Sunday, September 27, 2009

Quantifying Cold Souls Is a Bad Idea

The absurdity of Cold Souls is absolutely palpable, and intentionally so.

In the film, Paul Giamatti plays himsself: an actor so troubled by the production of Uncle Vanya that he's currently starring in that the only solution he can seem to reach is to hastily unburden himself of his soul.

So Giamatti seeks out the aid of a company called Soul Storage. Run by Dr Finstein (David Stratham), Soul Storage is a company that has developed technology that can remove the soul from the human body, store it, and even replace it with other souls.

Giamatti decides to remove his soul and rent the soul of a Russian poet for the duration of his play. However, this turns out to be a very bad decision when a Russian soul mule named Nina (Dina Korzun) steals his soul so an aspiring Russian actress (Katheryn Winnick) can improve her acting by replacing her soul with that of a famous actor.

Giamatti's dilemma is obvious: recover his soul from the self-centred wife of a ruthless and powerful Russian criminal while trying to decide what to do with the soul of a Russian poet who has since committed suicide.

Cold Souls also presents a dilemma to individuals such as Richard Dawkins -- one that they honestly may not care to answer.

Many people, such as Dawkins, look down upon religion because its central tenets -- the existence of a God or gods, the soul, etc -- cannot be quantified and supported with evidence.

Yet, as Cold Souls seems to suggest, Dawkins et al wouldn't want to live in a world in which the soul could be quantified.

For evidence is why, one need only consider recent arguments raised by Kirk Cameron.

Cameron, admittedly, is a nitwit. In a recently-produced video Cameron insists that there's an "undeniable connection" between Adolph Hitler and the theories of Charles Darwin. Cameron, like many of Darwin's detractors, credit Darwinism with providing Hitler for the justification to commit the Holocaust, as well as Nazi Germany's infamous Eugenics program.

Cameron is actually right to note that there is a historical link between Darwin's theories and Hitler's slaughter. But to attribute responsibility to Darwin's theories, considering the limitedness of Hitler's reading of the theories and subsequent abuse of them, is an irresponsible argument.

Just as Darwin's theories were able to be abused for the purposes of eugenics once people attempted to attach value to human life, so could a spiritualist elaboration on Darwin's theories be applied to the human soul. Spiritual eugenics -- if it were at all possible -- would be every bit as dangerous.

There is already a surplus of religious intolerance in the world. It is directed by people of faith against people of other faiths, by people of no faith against people of faith, and by people of faith against people of no faith. If it were possible to actually quantify the content and value of the soul, it would be nothing short of one of the greatest human disasters in history.

Just as cultural anthropology briefly gave credence to the theories of racial and genetic superiority that provided justification (no matter how illegitimate) for eugenics, the quantifying of the soul would give justification (no matter how illegitimate) for religious intolerance.

Dawkins et al would insist that they want to live in a world devoid of religious intolerance (even as they themselves indulge in it).

A world without religious intolerance is a great and noble goal. But as humanity (hopefully) begins to work together to establish such a world, the least we can collectively do is be thankful that religious interolance can't be materially justified.

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