I’m convinced that human beings have a soul, we are immaterial persons that also have physical bodies. This is not blind faith or just based on wishful thinking, hoping the Bible is correct (the Bible says we have souls). Strong philosophical, extra-biblical arguments exist that point to the existence of the soul.
Many have argued against the soul. Daniel Dennett and John Searle have written about their interesting anti-soul ideas. Dennett says, “the various phenomena that compose … consciousness … are all physical effects of the brain.”
A friend of mine recently presented some of their anti-soul arguments to me:
1 – There’s an area in the brain that handles language. If that is damaged, you won’t be able to speak or write, but you will be able to do everything else you normally do.
2 – Multi-lingual people who suffer brain damage in particular brain regions lose only particular language capability.
3 – Therefore, the fact that we have particular language brain regions, suggests the brain is hardware and I am just “software” running on the brain’s hardware. In other words, I am my brain and I don’t have a soul.
I think there’s a lot going on here in this argument. I always love learning about the capabilities of the human brain. Scientific studies of the Broca area of the brain show that it handles language, but also apparently does math problems and stores information in short term memory. The brain is a wonderful and complex organ and learning more about it is vital for the job of medicine.
But – it has absolutely no bearing at all on whether I have a soul. I think this fascinating argument is irrelevant to this question. Why do I say that?
Well – I don’t think you can prove the existence of the soul using the scientific method. But this does no harm to my proposition that you have a soul. Why? Because a scientific explanation is not the only rational explanation that exists! John Lennox points to a boiling kettle and asks, why is it boiling? The “heat energy from the gas flame is being conducted through the copper base of the kettle and is agitating the molecules of the water … the water is boiling. Or, I may say [it is] boiling because I would like a cup of tea.” Both are valid explanations. Once is scientific, the other is not. It is an explanation involving an agent. Arguments for the soul are usually agent arguments.
Problems With Anti-Soul Arguments
My friends argument about language centres of the brain disproving the soul has some problems.
1 – Neuroscience itself requires certain starting points that cannot be proven by science. Things like:
- Math exists and allows us to predict what happens in the world.
- The world exists in reality, it is not a concept inside the scientific researchers head, it exists independently of my mind and it behaves predictably.
- The laws of logic.
- I can think about these ideas, engage in introspection, and formulate ideas about how to do scientific experiments.
- My mind is capable of thinking rationally.
The question is – who is forming this argument? And how are they doing it? Answer – with a mind. So, that fact that I cannot prove or disprove the soul using science is irrelevant. Science requires someone with a soul to get started, not the other way round.
2 – Whether I can communicate or not does not change the fact that I am a human being, an agent with a will who communicates. Imaging someone who is born without the physical ability to speak or write. There is still a thinking person inside that body who is able to communicate by other means. I may lose a capability (speaking or writing German) but that does not mean I lose the ability to think, rationalise, form and propose arguments. It probably means that I can’t communicate using a human language.
3 – The brain’s language centres tell us nothing about the mind/body problem, or whether we have a soul. In fact, I think we could interpret these Broca language centre discoveries in at least three empirically equivalent ways:
3a – The use of brain language centres is equivalent to personal agent communication. (I have no soul)
3b – Personal agent communication is a mental property that occurs when the brain areas are used. (I have no soul)
3c – Personal agent communication is an irreducible mental property of the soul and has a physical expression by means of the language centres of the brain. (I have a soul)
So – going back to my friend’s original argument, his conclusion simply does not follow because he requires us to interpret the data in only one of these three ways, but there appears to be no good reason for doing this. Other than – perhaps – he may have a bias against the existence of an immaterial soul? However – there are many very good reasons for supposing that we do have a soul.
Putting it another way, I’m an immaterial soul with a will. My ability to communicate relates to an act of will in my soul. The mechanics of speaking/writing/communicating requires a functioning brain. If there’s a brain problem, then my soul decides to express concepts, but my brain restricts my ability to do so. Perhaps (if I am bi-lingual) I can only speak German, and not English.
Arguments for the Soul:
What are the arguments for a soul? Here are some:
- If I’m a brain (physical) then I am determined. Either by chemistry, physics, or the algorithm that drives the behaviour of my “software.” Because I have no free will, moral responsibility and punishment is pointless. Physicalism (I have no soul) makes no sense of the world and how humans live.
- My brain is physically changing all the time (losing cells, adding new cells). However, I am a personal agent who does not change over time. So, I am not my brain. I have a soul.
- I am capable of introspection, and as I think deeply, I realise I am a simple centre of consciousness, I am a self that is distinct from my physical body. I have a soul.
There are many philosophical arguments like these that ground the vital starting points that scientists begin with when studying the function of brains with their minds, or souls. C S Lewis put it this way:
“[mind is] something more than cerebral biochemistry … the Naturalists have been … thinking [but not noticed] they were thinking. The moment one [realises this] … one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event.”
I think the wider evidence suggests people have BOTH a brain that is physical with physical properties, and a mind or soul that is a mental substance that has mental properties. They exist together and support each other. When one is affected, the other is also affected.
I think (in my mind, or soul), that human beings have a brain and a soul and these are two distinct but mutually supportive things that make me human.
 Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained, (New York: Back Bay Books, 1991), 16.
 Brain’s Language Centre Has Multiple Roles, MIT News, accessed 29th July 2019, http://news.mit.edu/2012/brocas-area-multiple-roles-1016.
 John Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything, (The Good Book Company, 2019), kindle edition, loc 377.
J P Moreland, The Soul How We Know Its Real and Why It Matters, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 138.
 C. S. Lewis, Miracles A Preliminary Study, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc, 1977), 41, 42.
 Moreland, 199.