Believers have long argued for the existence of beings in the “spiritual realm” which affect the physical universe but cannot be physically detected (except in very certain circumstances and with very few exceptions). This is convenient, of course, because the believer is free to posit whatever entity he or she wishes without having the arduous task of defending that assertion with actual evidence. What does “spiritual” mean though? The dictionary defines it as follows:
1. of, pertaining to, or consisting of spirit; incorporeal.
2. of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature.
That doesn’t really tell me much. If we’re talking about incorporeal things apart from the physical nature, how is this any different from being imaginary or fictional? Why do we make such a concessionary definition for a word like “spiritual” when the end result is really the same?
I’ve heard believers liken gods/angels/demons/whatever to things like “love” or “life” which, they assert, are forces that cannot be detected or explained yet still have a place in our experience and warrant definition. The problem is that once the believer has drawn the comparison between god and a word like “love,” they’ve all but lost the battle. The thing is, we can pretty much explain love as a result of physical processes in the brain. We’ve seen what love “looks like” through imaging. In much the same way, we’ve seen what god “looks like.” It’s not anything like this:
The believer now has to do one of three things:
- Backpedal and distance god from things like “love” and “life” because they realize that they didn’t choose their comparison wisely,
- Deny that “love” and “life” are physical processes and dismiss the evidence,
- End the conversation.
Regardless of which tactic they take, they’ve still come no closer to defining what “spiritual” really means. It’s still not something you can touch, taste, smell, hear, see, or detect in any tangible or meaningful way. That being the case, it’s no different from being imaginary. If it’s imaginary we can safely dismiss it as inconsequential to our lives, can’t we? If not, why not?
Just once I’d like to hear someone make a clear, intellectual case for spirituality. Discussion is now open!