Neuroscience and the Soul: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, part 3


Part three of three. This series is based on material I presented at a recent conference under the same title. In part one I will discuss some preliminary distinctions that are necessary for this discussion. In part two I will discuss the nature of consciousness. In part three I will discuss the nature of the soul. I am deeply indebted to the speaking and writing of J. P. Moreland. Links to relevant resources are at the end each part.

The Nature of the Soul.
The materialist perspective argues that consciousness is identical to or completely dependent on our physical bodies. The physical brain possesses or hosts consciousness. However, if consciousness is not physical, as I argued in the previous post, we are left with the soul. In this post I will offer an introduction to the nature of the soul.

A definition from J.P. Moreland: “The soul is an immaterial thing that contains consciousness and animates the body.” The historic Christian view is that all living creatures (nephesh, in Genesis 1:20, 24) have souls. Humanity being unique in that we were made in the image of God and therefore our souls have capacities which make us unique in creation.

The phrase, “animates he body,” is worth dwelling on for a moment. Human beings are both spiritual and physical. Screwtape, explained it well: “Humans are amphibians— half spirit and half animal. … As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.”[1]
Our souls are omnipresent within our bodies. The body requires the soul to live. However, the soul can survive apart from the body, but a disembodied existence is not the eternal destination of humanity.

Is the soul real?
In addition to the arguments given in the previous post for the immaterial nature of consciousness, I would like to offer two arguments for the existence of the soul. First, it is possible to imagine existing without a body. Both Christians and trans-humanists embrace this possibility. An excellent resource on the evidence for life after death and its implications is Beyond Death.[2] Second, human persons are not divisible. Physical objects can be divided. It is perfectly coherent to talk about 50% of a broken table. It is not coherent to talk about 50% of a human person. If someone suffers a stroke and loses the capacity to speak, they are not less of a person. They are a person who has lost the capacity of speech.

What about brain damage or disease?
This naturally leads to another objection or question about the soul and body, does brain damage or disease argue against the existence of the soul? Consider the following metaphors for how the soul and body interact.

The Car. Imagine you are trapped in the driver’s seat of a car. Your ability to move is tied to the cars ability to move. As long as the car is functioning correctly, you can get where you want to go. If the car becomes damaged, for example can only make right turns, your capacity to move has been hindered.

The musician and the instrument. Imagine a brilliant pianist. Someone whose mind is filled with beautiful music is capable of conveying it through a piano. If the piano is out of tune or damaged, the brilliance of the pianist and the beauty of the music cannot be heard.

In other words, the soul has a variety of capacities compatible with the physical world. When the brain is damaged, some of those capacities are lost to the physical world. They are not destroyed, they still exist in the soul, but they have lost their access to physical reality.

In this series I have offered a brief introduction to the philosophy of mind and how one can demonstrate the existence of an immaterial soul that animates every person. For those who would like to go deeper, watch the video below and consider purchasing Dr. Moreland’s book on this topic.

[1] C. S Lewis and C. S Lewis, The Screwtape letters: with Screwtape proposes a toast (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 37.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and James P. Moreland, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998).

The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters

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