Does modern neuroscience show that there is no soul? Are you just your brain? Is belief in the soul just an outdated bronze-age myth? Contrary to what you may read in Time magazine online or see on the Discovery Channel, science has demonstrated no such thing.
For the record, that’s not a knock on science. Why? Because science is only one way we know about reality. In other words there is more to reality than what you can just touch or weigh.
How Do We Know We Have A Soul?
My goal here is not to lay out a detailed philosophical case for the soul (I’ve done that elsewhere). What I want to do is give you a couple of practical reasons you can understand and use in everyday conversations.
(1) Jesus–who was raised from the dead–believed and taught that there is a soul. This is highly significant. Especially in light of the powerful historical evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead. This fact gives him unprecedented authority to speak to this issue. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches:
“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28
While the Bible is not a book on philosophical anthropology, a common sense view of the human person is assumed throughout its pages. God created human beings to be embodied souls.
(2) The mind is not the brain. How do we know this? Answer: The law of identity. In other words something is what it is and not something else. So what’s that mean? If you can list one thing that is true of the mind that is not true of the brain then they are not the same thing. They are not identical.
To grasp this concept, think of Mark Twain. Is Samuel Langhorne Clemens the same person as Mark Twain? They are identical if they share all the same properties. However if you can show one thing that is true of Mark Twain that is not true of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, then they are not identical. It turns out in this case, that Clemens and Twain are the same person (Twain was Clemens pseudonym).
Back to the mind and brain. While mental thoughts are uniquely available to the person who has them, such is not the case for physical properties like brain states. Physical objects, including the brain, are “public” objects that are available to anyone who views them. A neuroscientist can know more about your brain than you do, but he can’t know the content of your mental life unless you tell him. (Explore this further with the excellent work of philosopher J.P. Moreland)
A thought is not something you can see or weigh. A brain-state is something you can measure. Bottom line? Your thoughts occur in your mind and these are correlated with physical states occurring in the brain. But they are not the same. This is just one of many powerful reasons that demonstrate that.
(3) The fact that humans have genuine free will can only be explained if we have an immaterial (i.e., non-physical) soul. If you and I are only molecules in motion governed by physical laws then our choices are illusions. It’s like dominoes falling. The next one has to fall. However, you and I can choose to act or not act. Stop or start. We can put our hand on the domino to keep it from falling. Free will is a powerful argument for the soul.
(4) The powerful evidence for Near Death Experiences (NDEs). To be sure not every claim people make about seeing the light and going to heaven should be believed.But there are well documented cases that defy any other explanation. Here’s just one of many cases:
“Katie, whose body was in a comatose state at the hospital after nearly drowning in a pool. Yet upon recovery, she reported following her family home during the time her body was in a comatose state in the hospital. She was able to remember specific, minute details, such as the meal her mom prepared the evening of the accident, how her father reacted to hearing about the accident, the clothing her family members were wear- ing, and which toys her brother and sister were playing with at the time.”
NDEs strongly imply that consciousness continues after death, and that the body is distinct from the soul. (For more, see Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Dr. Jeffrey Long)
Why Does the Soul Matter?
Naturalism would have us believe that only the physical exists. As we have seen, our immaterial soul is just as real as our physical body. Even though we live in a fallen world, the Apostle Paul reminds us:
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
We are not just meat computers. There is more to life than just the here and now. We have eternity to look forward to if we are in Christ. This truth gives us perspective when we face adversity and hope when we encounter loss. But this is not wishful thinking, its rooted in reality.CLICK HERE TO GET MY FREE GUIDE: "TOP 10 BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW RESOURCES FOR TEENAGERS"
To explore this topic further see my book with Sean McDowell, Is God Just a Human Invention? .