Friday, May 18, 2012

Read Along: Ch8—Has Science Shown There Is No Soul?

Today we continue with Chapter Eight in the Read Along with Apologetics 315 project. This is a chapter-by-chapter study through the book Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. (Hear an interview about the book here.) Below you will find an audio intro for Chapter Eight, a brief summary of the chapter, a PDF workbook with questions for the chapter, and some notable quotes. You're also encouraged to share your comments and feedback for each chapter in the comment section below. Feel free to interact!  Index page here.

[Audio Intro] - Jonathan Morrow introduces this chapter.
[Chapter 08 Study Questions] (with kindle locations) - PDF study guide.
[Podcast Feed RSS | Podcast in iTunes] - Click to subscribe to the audio.

Chapter Eight: Has Science Shown There Is No Soul?
(pages 108-119)

Chapter eight explores the concept of the human soul. Naturalism asserts that all that exists is a purely materialistic universe. If this is true, then there is no human soul. However, the authors show that our experience of the world strongly points to the existence of the soul. The point to evidence from our personal experience of consciousness, near-death experiences (NDEs), the experience of free will, and the nature of identity, and mental/physical states to make the case that the human soul best accounts for these, while materialism does not adequately explain them.

Dale and Jonalyn Fincher contribute an essay to this chapter which points to the soul as foundational to how we approach our system of human values. They argue that we should beware of any movement or ideology that disinherits us from our souls, for it is the bedrock for the belief that humans are equally valuable.

Notable quotes:
According to the Christian worldview, the material world is not all that exists. God made human beings in his image, and human beings consist of both body and soul. (p. 109)

NDEs provide compelling evidence for the distinction between body and soul as well as for a continued consciousness in the initial moments of the afterlife. (p. 112)

If materialism is true, then a human being is simply a body. If you are solely a material system, then you have no inner self that has the capacity to freely choose between options. You have no center of consciousness to make reasoned decisions. Physical systems operate completely by external programming, not by inner decision making. Thus, if materialism is true, you do not have any genuine ability to choose your actions. (p. 112)
Something nonphysical must account for sameness of identity over time, even with a few unchanging neurons in the brain. The soul is the most reasonable explanation. (p. 114)
  1. What evidence for the soul do you find most compelling?
  2. How does the existence of the soul better account for our experience than naturalism?
  3. What's one way you might apply this information to an apologetic conversation?
Recommended Reading
Next Week: Chapter 9—Is God Just a Human Invention?


Hausdorff said...

I have quite a few comments about this chapter, but I'll try to keep it short here.

1. Our common sense can be wrong. Just because something "runs contrary to the way we naturally think about ourselves" doesn't mean it is false.

2. Just because the language we use implies there is a soul doesn't mean we think there is a soul. Language isn't always as precise as we need it to be.

3. "it makes no sense to ask how much a thought weighs", interesting question, but does this point towards a soul? I would follow up by asking how much microsoft office weighs, does my computer have a soul?

Koko! said...

3>> The argument, I believe is to show that thought are not your brain. Microsoft office requires hardware but is not the same thing as hardware.

Hausdorff said...

Right, a thought is not the same as the brain. But I would argue that a program is not the same as your computer.

As I read it, the book was saying that a thought doesn't weigh anything, and then using that as evidence that a soul exists, that there must be some immaterial part of the thought, hence a soul. I was just pointing out that I think a computer program was analogous and therefore, by the same logic we should conclude that my computer has a soul. My goal is not to argue that the computer has a soul, but to show that this argument for a soul is poor.

Ruben Solis said...


For some reason every time I click to download the PDF study guide it does not allow me and is telling me access denied.


Brian said...


Try now. I um... forgot to upload it!

Anonymous said...

The most compelling line of reasoning I found in this chapter was when Dale and Jonalyn asked the question, "Who is more valuable, the triathlete or the person who has Parkinson's"?

I just don't see materialism as offering any substantial reason for really believing that both of them having equal value. I suppose that one answer that could be offered is "depends on who you ask."

@Hausdorff on comment 3

And equally frustrating is the question "Who created God?" whenever the cosmological argument is discussed. To which I reply: "Tell me what color the number 3 is."

Hausdorff said...

"Who is more valuable, the triathlete or the person who has Parkinson's"?

This is an interesting question indeed. It really depends on what you mean by valuable. As it said in the book, perhaps the person with Parkinson's is a very kind person. To take it even further, perhaps he has a positive effect on everyone around him making his environment better for everyone. Perhaps the triathlete is a jerk and has an opposite effect. With this information perhaps we could say the person with Parkinson's is more of a value to society. Or perhaps their personalities were opposite and we have an opposite result. In any case, we don't have enough information.

At any rate, I don't see what this has to do with having a soul. Whether we have a soul, or if our thoughts are merely a product of our brain, the above conversation is identical. To suddenly start talking about a soul here seems like a change of subject to me.

