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8 comments | Friday, September 30, 2005

Am I just a material being?—composed simply of a body, a brain, and a central nervous system—or is there something more to me? This is an important question. The soul is a necessary quality of the living human entity. Without the soul, a person isn’t a person; they are just a lump of meat. The soul is the quality that gives one personhood.

So, what exactly is the Soul? The soul is the immaterial “you.” Some of you may be wonder if there is any evidence of such a thing as a “soul.” Let’s take a look.

Evidences for the Soul

One thing to note is that if we are only composed of physical properties, when the body dies, we die. The assertion that there is no difference between the mind and the brain, and that chemical reactions and physical processes is all that goes on in the brain—is physicalism. In other words, consciousness is a mere property of the brain. It is produced by the brain and is dependent on the brain.

However, if “dualism” is the accurate representation, then we have both bodies and a soul. To put it this way, in dualism, there is an immaterial you and it cannot be tested with scientific tools. You can’t put the soul into a test tube and measure it. The soul, gives the body life and houses the body, but not in a local way, because it is immaterial.

According to scientific studies, all the matter in your body changes (I think it was somewhere around every 7-9 years) at the atomic level, these changes include your brain. I know that I have physically changed drastically within the past decade (probably not for the better). However, if we are just physical and nothing else that means I am not the same “me” I was and I am a different person. First thought, crazy. Of course I am the same person. If we conceded to physicalism, we can reject many of our common sense ideas. Take for example your baby pictures. If you change every decade, your baby pictures are not really you; the person in the picture has a different body than you do.

Yesterday, I just signed up for a 401K at work (and a mighty reasonable one at that). But if I am only physical, and I know I am going to change, why bother with the 401K? I bother, because I know I will still be me, even though my body changes. This is only possible if there is something that remains the same throughout your whole life, not something material, but immaterial. The soul.

Some of you may be thinking that we have no scientific evidence that there is a soul. Therefore there is no soul. We can’t open anything physical about you like the brain and find the soul. If we cannot sense it, then why should we believe it exists?

Science is insufficient

Science by its very nature can't disprove a soul's existence because science deals with the physical and is not equipped to measure the non-physical.

Greg Koukl comments on the “scientific position” to address the soul. He says,

Science doesn’t tell us everything we know; in some cases, we must trust our reason. For example, in mathematical knowledge, we rely on evidence of reason based on certain universal mathematical principles, which are not empirical.
This is what I hear when people try to say there is no scientific evidence for the soul: “You said there was an invisible man in your house, but I went inside, looked everywhere, and I couldn’t find him.” Clearly, empirical evidence is ineffectual when looking for the soul. Therefore, any objection of the existence of the soul due to lack of empirical science only states there is no “physical evidence."

The correspondence relationship

As evidence for physicalism, it is often pointed out that for every so-called mental event, a corresponding change in brain activity can be demonstrated. From this it follows, it is said, that physical and mental events are the same-that is, what appear to be mental entities are simply physical entities (that is, physical properties, events, and substances)--and thus dualism is false.
If dualism is true there is a connection between brain (the physical organ in our heads) activity and mental activity (the activity of our souls). But connection is not identity. As J.P Moreland says, "...just because A causes B (or vice versa), or just because A and B are constantly correlated with each other, that does not mean that A is identical to B"

So the correlation between brain activity and mental events can be easily accounted for by recognizing that the mental and physical interact with one another and so influence one another. Thus, what happens in the physical brain influences and is reflected in the non-physical soul; likewise, what happens in the non-physical soul influences and is reflected in the physical brain. If the brain or physical body becomes limited (brain injury), so shall the soul be limited to have connectivity. For example, alcohol and drugs cause chemical reactions to the brain, thus hindering the soul’s ability to “connect” to the physical. But connection is not identity. The precise methodological relationship and function of interaction between the body and soul is unknown. But what follows from that? It certainly does not discount the existence of the soul.


Nobody argues that we have no conciseness. Secondly, through introspection and self examination, we know about our own internal mental states. Most of our internal states are self-evident. But is a consciousness just complex physical state of the brain? No.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel makes this quite clear:
It is not a far stretch at all to suppose that bats are conscious. Suppose someone had perfect physiological knowledge of bats. It would follow, then, that if consciousness were merely a complex physical state, then that person would know exactly what it would be like to be a bat. However, it seems clear that all the knowledge in the world about bats could not tell someone what it is like to be a bat.

