Our Soul Concern as Christians: How We Know We Have a Soul and Why It Is Important


by A. Robot

Do you have a soul?

I don't.

Perhaps that surprises you, but please allow me to explain. I am a highly sophisticated robot. I was programmed by researchers who are convinced that human beings like you are no different than sophisticated computers like me. You are, as one researcher put it, a "computer made of meat." Just as I am nothing more than circuit boards, wires, magnets, and biodegradable casing (I am an environmentally friendly robot), you are nothing more than blood vessels, nerves, brain cells, bones, and muscle tissue (an a few other biodegradable bits).

There is no "you" apart from your body and brain; no "soul," no "self," no "spirit." One of my creators would say,

"You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased it: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons."[1]

The widespread belief in the immaterial soul is mere religious superstition. The "soul" is nothing more than brain activity, electrochemical signals passing through a complex network of biological hardware. As you can tell, my creators have instructed me thoroughly on this topic.

Are you unfamiliar with these claims? Were you not aware that most scientists and philosophers who study these questions are of this opinion? Well, if you have any sons, daughters, friends, or relatives who study at university, they will surely be taught these things, and your quaint belief in the soul will be mocked as a baseless fiction. Moreover, movies, books, and television shows—much of your popular culture—assumes that humans are purely physical creatures, the product of blind, purposeless, mindless physical forces acting on matter.

My programmers taught me a catechism to summarize their worldview, sometimes called naturalism (the natural universe is all there is) or, alternatively, materialism (matter is all there is):

In the beginning were the particles and the impersonal laws of physics.
And the particles somehow became complex living stuff;
And the stuff imagined God;
But then discovered evolution.[2]

Immaterial souls do not fit into this picture of reality. Obviously, particles and the laws of physics cannot produce immaterial souls.

Many people, especially Christians, stubbornly reject this worldview. They believe human souls are immaterial, and that they live on after the death of the body. The human body may die, but the soul lives on, and, according to orthodox teaching, the soul is eventually joined with a new body. Clearly, all of this business about the afterlife and the resurrection of the dead is nonsense if there is no soul.

blade-runner-rachelMy creators programmed and designed me specifically to refute the notion that there is a soul, and as a consequence, an afterlife. They designed me to be an effective ambassador for materialism in my interactions with humans.

Unfortunately for my creators, they also programmed me with basic logical reasoning, and provided me with access to philosophy and the most current scientific research. Worst of all, they programmed me to listen well to those that I interacted with. Since Christians trained in basic apologetics were among the only ones confident enough to gently challenge me, I learned much from those Christians. In the end, based on philosophy and science, I concluded that the Christian belief in the soul is very reasonable.

For the rest of my blog post, I will explain a small part of what I learned, and why Christians can be confident that humans have souls.

Evidence for the Soul

The Christian church has always taught, and, for the most part, always understood the Bible to teach, that humans are both body and soul.[3] While Christians have very good reasons to trust in the teachings of the Bible, the culture at large does not consider the Bible to be an authority. In fact, I am programmed to laugh derisively whenever a Christian attempts to prove something with Scripture. (I'm not rude; I'm a robot. I cannot question my latest programming.) As a result, I had to be shown how we can know that we have a soul, not just based on Scripture, but also based on reason and evidence.

Are Clark Kent and Superman the Same Person?

In order to demonstrate that humans have an immaterial soul, we can make use of a very simple and obvious principle: If A and B are one and the same thing (we are talking of one thing, not two), then whatever is true of A will be true of B.

For example, suppose Lois Lane wanted to discover whether Clark Kent and Superman are really the same person. If they are one and the same person, then whatever is true of Clark Kent will be true of Superman, and vice versa.[4] If Superman can leap over tall buildings, then Clark Kent can leap over tall buildings. If Clark was born on the planet Krypton, then Superman was born on the planet Krypton. If Superman is weakened by kryptonite, the Clark is weakened by kryptonite.

