If you ask me what I believe every day, the answer will be different every day. I do not believe in any kind of deity. And I do not believe in an immortal soul. I guess you could say I don’t believe in dualism, that is, that as well as a material world, there’s a spiritual world. But I do believe that a spiritual world can emerge from the material world. I believe that matter can be arranged in such ways and evolution can develop in such ways that matter can become conscious.
So, yes, I believe that when a person grows, a soul can grow inside him. And that when the person dies the soul dies with him. I think it’s possible, based on this, that there’s some kind of awareness within the earth itself, such as Mother Nature.
It’s kind of pragmatic to talk about a soul or consciousness – to believe, that is, in there being just a little bit more than dead matter. Just to help me explain my own experiences.
It was actually my Mum’s quest for a deity that made sense to her, particularly a deity that was not external to the world but part of nature, that first inspired my interest in Mother Nature.
But I then integrated that with my own studies. The book “Sophie’s World” first taught me to think independently and critically. It showed me the many ways to interpret the world and the way we experience it.
And then by studying physics I learnt that even matter is a much more mysterious thing than we might have thought intuitively. And on that basis it’s important to be open to strange possibilities. Like distant communication between persons and energies. It’s important to be sceptical but never cynical.
Studying philosophy was important for me too. Understanding the notion of the spirit as an emergent quality of the body for instance. And the idea that just because it’s emergent, doesn’t make it any less fundamental. I’m maybe getting a bit too philosophical now but basically I think that every ontological level is just as real as the other. To explain, the world of atoms interacting is more fundamental than the world of, say, colours and sounds that we experience. The latter are emergent properties of atoms. And the soul too is a further level higher. But the world as we experience it is just as real. Because we can always go deeper. Even atoms ultimately consist of more fundamental entities like strings or quarks or whatever. You can always go deeper. So the soul, even if like colours and sounds it’s just an emergent property, and by that I might include something more spiritual like Mother Nature, is just as real as the matter that it emerges from: just as matter might emerge only from atoms, and atoms from energy.
These beliefs are fundamental to how I value other human beings. I value human feelings more than I do animals or any other piece of matter. I value people’s experiences and intuitions because I choose to regard them as more than a complicated machine. Otherwise it would be hard to have an ethical theory at all. I don’t necessarily have a rational reason for valuing humans as more than just matter though. Perhaps it’s irrational.
I try not to identify with any particular religion or philosophy. I don’t like religion very much, even if I do like belief. I encourage belief. I think that belief is a beautiful thing. A relationship between a person and a deity of any kind is a beautiful thing. But religion is a relationship between people. I don’t think that the choice for a particular religion is a good thing. It restricts you and I see no reason to make that choice. Religions are pretty random how they evolve and grow. Maybe if I were to make that choice I’d go for Taoism or something like that – not that I see that as any truer than anything else. The closest thing for me would be Spinoza’s pantheism. Seeing the whole world as the body of God. And that just as the body has a soul, the whole world has a consciousness. That makes me feel comfortable. To see God not as something distant but as part of the world.
I think I would like to be a stronger believer – a real pantheist. But reason doesn’t allow me to be. I’d love if there were some loophole that would allow me to believe. Some reason. In that sense, my feelings and reasons are not aligned.
I think most people see me as a sceptic. And I do try to withhold myself from making a clear choice. I’ve always found it hard to understand people who make that specific choice for a particular religion. So maybe people see me as an atheist. That I don’t have beliefs just because I don’t adhere to any particular religion. But that’s not true. Even though I reject religion, very strongly, doesn’t mean I reject belief altogether. It’s just that in order to talk about it you have to use specific terms like “God”, which I am not comfortable with.