Tuesday, December 14, 2004

What's wrong with being made of atoms, anyway?

I do not understand the horror some religious people have of the idea that they might be nothing more than atoms.

These people, somehow, seem to think that being made of atoms would make their lives, their very being, worthless. And I just do not see why. What does what we are made of have to do with whether our existence has meaning? I mean, if someone strikes me, I feel pain; if I watch great art, I feel wonder; if my daughter cries, I am concerned and wish to help. Whether I - or my daughter - are made of atoms or of ethereal clouds of soul-stuff is really besides the point. If someone destroyed a thinking, feeling robot that would be just as much a murder as if they killed me.

The only explanation for this fear of being made of atoms that strikes me is some strange feeling of disgust towards one’s own physicality. But, frankly, it just doesn’t feel like enough of an explanation to me – there has to be more to the story, it seems to me, as the trait is just too universal to be at core a perversion.

Is it that atoms have no free-will while human beings do? Well, atoms also don’t prefer to watch English comedies, like Chinese take away or have a fear of spiders. To argue from what atoms can do to what humans can do in such crudely reductionist terms is to commit a fallacy that Aristotle already wrote of – the fallacy of composition. Just because something is true (or false) of a part of something, it doesn’t mean it is also true (or false) of the whole thing. Just because my atoms don’t have free-will doesn’t mean I don’t. That doesn’t mean that I claim to understand what free-will is but, then, neither should anyone else – it is just too damned difficult a question to be feeling sure of one-self when talking about it.

Could it be claimed that matter does not have the god-spark, that the soul isn’t material, so that, if we are just made of atoms, we have no soul? But that’s just begging the question and assuming that we are something more than atoms. And, anyway, if someone showed me two people, one without a soul and one with, I would still think it despicable to discriminate between them.

So, the question remains – what’s wrong with being made of atoms, anyway?


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