Saturday, December 25, 2004

Immortal souls

As a Christian, CS Lewis believed that human beings had immortal souls while animals did not. This did not justify humans in being cruel towards animals, however -- in fact, it gave us an extra reason to be kind towards them. Unlike us, they could not "be recompensed by happiness in another life for suffering in this."

The intuition here is a bit more of a Rawlsian one than a utilitarian one -- animal suffering is especially bad because it's hurting those who have the least. In any case, it's something that nonbelievers in any immortal souls can quite happily take on board. For us, making the world a better place is a matter of special urgency. Nobody -- human or animal -- will be recompensed for present suffering by happiness in another life. So we need to act now to prevent suffering and foster happiness on earth.


Mary said...

This explains one of the reasons I really need to believe. Of course, we are supposed to see to it that people do not suffer and that they can be happy. However, there is evil in the world and good people do suffer at the hands of bad people. It helps me to maintain my sanity to think that people like Margaret Hassan and others who were tasken hostage and cruelly executed (as well as anyone who has suffered cruelty) will be compensated in some way for their suffering. I don't think we should seek to suffer, or that God wants us to suffer. When people do,though, I have to believe there is something better in store for them, or I think
my head would explode.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Believing in God because good people who suffer ought to have a happy afterlife strikes me as both irrational and admirable. While wishful thinking isn't a rational process of forming beliefs, the wish in question is one that good people should have.

Mary said...

I'm not sure faith is supposed to be rational. In one of the beginning anthropology courses I took in college, the professor made the point that faith (in the sense of religion) is a cultural universal and is probably important. She also made the statement that faith is faith and science is science and she dismissed neither. Of course, this results in some cognitive dissonance (of which I have spoken before) from time to time, but I loved that she made that statement. It helps me keep my mind open in both areas.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Yeah, it's probably essential to faith that it's not a rational process, or at least that it's not driven by evidence. To me, that seems to speak against faith. Faith doesn't have a particularly good track record in any of the areas in which it's possible to evaluate its conclusions (factual beliefs about the natural world, ethics). So if we're interested in forming true beliefs, we'd do better to form beliefs based on evidence.

Faith probably is a cultural universal. But if error is a cultural universal, that is no reason to be entangled in it.