Thursday, December 07, 2006
Someone posted a message on a religious debate forum about the soul - what is it? they asked. Anything at all?
Various people responded: most were pooh-poohing the whole notion of a soul, saying it was just Christian mumbo-jumbo to make them feel better about dying. Which may sometimes be true, but that's certainly not all that can be said. So I wrote this. If you're philosophically-minded at all, you may want to check it out.
It is worth noting that the idea of "the soul" is not just a Christian one.
Plato taught that human beings have a soul which he saw as a spark of the divine world of ideal forms within each individual. (Eastern philosophy often teaches similar ideas, but let's stick to the West for now). Aristotle followed Plato in the belief in a soul, but linked it far more closely to the body. Humans, he taught, are an embodied soul or a souled body.
Hebrew thought saw humans as having souls and this belief arose from the Hebrew understanding of how humans were created by God (who is spirit) out of physical stuff (dust or earth). Thus man has a physical, tangible existence (body) and an invisible, immaterial part (spirit) which are fused in one human being (soul).
Christian thinking on the soul has been largely formed as an amalgum of Greek and Hebrew thought. Augustine, the ancient theologian/philosopher based his thinking on the Bible (Hebrew) and Plato (Greek). Aquinas, the medieval theologian/philosopher based his thinking on the Bible (Hebrew) and Aristotle (Greek).
Before atheistic materialists rush to say that there is no such thing as a soul (and this view also has very ancient credentials - Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicurus believed that existence is nothing but uncuttable little bits of matter - atoms - flying through empty space or void), they need to think through some other questions:
What is love? (Are they really happy to conclude that their feelings for their lovers and children are merely chemicals in the brain - which, in turn, are merely atoms and molecules flying randomly through the void?)
What is thought or intelligence? (When an atheistic materialist decides that the universe is merely atoms, what actually is it that decides that the universe is merely atoms - can atoms decide that they are merely atoms?)
Do they ever actually make decisions (or is it all the result of a pre-determined machine - the universe - that came about by chance?)
The soul, as properly conceived by Christians (and others), is not simply a woolly and sentimental wish for an afterlife. It is a serious and reasonable explanation for the data of human existence as we all experience it.
(Next time, I'll post something down to earth - about chocolate cake or something - I promise...)