I can’t speak for other atheists, but I don’t think we have souls, no. That’s just something we came up with because we can’t comprehend death. As for the Constitution, what he really does is give us the courage to say “we have these rights because we SAY we do, and no one is going to argue us out of it.”
Thank you kindly for your reply, A_perfect_lady!
I'm going to try to address your points on an empirical rather than a theological basis. You'll recall that the empirical approach depends on observation, evidence, experience (including historical experience), and reason. Since you already do not believe in God, I imagine the theological approach wouldn't cut it with you anyway. So I'll try to spare you all of that!
RE: whether we humans do or do not have souls: You say, in effect, that "souls" are merely constructs of the human mind in response to a certain "existential anxiety." That is, since we cannot "comprehend" death, we proliferate "fairy stories" that are purely fictitious to assuage our angst. But then you have to answer the question: Why is this particular fairy story i.e., of the existence of the soul so ubiquitous, even universal, in all of human history going back as far as the human records go, back at least to the fifth millennium B.C.?
Were all these countless generations of mankind from all over the planet necessarily self-deluded? Alternatively, maybe they simply knew something about human being and existence that the modern-day, post-Enlightenment materialist denies in principle. Was all of mankind in error until Descartes and Newton came along to set the record straight?
What Newton effected was a system a tremendously useful one, I grant you that in effect reduced all of the natural world to a machine-like entity. It made Nature itself in the words of Alfred North Whitehead "a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly." Here Whitehead is saying what the Newtonian reduction leaves out of picture: any and all "subjective" experiences of mankind which arguably include the most important concerns of mankind:
Experience of "things" ["matter in its motions"] is modeled on the subject-object dichotomy of perception in which the consciousness intends the object of cognition [i.e., roughly the scientific method]. But such a model of experience and knowing is ultimately insufficient to explain the reality men approach in moral, aesthetic, and religious experiences. [And "religious experience" is universal, though the forms it can take are many. Atheism itself is a "belief system," though IMHO an extraordinarily impoverished one.] Inasmuch as such nonsensory experiences are constitutive of what is distinctive about human existence itself and of what is most precious to mankind [e.g., experiences of the good, beautiful, and just, of love, friendship, and truth, of all human virtue and vice, and of divine reality] a purported science of man unable to take account of them is egregiously defective. Ellis SandozFrom Whitehead's point of view, the Newtonian reduction of the natural world to directly observable material phenomena involves a prime example of what he calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness:
In the first place, we must note its astounding efficiency as a system of concepts for the organisation of scientific research. In this respect, it is fully worthy of the genius of the century which produced it. It has held its own as the guiding principle of scientific studies ever since. It is still reigning. Every university in the world organises itself in accordance with it. No alternative system of organising the pursuit of scientific truth has been suggested. It is not only reigning, it is without a rival.Or as Wolfgang Smith puts it, "Thus one begins by abstracting from concrete existence, and ends by attributing concrete existence to the abstraction. Or equivalently, one first cuts asunder what in truth is one, and then attributes an independent reality to one of the resultant fragments. But of course the error [i.e., the fallacy of misplaced concreteness] does not affect the reality: it only creates blindness."
And yet it is quite unbelievable. This conception of the universe is surely framed in terms of high abstractions, and the paradox only arises because we have mistaken our abstraction for concrete realities.
Or as my friend the astrophysicist has put it, "While scientific laws are tools of our mind, laws of Nature act in Nature. They are not to be confused. The difference is that of map and reality."
IF one "confuses" them, then one is in the grip of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. And I think atheists in general suffer from this condition.
We could put it another way: What is it that the human body "has" that prevents it from immediately succumbing to the inexorable pull of thermodynamic equilibrium? THAT is what constitutes its death. Which is tantamount to asking: What keeps the human body alive, for however long it lives?
