Who Has a Soul?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Who Has a Soul?

People often regard the soul as a nonphysical entity that has potential to outlive our physical bodies. Skeptics have argued that there is no compelling physical evidence for the existence of the soul. However, I think it is unlikely that physical experiences, reports, or measurements will help us ascertain whether or not a nonphysical soul exists. Part of the problem is that we are physical entities, so for us to say something exists means that it exists physically, yet we posit the soul as a nonphysical entity. I assert that, if humans have souls (whatever the soul is), there is good reason to believe that nonhumans have souls as well.
The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to agree, writing:
I said in my heart with regard to the sons of men that God is testing them to show them that they are but beasts. For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth? (19-22)
This accords with Genesis, in which humans and animals have the same essence, nephesh. Yet, translators in Genesis have called nephesh “soul” (King James Version) or “being” (Revised Standard Version) for humans (2:7) and “creature” for animals (2:19, KJV and RSV). Evidently, one reason many Christians today believe that only humans have souls is related to the bias of translators.
I think there is very compelling evidence that humans evolved from other animals, a conclusion shared by many but not all Christians. An implication from evolutionary theory is that humans are among the members of the animal kingdom. If humans have souls and nonhumans do not, when in the course of evolution did the soul appear? I don’t see any reasonable answer to this question, suggesting that if humans have souls, nonhumans do likewise.

If having a soul does not seem to distinguish humans from nonhumans, on what other grounds might human exceptionalism and human favoritism be grounded? Many have pointed to the biblical passage that Adam was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). I will consider this next essay.

Go on to: Reflections on Genesis 1:26 and Man’s Dominion
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents

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