Objective facts are accessible to anyone. Consciousness is not accessible to anyone but the individual person. If we were merely physical beings, conciseness should be accessible to anyone. However, this is not the case; therefore, it is clear that the “mind” is not physical.

The Freedom of Choice and Determinism

It‘s clear from our awareness of our choices that we have free wills to do and act in any way we choose. We can choose to have pizza with pepperoni, or sausage (or both) these choices seem quite undetermined. When it comes to physical states, they are determined by other physical states, governed by physical laws. If it is the case that our minds are simply physical states, then we are not free. All of our decisions are determined.

Take a moment and think of all the choices you have made in your life. Your choices make you into the person you are. Why should you accept that the decisions you make are simply random events that you had no control over? A purely physicalist worldview limits us to this quandary. So, therefore, if you don’t believe in the soul, it’s because you are predetermined not to, and if you do it’s because you were determined to. So, if all are decisions are predetermined, any view you hold is not a result of reasoning. If this is the case, what are we quarreling about? We can’t choose our beliefs anyway, and to try to persuade—would be futile. Our free will choices make us unique and give us identity.

Near Death Experiences

There is another area of evidence that must be considered--Near Death Experiences (NDE). Roll your eyes if you want, but there is an interesting phenomenon that is valid. But I am not talking of just subjective experiences that can neither be proved nor disproved; I am talking about verifiable statements.

Dr. Raymond Moody documents some of these facts. Here are three verifiable examples recorded by Moody:

Example 1:

An elderly woman had been blind since childhood. But, during her NDE, the woman had regained her sight and she was able to accurately describe the instruments and techniques used during the resuscitation her body. After the woman was revived, she reported the details to her doctor. She was able to tell her doctor who came in and out, what they said, what they wore, what they did, all of which was true. Her doctor then referred the woman to Moody who he knew was doing research at the time on NDEs.

Example 2:

One patient told Moody, “After it was all over the doctor told me that I had a really bad time, and I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ He said, ‘Well, how do you know?’ and I said, ‘I can tell you everything that happened.’ He didn’t believe me, so I told him the whole story, from the time I stopped breathing until the time I was kind of coming around. He was really shocked to know that I knew everything that had happened. He didn’t know quite what to say, but he came in several times to ask me different things about it.”

Example 3:

In another instance a woman with a heart condition was dying at the same time that her sister was in a diabetic coma in another part of the same hospital. The subject reported having a conversation with her sister as both of them hovered near the ceiling watching the medical team work on her body below. When the woman awoke, she told the doctor that her sister had died while her own resuscitation was taking place. The doctor denied it, but when she insisted, he had a nurse check on it. The sister had, in fact, died during the time in question

There are many more examples that could be shown. If these experiences were only firing neurons or physical dispositions, how did they know and describe the things that they did? There are far too many documented cases to write it off as a hoax. These experiences could only take place if you are not your body.

Who Cares?

I do have a soul; what are the implications for the decisions I make today? The amount of time you are on earth (even if you live 100 years), compared to eternity, is incomprehensible. When you die, your deeds will be evaluated against the purpose for which you were originally created. Many people already evaluate themselves; others evaluate them this way also. But it is your creator to which the final reckoning must be given, the one who "began" you. It’s worth investing your time and effort to investigate and secure you eternity. This is why one should care about the soul.

Hebrews 9:27: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment"

Romans 14:12: "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."

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Blogger execution said...

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10/01/2005 9:02 AM

Blogger Mr. WD said...

I find this argument totally unconvincing. With regard to what you said about personal identity: you are forgetting the crucial aspect of memory. I may be a different physical person than I was nine years ago, but I have memories (or rather, my neurons are structured in such a way that they recall certain events that occurred much earlier than nine years ago). In any event, however, I would refer all your arguments about free will and personal identity to the Schlag quote I had in my post.

Second, with regard to Near Death Experiences -- these have been thoroughly explained and can even be replicated by snorting horse tranquilizers (ketamine). I'll refer you here for a more detailed explanation.

Third, your invocation of the genuine philosophical problem of "qualia" via the Nagel quote is not nearly as powerful as you suppose it is. For one thing, even if dualism in this sense is correct, that certainly does not prove the existence of a "soul" as you conceive it. At best, the problem of qualia demonstrates that there are some things in the universe (i.e. the mind) that are entirely separate from physical events. This does not demonstrate that the independent existence of "mind" survives death or that it is is constant and therefore constituent of personal identity. Moreover, if qualia do establish the existence of a soul, then bats and other animals that have qualia also have souls.