The Laws of Nature are not the product of a "random" natural development. Rather they precede and structure the resultant natural development. They cannot be felt, or seen, or smelled, or tasted, or heard. Neither can the soul be so detected. But do we then say the natural laws do not exist, because they are not directly accessible to sense perception? If we cannot say this about the natural laws, then how can we be so sure that the soul is a fiction which also cannot be detected by direct sense perception?
At least as far back as classical Greece, the soul psyche was understood as the form i.e., the lawful specification of the body. It wasn't the case that bodies "had" souls; rather it was understood that the body manifests a pre-existent soul. In other words, the soul was regarded as a sort of "blueprint" for bodily manifestation.
Think of it: Each of us human beings is constituted by a vast pile of chemical compounds. Science can detect the chemicals. But science cannot detect, directly, the source of order that organizes these chemicals into a fully-formed, specific, functioning, living being a human person.
The "specs" for the person do not originate on the same plane as the person they describe. In short, the physical is ultimately ordered, structured, by something which is non-physical. And this is so, not only on the personal level, but also with respect to the entire natural order. Just because science cannot directly detect, via its own methods, this non-physical thing does not mean that the non-physical thing does not exist. That was what Whitehead was trying to indicate, with his fallacy of misplaced concreteness....
Well, that's the backgrounder for a more practical discussion relating to matters of crucial importance for our society and culture.
It is undeniable that the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitutional order it premised, invoked the Creator God as the Source of unalienable human rights. If an atheist denies God, then can he/she please explain to me what other secure foundation for human rights there could be?
I find persuasive Balint Vazsonyi's observation that there are only two basic political philosophies. The two are the Anglo-American, and the Franco-German schools of political thought.
The Anglo-American view posits the liberty of human individuals under just and equal laws. It sees human liberty as a gift of God, as is evident from these lines from Cato's Letters, by Trenchard & Gordon, a series of essays published in London largely inspired by Lockean political philosophy that was avidly read in the American colonies in the run-up to the Revolutionary War:
All men are born free; Liberty is a Gift which they receive from God; nor can they alienate the same by Consent, though possibly they may forfeit it by crimes....I find it rather amusing that this is perhaps the best description of libertarian philosophy I've ever come across, while at the same time recognizing that so many present-day libertarians declared themselves to be atheists. Few people nowadays seem to realize how very much they rest on the foundations laid by our ancestors. Yet they persist in resting on them, seemingly unconsciously, while at the same time heaping opprobrium on them.... This has got to be an indication of "insanity!" Or at least a loss of reason itself....
Liberty is the power which every man has over his own Actions, and the Right to enjoy the Fruit of his Labor, Art, and Industry, as far as by it he hurts not the Society, or any Member of it, by taking from any Member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys.
The fruits of a Man's honest industry are the just rewards of it, ascertained to him by natural and eternal Equity, as is his Title to use them in a manner which he thinks fit: And thus, with the above Limitations, every Man is sole Lord and Arbiter of his own Actions and Property....
Oh, the other political philosophy is the Franco-German model. Its heart lies in Marx, an atheist, and in the atheist French philosophe's idea of "egalitarianism." As we have seen from the French Revolution (so different than our own American one), egalitarianism is just another name for social leveling, having nothing whatsoever to do with individual rights.
The point is the Franco-German political model starts by abolishing God and religion, not to mention "souls." The Anglo-American model assiduously retains both from the foundation of our nation, and to the present day.
The current breakdown of American order stems from the seeming ascendancy of Franco-Germanic political principles at the expense of the founding principles of our nation, which are indisputably Judeo-Christian and classical in origin.
If you are truly an atheist, you have to be on the side of the Franco-German model. For it is the model that rejects, as a matter of principle, God and man himself, as an individual (i.e., as an "ensouled" being of incalculable worth and dignity in himself, for he is made "in the image of God"). The Franco-German model does not care about individuals, only about "groups."
Well, I've run on long. Sorry! But I hope something here might make sense to you, A_perfect_lady. Thank you so very much for your kind reply!