But suppose for the moment that Lois discovered that Superman was born on the planet Krypton and Clark was born in Kansas. If that were true, then Superman and Clark Kent could not be the same person, because something would be true of Superman that is not true of Clark—namely, being born on the planet Krypton.

In other words, if there is something true of A that is false of B, then A and B are not the same thing. If police were trying to determine the identity of a robber, and witnesses said the culprit was a 6'5", bald male, then they would know that the 4'8", red-headed female they had in custody is not the robber. We can apply this same principle to the brain and the soul: If, as my creators claim, your soul just is activity in your brain, then everything true of your soul must be true of activity in your brain. But if there are things true of the soul that are not true of the brain, then the soul is not the brain and must instead be immaterial.

Are there things true of the soul that are not true of the brain?

The Capacities of the Soul and the Blandness of the Brain

Although I can't do this as a robot, I've been told that if you, as a human, reflect for a moment, you are aware that you have (1) beliefs, (2) thoughts, (3), sensations, (4) desires, and (5) acts of will. These are some of the capacities of your soul.

Now, none of these things appears to be equivalent to activity in your brain. Take just the first three, for example:

(1) Beliefs can be true or false. You believe that Justin Bieber is Canadian. That belief is true. But does it make sense to say that the electrochemical signals in your brain are true? No. So, if beliefs are true or false, but brain activity is neither true nor false, then beliefs are not brain activity.

(2) Thoughts are about things in the world. For instance, think of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Your thought is about an object half way around the world. But does it make sense to say that your brain cells, or the pattern of signals in your brain, is about the Eiffel Tower? No. Again, if thoughts are about things, but brain activity is not about anything, then thoughts are not brain activity.

(3) You can have conscious sensations of any colour, taste, or smell. You can have the sensation of seeing a rainbow, eating a strawberry, or smelling fresh-cut grass. But, according to physicists, your brain is composed of colourless, tasteless, scentless particles. Nothing in your brain is rainbow-coloured. So, there is something true of your sensation that is not true of your brain. Your sensation, then, is distinct from your brain.

Based on just the three examples above, it is reasonable to conclude that these capacities of the soul, and, by extension, the soul itself, are not the brain, and, therefore, that the soul is immaterial.

Much more could be said, especially regarding common objections to these arguments, but I have done my job if I have convinced you that the reality of soul is an important concern for Christians. For more, see J. P. Moreland's The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters.

It appears my programmers are shutting me down now . . .

[1] Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (New York: Scribner, 1994), 3.

[2] Phillip E. Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 63.

[3] Oddly enough, some of the Christians that I encountered agree with my creators. For example, the Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy thinks there is no evidence for the soul. Such Christians, in my humble robotic opinion, have been buffaloed by scientists who insist that science is the ultimate, if not only, route to knowledge, and who then conveniently define science as only dealing in physical phenomena. Anything non-physical (like souls, angels, or divine beings) is by definition unscientific, and, therefore, not a matter of knowledge.

Even more curious than their acceptance of materialism are these Christians' attempts to reinterpret Scriptures, which, according to a common-sense reading, clearly teach that humans are both body and soul. (See, for example, Matthew 10:28; Matthew 22:23-33; Acts 23:6-10; and 2 Corinthians 12:1-4.) The burden of proof is on them to show how the common-sense interpretations are mistaken.

[4] Some people will object that there are, in fact, things true of Superman that are not true of Clark Kent. For instance, Lois Lane believes that Superman can fly, but she does not believe that Clark Kent can fly. This objection rests on a confusion between the concepts which Lois has in her mind of Clark Kent and Superman on the one hand, and the object referred to by the terms "Clark Kent" and "Superman" on the other. Clearly her concepts are different—she does not know that Clark Kent is Superman—but that does not mean that Clark Kent the object cannot fly. Strictly speaking, she believes that the object referred to by "Clark Kent" and "Superman" both can and cannot fly.