I won't deny that qualia are mysterious (almost any serious philosopher will readily admit this) but this is hardly reason to come to a dualist conclusion, to say nothing of a Christian dualist conclusion.

A) if you really believe that there is some non-material stuff ("mind," "soul," whatever) you HAVE to give an account of how it interacts with the body -- just saying "the physical and the mental affect one another somehow" isn't good enough -- that's begging the question.

B) since thought occurs in a temporal realm (time), by the laws of physics it must thereby occur in the physical realm (space) as well. But if something occurs in space, then it is also physical...

In short, you have a lot of work to do.

10/01/2005 9:39 AM

Blogger Kate said...

"But if I am only physical, and I know I am going to change, why bother with the 401K? I bother, because I know I will still be me, even though my body changes"

I find this quote curious. Does the soul need a structured retirement account to maintain it 50 years from now? Does the soul need food, and housing, and occasional modest golf outings to support its continued existence? I have a 401K so that I will have the money to feed my physical body in 50 years. I figure if I do have a soul, it doesn't need a 401K to take care of itself.

10/01/2005 10:06 AM

Blogger Beowulf said...


You completely missed the point. The mere fact that that you keep referring to yourself as “I” will do this or “I” will do that seems to presupposes that YOU will be the same person you are no matter how far in the future. This very point is in contrast to your physical and atomic properties that change continually. Thus, this can only the case (you will continue to be you) if there is more to you than material properties; not if you are reducible to just meat—Capishe?

10/01/2005 10:09 PM

Blogger Beowulf said...


Not much work at all, actually.

First, the Near Death Experiences that were supposedly “thoroughly explained”, had one fatal failure. This was a failure to address veridical NDEs, in which experiencers acquire verifiable information that they could not have obtained by any normal means. For example, some experience’s report seeing events going on at some distant location, such as another room of the hospital or at their home.

Here is another example:

A social worker, Kimberly Clark Sharp, documented a case where a woman, Maria, had an NDE where she saw a number of items outside the hospital at which she was treated. Sharp asked Maria to focus on one item she described: a tennis shoe. She described exactly where it was located on the hospital roof, its color (blue), and provided meticulous details like that the toe was worn down to the thread and that the lace was tucked under the heel. After getting all these details, Sharp went to the roof and discovered that the shoe perfectly corresponded to the location and details given by Maria.

If this incident is true, would it not count as evidence for dualism? It can’t be explained by physical means—since she was not physically in a location to see the shoe on the roof. It would be awfully hard to have any experience at all (regardless of the phenomenal nature of this experience) apart from the body unless there is some sort of substance apart from the body.

Second, if, as you argue, our sense of self and identity is intimately tied up with our recollection of our past (memory), then essentially, you are that past being whose mental features you have inherited. You are reduced to your memory. But what would happen if you lost your memory? Are you not “you”? If a serial killer lost his memory would the death penalty still be justified?

According to your Schlag quote, “because something is objectionable, it cannot form any part of our thinking”, has no relevancy to my argument. It is not the fact that the physicalist view is objectionable per say, its more that it is insufficient and contrary to intuition.

Nagel’s quote can’t be discounted do easily, in that; certain things cannot be communicated, or apprehended by any other means than direct experience. Thus, the physicalist must account for the phenomenon. It does follow from this argument that a bat would have a soul, which (although somewhat unpopular) a position that I do hold.

In regard to mind/body interaction, even if we do not know the process of interaction it does not follow that it is irrational to believe: that A causes B. There are several instances of causation where we do not know how the interaction takes place. For example, exactly how can protons exert a repulsive force on each other? The real question is whether the soul and body interact even if we cannot understand how.

Second, however, J.P. Moreland points out that

"it may even be that a 'how' question regarding the interaction between mind and body cannot even arise. A question about how A causally interacts with B is a request for a description of the intervening mechanism between A and B. You can ask how turning the key in the ignition starts your car because there is an intermediate electrical system between your key and your car's running engine that is the means by which turning your key accomplishes an act of starting your car. Your 'how' question is a request to describe that intermediate mechanism. But the interaction between mind and body may be, and most likely is, direct and immediate. There is no intervening mechanism, and thus a 'how' question describing that mechanism is misplaced at best, meaningless at worst"

I don't see why an immaterial substance cannot exist within the universe. The question about thoughts occurring in the temporal realm is deceiving; immaterial substances would not have a location in space since spatial location seems to be exclusive to material substances.

