Monday, December 17, 2012

Memento mori

We  were driving to Frome this morning - pre-Christmas shopping at M&S - and I was thinking about the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. A smart guy, by most people's reckoning, but I would have a couple of hard questions for him: genuine ones of course.

1. Why is one's spiritual life only semi-infinite? As I understand it, I have an immortal soul which will have an existence at all future time. But for all dates prior to 1951 I literally don't exist. Wouldn't it be more symmetric to have my soul exist at all time points, somehow joining my body when I was conceived, or born? It only has to do it the once, we don't need reincarnation if we don't want it.

2. The church claims to accept evolution. In which case we can do the Dawkins thought experiment where I imagine I am holding my mother's hand and she her mother's hand and so on, back through the ages to the early primates, the mammals, the reptiles ... and the dawn of life on this planet. You see where this is going. I ask the line to disengage hands and raise their arms (or forelegs) if they have a soul. Where's the transition - the first one of my maternal ancestors not permitted to raise her arm?

Are these stupid questions? I don't see why. But I don't see how they could have anything but stupid answers. For myself, the symmetry that works is my obvious non personal-existence prior to 1951 and my non personal-existence subsequent to 20xx where the final two digits are currently not known.

But the central mystery which keeps the air balloon of religion aloft is: just how does the thoroughly materialist, proximate pattern of atoms writing this get to feel like me?