Friday, April 25, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven? *

 Dan Story photograph

Part Eleven:  Do Animals Have Minds Distinct from Their Brains?

In my last blog article, I pointed out that ethologists (scientist who study animal behavior) have demonstrated over the past half century that many complex animals exhibit devotion, grief, empathy, sorrow, affection, play, joy, altruism, inter-species friendships, thought-driven behaviors,  and other mental states analogous to humans. Such qualities in humans demonstrate the existence of immaterial minds distinct from our material brains, since such qualities can't be reduced to physical matter. Because sentient animals possess similar cognitive and emotional states as humans—albeit not as fully developed and intensely experienced—it suggests that they too possess immaterial minds distinct from their physical brains. And since the mind is the essential faculty of the soul in humans, it further suggests the presence of souls in sentient animals.

So the task at hand is to demonstrate that our minds are distinct from our physical brains. If we can demonstrate this in humans, it’s reasonable to conclude that it’s also true for sentient animals. This would be additional compelling evidence that animals, like humans, have souls that survive physical death. So, let’s explore the scientific evidence for this.

Mind As Opposed to Brain

Evolutionary materialists (people who think nothing exists but physical matter and physical laws) believe than all mental activities in humans (and animals) can be reduced to chemical and neurological processes operating within the brain—that is, to mere matter. They posit that all human thoughts and emotions, including religious beliefs, tastes in music, political opinions, feelings of fear, love, and all other psychological states of mind, have their origin in neurological processes operating strictly within the physical matter of our brain cells. There is no immaterial reality. There is no such thing as a “mind” independent of the brain, let alone a soul; just brain cells. Thus, materialists claim that what theists believe are immaterial minds or souls are merely inventions of material brains. But is this true? Recent studies in brain science indicate that it’s not true. In fact they suggest just the opposite. It’s been demonstrated that human thoughts can only be explained in terms of an immaterial mind operating independently of the physical brain. This isn’t hard to understand, and there are several ways to demonstrate it.

To begin with, most of the cells in the human body are regenerated or replaced about every seven years. So physically we are totally different persons than we were seven years ago. Yet we all have memories that go back to early childhood. This alone demonstrates that our minds are not identical to brain matter. Apparently brain cells do not regenerate in the same fashion as other cells in our body; nevertheless, they still gain and loose atoms and molecules and are constantly changing relationships to each other. Thus, at a sub-cellular level, even brain cells undergo physical changes—just like all the cells in our body.

Here’s another way to explain this. Right now you are reading my article, which contains thoughts I’ve generated from research and reflections on this topic. I always print a copy of my articles to file away, as well as back them up on a USB storage device. Afterwards, I post the articles in my blog and send notices to people on my personal blog email list and to several Facebook groups. Someday I’ll combine these articles into a book and email the manuscript to a publisher. The editor will make hard copies and/or emailed the manuscript to proofreaders and perhaps other editors. But notice that in all these various mediums, although my thoughts remain unchanged, the printed words, computer file, electronic transfers, and so on are all physical matter. If you examined a printed page with a magnifying glass, you would see only paper and ink. My thoughts exist apart from the paper and ink and before they were recorded in any other physical form. In like manner, memories and other thoughts in my mind exist apart from the physical matter in my brain.

Here’s another illustration to help make this clear. If you cracked open a skull and put a piece of brain tissue under a microscope, what would you see? Just brain cells. What you wouldn’t see are memories, feelings, emotions, and other thoughts. Why? Because the mind cannot be reduced to the physical proprieties of our brain, just as my thoughts cannot be reduced to the physical properties of paper and ink. Again, this can only mean that our minds (thoughts, memories, etc.) must exist independent of our physical brains.

If thoughts, emotions, and other mental activities originate in an immaterial mind distinct from brain matter, it’s strong evidence that our mind can survive physical death within an immortal soul. Remember, our minds are the essential faculty of our souls.

Now, some will argue that my illustration of cracking open a skull and peering inside to see if we can observe thoughts and emotions inside the brain is simplistic. I would argue that the materialist assumption that thoughts and emotions are somehow hidden in the physical tissues of our brain is unsustainable reductionism. The fact is matter has shape, size, density, weight, and so on—but not cognitive awareness such as thoughts and memories. My thoughts about Rocky Road ice cream are not identical to the physical ingredients of Rocky Road ice cream, that is, they do not have weigh, density, and so on. Neither can our belief in God, taste in music, and other mental states be identified as merely physical properties in our brains.  Mind and matter are entirely different properties, entirely different dimensions of our being.

At times our brain and mind work in tandem—but they are still distinct. For example, when I hide behind a bush and watch a doe with fawns, the light reflecting off the animals passes into my retina, stimulating the cells in my optic nerve, which then carries data to my brain. At the same time this physical activity is going on, my mind is thinking how much I’d love to play with the fawns; I wonder if their fur is soft or if it’s course like their mother’s; I sure hope they survive to adulthood, and so on. There is a clear distinction between physical events and mental events. Thoughts cannot be described in terms of physical laws or body chemistry. 

Now, why am I going into all this? The reason is because the mind is the essential faculty of the soul. If there is no immaterial mind distinct from the physical brain, it would be hard to justify the existence of immortal souls and therefore life after death in a resurrected body. Without immortal souls, there could be no eternal life for humans or animals. On the other hand, if it can be demonstrated that our immaterial minds are distinct entities of our being, we have powerful evidence for the existence of souls—and eternal life. And if sentient animals also possess minds distinct from their physical brains, we have compelling evidence that they too have immortal souls.

All this will become clearer in my next blog article, where I’ll provide additional evidence to demonstrate that our minds are separate entitles of our being. We’ll also look at the troubling question of brain injury. If injury to our brain can affect our mind, doesn’t it mean there is no mind distinct from our brains, that they are one and the same? We’ll see that while in our physical bodies our minds are “housed” within our brains, and the brain acts as a medium of transmission for our minds, but they are not identical. In fact the mind can actually modify brain function! This too will become clear next week.

*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website:

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