinforcement is helpful, but after a few repetitions I felt like we were beating the proverbial dead horse. Second, there were a few anachronisms in the history of philosophy that I feel could be corrected. One example is on page 43 where the following statement was made:

During the Age of Reason in the 1600s and 1700s (also known as the Enlightenment), some scientists and philosophers identified the ability to reason as the characteristic that separates humans from other animals.

This is true, but this idea was present in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and many thinkers much earlier than the Enlightenment. This is not a huge mistake, but can appear a little incomplete. Finally, I noticed a few of the quotations in the book were not footnoted (see quotation from Weinberg on page 253). This was rare as the documentation in the book was otherwise fantastic. These minor drawbacks aside, I now turn our attention to the many strengths I found in the book.

Strengths of the Book

The strengths of the book were many and the following are those which I found outstanding. First, Favero lays out well all the implications in the denial of free will in great detail. He clearly shows the effects on law, morality, relationships, even one’s own internal life, when free will is denied. He connects a denial of free will with naturalistic assumptions or presuppositions about the world rather than a scientific or phenomelogical demonstration that human beings lack free will. In other words, people deny free will because of bias, or prejudice against non-material explanations of the world. The inconsistency of materialists denying free will yet then appealing to people to make choices, decisions, etc. was brought out with clarity and force by direct quotations from the literature. Secondly, the author has clearly done his homework. His survey of the relevant literature was copious and the bibliography is an invaluable resource for those interested in the mind/body problem and physicalist debate. The minor footnoting problem aside, the book is very well documented and expansive in its handling of the subject matter. Third, Favero made great effort to make the work accessible to the layperson. In this goal I think he partially succeeded. For those with any scientific background, even a few college courses, will be able to work through the book. Yet to fully grasp some of the concepts a cursory knowledge of some of the sciences is helpful. Fourth, he makes a great distinction between theological determinism, the idea that God predestines and brings about certain things and naturalistic determinism. The former view supporting some manner of real choice and free will while maintaining God as an active chooser and actor in the world and the latter being a completely closed system of cause and effect with no room for free will in us or in God. This discussion, though brief (see pages 39,40), qualifies “free will” enough where one who holds libertarian free will or theological compatibilism could be in concord with the main argument of the book.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed The Science of the Soul and its contribution to the debate on the mind/body problem from a scientific point of view. I was greatly encouraged by the level of research and effort put forth by the author and enjoyed some of the mind puzzles brought forth in the book. The study of consciousness, the nature of humanity, and the resulting societies we will create based upon such knowledge is of utmost importance. People have long assumed they had a self, a soul, which is the true person which they are. This is now questioned in the halls of learning and many are asleep as to the debate and the consequences of wrongly assessing human nature. I thank Mr. Favero for bringing forth the debate with both rigor and passion which is seen clearly in a quote from the book’s conclusion.

It is my hope:
  • that all people can recognize there is overwhelming evidence that leads to the conclusion that they have supernatural souls;
  • that this recognition and the hope for eternal life will help relieve at least in part the depression and suffering experienced by some people;
  • that belief in a supernatuality reality and a supernatural Being is a source of healing for guilt
  • that people will realize how wonderful free will, life, and existence are; and
  • that these realizations will result in an attitude of awe and thankfulness and will renew the joy of living in many people.
Finally, I hope that a recognition that each human soul is made in the image of a spiritual God will help human relations at all levels and lead to a spiritual millennium.
The Science of the Soul, 325 

To this I would only add that these are possible and described by the term “salvation” in the Christian Scriptures. A great truth of the Christian worldview that souls need redemption, reconciliation to God, forgiveness from sin, and thereby be set free to love God and one another. And such was purchased on the executioner’s cross where the Son of God, by his own free will, gave his life as a ransom for many.

The book may be purchased directly from: http://www.scienceofsouls.com/