What Is the Soul? Part 2
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


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

What Is the Soul? Part 2

I think a purely biblical description of the soul, divorced from human experience, makes no sense. If I cannot experience my soul as I live and breathe, then to say that my soul is “everlasting” is a meaningless statement, because I would have no idea what it is that is “everlasting.” It is for this reason that whether or not my soul existed before I was born is irrelevant to my life, because I have no knowledge of any experiences or thoughts that this soul might have had.
When people talk about the “soul,” they seem to associate it with the sense of individual identity that we carry throughout our lives. Though our bodies change over time, we have a sense that we are the same person we were years before. We have a wide range of physical and emotional life experiences which are unique to us and that no other person experiences. Many people tend to identify the core of our unique personhood as the “soul.”
Materialists, who deny the existence of the soul, note that all sensory experiences, such as sight, sound, and touch, depend on the material body and the brain. Further, mental experiences, including the emotions and the sense of individual existence, are tied to the brain. Physical brain injury can eliminate all experiences, particularly if the person is in a coma. Materialists argue that it makes no sense to suggest a kind of existence remotely like what we experience on earth once the brain ceases to function.
I would counter the materialists by noting that they are unable to explain consciousness. Their likely response would be that we are learning more and more about how consciousness occurs. Many amazing workings of nature that were once attributed to divine intervention can now be explained as the regular workings of nature according to scientific “laws,” and materialists expect the same to occur with consciousness.
Their response, while possibly true, has weaknesses. The properties of objects, such as color, hardness, and temperature, can be explained by properties of atoms, molecules, and natural forces. However, nothing about matter or energy gives us clues about the origins of conscious, subjective experience. In particular, my experience of my own, unique existence seems to defy scientific explanation. How did I, a distinct being with subjective experiences unique from other individuals, come into being? I am doubtful that science will ever be able to answer such a question. Since atoms are alike, how could it come to pass that a certain collection of atoms that make up my body result in my mind, a mind that is distinct from all other minds on earth? In searching for an explanation, the notion of a nonphysical (i.e., metaphysical) “soul” seems to be a reasonable explanation. Having posited the existence of the soul, next week I will offer some thoughts on the challenging question: What is the nature of the soul?

Go on to: What Is the Soul? Part 3
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