MaryLou said...

For me, it boils down to this:

If we're the royalty of creation, made in God's image and made to be in a relationship with him, we have value no matter who we are. We are all equally important to him. Jesus died for us all.

If we're the accidental products of a purposeless process, then where does our value lie? And who determines that value? Hitler saw no value in the disabled, non-whites and Jews. So he eliminated them.

This is the danger in a society that does not recognize the reality of God and our worth resting in him and our relationship to him. If the majority agrees that one segment of the population is not valuable, then that segment can be eliminated. We have already done it with the unborn. There are people campaigning to give parents the right to have their babies disposed of within the first eight days of life under certain circumstances.

This is scary stuff! But, as Dostoevsky said, if there is no God, everything is permissible.

Hausdorff said...


Do you have a reference for that 8 day thing? And when you say disposed of, what do you mean? If this is some kind of, drop them off for adoption thing that doesn't sound so bad, if it is a throw it in a dumpster thing it is pretty hard to believe.

And this idea that "if there is no God, everything is permissible", what is being implied here exactly? There are plenty of atheists that are nice, good, moral people. There are plenty of Christians that are horrible immoral people. I don't think one thing has to do with the other. And as far as devaluing segments of the population, in our history how many Christians have been slave owners?

MaryLou said...

Hi, Hausdorff!

I don't have a source for the "8-day" thing as I heard it on the news some time ago. But I can hunt for one. Apparently, there is an organization looking for the right to allow a baby to die if it has physical problems and the parents don't want him/her.

This, of course, is what the Romans did in the days of the early church. They could put a baby out on the dump heap to die of exposure, be killed by wild dogs, or picked up by those wanting to raise a child for slavery or prostitution. The good news is that there were Christian families who took those babies into their homes and raised them as their own children.

When I say that, without God, everything is permissible, I'm saying that, without him, there are no objective moral truths. Instead morality becomes relative and a matter of opinion with the majority deciding what right and wrong is based on their own strong feelings and convictions.

We have seen this in godless societies including Nazi Germany where the majority agreed that non-whites, the disabled and Jews were not "good" for society and, therefore, had to be eradicated. Christians were also added to that list when they stood up and declared that all people were made in the image of God and, therefore, had value.

I did not say that atheists are all horrible people, incapable of doing good things. Nor did I say that all Christians are spotless. Re: the latter, anybody can call himself a Christian and take verses out of context from the Bible and do horrible things in the name of God. There is a difference betweeen such nominal Christians and those who really are Christians. The latter are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Upon conversion, they enter into a lifelong process of sanctification in which they grow more Christ-like in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But that process will only be completed in the next life. You will not find any perfect Christians, but you will find Christians in the process of being perfected.

Secondly, in discussing "good" and "bad" people, it's important to note the following:

We are all born with sin natures. That means that none of us are good. It is possible for anybody -- atheist, Christian, Buddhist or whatever -- to DO good things, but it is impossible for any human being to BE good. I am talking about ontological goodness, not performing good deeds.

That is why all human beings need a Saviour and why all religions except Christianity are false. Other religions demand that people follow rules to make themselves good and earn their way into God's presence in the next life. It cannot be done. That is why God sent Jesus to die in our place, atoning for our sins, and offering us HIS righteousness in exchange for our sins.

At conversion, we are reborn, that is, our spirits, formerly dead in sin, are brought to life and we begin again as new creatures with a new nature which we are to submit to the Lord. Unfortunately, our old sin habits rear their ugly heads and we have to fight, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to clean up our act.

Atheists, like the proponents of other religions, can try to be good in their own puny human power, but will remain sinners in their very nature.

Hopefully, that makes my stance a little clearer, Hausdorff. Thanks for pursuing the matter.

Hausdorff said...


Thanks for clarifying, and sorry for being a bit defensive. I think I follow what you are saying.

Hausdorff said...

MaryLou, I was thinking more today about the following which you said

"We are all born with sin natures. That means that none of us are good."

That idea really bothers me, and I was thinking about writing a post about it, but then I realized I already did at the bottom of this post. Allow me the indulgence of quoting myself.

"I've had this argument fairly recently with a few people and the answer I got is that we all deserve to go to hell. We are all sinners and deserve damnation, but Jesus takes pity on us and lets us into heaven, all he wants is for us to accept him into our hearts, what a bargain! I'm honestly not really sure how to answer this. I find it profoundly sad, I think people are generally good. Sure some people are murderers, some people do really bad things, and should be punished for it, but generally people are good. It is sad that a belief system that so many people believe tells people that everyone around them, including themselves, are evil people. They are so bad they deserve to be tortured forever. It is a really f***** up mindset to be in. But even given their assumption that people are all evil, why is believing in Jesus the one thing that gets you into heaven? Why is that justice? It does not make sense to me. Also, think about how this sounds to a child. You are telling them "you are bad, you deserve torture forever"."

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