When it comes to explanations for origins, the origin of the universe seems to be the logical place to begin the discussion. That’s where I usually start. But as a way of transitioning from the previous topic of morality, I will take a different approach and first consider where reason and logic come from at all.
Think about it (pun intended). The very fact that we can have a discussion about the nature of morality, or the origin of the universe — or anything at all — means that we have the capacity to consider alternative ideas. Ideas are not physical things. So, how can we do that? What is it about the physical neurons that make up our brains transmitting electro-chemical signals back and forth that gives us the ability to compare alternatives between non-physical things like concepts and ideas? How do we explain “intentionality” or free will?
The one thing about this life that we know and experience directly and without any doubt is the awareness of the “self.” We know we exist because we experience the physical realities of the world. But just who is it that has these experiences? There seems to be something about “us” that cannot be explained by the physical stuff we can see, touch, taste, hear, or smell, and it is something for which a purely physical, atheistic universe cannot even begin to account.
Evidence For The Soul
While materialistic atheism demands that the physical stuff that makes up the universe is an exhaustive definition of “reality,” it turns out that we have scientific evidence to the contrary. For instance:
- Continuity of Personhood — Biology tells us that the cells that make up our bodies are continually dying off and being replaced. In fact, some types of cells only last a couple of days at a time. The replacement rate varies by cell type, but this means that over the course of your lifetime almost all the cells in your body (with the exception of certain kinds of brain cells) are different than the ones you were born with. Yet we all recognize that, though we may grow older and slower, we are the same person we’ve always been. There is something about “you” that always stays the same even though your physical body is always changing. In other words, “you” are not the same as your physical body.
- The Mind-Body Problem — Closely related to the first point, we also recognize that our thoughts about things are not, and cannot be, the same as the things themselves. Yes, it’s weird, but think about some childhood memory of your mother. Can you picture what she’s wearing; what she’s saying; what you’re doing? Of course you can. But you also realize that we cannot crack open your skull right now and see the picture you are seeing. There is something different about the physical reality of the person/event you are remembering and the picture you “see” in your mind. Thoughts, memories, ideas, concepts … all of these are real things that correspond to the real world, but none of them are physical.
- Mind-Body Causation — Fancy term, amazing evidence. Studies in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder have shown that changing what patients think about before they engage in their obsessive-compulsive habits cannot only change the way they act (making them less obsessive-compulsive) but can also change the physical structure of their brains. Let that sink in. Repetitive, deliberate, non-physical thoughts can change the physical makeup of your brain. No drugs, chemicals, surgery, or any other kind of physical contact required. How is this possible? I don’t know. But the scientific evidence tells us it is.
- Near Death Experiences — Here, I am not talking about the silly “I went to heaven but was sent back to write this book” stories. Frankly, I have no theological or psychological compulsion to believe any of them, and a great majority of them have been proven fraudulent. What I am talking about is hard evidence from rare events where people who have been declared clinically dead are later able to describe scenes, conversations, or events that occurred in other places while they were flatlined.
These four phenomena provide direct evidence of what is called “dualism” — the view that human beings possess both body and soul (the mind being a subset of the soul). Yes, scientists can attach electrodes to your brain to locate and measure electrical impulses that occur when you do or think certain things. They can correlate the area of the brain that is firing with the physical action you are doing but they could never identify what you are thinking … unless you tell them. Again, “you” are different from your physical brain.
Actions and electrical impulses may correlate to one another but correlation does not equal causation. We have no idea how the mind can cause things to happen in the brain, or vice-versa. We may never understand how the body and soul interact with one another but the evidence demonstrates that they do. So, the question is, “how do we account for the existence of the non-physical soul?”
Once again, remember what we are trying to do in this series of arguments. We are simply making the case for a theistic God — a God who exists and interacts with the universe we live in. Atheist materialists who believe that we are nothing but biological machines have no way to explain the reality of a non-physical thing like the soul. But theism offers a coherent explanation: a non-physical, mind-possessing agent like God is perfectly capable of creating creatures who share the same kind of mind.
Theism predicts and explains the soul.
The resources below provide further explanations and evidence of the case for the soul. I highly recommend the two books listed below. They are both fascinating and compelling.
As always, I look forward to discussing your questions or challenges. Please feel free to present them in the comments below.
William Lane Craig’s short summary of reasons to believe in the existence of the soul
A secular case for dualism
The evidence in this video for dualism is outstanding. The conclusion, however (that the universe is a all mind and that the physical world is an illusion) is not only parallel to the monistic views of Hinduism and Buddhism, but is also obviously flawed.