The nature of moral law—where is it? Well, it's clear that it's not the kind of thing that you'll bump into if you hurry around the corner sometime. It doesn't extend in space. It doesn't weigh anything. It doesn't have a taste or a smell to it, it doesn't have any shape. It exists, but it is somewhere else other than the physical world. In other words, it exists in the non-physical realm. Now, if you are convinced that some things are wrong, that there is something evil, that torturing babies for fun is a despicable moral thing, then what you've done is you've said, "I believe that something exists that I can't see, I can't touch, I can't taste, I can't hear, I can't smell." In other words, you believe in the existence of something that is not empirically testable and science can't get at.

If there are some things in the universe (i.e. the mind) that are entirely separate from physical events, then the mind is not the body. Look, if a person can find one thing true, or even possibly true of the mind and not of the brain, or vice versa, then dualism is established. The mind is not the brain. If you don’t like it; reflect on Schlag’s quote.

10/01/2005 10:45 PM

Blogger Mr. WD said...

With regard to NDEs: It would be the case that IF TRUE (which is highly questionable given that the “evidence” for NDEs consists entirely of eyewitness anecdotes – which every trial lawyer knows are extremely unreliable) these would be EVIDENCE (not proof) of DUALISM (which does not require the existence of a supernatural “soul”). As I said, I see every reason to be highly skeptical of reports of NDEs given that their essential features seem to have a ready physiological explanation and that many or all of their features can be replicated with the use of legal and illegal drugs. Perfectly sane, honest people have all sorts of eerie anecdotes about all sorts of supernatural experiences they have had, which -- if true -- would be hard to explain. That’s a huge ‘if’ however.

You are right that memories are qualia – they belong to the admittedly mysterious realm of consciousness. However, I think you could make a very good case that someone who has actually lost his or her memories is not the same person he or she was when she had those memories. In the context of criminal prosecution and/or punishment, maybe this wouldn’t be a good idea practically speaking (too many legal loopholes) and maybe it would still be a good idea to proceed “as if” the defendant were the same person.

Your argument is strongest when it comes to qualia, because the problem of qualia is very complicated and quite controversial. There are credible philosophers on both sides of the debate, to be sure. The physicalists say “well you need to solve the mind/body problem” and the dualists say “well, you need to give an adequate account of qualia.” Many a dissertation, paper, conference and book has been written on this. Honestly, at this point, I’m not that interested in getting into an argument about the philosophy of mind because – to do it justice – it would require a lot more time and effort than I’m willing to put in.

Although I obviously lean towards the physicalist side (as most contemporary philosophers do), I could be convinced that the dualist position is correct. But even if the dualist side is correct, does that mean there’s something that could rightly be called a “soul”? No; for three crucial reasons: 1) the immortality of consciousness/mind/soul/whatever is in no way implied by the existence of qualia. 2) the notion of a “soul” implies that the entity with the soul has a self-same identity and there’s nothing about qualia that requires self-sameness – qualia may be just as fleeting and impermanent as one’s physical body. 3) other things that are not obviously physical (like mathematical proofs and ethical facts) require no supernatural explanation – they are just non-physical parts of the universe: why should qualia be any different?

Finally, I should note that if you want to make a case for dualism, and then call “mind” the “soul,” that won’t take you to where you want to go ethically: you’d still have to demonstrate 1) that zygotes, embryos and fetuses have qualia; 2) what morally distinguishes the killing of a person from the killing of animals (which you admit, must have souls)… Does this mean that it's immoral to abort a dog fetus?

10/02/2005 10:55 AM

Blogger Beowulf said...

It is sufficed to say that qualia does not, in it of itself, prove immortality. However, given it’s implications of non-physical substance, it certainly makes it possible. Mathematical and moral laws require a law giver. Due to insufficient time at this moment and other responsibilities, I will post a blog in the future addressing that separate topic; probably in specific reference to Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

As far as taking dualism into the womb, that's somewhat of a conjecture. But my sense of things is that the most reasonable way to understand the soul in relationship to the human being is that at the time a human being is created and comes into existence, all aspects of that human come into being. There is no reason to dichotomize the human life and the soul. Moral distinguishes between animals and human souls can be answered theologically, or qualitatively; animals have different kinds of souls than human beings. Animals don’t even have the potentialities of human properties. Human being souls are made in the image of God and they live forever, they are everlasting. Animal souls are not made in the image of God, and we have no evidence that I can tell that they are everlasting. But, arguing any further to these points would be futile, if the person you are talking to, will not accept the possibility of a soul.

10/02/2005 3:52 PM

Blogger execution said...

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10/03/2005 6:30 AM


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